With temperatures plummeting and stormy and wintry weather sweeping the country many people will be thinking about how they can make their homes warmer and more energy efficient. In an effort to curb the Coronavirus, anyone who can work from home has been encouraged to do so. This means that many of us are spending far more time at home leading to higher energy bills and more awareness of the efficiency of our heating systems. Heat escapes from houses from roofs, floors, doors, windows, and walls wasting a portion of the money spent on your heating system. There is still a lot that can be done to lessen heat loss and wasted energy spend in most homes in the UK, meaning you could have a warmer and more comfortable home while wasting less money on heating.
Research conducted by Nationwide building society and shared with Guardian Money reveals that some households could be wasting as much as £27.50 a month or £330 a year due to inefficient heating and poor insulation. The research is based on data from Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs). Since 2008 an EPC has been needed whenever a house is built, sold, or rented. An EPC contains information about a property’s energy use and typical energy costs as well as recommendations about how to reduce energy use and save money. An EPC gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is valid for 10 years.
There are several measures people can take to improve the energy rating of their home. Although there can be big differences in the costs involved, thanks to the government’s Green Homes Grant, help is at hand and homeowners in England can apply for vouchers that in most cases will pay two-thirds of the cost of certain energy-efficient improvements, up to a maximum of £5,000 a household. If you are on a low income and on certain benefits you can claim the whole cost up to £10,000. You may also be able to get help from your energy supplier or another company. To give you an example, Nationwide offers a green additional loan that allows mortgage customers to borrow between £5,000 and £25,000 at a discounted initial interest rate as long as they spend half of the money on energy efficient home improvements.
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Here are some of the measures that you can take to make your home warmer and more energy efficient with some help from the Energy Saving Trust:
- Insulate Your Water Tanks, Pipes, and Radiators
A simple measure like insulating your hot water cylinder with a jacket could save you over £100 a year on an uninsulated tank. Water tanks and pipes lose heat quickly, so insulating them will keep them hotter for longer, saving you money and reducing the energy you use. It’s also worth topping up the insulation on your hot water tank by replacing 25mm with an 80mm jacket which would still save you between £25 and £35 per year. Jackets can be bought for about £10-£15 from retailers such as B&Q which means that you would save more than the cost of the jacket in the first year.
Foam tubes can be used to insulate pipes at a cost of only a few pounds from DIY stores.
You can also install radiator reflector foil behind your radiator which reduces heat loss by reflecting it back into the room.
- Cavity Wall Insulation
About a third of all the heat lost in an uninsulated home escapes through the walls. If your house was built after the 1920s it is likely to have cavity walls, but many homes built before the 1990s do not have any wall insulation. The normal procedure is to employ an installer to drill small holes in the outside walls, inject insulation material into the gap and then seal the holes with cement. Typical installation costs of cavity wall insulation will vary depending on the size of your home. But whatever the size of your home you should be able to make back the installation cost in five years or less due to the yearly energy bill savings you will make. The Energy Saving Trust puts the average cost at between £345 for a flat and £610 for a detached house with more than one floor. Some energy suppliers offer free cavity wall insulation under the official energy company obligation system. The ECO scheme is designed to help reduce carbon emissions and tackle fuel poverty. Generally, you need to be in receipt of one or more qualifying benefits.
- Roof & Loft Insulation
You can lose 25% of heat through the roof of an uninsulated home, so insulating your loft or roof is a great way to lower your heating bills. Although topping up your loft insulation involves an initial cost the Energy Saving Trust estimates that loft insulation is effective for at least 42 years. It should pay for itself many times over.
You may want to install the insulation yourself if your loft is easy to access. You will need rolls of mineral wool insulation, some of which are designed to be used as a base layer while others are for topping up existing insulation. Basic versions can be bought from DIY stores for less than £20.
If you decide to use a professional installer you can go on the National Insulation Association’s website to find someone local. Their charges will range from about £285 for a mid-terrace house, £300 for a semi and £375-£395 for a detached property. The EST says this is based on installing a 270mm of insulation where there is none (the recommended depth for mineral wool insulation) so it will be cheaper if you are just topping up existing insulation.
Some energy suppliers offer free loft insulation to eligible households under the energy company obligation scheme.
- Solid Wall Insulation
If your home was built before the 1920s, its external walls are probably solid walls rather than cavity walls. Insulating your solid walls could cut your heating cost considerably. These solid walls can be insulated from the inside or the outside. This may take the form of insulation boards fitted to the walls. The EST estimates the cost of internal wall insulation at about £7,400 and external wall insulation at about £13,000 for a typical semi-detached house. As this can be quite an expensive process you might want to reduce the bill by carrying out other improvements at the same time or opt not to do the whole house at once.
