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Ecologist guide to greening your home

Laura Sevier

2nd March, 2010

Greening your home can save you energy and money as well as making it healthier and lowering its carbon footprint

ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Eco retrofits

For inspiration, check out these pioneering examples of full eco-retrofits on the Ecovation website. You'll see super-insulated, energy efficient, energy generating houses around the UK that have been transformed by their owners. There are houses of all ages, shapes and sizes - from a church cottage to an 1890's Oxford semi.

Insulation and glazing

Around half of the heat loss in a typical home is through the walls and loft so it's worth checking whether yours are insulated. Adopting the following measures can significantly reduce your energy bills:

  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Solid wall insulation
  • Floor insulation
  • Loft Insulation
  • Draught proofing around doors and window frames
  • Hot water tank and pipe insulation
  • Double glazing for windows

For more details including cost, payback and savings see the Energy Saving Trust's guide to home insulation and glazing.

For information about where to start and what materials to use click here.

Find out about the grants and offers available to help you to make energy saving improvements to your home here.

Heating and hot water

Fitting an A-rated high efficiency condensing boiler with the correct heating controls can make a big difference to your heating bills over time. The current lifespan of a boiler is around 15 years. If your home has a G-rated or worse boiler you can register for the boiler scrappage scheme and receive a £400 cashback voucher towards the cost of upgrading to an A-rated boiler.

If you have a programmer or timer, set it so that the heating only comes on when needed. Just turning your thermostat down by 1C could save you around £55 a year.

Home appliances, home entertainment and electronics

How efficient are your home appliances? Energy Tariff Ltd
has an energy calculator website for domestic appliances, allowing you to choose the most efficient products and tariffs.

Looking to buy a new fridge, dishwasher or TV? Compare and buy products here that can help you stop wasting energy and money at home.

Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics guide ranks the 18 biggest manufacturers of computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.


Anything we've missed? Comment here


Energy labels

The EU energy label rates products from A (the most efficient) to G (the least efficient). For refrigeration the label goes up to A++.

Alternatively look for the Energy Saving Recommended label, a quick and easy way to identify the most energy efficient products. It includes products in categories where there isn't a statutory EU energy label such as glazing, televisions and boilers.

Green electricity

Most energy suppliers offer 'green' electricity tariffs that seek to support renewable energy. Look carefully at what suppliers are offering - few actually produce more renewable energy that they are required to be the legally-enforced Renewables Obligation. This comparison site is a good place to start.

Smart Meters

Knowing how much energy (and money) you are using at any given time is easier with a Smart Meter. Over the next 11 years every household in Britain will receive Smart Meters, one for gas and one for electricity. You'll be able to track your energy usage over set periods of time, from a day, up to a full year.

GENERATE YOUR OWN ENERGY

The main technologies are:

  • Wind turbines - harness the power of the wind to generate electricity.
  • Solar water heating - heat water for your home using energy from the sun.
  • Solar electricity - generate green electricity from sunlight.
  • Ground-source heat pumps - heat your home using heat energy extracted through pipes buried in the garden.
  • Air-source heat pumps - heat your home with energy absorbed from the air around you.
  • Wood fuelled heating - heat and hot water from wood fuelled stoves and boilers.
  • Hydroelectricity - use a stream or river to generate electricity.  

For more details including cost, savings and maintenance see the Energy Saving Trust's guide to generating your own energy.

Before you install any renewable energy technolgies: 

  • Make sure your home is as energy efficient as possible (insulation, energy efficient appliances etc) to reduce your demand.
  • Get recommendations and quotes and look into funding and financing for the options that interest you - search for grants and offers here
  • Find out which renewable technologies will suit your home using the Energy Saving Trust home energy generation selector.
  • Check that the suppliers are certified - either with the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (for all UK microgeneration products and installers) or Solar Keymark (solar thermal products and installers across Europe).
  • Check whether you need planning permission - find your local authority or click here.

Remember that you should be able to get paid for the electricity you produce yourself by signing up to a buy-back scheme with an energy supplier, or registering in the new Feed-In Tariff scheme, to be introduced on 1st April 2010, which will guarantee a minimum payment for the electricity generated as well as the electricity exported to the grid.

