How to Save Money and Energy in Your Home
With household bills high, what measures can you take to ensure your home is working as efficiently as possible?
Professional advice from: Jonathan Broughton of Poles & Blinds; Alan Budden of Eco Design Consultants; Kit Knowles of Ecospheric
One of the first things a professional may look at is your boiler. According to the Energy Saving Trust, heating and hot water typically account for more than 50% of what we spend in a year on energy bills, so it makes sense to ensure your boiler is as efficient as it can be.
If you’re considering a new boiler, get professional advice on the best system for you – and whether the government’s boiler upgrade scheme could help you. This covers the installation of air and ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers.
Don’t rush into expensive changes, though. Eco consultant and architect Alan Budden makes an important point: “Before you fork out for new equipment, consider the rest of your home. While [a more efficient boiler] should be cheaper to run, if you increase your insulation, you’ll need to run your boiler less, meaning the overall impact of the new boiler will be reduced.”
Where can homeowners make the biggest difference to heat retention with insulation? “In the loft,” Alan says. “But you can do more damage than good if you’re not careful with moisture – ventilation is key.”
To conserve heat, he advises checking your existing insulation is 300mm thick, with no gaps. The eaves space shouldn’t be insulated, as this needs a ventilation route above it to reduce the risk of condensation or rot on the timbers. “Ideally, consider an intelligent vapour control membrane,” Alan says.
If you have a hot-water cylinder, you could reduce bills by £70 by insulating it well, so ask your professional to assess what you have. Don’t forget pipework, too, which can leak heat.
Passive House consultant Kit Knowles pushes for homeowners to look at how to harness their home’s existing ‘free energy’ – ie, from the people living in the building to the heat generated from appliances to solar gain from glazing. This is best done with an MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) system. That, of course, is a significant installation, but Alan mentions that extractor fans with heat recovery can be installed (not instead of an MVHR system, but as a useful quicker boost).
More: How to Retrofit Insulation in an Existing Property
According to the Energy Saving Trust, alongside ensuring your boiler is efficient, the biggest saving homeowners could make without major outlay or change is simple draughtproofing. Unless your home is very new, you’ll lose some heat through draughts around doors and windows, gaps around the floor, or out-of-use chimneys. Sash windows can be particularly tricky to seal against draughts, so it’s important to consultant an expert.
Getting a handyperson or draughtproofing professional in to plug the gaps between your windows and walls, fill cracks in the floors and gaps around skirting boards and doors, and fit brushes where you have large gaps at the bottom of internal doors, while assessing any other breezy spots in the home, could save you a not insignificant £125 per year*.
* Savings calculated by the Energy Saving Trust and based on a typical gas-fuelled semi-detached property in England, Scotland or Wales. The figures for Northern Ireland are slightly lower.
More: How to Repair and Maintain Sash Windows
According to the Energy Saving Trust, simply reducing the length of your shower to just four minutes could save £95 per year.
This isn’t the only way to save money, though. Also consider fitting an aerator to taps and showers; if you have a water meter, the benefits will be easy to spot. Many modern taps and showers incorporate these clever gadgets, which mix air into the water and could help you save up to 40 litres of water each day, according to the Energy Saving Trust. They can also be fitted to regular taps retrospectively. Ask your plumber for recommendations.
Your loo is also a major water squanderer – the second biggest culprit next to showering. A cistern displacement device can make a significant reduction in the amount of water used at each flush – up to two litres. Again, talk to your plumber to see what’s suitable for you.
More: How to Save Water in the Bathroom
“According to various studies, a typical house loses between 10% and 40% of its heat via the windows,” Jonathan Broughton says. “The most efficient type is a triple-glazed window, which can result in a 35% reduction in heat loss compared to double-glazing.”
Kit advises that, where possible, glazing should be reduced in new projects. “Glazing costs about five times more than a wall and performs five times worse,” he says. New windows should also be as close to a single fixed pane as possible, as the majority of heat is lost through the frame.
Secondary glazing is a quicker – and potentially cheaper – fix. Consult a professional who can advise on the best solutions for your windows. And if none of the above helps, you can still make a positive difference with clever window treatments (see below).
Find local window and glazing professionals on Houzz.
According to Jonathan, thermal lining and layering are key to keeping in warmth. “Layer two sets of curtains, or blinds and curtains together, for better insulation,” he says. “Fit one type inside the window recess, so less cold air gathers between the window and the blind.”
Curtain tracks – rather than poles – are generally best for minimising draughts, but French-style poles (which bend at the ends to take the curtains right to the wall) can help to reduce heat loss.
If you’re opting for blinds, a Roman blind inside a recess will be most effective.
What about length? Where there’s a radiator beneath the window, the best option is to finish the curtail 10cm to 15cm below the windowsill. “This will still allow the radiator to convect and radiate its heat into the room,” Jonathan says. Where there’s no radiator below, feel free to take your curtains to the floor.
Whether you’re renovating or looking to retrofit, there’s lots you can learn from the right professional about saving energy in your home.
To ensure you’re spending your money in the right places, question anyone you plan to engage about their approach to sustainable solutions. It’s worth asking if they’re familiar with either the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB) or the Passive House Institute, the two most significant organisations promoting environmentally friendly building practices, according to Kit.
Once you have your professional, ask them to do a full audit of your insulation, heating system, boiler efficiency, ventilation and more – and they should be able to advise where you’d be best to invest in order to save, depending on the work you’re planning.
Both Kit and Alan say a thorough approach is key to ensure energy saving throughout. “We always recommend a whole house plan before beginning a project, to avoid having to undo work already completed or locking out future options,” Alan says. “It allows you to phase work logically. We’ve dealt with clients who’ve had to rip out work that had only been in place for a few years, because they hadn’t put in sufficient insulation to achieve the comfort levels they wanted.”
“If you chuck a few grand at [the wrong] things over the years, you might see little change [in energy saved],” Kit says. “We use Passivhaus principles and people often believe these aren’t relevant to older homes, but we’ve converted Grade II listed buildings and old manor houses. It’s not just for new builds – and it’s not as expensive as people might think.”
Kit believes that anyone about to extend or significantly modernise their home could better spend their money on sustainable upgrades. “60% of all construction goes into modernisation – and that’s a problem. At that point, you have the money and willpower to have that building converted into something really efficient instead.”
More: Which Renewable Heating System Should I Choose?
How are you saving energy in your home? Share your tips in the Comments.