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Ten tips for greening up your home

a lightbulb made out of a plantIn the first of a three-part series aimed at helping you ‘green up’ your home, we’ve joined forces with Home Building & Renovating Magazine to offer some top tips for saving money and the planet all at once.

1. Add More Insulation

One of the biggest ways of saving on your energy bills is by stopping heat escaping the house. Cavity wall insulation is a great way to add extra insulation and there are a lot of subsidised schemes for getting it; visit the Energy Saving Trust for more details. You should also consider topping up your existing loft insulation to the recommended 270mm, to help your home retain heat during the cold winter months.

2. Improve your Windows

Windows are weak elements when it comes to keeping heat in the building. The thermal performance of windows can be improved by increasing the number of glazing layers, increasing the cavity between the layers, adding a coating to the glazing, and filling the cavity itself with gases. In addition, the frame’s performance can be enhanced by using materials with lower thermal conductivity (such as wood) and creating thermal breaks in the frame.

3. Use Biomass to Heat Your Home

Biomass is a fuel source consisting of all plant material that can be burned to create energy — unlike gas or oil, it is naturally regrowing, sustainable and relatively cheap. Biomass fuel comes in various forms, from logs (that can be used in burners with back boilers) to chips (the waste from forest work) and, most commonly, pellet form, which is wood dust compressed to small 6 or 8mm diameter pellets.

This can help because, compared to oil and electricity, it is relatively cheap — about half the price per kWh of heat produced, and equivalent to gas. Furthermore, prices of these fuels are likely to stabilise or even fall, unlike fossil fuels.

4. Fit Solar Panels

Solar thermal or hot-water panels are the best known of the microgeneration technologies, having been around the housing scene since the 1970s. The basic idea behind them is very simple: you place something very much like a radiator on your roof and the water circulating through the panel heats up when the sun is shining. This can generate a lot of hot water in summertime, saving use of the boiler.

A well-designed system could produce as much as 3,000kWh of usable hot water each year (cost in heating oil = £100 approx) so there is reasonable hope of there being a sensible economic payback.

5. Get Green Lighting

As the volume of electrical appliances has increased, so too has amount of electricity used by the average household — at a steady 2 per cent increase per year since the 1960s. The good eco house will minimise its electricity consumption using things like low-energy lighting, power-down plugs and A-rated appliances as a minimum. Remember that halogen bulbs are not energy efficient so make sure you use LEDs or CFLs.

6. Install a Green Kitchen

If you’re planning on updating your kitchen, make sure you’ve looked at all the eco-friendly options first. Always look for the FSC logo when buying timber products, scour reclamation yards for old units, flooring, sinks and fittings that can be updated.

Take a look at what you already have — could your units be reused and updated, for example? Only buy new appliances with an A++ rating and be sure to place work areas near sources of natural light to avoid using electric lighting unnecessarily.

7. Reduce Water Use

The amount of water we use in the home has increased by 300 per cent since 1950. Unfortunately, and contrary to the apparent evidence, rainfall has not increased to keep pace. It is becoming increasingly necessary (and cheaper) to minimise our water use, and using low-flush WCs, flow-regulated taps and A-rated appliances will reduce water use by 22 per cent.

8. Control Your Heat Better

Turning the thermostat down 1.5ºC will reduce the heating energy consumption by 10 per cent. But the heating control system has to be sufficiently sensitive in order to allow for that reduction. Heating only those rooms that are in use could reduce the energy consumption by another 20 per cent.

9. Decorate With Natural Paints and Oils

In addition to the damaging fumes given off by ordinary paints, the petrochemicals involved in their manufacture are carbon intensive and can pollute the existing water systems. To ensure the paints you are buying are as eco friendly as possible, look for association with the European Union Ecolabel or the German-based Registered Association of Natural Paint Manufacturers (ENAV); both ensure quality from their associated manufacturers.

10. Use your Garden

Look at the garden as closely as the house. It is a valuable resource too, so consider planting some ‘wild’ areas and a vegetable plot to turn it into an area with an abundant and interesting ecosystem, full of wildlife — producing plenty of tasty home-grown veg and saving on CO2 emissions.

For more information on eco-friendly self-build options visit www.homebuilding.co.uk/green .