Eco Homes: How to Increase Sustainability in Your Home

 

  1. The importance of being sustainable at home
  2. Sustainable house features 
    > Sustainable home heating
    > Energy-efficient homes
    > Improved energy efficiency and your EPC rating 
  3. Being sustainable at home 
  4. The future of sustainable homes

 

The importance of being sustainable at home

 

The world is warming up. As a result of human activities, more and more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are being released into the atmosphere. In turn, this drives up the earth’s temperatures. And the increase in temperature has numerous effects, including extreme weather conditions and melting polar ice – all of the things we hear about in the news. 

This has led to a drive towards more sustainable living. Sustainable living could refer to any changes in lifestyle which attempts to reduce someone’s use of the earth’s natural resources. You might have heard people talk about their carbon footprint. It refers to the amount of greenhouse gases that our actions generate – for example, how we travel or what we eat can impact our carbon footprint.

But there’s good news. Making more sustainable choices can reduce your carbon footprint. And the home is one of the best places to start.Back in 2016, 40% of UK emissions came from households, so the Government set out some impressive targets for emissions reductions.

 

Source: The Committee on Climate Change


Sustainable house features 

 

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by climate change. But if you want to do your bit for the planet, any small changes can make an impact. It’s important to take a sensible approach to sustainability – which basically means understanding your lifestyle needs and how you make a difference without any hindering consequences. All of this is easier if you know what sustainable house features are available. 

Whether you’re buying a new home or building your own, the following technologies should be of interest.

Sustainable home heating

We all need to heat our homes, but don’t often think about where that heat comes from – and how that impacts the environment. The Energy Saving Trust lists five sources of renewable heat:

Biomass

A biomass heating system is one fuelled by wood. This could be wood pellets, chips or logs. If a biomass system is just being used to heat a single room, a stove is used. But you can also get back boilers fitted to stoves which means it can power central heating and hot water boilers. The Energy Saving Trust says a wood-fuelled biomass boiler could save you up to £960 a year compared to an old electric heating system. 

But is it better for the environment? Well, carbon dioxide is emitted when the wood is burned – but it’s the same amount the tree absorbed while it was growing. It’s a sustainable choice, so long as new trees are planted. It’s even better if you source the fuel locally.

Ground source heat pumps 

Using a series of pipes buried underground, a ground source heat pump circulates a mixture of water and antifreeze. Heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid. It’s then passed through a heat exchanger and heat pump, and can be used to heat your home – whether that’s a radiator, underfloor heating, air heating systems or hot water.

Throughout the year, the ground temperature stays at roughly the same below the surface. Ground source heat pumps take advantage of that. Plus, you could actually earn money through the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). 

What’s the Renewable Heat Incentive? 

Set up by the UK Government in 2014, RHI was designed to help the UK achieve its target of producing 12% of its heat from renewable sources by 2020. To do this, there’s a financial reward for those who use renewable energy to heat their homes to encourage more households to install renewable heat technologies. 

It’s still available, and you could get payments every quarter for seven years if you qualify. You have to apply to energy regulator Ofgem to join the scheme and it makes payments to you.

Source: Which?

 

Air source heat pump

Extracting heat from the outside air, air source heat pumps can actually get heat from air when the temperature is as low as -15°C. This heat is absorbed into a fluid, which passes through a compressor. That’s where the temperature is increased, before it can be used in the home. You can get two types of air source heat pumps (air-to-air or air-to-water), which heat properties differently.

One thing you need to know about air source heat pumps is that they deliver heat at lower temperatures than your usual boiler. To run them efficiently in winter, they might need to be on constantly.

Solar water heating

With a solar water heating system, solar panels collect heat from the sun and use it to warm water. This water is then stored in a hot water cylinder ready to use. Sometimes, boilers or immersion heaters are used as back-ups, to make sure the water is consistently hot enough.

Thermal stores 

With domestic renewable heat technologies, thermal stores are an increasingly common way of storing any excess heat that’s produced. Typically stored as heated water in a well-insulated tank, the water is then ready to be used when it’s needed. Thermal stores can be used with one type of technology, or to combine two different renewable heating systems (e.g. wood-fuelled biomass boilers, heat pumps or wind energy). 


Energy-efficient homes 

 

To run our homes, we need to use up a lot of energy. But could that energy be sourced in a better way? The Energy Saving Trust suggests the following ways:

Solar panels 

Once upon a time, if solar panels were installed on a house near you, they stood out quite a bit. But it’s increasingly common to see solar panels on UK homes. Using photovoltaic cells, they capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity. But they don’t need direct sunlight to do this – solar panels work even on cloudy days.

Wind turbines

We’ve all seen the large wind turbine farms dotted around the country. But you can get small-scale wind turbines to generate energy at home. When the wind is blowing, the blades turn round and drive a turbine – this is what generates electricity to use in the home. You can get free standing pole-mounted turbines or turbines which can be mounted on buildings.

Hydro

If you live near a stream or river, you may be able to harness its energy. They flow downhill, which means a stream or river has energy – a small hydroelectricity converts this moving water from potential energy into kinetic energy. It’s all done in a turbine, which drives a generator. The electricity produced can be used for lighting and electrical appliances throughout the home.

