16 Jan 2020

A renovator’s guide to energy efficiency

In the last five years, an increasing number of homeowners have chosen to stick rather than twist when it comes to moving up the housing ladder. Here, Mark Krull from Logic4training takes a look at the trend for renovation and how homeowners can incorporate energy-efficient features and eco-technology into projects.

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According to Hiscox Renovations and Extensions Report 2018, 15% of homeowners would rather improve their homes than move; a figure that has increased fivefold since 2013. Over the last decade, the number of planning applications received by local councils has risen by 29%.

There are various reasons behind this trend for renovation rather than relocation, ranging from personal circumstances to economic factors. However, our new commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 has focused many homeowners on the changes that will occur to heating and housing standards over the next three decades. Our homes account for around one-fifth of the UK’s total emissions, and most will need to be improved if we are to reach our legal target.

In addition to reducing carbon footprint, carrying out home energy efficiency improvements brings a wide variety of benefits:

• Reduces energy usage

• Eliminates energy wastage

• Drives down the cost of utility bills

• Increases general comfort and condition

• Prevents issues that can cause deterioration, such as damp.

How can you make your old home more energy-efficient?

There are many options for increasing the energy efficiency of your home, depending on property type and budget. Space and water heating make up over half of the average energy bill, and boilers account for 83% of domestic energy consumption, so if you want to save money, it makes sense to target this area first.

To really maximise the efficiency of domestic heating, heat loss must be minimised. You can have all the smart gadgets you like, but if heat is escaping through the building envelope, then energy is being wasted.

Preventing heat loss

Around one-quarter of heat is lost through the roof, so insulating your loft to the recommended 270mm is a simple and cost-effective way of greatly increasing your home energy efficiency. The Energy Savings Trust estimates that this will save £135 per year in the average uninsulated semi-detached house.

To get the required depth of insulation without squashing it down, thereby reducing its insulation value, battens or loft legs can be screwed directly to the joists, increasing the insulation space before the floor is fitted on top. This is a relatively simple task which homeowners can do themselves or seek professional help if they prefer. Over its 40-year lifetime, loft insulation should pay for itself many times over in energy savings. A word of caution – you must make sure your loft floor can take any additional weight, as rafters and joists can end up being overloaded.

A significant amount of heat is also lost through walls. If your home is pre-1920s, it could have solid walls, in which case, insulation can be installed inside or outside the house, depending on whether the property is listed and its interior layout. Any issues with damp will need to be rectified before insulating and pointing should be touched up with a breathable render, such as lime, to prevent trapped moisture.

If your home was built between 1920 and 1990, it could have uninsulated cavity walls. Filling the cavity with an insulating material, such as mineral wool or polyurethane foam, is a job that needs to be done by a professional installer who has the skills and kit required to do the works efficiently with minimal disruption.

Get smart about heating controls

Boiler efficiency has improved significantly in recent years. Replacing a 15-year-old boiler with a new, high-efficiency combi-boiler could save up to £300 per year in energy costs.

Adding a smart thermostat into the mix could bring even greater results. Smart thermostats allow for heating adjustments on-the-go via a smartphone app, empowering homeowners to manage their heating better and cutting energy wastage. Most smart thermostats have at least one advanced control built-in, maximising efficiency by preventing the overshoot of an on/off thermostat or automatically adjusting boiler output according to the weather.

Many also feature geofencing technology, using smart sensors to detect when people leave or enter the house and making temperature adjustments accordingly. Used in conjunction with Smart Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs), smart thermostats have even more potential to increase the efficiency of the heating system and reduce running costs. Smart meters

Smart meters are the first step towards establishing a smart grid which will ensure that energy supply and demand is properly managed in the future. They give consumers valuable information about their energy usage, empowering individuals to make habitual changes that reduce waste.

Energy suppliers will be offering smart meters on varying schedules over the next few years. If you want one early, you can ask, but your energy supplier may not be ready. If they do offer you an early installation, make sure your device is SMETS2 compliant.

Finding an installer

Knowing what to look for in an installer is key to the success of your project. Over a million UK homes are put at risk every year by illegal gas fitters who aren’t properly qualified. All gas installers should be Gas Safe registered, an accreditation they hold in high regard. Always ask to see your gas installer’s Gas Safe card.

Insulation installers should be a member of the National Insulation Association (NIA), the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) or the British Board of Agrément (BBA). This ensures that they are governed by a code of practice and that their work is guaranteed.

It all adds up

To really make the most of your energy savings, additional efficiency measures need to be supported by energy conservation measures and changes to habitual energy use, which is why smart meters are so important – together it all adds up.

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