Saving the planet begins at home if you make your property more energy-efficient. You might save yourself a bundle of cash too.
We'd all like our homes to be as energy-efficient as possible – saving both the environment and on the cost of household bills.
Becoming more eco-friendly can take a variety of forms, from changing daily habits to updating white goods and household appliances, right through to making major green home improvements.
This guide will take you through the options, outlining some eco-solutions, free ways to cut energy expenditure and providing expert views.
In September, in a bid to help make homes more energy-efficient, the government launched a £2bn Green Homes Grant scheme.
Under the initiative, homeowners and landlords will be able to claim two-thirds of the cost of work done to improve their property’s energy efficiency, up to a maximum of £5,000.
For low-income households, the government will cover the full cost of the work, up to £10,000.
The scheme is not only good news for the environment, but it should help homeowners save hundreds of pounds a year on their energy bills.
The government estimates it will lead to the upgrading of more than 600,000 homes across England, providing a boost to existing and future owners of older properties.
In this guide, we'll look at how to make homes more eco-friendly, how the Green Homes Grant could apply, and how to read and understand an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).
To start, here's a round-up of some eco-solutions you can make to your home.
Don't underestimate the impact of a properly insulated home. Savings could be significant – an estimated £435 a year on a gas-fuelled detached property, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
Trusted local builders should be able to supply you with quotes and you may be eligible for energy-saving grants. But all insulation should conform with Building Regulations in England and Wales and Building Standards in Scotland.
If your home has cavity walls, insulation can be blown into the cavity. If the walls are solid, internal or external insulation is an option, you just need to make sure sufficient ventilation is retained to avoid damp or mould.
Adding thermal shades to windows in your home could also pay dividends. They will help block the sun in the summer and retain heat in the winter. Sealing the windows and adding draft guards on outside doors also reduces energy loss.
Check out the government's Green Homes Grant to see if you are eligible for £5,000 or £10,000 in government money towards upgrading your home's insulation and other eco-friendly works.
With lighting accounting for up to 15% of energy usage, it's well worth considering more efficient options.
In most cases this means switching to Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs), which have evolved over the years and now offer varying degrees of brightness and colours and are compatible with almost all fittings.
Halogen bulbs were phased out as part of European Union reforms in September 2018.
Any new fittings that are installed must also be energy-efficient and an electrician can advise on changing existing fittings in the property.
Traditional heating methods use fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal, which come with a high cost to the environment.
But there are other options, which include the following:
Fitted on an estimated 800,000 homes, solar panels (or solar photovoltaic panels as they’re officially called), are more commonplace in the UK than you might think.
Contrary to popular belief, solar panels don’t need strong sunshine to generate electricity for use in your home. If it's light enough to see, it's light enough for solar panels to work. However, while this means electricity can be generated on cloudy and even rainy days, the results will – unsurprisingly – be less effective.
Some homeowners are also better placed than others to get the most out of solar panels – those in the south of the UK for example where there's generally more sunlight and better weather.
Homeowners with a south-facing roof will also benefit most. And, if it's not directly south-facing, a roof that at least gets daily sunlight between the hours of 10am and 4pm.
Solar panels also favour homeowners who tend to be at home during the daytime, as running appliances such as the dishwasher and washing machine while it's light means taking less energy from the grid. This is even more pronounced of course during the winter months.
You shouldn't need planning permission to get solar panels installed on your roof as the work usually falls under the government's list of 'permitted developments'. There are some exceptions however, such as if your home is in a conservation area or has a flat roof. If you are in doubt, check with your local authority.
So, if your home fits the bill, should you go ahead and have solar panels installed? Considering just the financial benefit, that ship has unfortunately sailed.
Last year the government closed its Feed-in Tariff scheme (which paid you for any electricity generated via solar panels, as well as any surplus electricity that you transfer back to the grid).
This means that, while if you had solar panels installed before 31 March 2019 you can continue to receive payments, installations made after that date will not qualify.
Now, having to rely purely on the savings from your energy bills (and with the cost of solar panels and installation at around £6,200), mean it could take over 70 years to break even according to some estimates.
And with the average lifespan of most solar panels standing at around 20 years, the numbers just don't stack up.
On the flip side however, the green sector is an ever-evolving and improving one. Governments and their policies change and technology improves. So, if solar panels are on your radar but you're not yet convinced, watch this space.
Geothermal utilises the earth’s natural heat and can help keep you cool during the sizzling heat of the summer and warm during chilly winters.
It works by an underground piping system which regulates the heat in your home, absorbing the warmth of the earth and bringing it inside to warm the air in the winter, operating in reverse during summer.
