As we seek to combat growing economic and environmental challenges, sustainability and affordability are often at the forefront of discussion. While utility bills skyrocket year on year and resources deplete, one of the most desirable ways to make savings with both is to reduce the carbon footprint of our homes.
Carbon neutral’ housing uses no fossil fuels, and is either constructed – or adapted – using techniques and materials whose manufacture and installation are also efficient and sustainable. Many people associate carbon neutral homes with new builds, but a rise in the availability of retro-fitted dwellings means that lowering your carbon footprint has become more attainable than ever. Whether you are considering making changes to the structure, or simply adapting your appliances, it has never been a better time to begin the journey towards owning a carbon neutral home.
An energy comparison will reveal that several energy companies now have green tariffs which will assist you in offsetting your carbon emissions but it is when we generate our own power, or use sustainable alternatives, that we see the most appreciable savings and efficiency. FIT (feed-in-tariffs) schemes based on a well-positioned 2.5kw photo-voltaic cell, or solar panel, could save a household approximately £140 per Annum, with potential additional payments of almost £1000 for supplying this green energy to the grid.
Another cost-effective and energy saving measure which is essential to anyone seeking carbon neutrality is good insulation. Reducing the amount of fuel required to heat your home, and minimising the loss, will substantially improve your utility consumption, and maximise the efficacy of biomass heating sources such as wood burning boilers and heating systems. When insulating your property, there are many natural low-carbon alternatives to the expanding foam fillers with which we are the most familiar. One of the preferred options – particularly when adapting an older property – is cellulose; a recycled newspaper-fibre, it can be fired into cavities and crevices using a high-pressure hose. Other materials available for eco-friendly insulation are clay pellets and wood-chips, or straw bales and flax or hemp for new builds. It is also important to consider insulating your home externally with cladding in the form of wooden tiles, render, or specially-designed imitation brickwork, as this can provide much-needed heat retention. For new builds, timber-framed structures are often easier to heat, require less insulation, and have shallower foundations which carry less of a carbon load to create.
Triple-insulated windows filled with argon gas will also increase the efficiency of your home’s heating, as will installing large windows and glass doors on walls with a south-facing aspect. This will allow your home to benefit directly from the warmth of the sun, in addition to any solar panels you may also have installed. Selective planting of shady trees in your garden can also help keep your home cool in the height of summer, when that additional warmth may not be needed.
The other benefit of large and plentiful windows, is that it maximises the amount of natural light available as you move around your home, which will limit the use of electric lighting during daylight hours. When electric lights are required, low-energy LED bulbs are the most efficient, and technologies are being developed to improve the output from LED bulbs.
Minimising water consumption is another vital ecological and economic factor to creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly property. As well as being generally mindful of water usage, several steps can be taken to decrease the amount of billed and wasted water in your home. Looking for ‘A’ rated appliances is always important to a carbon-neutral home, as these will be efficient with electrical consumption as well as water. Fitting a tank to collect rainwater could fill your washing machine with water, flush your toilets, and supply the tap to your garage or utility room sink. Using rainwater for the garden tap has the added advantage of circumnavigating the hosepipe bans seen so often across the southernmost counties of Britain each year.
If rainwater is not desirable, or practical, then a ‘grey water’ system that will recycle waste water from the bath or shower to flush toilets is another useful application. Installing eco-friendly bathroom suites will also help reduce the amount of water you use, and in turn lower your water rates. A modern style of bath with a more streamlined design often means that it will have a smaller volume, and require less water to fill without compromising on style or comfort. Be sure to compare how many litres it will take to fill your bath whenever you are choosing your new suite, and opt for the more efficient options. If your toilet has an old-style cistern with a large capacity, then replacing it with a more contemporary model can save up to seven litres per flush. Where that is not possible, fitting a ‘hippo’ flotation device in your cistern will also reduce its capacity and save on water, and these are often freely available from your water provider.
While planning restrictions have been eased with regard to the installation of solar panels, and other energy efficiency measures, it is crucial to ensure that you have Buildings Regulations Approval before carrying out any enhancements to your home. This will ensure that the structural integrity will not be damaged by any adaptations and that they are conducted safely. The erection of mini turbines or solar panels may be prohibited in areas that are communal or buildings that are listed, but most private residences face little opposition to equipping their homes for a cleaner, greener, more affordable future.