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Improve the energy-efficiency of your home – before winter hits

by admin

With winter rapidly approaching, it might be a good time to improve the energy-efficiency of your home. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but it could help you save money throughout the cold spell – so check out these five simple tips:

Take a look at your Energy Performance Certificate

If you have recently moved home, or were thinking of selling up, you might have access to a recent Energy Performance Certificate. This will include information about your property’s energy use and typical energy costs as well as recommendations about how to make your home more eco-friendly. Take a look at these suggestions, as you could find several ways to reduce your outgoings when the temperatures drop.

Arrange a boiler service

The cold weather is sure to set in over the next few months, so why not book a gas boiler service in good time? An approved engineer will make sure everything’s running properly and will replace any broken or damaged parts if necessary. If your boiler cover’s in date, don’t forget to check the conditions of the policy, because annual gas inspections are often included.

Switch to energy-saving light bulbs

If your house is lit up like Vegas throughout winter (particularly at Christmas), try to use energy-saving light bulbs. According to the Energy Saving Trust, compact flourescents are a great alternative to traditional bulbs and LEDs can replace 50W halogen downlighters – so see what you can find. While we are on the subject of lighting, try to turn all switches off when you leave a room and use candles and lamps whenever possible to reduce your energy output.

Insulate your home

Does your house get a little chilly from time-to-time? Are there cold winds blowing around? If so, take steps to insulate your home. Get hold of some self-adhesive sealant strips to close up gaps and buy special foam to spray between doors and windows. Once that’s done, fit draught excluders to your letterbox and underneath your doors and buy yourself a keyhole cover. A few small changes can make a big difference, so it’s worth taking action – sooner rather than later.

Bleed your radiators

If your radiators are warm at the bottom and cold at the top, there might be an air bubble trapped in the system. This blockage is called an airlock and can stop your central heating from working properly. To solve the problem, try bleeding your radiators by turning the bleed valve anticlockwise and waiting for the air to hiss out. Once water emerges, tighten everything back up and check things are working as they should be. Still having issues? Then ask your insurance company to send out one of their qualified heating engineers.

Winter is just around the corner, so do all you can to make your house energy-efficient.

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Solar Panels for the Home – A Bright Idea?

by Sarah Halloran

I had a salesman call at my house on Monday trying to sell me solar PV panels.  I gave him short shrift as I do with most poor sales people that turn up at my door, but it got me thinking.  Over the past few months I have seen a few local homes with panels slapped onto their roofs, so I decided to do a little delving online.

As you no doubt know, solar panels have been used for years to generate energy through the power of the sun’s rays.  They are most commonly seen on commercial buildings, but thanks to the manufacture of a smaller type of panel, they are now available for the home.  Now, the cost of installing these beauties is actually quite astronomical and you could be facing a bill of £12,500 which is a considerable amount of money for anybody.  The salesperson I spoke to on Monday told me I could save thousands on my heating bills.  What he didn’t tell me is that the average household would save £140 a year on electricity bills so those thousands would take years to materialise!

Ofgem has predicted that standard electricity bills are set to rise by 20% in 2020, but does that add to the appeal of solar panels?  Of course, we are all looking to reduce our bills, but the initial outlay is not going to be covered for several decades and the small yearly saving alone is not enough to deem panels as a worthy investment.

However, the Government, in a bid to improve sustainable resources and push the use of solar panelling, launched a scheme in April 2010 called the Clean Energy Cash Back Scheme.  This scheme is designed to give monetary rewards to owners of solar panels for the electricity they produce even when it is used in the home.  For every unit of electricity generated the scheme offers 41.3p and there is also a bonus of 3p per unit for any unused electricity that is sent back to the National Grid.  That means solar panel owners stand to make approximately £850 a year with this scheme.  And it gets better.  The UK Government have suggested that this scheme will last for at least 25 years and that payments will increase in line with inflation.  Payments are also tax free.  Following the initial outlay for your panels, this means a profit of £12,500 can be made over 25 years.

Of course, there are drawbacks.  Whilst the Government may have promised to run the scheme for 25 years, there is the risk that the scheme could be pulled if money-saving measures are required.  It always seems to be the good stuff that gets targeted.  Solar panel systems may also reduce in price as their popularity grows so your investment now might degrade in the future.  However, on balance, the savings you’ll make on your bills and the payments from the Government scheme do make solar panels an investment worth considering.  There are also the environmental benefits to consider too of course.

