A common myth about energy efficiency is that it requires ‘extreme’ changes in your lifestyle, often conjuring up images of dark rooms without TVs and bare kitchens without any appliances. In reality, however, the perfect energy efficient home is just like any other: plenty of light, cosy and warm, totally functional and complete with all the usual modern technology. In other words, it’s not about renouncing services and resources in order to save energy, it’s about providing those same services and resources while using less energy than you otherwise would.
It’s an attractive concept for all those who care about their beloved environment (or their hard-earned money – either is fine!), but it’s nonetheless one that seems daunting and overwhelming on the surface, raising a tonne of head-scratching questions. What can you do to save energy? Where do you even begin? Does it really make any difference? And how much does it all cost?
While you don’t need to completely overhaul your living situation in order to achieve an energy efficient home, there are many changes that you should try to implement over the years (don’t expect to make a huge difference overnight). In this post, we guide you through some of these changes in simple, understandable, good ol’ plain English.
First things first: an energy efficient home doesn’t necessarily warrant major renovations and drastic eco-friendly designs. Rather, your journey towards energy efficiency involves a culmination of minor changes that each make a big difference in the long run. As such, why not start with something simple: the humble light bulb, perhaps?
Incandescent light bulbs are a little outmoded in environmental circles because they use more energy than other alternatives available on the market. By using energy efficient light bulbs throughout your home, you can reduce the amount of energy you use on artificial lighting and save around £35 on your energy bills – enough to fund a film and takeaway! So consider installing some LED or CFL light bulbs: they’re not as expensive as they used to be, they have a longer lifespan than traditional bulbs, and they provide just as much (if not more) light.
Fact: your house loses a lot of heat every single day. In the average European home (according to PHPP data), 35% of heat loss occurs through the walls, 20% through the roof, 15% through the windows, and 10% through the floors. By strengthening the insulation in each of these areas, you can retain a lot more heat and therefore use up a lot less energy on the whole. Each of these installations involve (sometimes hefty) upfront costs, but they always end up paying for themselves by saving you money on heating bills. Let’s consider them one at a time:
- Solid wall insulation: Whether the walls in your home are solid walls or cavity walls, there are measures that can be taken to insulate them. If you have a home built before 1920, there is a large chance that you have solid walls (consisting of just one layer) that require either internal or external insulation. Both methods involve covering an entire side of each wall with some boarding or cladding, so it can be a tricky and expensive job. (Note: each type of insulation has its own pros and cons, so do your research first).
- Cavity wall insulation: Even though they let through half as much heat as solid walls, cavity walls (consisting of two layers with a gap in between) often still need insulating, especially in older houses built before the green economy. Luckily, when compared to solid walls, cavity walls are much easier and cheaper to insulate. Insulating material is pumped into the cavity from above, forgoing the need for external fixtures altogether.
- Loft insulation: Accessible loft spaces provide the easiest means of insulating your roof. Thick rolls of wool (around 10 inches in depth) are placed between the joists in your loft, and then topped off with a secondary layer that covers the joists themselves – it’s so simple that you could even do it yourself! If you wish to use your loft for storage, you’ll have to install boards atop both layers of insulation; use either battens or legs to hold the boards up without squashing the wool and compromising your energy saving efforts.
- Window insulation: Single glazed windows are a rarity nowadays, but they do crop up in older homes. If your windows are single glazed, stop wearing jumpers indoors and abusing your central heating – get yourself some FENSA approved double or triple glazed windows, and consider fitting some thick curtains or window shutters. In all, proper window insulation could save you around £100 in energy bills per year.
- Floor insulation: Depending on the type of flooring your have (and how easy it is to lift), methods of floor insulation can range from something as simple as sealing up the gaps in your floorboards, to laying rolls of wool in between the joists underneath your floorboards. For the best results, we’d recommend hiring a professional to do the latter (although the former is a DIY job through and through!). Don’t forget about decorative coverings such as area rugs and throw rugs, which are also able to keep rooms warm.
To be honest, using your heating can be a bit of a double-edged sword. Although we all love coming home from work to a nice warm house, receiving that monthly heating bill often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth – especially during the winter. Indeed, space heating accounts for more than half of home energy use and around 60% of your energy bills. But you shouldn’t just complain about it without taking action: there are plenty of viable alternatives that go a long way towards saving energy all the while keeping you warm at night.
You know those little space heaters that you plug straight into the wall? Or those electric storage heaters that were popular in the 1970s? Yeah, well it’s about time you replaced them because they’re far too expensive to run (storage heaters costing upwards of £300 a year) and of course really bad for the environment. After all, gas heating is a much more efficient option for your home: for maximum efficiency, look towards condensing gas boilers with an A-grade energy rating.
In addition to upgrading your home’s insulation by taking the steps listed in the previous point, upgrading your heating system will likewise go a long way towards cutting down energy consumption – condensing boilers often claim up to 98% efficiency! However, unlike home insulation (which can sometimes be installed by the average DIY fanatic), changing your heating is a big job that usually requires the help of a professional.
The appliances you use on a day-to-day basis are a major source of energy usage. Think about how often you wash/dry clothes in the washing machine and tumble dryer, cool/freeze food in the fridge and freezer, or wash dishes in the dishwasher – according to British Gas these common appliances use up something like £3.4 billion worth of energy per annum in the UK.
When kitting out your home with energy efficient appliances, the key is to pay attention to standardised energy ratings and conduct a bit of research before each purchase. Whether you’re shopping for appliances online or in-store, keep your eyes peeled for labels that display an energy rating of ‘A’ or above. In terms of annual running costs, older models with lower energy ratings are likely to cost over double the amount of A-rated models. Of course, larger appliances tend to use up more energy than smaller ones (an energy rating is relative to the size of a particular appliance), so if you’re able to downsize your appliances it might be worth doing so.
Change your habits
If you don’t account for your actions and lifestyle choices there is still going to be more that you can do for our environment, even with the most energy efficient home in the world. By adapting your daily habits to a more energy efficient agenda, you can make a big difference to the amount of energy that your home uses up. Here are just a few tips that you have no doubt heard before, but always forget to implement:
- Turn your appliances off at the wall when you’re not using them – ‘on standby’ doesn’t always mean ‘not using any energy’, so beware!
- The average tumble dryer is liable to guzzle energy every time you use it, accounting for around £60 a year in running costs. Why not just use a clothes line or an airer instead?
- Do you really need your heating on such a high temperature, or can you acclimatise to a little bit less? Fun fact: turning the heating down by as little as 1 degree celsius can save you as much as 10% on your next energy bill.
- Likewise, try to keep the heating off when you’re not in the house (unless you’re away for a long stretch of time, in which case keep it on a low temperature, not full blast).
- When using the washing machine, the lower the water temperature the better! Luckily, most appliances have designated ‘eco’ options that make this habit easier to implement.