Is your present home energy efficient?
If you are about to build a new house extension, any architect or informed builder will offer help and advice on conserving energy and water, but most of us simply want to know what measures we can realistically take in the short term in our existing home.
When working on your present home, try to build in programmes of energy efficiency as part of your overall scheme. Our expectations of comfort and convenience are such that we all require central heating, electric lighting and power to run our modern appliances. No one is suggesting we should do away with these modern conveniences, but it makes sense to protect the environment and reduce our personal expenses at the same time.
Reducing energy wastage is particularly difficult if you live in an older property. Not only will it be built without modern levels of insulation, but it may also be more difficult to bring up to standard without compromising the essential character of your home.
Fitting draught excluders
Draft proofing doors and windows is a relatively inexpensive yet highly effective way to reduce heat loss to the outside. And you may be surprised to discover that drafts can enter through power points, the junctions between skirting boards and floors, gaps in the floorboards, gaps with between ceilings and walls, and around loft hatches. The aim should be to seal as many gaps as possible, but the degree of tightness achievable will depend on the type of wall construction and finish, how will services have been installed, and the age and condition of windows and doors.
Reducing your use of electrical energy
One of the simplest ways to use electricity is to replace at least some of your ordinary tungsten filament light bulbs with low energy compact fluorescent versions. These so-called long life light bulbs are relatively expensive to buy, but reduce costs in the long run. The building regulations require you to take into consideration the use of low-energy lighting when designing conversions and extensions.
When designing your kitchen area, consider the design of freezers and fridges, and watch how they are operating. Their thermostats have a habit of failing, often making appliances run continuously. If you place your fridge or freezer close to a source of heat, such as a cooker, it will have to work harder to maintain the required temperature inside the cabinet.
Are you getting the best possible deal from your electricity and gas supplier? It may pay to shop around.
Thermostats and time switches
These are important for regulating heating appliances. Thermostats prevent appliances from getting hotter than necessary, and time switches can be used to make sure appliances are running only during specific periods. Fit thermostatic radiator valves to your existing radiators. This allows you to control the temperature of each radiator to suit the particular conditions in the part of the house where it is situated. A thermostatic radiator valve will shut down a radiator as soon as it reaches the required temperature thereby preventing heat being wasted in areas of the home where it is not required. These valves are relatively inexpensive and easy to fit.
Energy Performance Certificates
Home Information Packs (HIPS) are intended to give potential buyers information about a house they are thinking of purchasing, and contain an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This certificate rates a particular house or flat regarding energy efficiency. In theory, it could affect the value of the property.
From December 2007 it has been mandatory for the seller of a house or flat of any size to present a potential buyer with a home information pack. The aim is to increase public awareness of issues that may not be obvious from a casual inspection. We know whether we like the appearance of a house, its size, layout and location, but now we are able being offered information about things like energy consumption and potential fuel bills. It is hoped that the measure will increase public demand for energy efficient buildings and encourage homeowners and builders to invest in low carbon measures.
In practice, vendors through estate agents, need to employ a competent person to produce a certificate that rates the energy performance of their home from A to G, very much like the ratings you see on appliances such as fridges or washing machines. The certificate outlines the running costs and the effects on the carbon emissions of space heating, water and heating. It also gives practical advice on how to cut these costs and reduce emissions. The EPC forms part of the home information pack, which also includes searches and other legal documents. The entire system is designed to tackle the uncertainty and lack of transparency in buying a house, and will hopefully lead to fewer failed transactions. For more detailed information visit www.homeinformationpacks.gov.uk
Boilers and hot water cylinders
At the moment, gas-fired central heating systems are probably the most effective and efficient available, but this may change with fluctuations in the ever volatile fuel markets.
The past few years have seen advances in efficient boilers and controls, so much so that the expense of replacing old worn out equipment can often be recouped quickly in fuel savings. If you are replacing a boiler, choose an energy efficient condensing boiler and make sure it is part of a well-designed heating system that allows the boiler to work condensing mode most of the time.
Most hot water storage cylinders are now supplied pre-insulated, having a layer of foam sprayed on the outside. However, a lot of houses are still plumbed with older uninsulated copper cylinders that waste considerable amounts of heat. Wrapping our proprietary insulating jacket around the cylinder will start to reduce your heating bills within a few months.
Similarly, wrapping exposed hot water pipes in foamed plastic tubing is an inexpensive energy saving measure. Look especially for pipes running through unheated areas of the house, such as the basement and roof space.
Wherever possible, increase the insulation in the roof space. This is where the majority of heat is lost. Remember that increased insulation may require better ventilation to prevent condensation forming in the roof timbers.
Reducing heat loss through doors and windows
When necessary, have replacement windows and doors made to a high standard. Regarding heat loss, the most efficient windows are large plain units without glazing bars. Similarly, the design of the window surround must be considered to maximise heat retention. Double glazed units with large edge details transfer more heat than ones that utilise smaller sections. Most energy efficient double glazed units have an air gap of around 16mm filled with an argon gas and are made from low emission activity glass. If you are replacing windows on the north or east elevations of your house, it is worth considering triple glazing.
Reducing your household water consumption
There are some very simple ways to reduce your water consumption, such as installing spray taps, self-closing taps and electronic sensor taps, all of these reduce the amount of hot water and cold water that is poured away needlessly.
It is perfectly feasible to collect rainwater and use it for watering the garden, or it can be filtered then stored for household use.