By Chris Torney

Energy-efficient homes: why it’s worth it

Whether you’re moving into a new home or simply wishing to bring your existing property up to date, there are a number of energy-efficiency measures you could implement to help save money – and the planet.

Making your home as energy efficient as possible isn’t just good for the environment; it can also make good financial sense. From improved lighting to loft insulation and intelligent thermostats for your heating system, there is a wide range of steps you can take.

In some cases – such as installing a more efficient boiler – this may require a substantial initial outlay, albeit one that has the potential to deliver significant savings in the future. But improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t have to cost the earth: you could make a number of effective low- or even zero-cost changes.

Bear in mind also that the scale of any savings could increase in the future if the cost of energy rises, so your return on investment could be better than you think.

Major projects

Replacing your boiler: Heating and hot water account for the lion’s share of energy use in a typical home – so make sure your boiler is as efficient as possible.

If it is available, gas is more efficient than electricity, or alternatives such as oil or coal. According to consumer group Which?, the most efficient type of gas boiler is a condensing boiler, which is able to retain and recover more of the heat it uses. As a rule of thumb, the longer your boiler has been in place, the less likely it is to be a condensing boiler – and the more inefficient it is likely to be.

One of the key choices to make when deciding on a new boiler is whether to have a separate hot-water cylinder, or whether to go for a combination (combi) boiler that heats water as it is needed. Larger families, that need more water, will probably see more benefit from the former option.

Replacing a boiler will cost in the region of £2,000 to £3,000. The Energy Saving Trust estimates resulting annual fuel bill savings for a semi-detached house to be between £100 and £200, depending on the efficiency of the previous model.

Insulation and double glazing: Ensuring your home loses as little heat as possible means you’re not wasting money on heating bills. Loft insulation is a simple and effective way to reduce heat loss, says the Energy Saving Trust, which adds that it can be relatively inexpensive and you may be able to do the work yourself with rolls of mineral wool insulation bought from a DIY supplier. A five-metre roll – wide enough to fit between ceiling joists – can cost around £20.

Single-glazed windows can also be a significant source of heat loss and the Energy Saving Trust estimates that replacing single glazing with double in a typical detached house could save around £100 a year on energy bills. However, the cost of new windows for a house or even a flat can range from hundreds to several thousands of pounds.

Solar panels: Installing solar panels on a south- or west-facing roof could help you generate a lot of the electricity your home needs. The costs of solar installations have come down in recent years as they have become more popular, although government incentives for the sale of surplus solar electricity back to the national grid have also fallen and are set to end soon for anyone installing solar panels after April.

According to energy-efficiency website OneHome, the cost of a solar installation is usually around £5,000, while average annual electricity bill savings are in the order of £300 – although this depends to a large extent on how much sunshine your home gets.

Bear in mind, though, that selling a property with solar panels or even trying to remortgage one can be far from straightforward – especially if your panels have been installed with some form of long-term leasing agreement.

Efficiency with a lower price tag

Efficient lightbulbs: Lighting is one of the biggest users of electricity around the home, and replacing old-style incandescent bulbs with new CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) or LEDs (light-emitting diodes) is a simple and relatively cheap way to cut down on utility bills.

The Energy Saving Trust says that, in the typical home, replacing all traditional bulbs with LEDs in this way could save as much as £35 a year.

Better heating control: Whatever kind of boiler you have, better thermostats could help you to run your heating more efficiently. Installing thermostats in individual rooms should enable you to control when and where your heating comes on.

Thermostatic radiator valves could also give you a greater degree of control over the temperature in specific rooms – for example in a sunny, south-facing room, the radiators could be set to run at a lower temperature.

Draughtproofing: Stopping warm air escaping from your home could reduce the strain on your heating system. You may be able to identify and block draughts around the house yourself at very little cost. Common areas where draughts are found include windows, doors and chimney flues.

Special strips to fit around windows and doors are available from hardware stores, as are chimney draught excluders.

Improving your habits

  • Switch off when you can. Some energy-saving measures cost nothing. For example, ensuring that electrical equipment such as TVs and computers are not left on standby overnight or while you’re away from the home can help reduce your electricity bills.
  • Get used to lower temperatures. Similarly, lowering the temperature in your home or room thermostats by just a degree or two in the winter months could help save on your heating bills.
  • Don’t fall for energy myths. It is not, in fact, cheaper to leave your heating on all day at a low level, rather than heat the house up from scratch in the evening or in the morning, says the Centre for Sustainable Energy.
  • Avoid water waste. As well as being better for the environment, you could save money by using a water meter, or cutting down on the amount of hot water you use. Taking showers rather than baths can help, as can turning off the tap when you are brushing your teeth. Consider investing in a more efficient showerhead as well.