By Kat Sommers•
Building an eco home may be the dream, but making changes to your existing home so it uses less energy can be just as rewarding.
But home renovations make the biggest difference to the planet and your pocket. You can look up your home's current Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) to see how efficient your property already is, and to get recommendations for appropriate improvements. Some of them may be costly upfront, but make up for it in the long run.
You may be eligible for funding from The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) scheme to make your home more energy efficient.
Insulation is essentially your home’s winter coat. And as anyone who’s ever left the house wearing a thin jacket in January knows, it’s worth investing in a really good one.
Loft insulation creates a warm barrier between you and the cold air outside. There are different types of insulation, like thick rolls of material, rigid boards which are cut to size, or special foam that’s sprayed into place.
It can be installed either between the joists – those horizontal beams along the floor of your loft, or between the rafters – the angled wooden beams that support the roof of your house.
Insulation works by trapping heat inside your house. It doesn’t stop the heat loss completely, but it will slow it down, especially if it’s at least 270mm thick.
That can get pricey, but, when you consider that up to 26% of heat could be escaping through your roof, it’s worth it.
If you have no insulation in your loft, installing 270mm of new insulation could save you up to £135, and avoid 580kg of carbon emissions being wasted every year.
And if you have some insulation already, topping it up might mean you save more too. Increasing the thickness of your insulation from 120mm to 270mm could save an extra £13 a year on your energy bills. It all adds up.
Not sure if it does? Touch it. If your tank is warm to the touch – it needs extra insulation. You could save an extra £18 a year by increasing the thickness of the jacket from 25mm to 80mm. It’ll reduce your carbon footprint by 110kg too.
And if your tank doesn’t have a jacket at all, the savings could be as much as £80 a year. It’ll shave 485kg off your carbon footprint, about the same amount of emissions produced by a flight from Dublin to Moscow.
A third of the heat lost in an uninsulated home escapes through the external walls, so insulating them is definitely an investment worth making.
The first thing to do is work out what type of walls your home has. There are two types: solid walls and cavity walls.
If your house was built before the 1920s, then chances are its walls are solid. Installing internal or external solid wall insulation could save you around £210 a year and reduce your carbon footprint by 890kg.
If your home is modern, then it probably has cavity walls – or walls with a gap between an outer layer of brick and an inner layer of concrete block or more brick. If it was built since the 1990s, then insulation may have been run through the gap in the cavity walls already. But if it wasn’t, adding insulation could save you up to £155 a year and cut your footprint by 660kg.
Heat can also escape through your floor, with around 8% of heat lost to the ground beneath an uninsulated home.
So adding insulation under the floorboards of the ground floor is a great way to keep your home warm. If your home is relatively modern, it’ll probably have a solid floor made from concrete or a similar material. And if it’s old, it’ll probably have a suspended timber floor made from floorboards.
Whether you lay insulation over solid floors, or beneath the floorboards, it’ll save you around £40 a year and cut your carbon footprint by about 175kg too.
No Jacket Required may be Phil Collins’ biggest selling album, but it is terrible advice when it comes to home insulation.
Pipe jackets actually help the warm water in your pipes to stay warm. So the next time you need hot water, you’re already halfway there – you’ll use less energy bringing it back up to the right temperature. Adding a jacket to exposed pipes could save you around £3 a year, and cut your carbon footprint by 18kg.
Thankfully Phil saw the light, following that album up with 1989’s…But Seriously (Lag Your Pipes).
If cold air is getting in, then your heating has to work twice as hard – a waste of energy, not to mention the added cost to your energy bills.
Making your home draught-proof could save you around £25 a year, whether that’s with thick curtains, or running draught excluders or seals along the gaps between windows and doors.
If you’re worried about the cost, then self-adhesive window strips are a cheaper alternative to metal or plastic seals. They just won’t last as long.And if you have a fireplace that isn’t in use, think about insulating your chimney. Having an open flue is like having an open window all the time, so blocking those draughts will make your home much warmer and cosier.
A chimney balloon is an inflatable, reusable balloon designed to fit inside the chimney to stop draughts and heat loss. If you’re worried about setting one up, one manufacturer offers the ‘Chimney Sheep’. This is a thick pad of wool with a handle which plugs the gap just above the fireplace. Blocking chimney draughts can save you around £18 and cut your carbon impact by 75kg a year.
No-one likes a draughty home, but you don’t want it to get stuffy either. So when draught-proofing your home, make sure you allow for some ventilation. Blocking up every nook and cranny will lead to poor air circulation, which can cause damp and mould.
For good airflow, leave the following unblocked:
underfloor grilles or airbricks
Look for the ‘British Fenestration Rating Council’ or ‘BFRC’ on the energy label of any windows you’re looking to buy. This means their energy efficiency has been verified by the organisation in charge of the energy ratings for windows.
A higher energy rating does make windows more expensive, but installing A++ rated double glazing in your home could save you up to £95 off your energy bills, and cut your carbon footprint by 405kg of CO2 a year.
Installing the cheaper A-rated double glazing will still save you around £75 a year.
If you can’t install double glazing – for example, if you live in a conservation area, period property, or listed building – you can install secondary glazing, use heavy curtains, or preferably both.
Secondary glazing is a pane of glass that’s fixed to the inside frame of your window. Installing secondary glazing in an otherwise single-glazed home could save you around £70 a year.
You can also buy insulating film to improve the energy efficiency of sash windows. This can make a big difference to the temperature of your home, and it’s available at most DIY shops.
Heating our homes is often our biggest bill, so it’s worth investing in its efficiency to cut costs in the long-run.
Look for an energy saving label when choosing which boiler to buy. Like household appliances and double-glazing, boilers must clearly display an EU Energy Label when offered for sale.
The rating makes a big difference. Replacing an old D-rated boiler with an A-rated one with a full set of heating controls could save around £110 a year, and reduce your carbon footprint by 570kg.
You can also make big savings if your home has storage heaters instead of gas-powered central heating. Many modern models have built-in thermostats and are ‘fan-assisted’ to help spread heat around.
Upgrading to a modern slim-line or fan storage heater with advanced controls could save up to £145 on your annual energy bills.
A fancy new high heat-retention storage heater uses low-cost, off-peak energy to provide the most economical heating. Upgrading to one of these could save you £285 and cut your carbon impact by around 670kg a year.
Some of the heat from your radiator goes straight into the wall behind it, which is fine if you’re after toasty walls. Chances are you’d prefer to feel the benefit yourself, so installing a reflective panel behind each radiator will reflect the heat back into the room.
Tin foil is one way of doing it, but it’s worth spending some money on reflective panels from your local DIY shop. They could save you around £13 and shave your carbon footprint by 70kg each year.
Ok, so installing solar panels is not for the faint-hearted. They involve a significant outlay, and the returns are long-term. But by generating your own electricity, you could save anywhere from £85 to £220 on your energy bill each year, and over time that adds up.
Solar panels can also help you make money on top of the savings they offer. If you’re generating energy you’re not using, energy suppliers will pay you for it every time you export it to the grid. Find out how to sell your electricity to Bulb.
You can get more energy saving tips from:
The energy saving figures in this guide came from the Energy Saving Trust in June 2021. They're based on a typical home, so your savings will vary. Unless you live in a 3-bedroom, semi-detached house with gas heating, that is, on the average tariffs for gas and electricity.