- Floor Insulation
Insulating your ground floor, or any floors above unheated spaces like garages, will help keep the heat in your home. Newer homes generally have ground floors made of solid concrete while older homes are likely to have suspended timber floors. For older homes you can lift the floorboards and lay mineral wool insulation between the joists and for newer homes you can lay rigid insulation on top of the concrete floors.
A professional installer will typically charge between £520 and £1300 according to estimates from the EST though costs can vary significantly depending on the size of the house.
Installing insulation under floorboards on the ground floor can save you about £40 a year on heating bills.
There are, however, some cheap quick fixes such as blocking gaps in the floor and skirting boards with a tube of sealant from a DIY store or putting down rugs or carpets.
- Double or Triple Glaze Windows and Doors
Double or triple glazing doors and windows will also help to reduce heat loss from your home. You can replace an external door with a more energy-efficient one or install draught-proofing measures.
- Draught-Proof Your Home
Draught-proofing your home is one of the most cost-effective ways of keeping your energy bills low. Heat can escape from your home through any gaps, holes, or cracks, including gaps in windows and doors through to open chimneys.
- Solar Photovoltaic Panels
Installing solar panels can dramatically reduce your carbon emissions as well as save you money on your energy bills. Solar PV panels convert energy from the sun into electricity.
The EST says:
“They are an effective measure that will cut electricity bills and your carbon footprint.”
Solar energy is one of the biggest and most effective kinds of renewable energy in the world. The natural power of the sun is harvested to create electricity to heat and light your home. Your solar PV system can either produce electricity or heat your water whilst reducing the amount of carbon dioxide you produce. There are lots of options, from panels that can be fitted on a sloping south-facing or flat roof to ground-standing panels or solar tiles. The average domestic solar PV system is 3.5KWp and costs around £4,800.
There will be times when your PV system generates more electricity than you can use, or store and your surplus will be exported to the grid to be used by somebody else. You can be paid for the electricity you export to the grid but first you need to find a company that will pay you for this surplus. In March 2019, the Smart Export Guarantee was introduced to provide financial support to small-scale renewable energy generators for the electricity they export to the grid. The savings from solar PV with the SEG are considerably higher than without it. In the UK, the SEG pays you for the electricity you generate but you must have a smart meter installed to benefit from the scheme. You can make an annual saving of between £250 and £330 per year if you are signed up to the SEG in the UK.
- Air Source Heat Pumps
Installing an air source heat pump can be a great alternative to continuing with your current heating system. They tend to be both cost effective and energy efficient. Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the outside air to warm your home and water. They can still extract heat when air temperatures are as low as -15°C. Running costs will vary depending on things such as the size of your home and how well insulated it is.
Air source heat pumps need electricity to run, but because they extract renewable heat from the environment, the heat output is greater than the electricity input. This makes them an energy efficient method of heating your home.
Installing a typical system costs around £9,000 – £11,000. You will still have to pay fuel bills with a heat pump because it is powered by electricity, but you are likely to save money on your fuel bills depending on the type of heating you are replacing. If your old heating system was inefficient, you are more likely to see lower running costs with a new heat pump. For example, you could save up to £1000 per year in an average sized, four-bedroom detached home if you are replacing old electric storage heaters with an air source heat pump.
For many people, installing renewable heating technology is a major investment. Fortunately, the government is currently offering a financial incentive in the form of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI offers quarterly cash payments over 7 years for generating low carbon heat, which improves your return on investment.
Further to the RHI, the government is currently offering financial help to homeowners with the Green Homes Grant introduced to encourage the uptake of Renewable technologies.
- Ground Source Heat Pumps
Installing a ground source heat pump can be an excellent way of using a major source of renewable energy, the heat from the ground. One of the best methods of extracting and harnessing this valuable energy is a Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) which can be used for producing hot water and operating warm air heating systems. This heating system uses pipes buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground that can be used for radiators, underfloor or warm air heating systems and hot water in your home. A well installed Ground Source Heat Pump can be 300-400% efficient in terms of its use of electricity. For every unit of electricity used by the heat pump, three to four units of heat are captured and transferred.
Installing a typical system costs around £14,000 to £19,000. Running costs will depend on a number of factors including the size of your home and how well insulated it is. You could save up to £1,470 per year if you were to replace an old (G-rated) LPG boiler with a ground source heat pump for an average sized, four-bedroom detached home.