Micro-CHP

Micro combined heat and power (micro-CHP) is a system which “generates heat and electricity simultaneously from the same energy source,” according to The Energy Saving Trust. In other words, they’re able to generate electricity while also heating water. 

Micro-CHP systems currently being used in homes are powered by mains gas or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which are fossil fuels. However, because it can be more efficient than using a fossil fuel for heat and still getting electricity off the grid, it’s still considered a low-carbon technology. 

Improved energy efficiency and your EPC rating 

Most homes in the UK will have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). That’s because they are needed when a property is bought, sold or rented. As outlined by GOV.uk, ”an EPC gives a property an energy efficiency rating from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient) and is valid for 10 years.” It gives insight into a property’s energy use, the costs of that use, and recommendations about how to reduce energy use.

EPCs are particularly important for landlords because of The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES). Coming into force in 2018, MEES raised minimum EPC rating requirements as part of  attempts to counter climate change. For anyone privately renting residential and non-domestic property, they need to ensure it has an EPC rating of E or better. There are restrictions for landlords selling or renting properties with EPC ratings of F and G.

And it’s having an impact on energy efficiency. Reports from October 2019 confirmed the percentage of F and G rated properties dropped from a 10-year average of 14.6% to a much lower rate of 3.5% in the last 12 months.


Being sustainable at home 

 

You don’t have to wait for changes in rules and regulations to start improving the efficiency of your home. If you want to live more sustainably, home is a great place to start.

Working out how to be eco-friendly doesn’t have to take loads of time and money. Not everyone can build their own eco home, or transform their existing heating or energy systems. Nevertheless, there are plenty of easy things you can start doing at home to make a difference. It’s all about being aware of what resources you’re using, what waste you’re generating and where you could potentially cut back. 

Some great places to start include:

  • Watching your water use. We shower, boil the kettle, wash our clothes and much more. In fact, the average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water every day. Any way we can use less will not only save water, but energy and money too. Some water-saving tips you might not have thought of include:
    • Put jugs of water in the fridge, so you always have cold water – rather than running the tap
    • Collect rainwater in your garden to use for watering your plants 
    • Place a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet cistern – every time you flush, it’ll use less water
    • Get a water meter fitted to monitor your usage
  • Improve your insulation. Well-insulated homes reduce energy use because they stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. In fact, investing in insulation materials can be a more cost-effective choice than investing in new, expensive heating technologies. You can use additional insulation materials in your roof, walls and floors.
  • Use LED lighting. The most efficient way of lighting your home, LED bulbs may be more expensive but they use 90% less energy than traditional incandescent lighting so you’ll make the money back in energy savings. LEDs last a long time too.
  • Get better at recycling. A lot of our waste ends up in landfills, which release emissions and are generally bad for the environment. Instead, we should be reusing things as much as possible before properly recycling them. It saves energy, reduces demand for raw materials and protects ecosystems. Take plastic bottles, for example. The recycling rate for this product is about 45%, which falls short of the 90+% rate from the likes of Germany and Sweden. We can – and should – do better (for example, reusable bottles). 
  • Shop smarter. You might have heard the term ‘fast fashion’ being thrown around. Clothes have become cheaper and the trend cycles have sped up – as a result, lots of us buy clothes only to wear them a handful of times before throwing them away and buying something new.

    Not only does the manufacture of these clothes have a huge impact on the environment, but lots of them end up in landfill. Consumers need to remember to reduce, reuse, repair and recycle as much as possible. Be particularly conscious around Christmas and other celebrations which encourage us to spend and potentially buy things we don’t need. 

Changes don’t have to be huge. Washing your clothes on a cool cycle or turning your heating down by one degree – it all makes a difference. More than anything, though, once you start making changes, it’ll encourage you to make more.

The future of sustainable homes

We must all face the challenge of climate change together. As such, it’s driving innovation across government, business and individuals. As the need for changes intensifies, we rely on new developments and technology from leaders. The pressure is on home builders and contractors too, especially as the government is introducing a new minimum for environmental standards of all new housing, named The Future Homes Standard. 

The aim is to cut carbon emissions for all new homes by up to 80% from 2025. One way they intend to do this is by banning traditional fossil fuel heating systems (e.g. gas boilers) and recommending replacements like air source heat pumps and solar panels.

At the time The Future Homes Standard was announced, Housing Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP said: “Building new homes isn’t just about bricks and mortar, I want to ensure everyone – including developers – do their bit to protect the environment and give the next generation beautiful, environmentally friendly homes that local communities can support.”

This is just one example of change in legislation. Another interesting sign of things to come arrived in June 2019 with the EU Technical Expert Group on Sustainable Finance (TEG)’s draft of its taxonomy technical report. 

Put simply, it will provide quantitative limits which any economic activity needs to meet in order to be considered sustainable – including targets for the top 15% of the market for construction and real estate. And it stated that new buildings will only be considered sustainable if they achieve an EPC rating of B or better, along with targets for refurbishments.

Although none of this is legally binding yet, the message is clear: sustainable buildings have to be highly energy efficient. We can expect further developments to drive forward the future of sustainable homes. Not only that, but the property industry is delivering innovation to ensure the number of eco homes and sustainability technology is on the rise. Homeowners looking to minimise the environmental impact of their house should have greater choice than ever.