Reducing carbon emissions and household bills
We know that we all need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels (including gas) to help tackle climate change, and that need is starting to become much more painful for many of us as energy prices rise.
This article aims to introduce some of the ways we can head in the right direction, saving us money on our household fuel bills and helping us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in the process. We’ve tried to include helpful links throughout, but let us know if you have more.
Where are we now, and what do we mean by 'retrofit'?
Most of the homes we will be living in during 2050 are already built; we’re living in them now. So we need to ensure our homes are well insulated, in good condition and less reliant on fossil fuels. Each of our homes is different and we use them in different ways, so how can we work out what's right for us?
Retrofit is all about improving the energy performance, comfort and value of existing buildings through old and new technologies while reducing the carbon impact of heating and living or working in them.
I want to bring my bills down. What can I do right now?
Speak to Severn Wye Energy Agency for energy advice, including grant funding
Gloucestershire-based sustainability charity, Severn Wye Energy Agency, offer a wide variety of services and support, with a vision to end fuel poverty:
- Their ‘Warm and Well’ website and free advice line (0800 500 3076) provide advice and help with grant funding for anyone living in Gloucestershire or South Gloucestershire.
- They also offer paid-for specialist energy surveys, assessments and carbon-saving roadmaps for householders and landlords.
Ways to bring bills down
Think of this like a slow trickle of small things you can do - they all add up
- Look for draughts and remedy them where you can with draft excluders
- Install lined curtains (I have been shocked at what a difference this makes in our home)
- If you have trickle vents in your window frames, keep them open to allow for ventilation
- If you’re working from home could you heat just the room you work in? (Believe it or not I use a hot water bottle and blanket ‘tent’ system - and it works brilliantly)
How to save money and reduce carbon emissions without changing your existing gas boiler
Frustratingly, the average UK gas boiler emits the equivalent greenhouse gases of around 2.2 tonnes of CO2 per year, or to put it another way; it’s like taking seven flights between London and New York every year.*
“For most people, your [gas] boiler is probably the most environmentally damaging thing that you own,” Andrew Sissons, Deputy Director, Sustainable Future mission, Nesta.
If you have a combi condensing gas boiler, one step that you can do is to reduce the flow temperature of the boiler.** It can help save around 6-8% on the average gas bill, and will mean your boiler is working more efficiently. It’s not the same as turning the thermostat, although you may find this helps save on energy bills too.
I want to better insulate my home. Where should I start?
Think of your home like a giant jacket. We live inside it and our activity creates moisture in the air inside it from bathing, cooking, washing and drying clothes, and even breathing. The moisture inside our homes is a completely normal part of living, but needs to be able to escape through the fabric of our homes - through our walls, roofs and floors - without getting ‘stuck’ or doing damage on route. As we try to keep our homes warmer by introducing more insulation in the loft or walls, we risk making our ‘coat’ less able to breathe and therefore risk trapping the moisture in the fabric of it, which can lead to mould and damp issues and potentially do significant damage in the most extreme cases.
Ideally, start with a qualified retrofit coordinator
If you have a budget in mind for retrofit measures, we recommend consulting a qualified retrofit coordinator. They can help you look at what measures might be suited to your home and everyone living there, develop and manage a retrofit plan for you and manage and monitor the technical requirements of your project in line with the new PAS 2035 framework.
A bit of prep you can do yourself
Think about who lives at home, how often they are there and how you use your home. Often this can help us understand patterns of high energy use and target these up front. Thinking about the orientation of our homes can help add to this picture too, such as understanding how sun and shade affect it.
Maintain your home really carefully
- Keep exterior walls and roofs clear of clinging plants.
- Fix any known damp issues.
- Keep your gutters clear.
- Keep your roof maintained so your home stays dry.
- Keep air bricks free flowing.
When introducing new insulation
- Consider checking radon levels before introducing any insulation (further info: radon at a glance).
- Do things slowly and look for the impact on the home as well as your bills.
- Watch out for any signs of condensation, mildew or damp.
- Try to stick to natural fabrics whenever you can - think sheep’s wool, lime plaster.
- Again, starting with advice from a qualified retrofit assessor will help you ascertain what’s appropriate for your home and avoid any future problems.
The Bristolian’s guide to solid wall insulation is a indispensable document which gives a huge amount of advice and guidance on insulating typical homes around the Bristol area.
What about generating my own electricity from solar?
With energy costs increasing, some of us will be wondering whether we can generate power at home rather than being wholly reliant on the grid.
Solar panels (also known as photo voltaic or PV) generate energy from the sun. They can be placed on a roof or within a garden. Their orientation will affect how much sun they get, and how much energy you can get from them. They work by using layers of semi-conducting material which generate a flow of electricity when the sun shines on them.
In the vast majority of cases your home will need to remain connected to the grid to provide you power at times when your solar panels can’t provide it, such as the evening. Since they need to be set up this way, your solar panels won’t work If you have a power cut.
Alongside the solar panels, an inverter is used to convert the energy into a usable format. The inverter converts the power from your panel to make it suitable for your household appliances (they convert the energy from from direct current, or DC, at the solar panel to alternating current, or AC, in the home). If you have a few solar panels (an array) it may be worth looking at getting optimisers or micro inverters to ensure that you get maximum energy from them, especially if you think one or two of them might be in shade at times.
Energy Saving Trust give a great overview of solar panels including some guidance on planning permission and a calculator to give you an idea of the benefits you might see from installing a solar PV system.
Again, using the energy from your panels comes down to knowing when your home will be busiest and when you’ll get most benefit from them. If there are a few of you in the household and you’re around most of the day, for example - working from home, you will find it easier to use the energy generated (make hay while the sun shines).
It’s much better to use as much of the energy generated at home, rather than sell it back to the grid. The pay back from the ‘Smart Export Guarantee’ (currently around 5p per kWh) is greatly outweighed by the cost of purchase (28p+ per kWh and rising). Ways to ensure you use as much as your solar energy as possible include storing the energy in hot water, or storing it in a specially designed battery or an electric vehicle (EV).
I’ve heard about air source heat pumps - could that work in my home?
Air source heat pumps are far more environmentally friendly and much cheaper to run than traditional gas boilers, however the initial outlay is higher. They work by transferring heat from the outside to the inside of a building. This is done by utilising a refrigerant system, much like the reverse of the fridge in our kitchen. They rely on a compressor and condenser to absorb heat in one space and release it in another. The system functions as a heat exchanger.
Heat captured outside the home is compressed, condensed and then distributed inside the home using hot water in radiators and under floor heating, and in some cases using hot air. They’re far more efficient than traditional gas boilers, but heat water to a lower temperature, so you may need to adjust heating programmer times and invest in insulation, underfloor heating and/or bigger radiators to maintain the heat that feels right in your home.
Unlike a combination gas boiler, an air source heat pump can’t provide hot water on demand. You’ll need a hot water cylinder to ensure you have hot water ready for showers etc when you need it. If you’re short on space indoors but still considering an air source heat pump, you may find the Sunamp compact thermal storage system of interest.
Air-to-water heat pumps have the advantage of qualifying for the government-sponsored Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Whilst this scheme will end in March 2022, it s due to be replaced by the Boiler upgrade scheme offering a £5,000 grant for ASHP.
What are the alternatives to air source heat pumps?
Biomass heating systems, electric heating and solar thermal panels also offer low-carbon alternatives to traditional gas powered central heating. Find out more about them on generating renewable energy at home on Energy Saving Trust website.
For further sources of infomation please download our Home Energy Directory.
*source: Nesta, Feb 2022