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Five ways to make your home greener and save money

Two-thirds of homes aren't energy efficient, but eco-friendly changes can save money on bills and help save the planet, writes Lisa Salmon

What can you do to make your home more energy efficient?

GOVERNMENT climate experts have announced that we need to make our homes greener to help beat climate change. But how on earth do we do that?

Many people have good intentions about making their homes greener – research by E.ON has found more than two thirds (38 per cent) of homeowners have been considering making their home more sustainable since lockdown, with a third saying they're more interested in home solutions, such as solar panels, than they were six months ago.

And their eco-friendly intentions could be a good financial move, as further research by Effective Home (effectivehome.co.uk) has shown having solar panels can increase the value of homes by an average of £30,000.

TV presenter & architectural designer Charlie Luxton, who has teamed up with E.ON to show how to add value and generate sustainable energy, says: “People have spent more time at home than ever before, and have inevitably become more aware of how they're using energy, and of sustainable changes they can make.”

His main tip for making a home greener is to first look at the easy basics, like having correct insulation and energy-efficient appliances. Then consider installing solar PV panels and combining them with battery storage. “This is a fantastic way to provide sustainable low-cost energy for your home,” he says.

Laura McGadie, group head of energy at the Energy Saving Trust (EST, energysavingtrust.co.uk), which provides advice about home energy efficiency, points out that homes account for almost 30 per cent of the nation's total energy use, and around 20 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Two-thirds of homes are currently below an adequate level of energy efficiency, and British houses are losing heat up to three times faster, compared to our European counterparts,” she says. “But there are various energy efficiency measures homeowners can install to make them warmer, reduce carbon emissions and lower energy bills.”

Here are the EST's green home improvement tips…

1. Use available grants

There are several grant schemes available in Ireland and Britain aimed at helping make homes more sustainable, and lowering bills as a result.

In England, the government's Green Homes Grant (gov.uk/check-eligible-green-homes-grant) scheme provides homeowners with a grant of up to £10,000 towards the cost of installing one or more energy-efficient improvements, including insulation or installing a low carbon heat system, such as an air source or ground source heat pump. It's hoped the scheme will help more than 600,000 households save up to £600 a year on energy bills.

While the Green Homes Grant doesn't cover boilers, funding is still available in England, Scotland and Wales for boiler replacements in some cases through the Energy Company Obligation scheme (ECO, ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-programmes/eco).

In Scotland, information on the schemes and grants available can be found through Home Energy Scotland (homeenergyscotland.org), in Wales through the Welsh Government Warm Homes Nest Scheme (nest.gov.wales/en), in Northern Ireland through Northern Ireland Energy Advice (nihe.gov.uk/Community/NI-Energy-Advice), and in the Republic through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) (seai.ie/grants/home-energy-grants).

2. Get insulation

One of the first steps homeowners can take towards making their home greener is to check it has good insulation, says the EST, which points out that around a third of all heat lost in an insulated home escapes through the walls, so by adding insulation, you can significantly reduce heating costs. Most houses have either solid walls, which can be insulated from the inside or outside, or cavity walls, which have a gap that can be filled with insulation.

A quarter of heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home, explains the EST, so insulating the loft, attic, or flat roof is a simple and effective way to reduce heat loss and heating bills. “Loft insulation is effective for at least 40 years and it should pay for itself many times over,” McGadie points out.

As well as insulating the walls and loft, ground floor insulation is another option. Newer homes tend to have solid concrete floors, which can have rigid insulation laid on top, but in older homes, the most common type of flooring is suspended timber floors. The EST estimates installing insulation under floorboards on the ground floor will save around £40 a year on heating bills.

Finally, a quick and effective measure to consider is insulating water tanks and hot water pipes, which reduces the amount of heat lost and saves money on heating water.

3. Heat pumps for sustainable heating

Sales of gas boilers for homes should be phased out by 2033 as part of efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions from heating, UK government climate advisers have said.

But what do you replace your gas boiler with? Heat pumps are probably the most readily available low carbon heating alternative to a gas boiler, and the EST says they're an attractive option in the long-term, as they run on mains electricity, which is becoming increasingly decarbonised. “Ultimately, they have the potential to reduce carbon emissions from household heating to very close to zero,” says McGadie.

4. Low carbon boilers

Gas boilers that run on low carbon gas, and district heating that uses a combination of sustainable and low carbon gas sources, are alternative low-carbon heating systems that may become more widely available in the future, says the EST.

5. Solar photovoltaic panels (SPVs)

Solar photovoltaic panels generate renewable electricity by converting the sun's energy into electricity, and are an effective measure that will cut electricity bills and your carbon footprint. The EST says there are many options available, depending on where they'll be situated, from panels that can be fitted on a sloping south-facing or flat roof, to ground-standing panels or solar tiles.

McGadie advises: “When considering whether SPV panels are suitable for your home, you'll need to ask yourself if you have enough space, and check with your local authority whether there are any limits or restrictions applicable.”

For more information on installing solar panels, visit the EST solar panel advice page (energysavingtrust.org.uk/advice/solar-panels).

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