A couple of weeks ago we published an article about new energy saving homes and how they are more favourable with home buyers.  So, not only do solar panels give you value through savings and scheme payments, but they could push up the value and selling potential of your home too.

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A New Era in Home Heating? Renewable Heat Premium Payment

by Gordon Miller

The Government’s has today launched a new £15 million ‘Renewable Heat Premium Payment’ scheme. The initiative will open for applications on 1 August this year until March 2012. It is claimed it will support up to 25,000 installations.

The scheme will be mainly focused at around 4 million households in Great Britain not heated by mains gas. These residents have to rely on higher carbon forms of heating which also tend to be more expensive than gas, such as heating oil and electric fires to keep warm.

Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said:

Today starts a new era in home heating because we’re making it more economical for people to go green by providing discounts off the cost of eco heaters.

This should be great news for people who are reliant on expensive oil or electric heating as the Premium Payment scheme is really aimed at them.

Householders will need to ensure they have basic energy efficiency measures in place before applying for the grants, which will be available on a first come first served basis.

From 1 August, grants for the following technologies will be available:

• Ground Source Heat Pump – £1250 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)

• Biomass boiler – £950 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)

• Air source heat pump – £850 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)

• Solar thermal hot water panels – £300 grant (available to all households regardless of the type of heating system used)

Anwar Harland-Khan, CEO of Sustain Worldwide, a membership organisation of developers and architects, said: “The Renewal Heat Premium Payment scheme is a welcome initiative but in truth it’s a stop gap before the Renewal Heat Incentive scheme and the Green Deal are introduced in 2012.

“However, for anyone considering installing solar thermal before next winter why not grab what is effectively a £300 discount on the average £3,000-£5,000 purchase and installation cost?

The Premium Payment scheme will be run by the Energy Saving Trust. Householders can call 0800 512 012 or visit A factsheet on the Premium Payment scheme can be found here.

Gordon Miller is sustainability & communications director of Sustain Worldwide . He writes for The Financial Times and The Sunday Times and founded eco homes website and local energy and awareness social enterprise The High Barnet Green Home Zone.

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New Initiative Launched to Improve Energy Efficiency and Sustainable Housing

by Sarah Halloran

One of the most cost effective methods of cutting emissions is through improving energy efficiency in the UK’s existing housing stock.  Whilst on the surface this might sound quite easy, it’s actually quite a challenge.  Four out of five homes in the UK are owned privately and to date nobody has been able to successfully deliver an efficient method of managing a large scale retrofit project such as this.  One initiative, the Government’s Green Deal, is designed to help, but there are many hurdles to jump in order to make this a success.

Whilst more and more homeowners might be focusing on recycling and being more self-sufficient, there is still major work to be done to encourage improvements to energy consumption.  Switching off the odd light switch here and using less water there is a great start, but simply isn’t having a dramatic impact on improving energy efficiency nationwide.  With this in mind, a new initiative is being launched to address the challenges faced by homeowners on a financial and advisory level.

Refit West is a revolutionary new scheme which as assisted private homeowners to reduce how much energy they use in their homes, whilst Forum for the Future has formulated a practical model that will see whole houses being retrofitted across the country.

A report, released by Forum for the Future, entitled ‘Update from the front line: real homeowner retrofit journeys and barriers the Green Deal must overcome’ shares insights and experiences of the customer journey and highlights areas that still need to be addressed by the Green Deal initiative.

Forum for the Future has been working on a pilot project together with a small number of other pioneers in Bristol and the West of England.  This project hopes to make this region one of the most sustainable in the UK.  The project has taken a broad spectrum of properties filled with homeowners who are committed to improving the energy consumption and efficiency of their properties.   The experiences of these homeowners will help the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Energy Saving Trust in their development of a nationwide scheme for energy efficiency.

Despite the best efforts of the Government and environmental agencies, residential carbon emissions have fallen by only 6% since 1990.  That’s a worrying statistic when you consider how many initiatives and advertising campaigns there have been during this time.  However, the work of the Forum for the Future is essential to ensure we meet our national carbon reduction targets.

It’s really important, says Forum for the Future, to empower homeowners, giving them all the information and cost effective options they require to improve energy efficiency.  This includes designing effective solutions, ensuring suppliers offer value for money and quality services and solutions, and to build confidence and trust in the emerging market.  Working with Refit West, Forum for the Future has developed some innovative financial models that will help homeowners to invest the necessary capital costs required for retrofitting their homes to make them more energy efficient.

