Energy bills are one of the major costs of running a home, and a perpetual gripe from consumers is they only ever seem to increase.
Anything you can do to reduce energy consumption will help to keep a lid on your bills, but there is another good reason to look at how energy efficient you home is – and that is the impact energy consumption has on the environment.
Greenhouse gasses emanating from buildings in the UK account for almost a quarter of the total emissions in the atmosphere.
Decarbonising our building stock is a crucial part of the UK’s legally-binding commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, and the government has said all new homes will be required to be highly energy efficient, with low carbon heating and be zero carbon ready by 2025.
New homes are expected to produce about a third lower carbon emissions compared to older houses, but hitting the target of net-zero emissions by 2050 isn’t possible by creating more energy efficient buildings alone. The focus is on existing housing stock to become more energy efficient, with one example being the government’s ban on new domestic gas boilers from 2025.
And that’s where making your home greener will help – and in more ways than you might imagine.
As well as lowering energy consumption, making our housing stock net-zero ready will unlock substantial economic benefits too. Savings on energy bills will increase consumer spending power. More efficient and higher quality homes will reduce the burden that the negative health impacts of poor housing put on the NHS. It could even create jobs in the newly emerging low-carbon technology supply chains.
Joining the green scene
The move towards making existing homes more energy efficient, therefore reducing carbon emissions, is known as retrofitting. This desire to go green can be driven by a variety of reasons, such as environmental consciousness, reducing energy bills, or just being warmer and more comfortable at home!
The range of things you can do vary from small-scale adaptations done as a standalone improvement – such as fitting energy-efficient LED lighting – to major projects best carried out during larger home improvements, such as fitting a new kitchen and/or bathroom. On an even grander scale, renovating a property is the ideal opportunity for what’s known as a ‘whole house retrofit’. This is when a full range of measures to make a home more sustainable is implemented as part of the same process.
Let’s look at the ways you can retrofit your home along with the potential benefits…
Four ways to a greener future
Retrofitting your home falls into four categories:
Insulation – Most of the energy used in our homes heats space, and so most energy efficiency measures concentrate on reducing this demand, largely through improving the fabric of the building and reducing the amount of heat loss.
Many homes still have the potential for increased levels of insulation in the roof, walls and floor, or for more efficient doors and windows – such as double or even triple glazing. Draught-proofing can also reduce heat loss, although it is always important to maintain adequate ventilation, particularly when carrying out major refurbishment. Heating demand can also be reduced through fitting more efficient, low carbon heating systems, fitting appropriate heating controls, and ensuring that pipework and any hot water cylinders are fully insulated.
Solar panels – There are two main types of solar energy systems, solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal. Installing a solar system is a popular home improvement. There are around 1million solar PV systems on houses around the country, and nearly 100,000 solar thermal.
Both systems convert light to power that is used domestically with any surplus fed into the National Grid and many now come with solar batteries that can store the power created by a domestic panel, so it can be used when it is needed.
Low carbon heating – These systems made the headlines when the government announced the ban on domestic gas boilers from 2025, which means heat pumps will have the largest future role to play in decarbonising our heat supplies.
Air source heat pumps take heat from the outside air, and upgrades it to a higher temperature so that it can provide heating and hot water for the home. Most heat pump systems connect to a conventional radiator system and a hot water cylinder. They are controlled much like a conventional central heating system. They work particularly well with underfloor heating. There are also air-to-air systems that distribute warm air through the house.
A ground source heat pump takes heat from the ground and upgrades it to a higher temperature. The heat may come from a horizontal loop, buried a metre or more below the surface in a field or large garden, or from vertical boreholes drilled typically 50 to 150 metres down (75 to 100 metres is the most common range).
It goes without saying, you’ll need specialist installers for both systems and it is expected in years to come that households will be able to share loop systems known as district or communal heating.
Biomass heating systems are generally considered low carbon provided the fuel comes from a sustainably managed source. Biomass heating systems for UK homes nearly always run on wood fuel. However, there is increasing concern over emissions associated with biomass systems in areas with poor air quality.
Heating controls – These can reduce costs (and carbon emissions) by providing heat only when, where and at what temperature it’s needed. Primary heating controls include thermostats, timers and programmers. They vary in the degree of sophistication and level of control.
For example, programmable thermostats can be used to set different desired temperatures according to the time of day and day of the week. Full zone controls allow the temperature of each zone to be programmed individually using dedicated temperature sensors and motorised valves for each zone.
Climate resilience – Currently, over 5.2 million homes and properties in England are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion, with around 2.4 million properties in immediate flood risk areas in England and a further 2.8 million UK properties susceptible to surface water flooding.
Measures to combat flooding include flood doors and windows, demountable flood barriers, resilient wall and floor finishes, and resilient insulation. Relocating appliances and raising electrical sockets can help guard against flood damage too.
At the other extreme, measures to combat heat include low-cost options such as ceiling fans, or night purging, where windows are closed during the day and opened at night to flush out warm air. You could also consider installing shutters, curtains or reflective blinds for windows helps protect homes from the sun’s heat, reducing indoor temperatures during warm weather.
The cost of retrofitting your home varies massively depending on the type and size of project you are undertaking. For example, the payback time on insulating a loft that currently has no insulation could be as little as two to three years on a £300 investment. At the other end of the scale, installing a heat pump system costs approximately £9,000-£11,000, while a ground source heat pump could cost as much as £19,000.
Quantifying how retrofit measures interact and impact is an important but complex process, which industry organisations are currently working to simplify.
Retrofitting Finance Options
The Society now offers a Green Home Improvement – Additional Borrowing discount for all existing mortgage customers. A discount of 0.10% is offered if at least 50% of the works to be carried out on the property benefit are ‘Green Improvements.’ This would include (but not limited to) all of the retrofitting options mentioned earlier in this article. If you are an existing mortgage customer and would like to know more click here or to discuss this with an advisor please call the team on 01257 235 001 for more information.
Chorley Building Society offers ‘green cashback’ on three of its products that support government initiatives helping people to buy their own home for the first time.
To qualify, the purchased property has to have an A or B energy rating on completion, in which case the Society gives £250 cashback.
The three products are:
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