How to make your home greener, warmer - and slash your energy bills

18 December 2019

With the growing awareness of the impact of climate change, more people are looking at ways to make their homes energy-efficient. Not only will this help the environment, it can also save money

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The UK has some of the oldest and least efficient housing stock in Europe, so improving the quality of UK homes to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions is vitally important.

UK emissions targets will not be met without the elimination of greenhouse gases from buildings, according to a recent report from the Committee on Climate Change.

It found that emissions reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, while energy use in homes – which accounts for 14% of total UK emissions – increased between 2016 and 2017.

Caterina Brandmayr, senior policy analyst at the independent  think tank Green Alliance, says: “Homes provide about a fifth of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the country. If we want to hit climate change targets, it’s critical that we address those emissions and bring them down.”

Upgrading your home

There are plenty of straightforward upgrades you can make if you want your home to be more eco-friendly.

Lighting accounts for 15% of a typical household’s energy bill, so switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs is a good start. Other simple measures include draughtproofing windows or arranging to have a smart meter installed.

If you are more adventurous, you might want to look at overhauling the heating system or installing solar panels.

Jenny Holland, public affairs and policy specialist at membership body the UK Green Building Council, says: “Upgrading your home will not only help the environment and save you money on bills but also make it warmer, more comfortable and healthier to live in.

“It makes sense to do the simple things first, like draught-proofing your windows and doors or getting a hot water cylinder jacket.

“If you insulate your loft or cavity walls, this can pay off quite quickly, but if you have a solid wall it tends to be a bit more expensive.”

Deep retrofit

A deep retrofit could significantly upgrade the energy efficiency of a property all in one step, instead of making a series of improvements over time.

This means making a number of upgrades to your home all at once, such as adding solar panels, underfloor heating and external insulation.

As it could mean changes to the structure of your home, careful planning is required, says Chayley Collis of Green Building Store.

She says: “For successful and effective deep retrofits, it is important that walls, floors, roofs, lofts and windows are insulated to maximise energy efficiency.

“To work best, insulation needs to work in a continuous ‘blanket’ around the house, minimising any gaps.

“Airtightness – or reduction of draughts – is also often an overlooked aspect of energy efficiency, which can make a huge impact on the warmth and comfort of a home.”

‘Passivhaus’ is a low-energy construction standard developed in Germany that far exceeds current building regulations. The design ensures buildings use around 90% less energy for heating than the average house.

Passivhaus homes use a heat recovery system that ensures extracted air warms up fresh air that comes in and draughts are eliminated.

Common features include massive insulation up to 300mm thick, triple glazing and high levels of airtightness.

While building to the Passivhaus standard can be about 10% more expensive, the move could save you around £900 a year on energy bills as well as reducing carbon emissions to zero.

Not just for new-builds, it is also possible to retrofit you home to meet the standard, though you will most likely need planning permission to make the required changes.

Daniel Capstick, Ecology Building Society’s mortgage manager, says anyone setting out to build a comfortable low-energy home should consider a Passivhaus. 

He says: “Homes meeting the Passivhaus standard typically achieve a 75% reduction in space-heating requirements compared to standard practice for UK new-builds. 

“They are built to a rigorous voluntary standard, with superinsulation, low-volume heat recovery ventilation systems and tightly controlled airtightness, which combine to make sure the building’s carbon footprint is as small as possible.”

"Our home is warm all year round”

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Chris Copeman (right), 48, and his wife Alex, 40, decided to retrofit their home in Kingsley, Cheshire, to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their standard of living.

He says: “We chose to retrofit the house to the passivhaus standard as it’s the most energy-efficient system in the world and provides the heathiest possible building for the occupants.

“It is warm all the year round and once you have lived in a passivhaus you don’t really want to live in any other sort of house. I am really pleased how it has turned out.”

The retrofit of the three-bedroom home includes a loft conversion, external wall insulation and triple-glazed windows. The house was made airtight and a ventilation system was added, which provides fresh filtered air into a building while retaining most of the energy that has already been used in heating the building.

