In the age of increasing energy costs and growing concerns about our environmental footprint, making your home more energy-efficient is not only a savvy financial move but also a responsible one. For those living in the UK, this topic holds particular importance due to the varied climate and the continuous drive for sustainable living. This guide breaks down the benefits of and 10 actionable steps on how to improve improving the energy efficiency of your home. It also covers the best ways to retrofit your home on a budget.
Why should you make your home more energy efficient?
Improving the energy efficiency of your home has numerous benefits, both for the environment and your wallet. Here are some key reasons why you should consider making your home more energy-efficient:
Reduce energy bills
By making your home more energy-efficient, you can lower your monthly energy bills. This can be achieved through simple measures such as sealing air leaks, upgrading to energy-efficient appliances, and installing insulation.
By reducing the amount of energy your home consumes, you will be conserving valuable natural resources. This not only helps the environment, but it also helps to reduce the demand for energy, which in turn keeps energy prices lower for everyone.
Lower carbon footprint
One of the main benefits of improving your home’s energy efficiency is that it can help reduce your carbon footprint. By using less energy, you are reducing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.
Improve indoor air quality
Improving the energy efficiency of your home can also help improve indoor air quality. By sealing air leaks, you can reduce the amount of outside air that enters your home, which can help reduce the amount of pollutants and allergens in the air.
By making your home more energy-efficient, you can improve its overall comfort. For example, upgrading to energy-efficient windows can help reduce drafts, while adding insulation can help regulate the temperature of your home, making it easier to maintain a comfortable indoor climate.
Increase home value
Making your home more energy-efficient can also increase its value. In addition to reducing monthly energy bills, buyers will be attracted to a home that is more environmentally friendly and has lower operating costs.
Finally, improving the energy efficiency of your home helps to promote sustainability by reducing the amount of energy and natural resources required to operate your home. This not only benefits the environment, but it also helps to ensure that future generations have access to these resources.
How to improve the energy efficiency of your home
There are various ways you can make your home more energy-efficient. Some have a larger impact while others are more attainable. If you want to see a difference, it’s likely a combination of action will be required. But these are 10 of the best ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home.
1. Invest in insulation
For many British homes, especially older constructions, a significant portion of energy is wasted due to poor insulation. By ensuring that your loft, walls, and floors are adequately insulated, you can drastically cut down on energy consumption.
- Loft insulation: It’s said that about 25% of the heat in an uninsulated house escapes through the roof. Loft insulation can last for decades, and it can pay for itself multiple times over.
- Cavity wall insulation: For homes built after the 1920s, the external walls are likely made up of two layers with a small gap or ‘cavity’ between them. Insulating this cavity can reduce heat loss significantly.
- Floor insulation: Though less common, insulating your floor can save around £60 per year on your energy bills.
2. Double or triple glazing
Inefficient windows are a significant source of heat loss in many homes. Double or triple glazing your windows can cut this heat loss in half, saving you money and reducing your carbon footprint.
Cold draughts can make your home uncomfortable and lead to higher energy bills. Seal up gaps around your windows, doors, and other areas to maintain a cosy home.
4. Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances
Household appliances, especially older models, can consume a lot of power. When it’s time to replace them, opt for energy-efficient models. These often come with an ‘Energy Rating’ label, with A+++ being the most efficient.
5. Install a smart thermostat
These allow you to tailor your heating and cooling needs more precisely. By ensuring your heating is on only when needed, you can significantly reduce energy consumption.
6. Use energy-efficient lighting
Switching to LED bulbs from traditional incandescent ones can result in substantial savings. Not only do they consume less power, but they also last longer, saving you on replacement costs.
7. Install solar panels
While this requires a significant initial investment, solar panels can reduce your reliance on the grid, thus saving you money in the long term. The UK government also offers incentives for those using renewable energy sources, making it a more appealing option.
8. Consider a water-saving shower head
Heating water for showers can account for a substantial chunk of your energy bill. Water-saving shower heads reduce the amount of water used, meaning less energy is expended in heating it.
9. Think about how you use energy
Sometimes, the simplest changes can make a significant difference.
- Turn off lights when they’re not in use.
- Unplug devices that aren’t being used.
- Reduce the thermostat by just one degree; you might not notice the difference in comfort, but you’ll surely see a change in your energy bills.
