ENERGY EFFICIENCY IN THE HOME

Introduction

With rising energy costs a standard three bedroom detached house can cost £1000 a year to heat. If proper energy efficiency measures are taken it is entirely possible to halve the cost. Heating is not the only area in which energy efficiency in the home can be improved: simple changes to lighting, household appliances and glazing can also help reduce the amount of energy we consume every day.

Heating

During the cold winter months we all rely on our heating to keep us warm and cosy. However, having an energy inefficient heating system can mean you are spending more than you need to on your heating costs. Here are some tips on how to improve your heating efficiency.

Make sure you have an effective method of heating control, as boilers are unable to tell when you want heat or hot water without one. If some form of heating control is installed then you can regulate when and where you need heat. Controlling heat efficiently around the house can save up to 17 per cent on your heating costs.

If your boiler is more than 15 years old you should think about replacing it. New energy efficient condensing boilers could save you up to 32 per cent on your fuel bills. Even without upgrading to a condensing boiler, modern, more efficient boilers can still save you up to 20 per cent. In addition to this your local council may be able to provide a grant to help you out. If you live in a small property, you could also consider using energy efficient convection heaters or gas heaters to heat your property, rather than relying on central heating.

For more information see the section on Boilers.

Lighting

In the average home you can expect your lighting costs to account for 8 per cent of your electricity bill. With lighting accountable for such a sizeable percentage of the costs, it seems only sensible to find ways in which you can improve efficiency around the house.


Energy efficient lighting technology is developing quickly and since an EU ban on incandescent light bulbs in 2012, there are now a large range of products to choose from saving up to 80 per cent electricity than equivalent traditional bulbs. There are two main types of energy efficient light bulbs available in the UK – Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) and Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs). Halogen bulbs will be phased out by 2016 and any bulb available for purchase after the 2016 date must have at least a ‘B’ energy rating.

In addition to the bulbs you use, simple changes in behaviour can save money and energy – below are a few easy things to help you start saving:

  • Always turn lights out when leaving a room regardless of how short a period it is for.
  • Be conscious of how many lights you have on and whether they all need to be in use
  • Arrange light switches so that its convenient to turn them off i.e. place switches at top and bottom of stairs, each end of a hallway and each door to a room
  • Use a sensor and timer on external lights so they are only in use when they need to be
  • Use appropriate lightings i.e. a low back ground light while watching television and a right, concentrated light for reading. By having a range of lights in a room with separate switches will make this easier.

Household Appliances

No matter how well you feel your household appliances are running and how few problems they have given you, they could still be extremely energy hungry and inefficient. As a general rule, the older your appliance the more it is going to cost to run. For this reason, it is best where possible to buy your fridges, cookers, dishwashers and washing machines brand new as these will be the most energy efficient. The saving you make on a second hand purchase will soon be outweighed by the extra cost it takes to run the appliance.

When buying new appliances look out for the Energy Efficiency Recommended logo. To find out more about which currently available appliances are listed as energy efficient, go to www.energysavingtrust.org.uk and browse the extensive database of energy efficient household appliances.

Insulation

Bad insulation in the home can result in considerable heat loss. Most heat is lost through the walls and the loft space. Fully insulating these spaces can help reduce the amount of heat lost in the home by more than 50 per cent. The walls alone can be responsible for up to 35 per cent of the total heat wastage in the home.

Badly insulated walls can be one of the major sources of heat loss in the home. They could be costing you anywhere up to £200 extra per year. For this reason insulating the walls of your home is one of the most energy efficient ways to make a saving on your heating bills.

If you want to find out what you can do about adding insulation to your walls, the first step is to identify what kind of walls you have in your home. Most houses built after 1930 have cavity walls. To identify whether you have cavity walls you can check by measuring their thickness at a door or window. They are normally around 30cm thick. This is comprised of an inner and an outer layer, and a small air gap in-between.

To fill your wall with insulation, small holes are drilled into the outer or inner layer and insulation material is injected into the air gap. This work has to be carried out by a professional, and will be guaranteed for 25 years by the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA). The cost of the work should be recovered within five years in the savings you make on your heating costs. There are also grants and offers available to help cover the cost of the work.

As air gets hotter it becomes less dense, and as a result rises above cold air, which is denser. This is the reason why it is important to ensure any heat lost through the roof is minimised. Most houses have some space under the roof, normally the loft. Insulating the loft properly can save around 25 per cent on your heating costs. You can insulate your loft easily yourself, and it requires no professional work to be done. By simply adding a 250mm (10 inch) thick layer of insulation the job is done. The material that you need to insulate the roof can easily be picked up at a local DIY store or builder’s merchants.

Draughts coming through the edge of the skirting board or up through the cracks in the floor can make a room feel cold and unwelcoming. Sealing up these cracks with a regular tube sealant can save you up to £10 on your heating bills. To make your floors warmer and to stop the chilly draughts coming up through them you could invest in some under floor insulation, which can help save a further £25. Remember, if you fit the insulation yourself, not to block any air bricks on the outside wall. These help maintain adequate ventilation under the floor, and without them it’s likely that the floorboards will start to rot.

Heat that escapes through the space under your doors or windows also accounts for a considerable amount of heat lost in the home; as much as 20 per cent. Draught excluders come in many different materials, from brushes to rubber strips. Without double-glazing these can be a cheap and easy way to prevent heat escaping from your home. Do remember that in some rooms ventilation is very important, especially if they have solid fuel burners, gas fires or boilers within.