In order for this initiative to work, it’s important that key elements are in place including providing financial incentives, creating demand amongst homeowners and ensuring a professional workforce with the necessary skills is available to carry out the refit works.

In time, Forum for the Future aims to create a replicable model that can be rolled out across the whole of the UK and to increase the demand by homeowners for energy efficiency works.

A recording of the webinar held by Ben Ross and Refit West homeowner Chris Priest on 25th March is now available on the 2degreesnetwork website for registered members of 2degrees.

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Energy Efficiency – staying warm without turning up the thermostat

by Gordon Miller

Now the weather has turned cold in the UK, our thoughts have turned to how we can keep warm – indoors as well as outdoors.  For many of us that simply means turning up the thermostat another notch.  But with reports of fuel price hikes of 7% and higher imminent, suddenly energy efficiency has become an even hotter topic.

MGM builds highly insulated apartments and chalets in the snowy French Alps

Starting with our existing homes, the key word is insulation. The idea is to keep the heat in and the cold out. 25% goes out the roof – so lay up to 270mm of insulation; 35% escapes through the walls.  Combat this by having cavity wall insulation.  If you have one of the 6 million solid brick wall homes, consider dry wall lining.

Windows and draughts account for 25% of heat loss in our homes.  So plug the gaps with filler, use draught excluders on your exterior doors (and don’t forget the letter box).  If you can afford it, think about double (or even triple) glazing.  If that’s too costly, secondary glazing is a cheaper alternative.

Next, find out how much electricity you use (or waste).  Buy, or rent from your local library, an electricity monitor.  These clever gadgets show you how much electricity you are using in the home. Flick the kettle on and you’ll see it costs a shocking 25p to boil water if it was to be left on continuously for one hour.  So fill the kettle only with the amount of water you need and don’t boil, walk away and then have to reboil.

loft insulation is an impoertant form of insulationLook at what you leave on standby overnight – do you need to?  Get a standby isolator or switch the items off at the wall (except the Sky box, which would then need reprogramming).  Don’t leave old style mobiles charging overnight as these ‘vampire’ gadgets continue to suck electricity even once the battery is fully charged.

Or take a look at a more permanent electricity reduction solution.  The VPhase is a new device that through independent testing has been shown to cut electricity bills (typically by 10%), reduce energy use and lower carbon emissions.  Find out how much money and CO2 you could save with the interactive tool at

VPhase uses voltage optimisation technology to reduce and manage the voltage coming into your home, making your electrical appliances use less electricity and cost less to run.  Unlike smart meters which require a change in behavior, the VPhase device works immediately, without any need for a change in lifestyle.

The unit costs around £250 installed when fitted at the same time as a fuse box, and can be quickly and easily fitted by a qualified electrician. The VPhase has a five-year warranty and with payback periods typically less than this it represents a risk free green investment.

If you’re considering buying a new house in the UK, you’ll find that they are at least 25% more energy efficient than houses build pre-2006 (and at least 50% more than a Victorian property and probably more) through legislation.  Housebuilders are achieving such greater efficiency by using better insulants when building,

sealing gaps better and by preventing thermal ‘bridging’, which allows the cold to travel from the outside in via metal pins or ties.

In some cases, the net result is homes that require little or no heating – even in winter.  The latest built homes don’t even have radiators installed.  Generally, energy efficient under-floor heating provides what heating they do require.  In other examples, mechanical heat ventilation recovery units recirculate rising hot air to keep the homes warm at ground level.

The homes at AlmaVerde, on Portugal’s Algarve, have been built to a year-round 26C interior temperature

In more temperate foreign countries, where many Britons choose to buy a holiday home, or retirement property, the same technology that provides heating in winter is reversed to provide air-conditioned cooling in summer.  If the electricity required is generated from a renewable energy source, such as solar, there is no in-use CO2 impact, and electricity bills can be negligible.

The housebuilders and developers who are the members of Sustain Worldwide ( are each building homes, resorts and communities around the world where energy efficient, eco-friendly and sustainably constructed properties and communities are the norm.

Sustain Worldwide Chief Executive Anwar Harland-Khan said: “The energy-efficient homes of today are stylish, beautifully finished, invariably with warm and light spaces for living. It comes as no surprise that sustainably built homes are now standing tallest of all, while the walls of conventionally built homes are starting to show cracks.”

This article was contributed by Gordon Miller, sustainability and communications director of Sustain Worldwide. +44 (0)20 7754 5557

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