Geothermal heating systems are expensive to install but they can pay for themselves within five to eight years and they are a key part of the government's new Green Homes Grant - so you might be able to get some money off the installation if you qualify.
The following low carbon heating measures are covered by the Green Homes Grant voucher:
- air source heat pump
- ground source heat pump
- solar thermal (liquid filled flat plate or evacuated tube collector)
- hybrid heat pump.
Is your home's boiler more than 15 years old? Upgrading it should be your first port of call.
The Green Homes Grant covers the installation of new biomass boilers.
Not sure where to start? Our article "How do I know if my home needs a new boiler?" should help.
Cutting back on water usage is always worth considering, especially if you are on a water meter.
There are some obvious measures such as considering how often you flush the toilet and fixing dripping taps, but one of the biggest gains could be through looking at your shower.
Reduced flow showerheads have a flow rate of less than 2.5 gallons per minute, around half that of a conventional shower. At a conservative estimate of one five-minute shower a day, that's a saving of over 4,500 gallon a year.
Free ways to cut the cost of your energy bills
While investing to go green can work, it may not be possible for everyone immediately. However, there are some habits you can change that will add up to saving both time and energy. Here are the top 11.
1. Switch off the lights
One of the most obvious ways to cut your electricity bill is to switch off the lights as you leave a room. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) estimates you can save £15 a year with this one small action, so why not make it a habit?
Estimated saving: £15
2. Cover floors and plug gaps
Lack of insulation will only maintain cold temperatures, leading to a corresponding surge in heating bills. If you don’t have fitted carpets, use thick rugs on wooden floors to lock in warmth.
While you’re at it, draught-proof your home with old towels under the doors and some sealant or tape on windows and skirting boards. The result will be a discount of around £85 on your energy bills.
Estimated saving: £85
3. Nudge down your thermostat
Turning down your thermostat by just a single degree can save up to £90 on your annual energy bill, according to the Energy Saving Trust. You’ll hardly notice the difference and it’s all money back in your wallet.
Estimated saving: £90
4. Avoid using standby mode
When your household appliances aren’t in use, most automatically revert to standby, but this quietly drains energy.
You can turn most electrical appliances off directly at the mains, saving yourself around £30 a year in the process. (Note however that digital TV or satellite recorders may need to be kept in standby to properly function.)
Estimated saving: £30
5. Time your shower
There’s nothing like a long, hot shower in winter. But, do you know how long you actually spend in there? Many of us even let the shower run for a minute or two before we hop under it.
Cutting down your shower running time by just one minute will shave an easy £10 off your annual energy bill. And you can save a further £20 just by swapping one bath a week with a shower.
Estimated saving: £30
6. Don’t leave the tap running when washing up
Washing the dishes can be costly if you leave hot water running. So get into the habit of filling up the sink with hot suds instead. And if you have a dishwasher, don’t press go until it’s full.
Estimated saving: £15
7. Fill the kettle with what you need
How many times a day do you fill up your kettle for tea? And do you fill it all the way every time? It’s estimated that three-quarters of all British households are in the habit of overfilling the kettle. By heating up just the right amount of water you need, you could knock another £7 off your annual energy bill.
Estimated saving: £7
8. Switch to a cheaper energy supplier
Your current energy provider may not be the cheapest, which means it could pay to switch. It’s important to do your research first, though. Read the fine print on your existing contract to find out if there’s a cancellation penalty. When you are free to leave, use a comparison service such as uSwitch to find the best deal for your circumstances.
Estimated saving: £403 (uSwitch)
9. Slide silver foil behind your radiator
Putting silver foil down the back of radiators reflects heat back into the room and prevents its escape through the walls. Get the best fit by wrapping foil around pieces of cardboard and simply sliding it behind the radiator. (Note you won’t need to turn this trick if you already have cavity wall insulation.)
Estimated saving: £15
10. Leave your oven door open after cooking
There’s nothing like a bit of cooking to warm up a kitchen. But when you’ve finished using the oven transfer that heat to the rest of the home by leaving the oven door open until it cools down.
Estimated saving: £15
11. Apply for energy-saving grants
Five of the Big Six energy suppliers (British Gas, EDF, E.On. Npower and SSE) offer grants for energy-saving improvements to British households, such as loft or cavity wall insulation or even a new boiler, although most of them only under certain criteria, such as being on Pension Credit or receiving certain benefits.
You can find out if you (and your home) qualifies by calling providers direct. Or contact the Energy Saving Trust.
Estimated saving: £300
Expert view: How to make your home more energy-efficient
We asked architectural designer, Charlie Luxton, what we could do to make homes more energy efficient.
“Put insulation everywhere,” Charlie says. “Not just sticking it in your loft and getting double-glazing.
