What can you do to reduce your impact on the planet? Efficient heating is key but big changes mean investment, while small changes are more instant and involve less outlay. Georgina Blaskey considers the options
Deciding to be greener isn’t just about carrying a bag for life with you every time you leave the house. The biggest impact you have on the planet is down to how you heat your home. Over 90% of homes in the UK are heated using a gas or oil boiler. Even with a well-insulated loft, a terraced house heated with a modern gas boiler will produce around 2.75 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year (the equivalent of driving 11,770 miles in a standard car). So how can you cut your carbon footprint and still effectively heat your home? And what are the small things we can all do to reduce our household’s impact on the planet?
Get some professional advice – the government has a list of domestic energy assessors (www.epcregister.com/ searchAssessor.html) who assess and advise you on your insulation options – the ones suggested here can all be installed in a Victorian home; the assessment costs about £50. Invest in good quality windows and doors to stop heat escaping – or use a foam or tape for a budget-friendly solution. If you have solid walls and not cavity walls, heat will continue to escape. If you live in a mid-terrace Victorian house, you won’t be able to install external wall insulation, but you can choose what to put on the inside of your walls. Insulating paints (www.rawlinspaints. com/thermal-paint), insulated plasterboard (insulationsuperstore.co.uk/browse/ plasterboard.html) and thermal wallpaper (gowallpaper.co.uk/erfurt-mav-wallrockthermal-liner.html) offer some accessible options and this area is developing.
These work with almost all condensing and combi boilers. They are also compatible with system and heat only boilers, as well as air source and ground source heat pumps. Nest is a popular choice and allows you to manage your heating when you’re not home from your smart phone or computer, so you can adjust the settings according to the weather or occupancy, leading to a minimum saving of 5% gas consumption. Individual room controls save even more energy. Over five years you should have the outlay covered.
These systems draw in heat from outside and pump it into the house – according to Friends of the Earth, for every unit of electricity you use, it provides three units of heat. And yes, they work even when it’s very cold outside. Hybrid heat pumps work alongside your gas boiler – a smart controller switches between the heat pump and gas boiler to use whichever is lower carbon at the time. An air-source heat pump extracts heat from the air outside (even if it is a cold day) and uses it to heat the water in your radiators and tank, but it won’t make your water as hot as a gas-fired boiler.
A ground-source heat pump extracts heat from the ground (so it’ll be in the garden), which is more expensive but also more efficient than an air-source pump.
An air-air heat pump blows warm air into your house (as opposed to heating water in radiators).
Cost and installation start at about £12,500 for an air-source or hybrid heat pump; £23,000 for a ground-source heat pump, and £16,500 for an air-air heat pump. In many cases, a government grant is available to help cover some of the cost.
These store up heat for later use for instant hot water for showers and baths, for example, as well as radiators. If you plan ahead, you can use your heat pump when the price or carbon intensity is low, but have access to heat whenever you need it. It also means you can get rid of your hot water tank. They can be used with pumps, solar panels or charged with electricity. The installation cost is higher than fitting a hot water tank, but they will reduce running costs by 30-40%. Prices range according to the size of the battery but a Sunamp 5kWh system starts at £1,700 to £7,500 for a 40kWh store (excluding VAT and install).
Super-thin and lightweight, these heaters heat objects rather than the air, so the fabric of the house (sofas, walls, floors) warm up and radiate heat. Some manufacturers claim they will reduce heating bills by a third compared to standard electric radiators. They can be installed on to ceilings, printed to look like a picture on a wall, and hidden behind mirrors. It may be worth waiting to see what innovations happen in this area before investing.
A wood-fuelled heating system that burns wood pellets, chips or logs to power central heating and hot water boilers, this option could benefit from RHI (renewable heat incentive) financial support. The carbon dioxide emitted when wood is burned is the same amount that was absorbed over the months and years that the plant was growing, and as long as fuel is sourced locally, carbon emissions stay low. You’ll need space to store fuel and a flue which meets regulations.
These are normally fitted onto a roof facing the sun and can be installed under Permitted Development. Panels produce direct current electricity which has to be converted to a safer alternative current using an inverter box, usually placed in the loft. Cost and installation isn’t cheap and is subject to how many you choose to have, but they will cut your electricity bills. The more electricity the system can generate, the higher the savings on your energy bill will be – but the bigger the initial cost. However, you are unlikely to be able to meet all of your energy needs from solar panels alone.
According to Citizens Advice, you have a right to be charged for your water on the basis of what you use, so you are entitled to have a meter installed free of charge by your water company unless it’s not practical or is unreasonably expensive to do so. A meter is a good way to grasp how much water you are using and adjust your habits accordingly. You can find a water meter calculator at www.ccwater.org.uk/watermetercalculator/
Smart controls – 5% saving on gas consumption
Heat pump – 30-40% saving on your utility bill
Batteries – 30%-40% saving on running costs
Infrared heaters – possibly up to 60% a year
Solar panels – many homes manage to reduce their electricity spend by as much as 40-50%
Biomass boiler – save 3% compared to heating with natural gas and 40% with electricity