10. Regular maintenance
Ensure your heating systems and other household appliances are regularly serviced. Efficient running can make a significant difference in energy consumption.
How to decide which improvements to make?
The most common ways to retrofit a property include installing solar energy technologies, smart lighting, and loft, window or wall insulations, but these are generally going to eat into your savings slightly. A loft insulation using fibreglass can start at £256 for a 32m2 loft in a 2-bed terrace, rising to £2625 for a spray-foam insulation on a 75m2 loft in a 4-bed detached. Standard 250W solar panels can range between £400 – £500, whereas the typical 4kW system reaches as high as £6400. The 4kW solar panel system is a large upfront cost, but it is likely to have made up for its cost in savings calculated over 25 years. Professional draught-proofing is likely to be more affordable at £225 for a whole house, but hardly an insignificant figure to dish out during this time.
It’s also worth considering the energy hierarchy, recommended by the Centre for Sustainable Energy. It involves initially looking at energy conservation and how you use your home, such as keeping curtains closed and using a 20 or 30-degree heat wash instead of 40 +. Next, it examines energy efficiency, which are measures that will reduce energy loss, such as insulation and double glazing. Lastly, the hierarchy suggests considering installing renewable energy systems. This is a final step as it’s presumed that the first two (reduction in energy consumption and improved energy efficiency) will determine the size of the renewable energy system you need – such as the size or number of solar panels. However, it’s likely that the third step may be too expensive in light of the current economic climate.
Moreover, alongside looking at what could be done, it’s important to think about what you shouldn’t do:
“One thing that is proving costly is the installation of spray foam on the underside of roofs. It’s being advertised as a great way to improve efficiency, but it covers up hidden defects and makes maintenance very difficult. Many banks are refusing to lend against properties that have had it fitted. It’s becoming a real issue, with the elderly being targeted by hard salespeople.”Chris Bloor MRICS
Read more about whether spray foam is a good idea for your home.
This is why it’s a good idea to seek expert advice and obtain a holistic outlook of your property, which can be done through obtaining a RICS home survey, before making any significant modifications. This is especially important given the need to save money and avoid unnecessary or ineffective updates.
Can you retrofit on a budget?
Previous surveys found that the major barrier to retrofitting was the price of upgrades, which spurred the introduction of new government initiatives designed to encourage people to make changes – such as grants for heat pumps and reduced taxes on some retrofitting services. But in spite of these price-reducing policies, most people – understandably – feel the need to save money rather than spend. According to official statistics, 77% of us are now worrying about the cost of living crisis, and looking to spend less money on non-essentials such as home modifications. This makes the 2050 net zero target an even greater challenge.
So while there may be limited ways you can drastically alter the energy efficiency of your home on a small budget, there are a handful of things you can do to make a difference. Where possible, change lifestyle habits that use up a lot of energy, such as using Eco settings on wet appliances and waiting for full loads before washing, turning off devices that are usually left on standby, replacing bulbs with LEDS (this can save up £55 a year on bills according to Energy Saving Trust), and reducing the time spent in the shower. You could also consider doing certain DIY modifications, such as draught-proofing, which is usually an effective energy saver for most properties apart from new builds that are generally designed with this in mind. Of course, DIY retrofitting usually incurs a degree of risk and requires research and know-how!
But one of the most effective ways to improve energy efficiency and potentially see a difference on bills is through investing in an energy-efficient boiler.
“While there aren’t really any quick fixes to improve efficiency and boost value, a new and more efficient boiler isn’t a bad option.”Chris Bloor MRICS
Modern boilers, generally all made after 2005, are particularly effective because they are condensing. This means that they recover heat from the exhaust flue gas and then use this to heat the water in the main central heating system. They also burn fuel more efficiently than older boilers, particularly if they are serviced regularly. Again, this isn’t a cheap solution, but an efficient boiler can generate huge savings of up to £300 per year and lends towards your home’s market value.
Ultimately, making your home more energy efficient is likely to be worthwhile in the long run. The most effective route is to adopt a whole home approach if you’re able to afford upfront costs. If not, changing energy consumption habits and prioritising the most impactful changes can be a good alternative.
If you’re unsure about whether your home requires retrofitting measures and/or what improvements to make, seeking advice from an RICS Chartered Surveyor can be a good place to start.