It took a year to upgrade their home and cost around £60,000, which includes a loft conversion and a new conservatory.

The airtightness and design of the property has slashed their energy bills to about £100 a year.

He says: “We have solar panels and an energy feeding tariff, as well so we are making about £1,000 profit a year on our energy bills.”

How to make your home greener

Smart meters

Smart meters track how much gas and electricity you are using and send automatic meter readings to your supplier. It replaces your old meter and, as you can see what you are spending, it can help you manage your energy usage. The meter and set-up are typically free.

Insulation

Insulating walls and the loft will help slow down the rate at which heat escapes, so less energy is required to heat your home.

The type of insulation you use will depend on the construction of your home. Modern houses will have a cavity wall made of two layers with a gap in between them. Older homes with solid walls can be insulated from the inside or the outside.

A typical cavity wall installation for a detached house would cost around £725 but could save you over £220 a year.

Double glazing

Properties can quickly lose heat through their windows, so an easy way to save energy is to replace single-glazed windows with double glazing. Doing this could help you save over £100 a year. The cost will vary depending on the size of your windows but can be around £500 per window frame.

Solar panels

Solar panels absorb sunlight and convert the energy into electricity. While the energy cannot be stored, it can be exported to the grid, earning you cash from your supplier.

Panels are typically positioned where they can best capture the sun’s energy. The cost of installing solar panels is usually around £6,200.

The Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) comes into force from 1 January 2020 and replaces the feed-in tariff. It pays people who generate electricity from renewable sources such as solar panels. However, it is unlikely you will get as much money from your energy company for the energy created as the feed-in tariff as the rates are expected to be lower.

Change your boiler

With heating accounting for more than half of energy bills, it makes sense to have an efficient boiler.

New A-rated condensing boilers are 90% more efficient than older models. Replacing an old boiler costs around £2,300 to install and could save you in the region of £200 a year.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps use a compressor to extract heat from the outside air, which can then be transferred to radiators, underfloor heating or the water supply.

Installation usually costs between £6,000 and £8,000, and can help you save up to £650 if you are replacing an old gas boiler.

* Figures supplied by the Energy Saving Trust 

"Solar panels paid for themselves in six years”

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Michael Graham, 67, from Leeds in Yorkshire, has installed solar panels and a smart meter in his home to save money and help the environment.

He had solar panels fitted in 2010 and, as well as saving money, he gets paid for generating his own electricity.

He says: “The panels cost about £12,000, but they are a lot cheaper now. I get paid for whatever I generate but if we are in during the day we can use the energy for free, which reduces the energy bill.

“It is saving me £250 a year, but with the feed-in tariff I make around £2,000. It paid for itself after six years and is probably the best investment I have ever made.”

Mr Graham also says that getting a smart meter allows him to save money as he can closely monitor how much energy he is using.

He says: “I know what I am on track for this month and I can go back to last year and see what I used then.

“Keeping an eye on how much energy you are using means you don’t get surprised by any big bills.

“I was a bit sceptical about climate change a few years ago, but now I realise we are emitting too much carbon, which is not great for the environment.

“Going green has definitely been good for my finances and has helped reduce my bills.”

 

First published on 10 January 2020

Water usage prices

What if the average amount of water used by a household, dependant on number of occupants, was calculated. That calculation could be set at a certain price and any water extra to this could be charged at a higher rate. This might deter gardeners from using sprinklers and encourage them to install more water butts with pumps, etc. Obviously there will be exceptions to this, such as those with very smelly jobs, who have to take more than a 2 minute shower and have to use a longer wash cycle when doing laundry. Perhaps people who are very frugal with water, can be rewarded too. Water from butts for plants, car wash, patio and path clean. I have a Jacuzzi bath, when I have used it, I bale the water out to flush the toilet, I wash my hands over a bowl in the basin, when it's full, that flushes the toilet too. My boiled egg water, when cool, goes to water the indoor plants, it's full of minerals too.

That's all folks

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