With the Government setting high targets on greenhouse gas reductions, we're all going to have to get serious about saving energy in our homes. But how much does it cost to make the necessary changes? Our guide will help you plan for a greener future, according to your budget.
The clock is ticking. The UK has set itself a target of massive greenhouse gas reductions over the coming years, which means all of society must get greener. And with domestic carbon emissions responsible for some 27 per cent of the country's total, that includes me, you and those nice people next door.
'It's now widely recognised that home energy refurbishment has to be high up the agenda in tackling climate change,' says Simon McWhirter of the Great British Refurb Campaign. And he has good news to share. 'The joy of this is you can get big carbon cuts very quickly.' Here's our rough guide to what's possible, whether you have up to £5,000, £10,000, or more to spend.
Up to £5,000
Wondering where to start? Take a leaf out of the book of none other than Barack Obama. 'Insulation is sexy stuff,' the US President recently declared. 'Here's what's sexy about it: saving money.'
So get down to that sexiest of shops, the DIY store. And buy yourself some draughtproofing for windows and doors. This is dirt cheap – as is a tube of silicone to seal the gap between floorboards and skirting. You could soon get your money back in savings on fuel bills and it'll increase your comfort, too.
Insulating the loft and cavity walls is also 'a no-brainer', says Russell Smith of eco refurbisher Parity Projects. You'll find information on grants on the Energy Saving Trust website, although you're looking at £200-£300 for the loft in most homes – less if you do it yourself. DIY megastores often have discounts and if you're feeling flush, go for a natural product like sheep's wool or hemp. Warmcel, made from old newspaper, is that rare beast: cheap and eco-friendly insulation. Remember, says Smith, that the more you seal your home, the more care has to be taken about ventilation – all that's needed in a refitted home is a mechanical vent in kitchens and bathrooms.
The order you choose to do things will depend to some degree on your lifestyle, says Smith. 'What you might be wanting to do is reduce your electricity load. You might never put the heating on and walk around wearing loads of jumpers.' Still, the point about energy usage, like making a good gravy, is to reduce, reduce, reduce.
For less than £5,000, you can sort out all the basics of an eco refit. This includes switching to low-energy lightbulbs. You might even be able to get in a few super-green LEDs, though these are not yet powerful enough to replace the traditional, one-per-room pendant light.
Heating controls are another essential. You'll need a timer on the central heating, thermostatic radiator valves, a room thermostat and one on the hot water cylinder – which should, of course, have a nice snug insulation jacket.
Have your boiler checked out. An old one might need replacing with an efficient modern version. Even if it's running on fossil fuels (as most will be), it'll be £1,000 or so well spent.
And don't forget behavioural change: turning off unnecessary lights and not leaving appliances on standby won't cost you a penny.
£5,000 - £10,000
Half the heat in a home is lost through the loft and walls. You've sorted the loft, so now it's time for the walls. Russell Smith estimates you should budget for £125-£160 per sqm to insulate the outside (insulating material with a render on top).
Inside is cheaper (budget for £35-£60 per sqm), but prepare yourself for a mess. Skirting boards, electric sockets, and perhaps coving will all have to be moved and the walls replastered. You'll lose inside space, too. 'Don't let your expectations be raised by people saying this sort of insulation is 30mm thick,' says Smith. 'You should allow at least 100mm.' Costs will vary widely – for example, it'll probably be much cheaper to insulate the two outer walls of a terraced home than the four of a detached house.
Now for the floor. Again, insulation causes disruption, but, says Smith, can be surprisingly cheap. Lifting floorboards, he reckons, costs about £35 per sqm. Laying a blanket insulation between the joists, held in place by chicken wire, is around £5 per sqm. It sounds obvious, but if you intend to swap radiators for efficient underfloor heating, this should be done at the same time as insulating the floor – Smith has met plenty of people who wasted money this way.
Although it's expensive, consider double, or even triple, glazing in at least part of the home. As a rough guide, replacing a wooden 1x2m sash window could cost £2,000 once you've included making good and decorating. One alternative is to get those sashes professionally repaired and replace the glass with special 'slim' double glazing. The glass itself is double the price of normal double glazing, but overall it will be much cheaper – and greener – than replacing the whole window.
In the garden, look at upgrading those simple water butts with a rainwater harvesting system for flushing loos and maybe even for the washing machine. Remember, substantial amounts of energy are used purifying potable water and pumping potable water to our homes.
Sorry to contradict you, Mr Obama, but this is where the fun really starts – generating your own energy. And as of April this year, it got more tempting, thanks to the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), whereby consumers are paid to generate their own electricity, regardless of whether they use it themselves or sell it back to their energy company.
'From a financial point of view, the FiTs that are available present a naked opportunity,' says Stuart Pocock, technical director of the Renewable Energy Association. The most popular options are solar or photovoltaic panels (PV) to generate electricity, and/or wind turbines. PV is your more likely option, especially if you are living in a town or city. A typical domestic system (2.5kW peak) will cost upwards of £12,500, depending on the brand of panels and how difficult they are to fit on your roof. 'Although the investment is quite large, the payback is around 10 years,' says Pocock.
A wind turbine is a trickier proposition. Many experts suggest you should avoid small, roof- mounted turbines and go for a larger, freestanding option. You'll need space, plus an average wind speed of at least five metres per second. Expect to pay around £2,000 for a 1kW turbine, £14,900 to £22,600 for a 2.5kW to 6kW system. Blades of 5m diameter are typical of a larger domestic system, which must be mounted on a mast.
There is talk of introducing a renewable heat incentive next year, similar to the FiT but for people who produce their own heat. This would effectively subsidise solar thermal panels for the hot water (and in the case of a very efficient home, the heating, too). A typical domestic solar thermal system costs around £4,800.
Biomass boilers, running on wood or pellets (around £11,500 for a typical system) should also qualify – although, as Pocock points out, you'll need space to store the fuel. Another increasingly popular option is ground source, where heat is absorbed via pipes in the ground and transferred to your home via heat exchangers.
Always choose products from the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, advises Pocock, and use an accredited installer. 'Also, look out for the REAL assurance code, which requires contractors to have an ethical way of working with consumers.
Words Dominic Murphy
Illustrations Flying Chilli