“It means walls, doors and improving windows. If you can insulate and reduce draughts while keeping ventilation, you’ll go a long way to making your home more sustainable and, crucially, more comfortable.”
How to read an Energy Performance Certificate
If you are selling your home or renting it to a tenant, by law you’ll need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).
The idea of an EPC is to show how much energy a home uses, how it rates in terms of energy efficiency, and what the estimated costs will be both as it stands now and after recommended ‘green’ improvements.
Here's what to look for to get the most out of it...
1. The primary rating graphic
The primary rating graphic shows how energy-efficient your home is on a clear coloured scale of A to G.
A, in dark green, is the most efficient and G, in red, is the least efficient.
Each letter is also assigned a group of numbers running from 1 to 100 and, the further up this scale, the better the home’s efficiency.
Note also the two arrows, one showing the home’s current rating, and the other highlighting the property’s potential rating if more energy-efficient features were to be installed.
Top takeaway: The calculation for the ratings graphic is relative to the square metre of the property. This prevents smaller homes with less space to heat being automatically rated as more ‘energy-efficient’.
2. The table of estimated costs
Next is the table of estimated costs. Unlike the overall rating, this calculation does take into account the actual size of a home’s floor space. In other words, two homes may have the same EPC rating but the larger one will show higher estimated energy costs.
The first column shows estimated costs for heating, lighting and hot water over a period of three years. The second shows the potential cost of improvements as specified further down the EPC.
But the third is the one that’s designed to inspire! This column shows the total savings you could make over the next three years if the property was upgraded according to these energy-efficiency recommendations.
Top takeaway: These figures are just an estimate and do not factor in energy use for electrical appliances such as computers, cookers and TVs. They also assume the home is heated for nine hours a day during the week and 16 hours a day on the weekends.
3. The date it was issued
EPCs are only valid for 10 years so make sure you consider the date the certificate was issued. Also bear in mind that energy costs may have probably rise since the assessment was first carried out.
Top takeaway: EPCs are valid for 10 years.
4. Top three green wins
This table sets out the top three green wins (more formally described in the EPC as ‘recommended measures’) – alongside their estimated cost and potential generated savings over three years.
With many EPCs, you’ll see a column noting whether or not each measure is eligible for the ‘Green Deal.’ Funding for this scheme was discontinued by the government in July 2015 and new applications are no longer being accepted.
However, if you already have a Green Deal loan in place for home improvements, you will be able to continue with the arrangement.
Top takeaway: It might be listed on the EPC but the Green Deal is no longer available.
5. Full list of recommended measures
This is the extended list of ‘recommended measures’ – again, alongside an estimated cost and the potential generated savings – this time on an annual basis.
If you are renting your home or you have bought it under a government scheme, such as Shared Ownership, you will have to seek permission from the landlord or housing association before putting these measures into place.
Top takeaway: If you rent your home OR you have bought it under a government scheme, you’ll need to seek permission before making major energy-efficient improvements.
6. How the property is doing now
This table sets out how energy-efficient the home’s current features (elements) are – on a scale of stars ranging from one to five.
But a lower star rating against an ‘element’ doesn’t mean that it’s poorly constructed or installed – it just shows its energy efficiency in comparison to other materials or systems. So, for an older property with original features, you can expect lower star ratings.
The type of fuel a system uses could also impact its rating. Because electricity is a more expensive fuel source, an electric hot water system would receive a lower star rating than one which uses mains gas, regardless of performance.
Top takeaway: A lower star rating against an ‘element’ here doesn’t mean that it’s poorly constructed or installed.
7. Alternative measures
If you want to save further money on your fuel bills and improve overall efficiency, take a look at the alternative energy-efficient measures listed on the EPC. Carry out some or all of these, and you’ll be taking ‘green’ to the next level.
All measures are tailored specifically to your property. In other words, an assessor won’t make any generic recommendations on the EPC unless it will make a concrete difference to your rating.
Top takeaway: Alternative green measures listed will always be relevant to your home.
8. Contact information
An EPC must be drawn up by an accredited domestic energy assessor, details of whom you can find on the EPC. If you have questions or complaints about your certificate (for example, your energy bills are significantly higher than your EPC estimates, even taking rises in fuel costs into consideration), this is who to contact.
Renting your home?
It’s a legal requirement that prospective tenants are shown an EPC at the initial viewing or that it is advertised on the property listing.
If you bought your property at any time since August 2007, an EPC will have already been commissioned. You may well be able to retrieve it (just search by postcode) at the DCLG website.
If you need a new EPC, you’ll need to use an accredited domestic energy assessor which you can search for by area on the official government register. Budget for £60-£120.
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