Badly insulated hot water pipes and water tanks can result in 75 per cent more energy use than those that are fully insulated. British Standard water tank ‘jackets’ can be found at all good DIY stores and are easy to fit. The saving you make on your water heating bills means the cost can be recouped within a year. If you already have insulation on your water tank check that it’s at least 75mm (3 inches) thick. If it isn’t it could be a good idea to replace it with a new one to make yours as energy efficient as it can be.

For further information on improving insulation you can get in touch with your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre. If you don’t know where this is you can search on the Energy Saving Trust website at www. energysavingtrust.org.uk or visit www.gooshing.co.uk/energy.

Glazing

Double-glazing your windows is an ideal way to reduce heat loss in the home by up to 20 per cent. Whilst it is an expensive option, it should definitely be considered if you are thinking of replacing your window frames.

Not only does double (or even triple-) glazing help prevent heat loss but it can also stop condensation and reduce noise levels and sound from outside. If you are on a tight budget you can always fit secondary glazing, which is less expensive than fitting brand new double-glazing and can still result in annual savings of around £30.

New Developments – Home Generation

The ultimate way to cut your contribution to climate change may be to start your own small-scale renewable energy generation. The government now offer grants for the installation of micro-generation technologies in a range of buildings including households, community organisations, public, private and the non-profit sectors. Householders can apply for grants of up to £2,500 per property towards the cost of installing a certified product by a certified installer.

To find out more about the grant and to find a list of certified installers in your area, visit the website funded by the Department of Energy & Climate change www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk.

Since Good Energy Ltd set up its Home Generation tariff you can even sell the energy you generate – customers receive four pence per KWH (unit) for all the renewable electricity produced, including the energy you use yourself!

If you are interested in home generation you can visit www.generateyourown.co.uk. Below is further information about two of the most popular renewable energy technologies available for generating your own energy and reducing your home’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Solar Panels

Solar energy has long been heralded as the obvious answer to our renewable energy production needs. Usage is growing steadily, especially amongst opinion forming individuals who can quickly see the win-win benefits of the small additional initial investment.

Solar Energy in the UK

The conversion of sunlight to electrical energy is known as photovoltaic (PV) conversion and has several advantages, primarily that the process is emission-free, renewable and noiseless.

Solar energy is an excellent alternative to conventional electricity. The sunshine per square metre available on average on earth is about 1,000 watts of energy. Approximately 4 to 22 per cent of the solar light is converted into electrical energy, the other 78 to 96 per cent is either reflected or turned into heat.

A solar roof is easy to maintain and simply has to be cleaned fairly regularly (otherwise dirt and dust can reduce the energy efficiency). In general the solar panel lasts for about 20 to 25 years, which ensures that significant financial and emissions savings are made.

Different Kinds of Solar Panels

There are three types of solar panels, all made of silicon. The most effective (but most expensive) are monocrystaline panels, which are manufactured from silicon slices cut from a single crystal. Polycrystaline panels are made from silicon, which is cast in blocks. These are cheaper but also less efficient than the monocrystaline panels. The lowest cost option is the amorphous panel, manufactured from amorphous silicon. This method is less efficient, but cheaper and allows the complete replacements of the roof.

Advantages and Costs

The main advantage of solar energy is the fact that sunlight is a renewable and zero carbon emission energy source and there can be real space savings as the panels sit on the roof! The installation of solar panels is not cheap, but in the long term the savings on electricity bills and carbon emissions are considerable. Within the last 30 years the technology has become 90% cheaper than in the 1970s, with an average system costing between £8,000 and £20,000, depending on its size and type.

Wind Power

Wind turbines harness the power of the wind and use it to generate electricity. Small systems known as “microwind” turbines can produce enough electricity for the lights and electrical appliances in a typical home. Wind turbines use large blades to catch the wind, forcing them round and driving a turbine which generates electricity. The stronger the wind, the more electricity is produced. 40% of all the wind energy in Europe blows over the UK, making it an ideal country for small domestic turbines.

If the turbine is not connected to the electricity grid then unused electricity can be stored in a battery for use when there is no wind. A well-maintained turbine should last over 20 years, with maintenance checks necessary every few years.

Different Types of Wind Turbines

There are two types of domestic wind turbines available – mast or roof mounted. Mast mounted systems are generally more cost effective, but they may not be appropriate for many properties. Smaller roof mounted systems are capable of generating a reasonable proportion of energy requirements under the right conditions. You should contact your local authority before erecting a wind turbine, as planning permission may be required.

Advantages and costs

Similarly to solar energy, wind energy is renewable and plentiful – there will never be a shortage of it, although you will need to check that the average wind speed in your area is strong enough and that there are no obstructions nearby that might reduce the wind speed.

Wind turbines vary in price according to their size – smaller systems will cost around £1,500, while larger systems can cost as much as £20,000. Recent monitoring of a range of small domestic wind systems has shown that a wellsited 2.5kW turbine could save around £380 a year off electricity bills when some generation is exported, and a saving of around 2.6tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

See more about Home Energy Generation at the Energy Saving Trust website www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generate-your-own-energy or visit Good Energy’s dedicated website at www.generateyourown.co.uk.

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