Green roof

A green (or 'living') roof can help keep buildings warm in winter and cool in summer as well as offer a haven for wildlife, sequester carbon, and control water run-off from heavy rainfall.

WATER

Demand for water is growing. In the UK we use around 150 litres of water a day, almost 50 per cent more than we used 25 years ago.

Saving water will ensure the water we do get lasts and reduce the pressure on the water supply and the environment.

In addition, there is a strong link between water and carbon: energy is needed to treat and deliver the water to our taps and to heat it in our homes. The key to water efficiency is reducing waste, not restricting use. Water meters can be useful for realising how much water you're using. For tips on saving water in the kitchen, bathroom and garden click here.

FURNISHINGS

Flooring

The two most popular choices for flooring in the UK, fitted carpets and PVC/vinyl, can potentially harm our health. As a general rule, choose natural fibre carpets and rugs made from organic wool or cotton, coir or jute instead of synthetic carpets (typically made from nylon or polyester). Check they haven't been treated with unnecessary chemicals or glues.

For hard floors, there are various options: FSC-certified wood flooring, cork, natural linoleum or tiles (stone or terracotta).

Paint

Although they can be thicker and more laborious to apply, choose natural and non-toxic water-based or clay-based paints (check that they are 'solvent free'). Conventional paints, which contain include acrylic, polyurethanes, PVC and VOCs can be a health hazard when they release gases into indoor environments. Find out why here.

Furniture

There's more to furniture than flat pack. Whether you want to get rid of an old table or are looking for a new sofa, re-using makes sense, reducing landfill waste and saving the energy needed to manufacture a new one.

Useful organisations include The Furniture Reuse Network and the charity Emmaus which both collect and redistribute unwanted furniture, as well as Salvo, an online directory of antique, reclaimed and salvaged materials and WRAP, which has a wood recycling service. There are also the online recycling networks Freecycle and Freegle

If you're buying wooden furniture, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label and read the Friends of the Earth's Good Wood Guide. Alternatively, spruce up what you already have - read our guide to restoring tired looking furniture.

Lighting

Energy saving lightbulbs - usually compact fluorescents (CFL's) - use up to 80 per cent less electricity than a standard bulb but produce the same amount of light. They are now available in many shapes and sizes including 'soft tone' and dimmable. They last up to 12 times longer than incandescents - up to 12,000 hours.

Even more efficient are Light Emitting Diodes, or LED lights, which have lifetimes of up to 50,000 hours. LEDs now come in the shape of a conventional bulb, and can be used for functional and decorative lighting.

Bedroom

Most conventional mattresses are made from a high percentage of synthetic, oil-based materials and treated with chemical fire retardants.
There are alternatives made from natural materials including organic cotton, organic wool and natural latex. Greenfibres and Abaca have a good range plus a selection of organic cotton bed linen.

Handmade, FSC-certified wooden beds are available from Warren Evans.

Nursery

Find out how to reduce toxins and 'green' your baby's nursery here.

HEALTH

Cleaning products

Buy products made with renewable, plant or mineral-based ingredients with low aquatic toxicity, rapid and complete bio-degradability and high skin tolerance. (For a detailed example of the potentially harmful ingredients in a conventional household cleaner click here)

For places that are harder to clean such as carpets, greasy ovens or kettles coated with limescale see our cleaning guide which includes a 'make your own cleaning products' section.

A note on laundry...

For a greener wash, turn down the temperature dial to 30C or 40C and use products based on plant and mineral ingredients that biodegrade completely (more tips here).

REUSE AND RECYCLE

Where to recycle everything

For information on how to recycle everything from printer cartridges and old TV's to carpets and tin foil visit Recycle Now's website here.

Kitchen waste

Reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill by composting your kitchen waste. See Recycle Now's home composting site for more information. If you don't have a garden or any outdoor space it's worth considering an indoor wormery. Otherwise, contact your council to see if they offer a separate collection for food waste - and start a campaign to persuade them to do so if not!

Laura Sevier is the Ecologist's green living editor

USEFUL LINKS

- The Energy Saving Trust - (or phone 0800 512 012)
- Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)

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