One of the biggest challenges in our quest to reduce the carbon footprint of our homes is home heating. A big challenge indeed, when the key findings of a recent government survey showed that over 20% of people in the UK have not given any thought to energy saving in their home. It is, however, an improvement on the 2019 survey, which revealed that nearly half of us had no awareness of low carbon heating.
The UK is targeted to reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero by 2050.
The Public Attitudes Tracker (PAT) survey covers public attitudes towards Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) policies, such as energy and climate change. The survey began in March 2012 and runs four times a year.
What can we do about it?
The majority of our homes (around 65%) waste energy through being damp, drafty or over-heated. The built environment creates 27% of the UK’s emissions. Of that, domestic home heating is responsible for 14% – yet only around 5% of UK homes use low carbon heating.
This could perhaps be because of the additional costs involved in installation, or simply the result of not knowing how to make the change, but making changes to your home could save you hundreds of pounds a year in bills while living healthier – and, of course, help you do your bit towards saving the planet.
Experts now advise that existing buildings should not be demolished but kept standing, due to the level of carbon emitted from making new building materials – referred to as ’embodied carbon’. It is estimated that 8% of global emissions is caused by making steel, concrete and bricks for buildings.
Engineering firm, Arup, says that 50% of the emissions produced by the average building throughout its life come from its construction and demolition. This proportion is set to grow as more buildings use low carbon energy for cooling and heating, which will mean demolition makes less sense as we become more carbon efficient.
It is important to realise that energy efficiency isn’t just for owners of modern properties – you can make your home energy efficient even if it’s an older property. Here are some of the things you can do to make your home more energy efficien:
You should consider filling your cavities with insulation, install internal or external wall insulation, add underfloor and loft insulation and exclude drafts. Double, triple or secondary glazing will keep out draughts from windows, and don’t forget doors and letterboxes which can also let in cold, damp air.
Depending on the age of your property and its construction, adding insulation will go a long way towards reducing your bills by keeping uncontrolled draughts out of your home, but controlled ventilation is essential for personal health as well as your building’s health.
Greener white appliances
Which? says that switching to a more energy efficient tumble dryer could save hundreds of pounds over the lifetime of the machine. For instance, the running costs of a machine costing £260 was found to be £135 per year, whereas a machine costing £800 cost just £29 a year to run.
Other white goods can also be switched to more energy efficient models – including washing machines, fridge freezers, ovens and dishwashers.
Older homes were typically fairly draughty – and, perversely, this made them all the more healthy to live within. The constant changes of air meant that dampness (that causes moulds and condensation) and VOCs (from organic materials, such as carpets and furniture), didn’t build up within the building. Now that we’re advocating insulation, we need to find another way to ventilate, for the health of the building as well as those living within its walls.
Ventilation systems range from simple solutions, such as trickle vents in windows, to more sophisticated solutions, such as mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR). MVHRs may not be suitable for all properties.
Switching from gas to alternative heating sources in the next 35 years is by no means unachieveable. It took 35 years for the number of homes with central heating in the UK to increase from 30% in the 1970s to the 95% of homes with central heating today.
17 million homes in the UK use gas boilers, but until they are prohibited from sale, you can install a more efficient boiler. Hydrogen-ready boilers (that run on gas but can switch to hydrogen) are likely to become available in the near future, although we may have to wait some time before hydrogen gas is available. Of the low carbon options available to home owners who cannot access communal district heating systems, heat pumps could well be the answer.
To put it simply, a heat pump is a refrigerator in reverse. They use an active heat exchanger to take cold air from outside your home, warm it, and move the warmed air to the inside of your home. Using very little energy, they produce more energy than they use – for every kilowatt of electricity used, between two and four kilowatts of heat is produced. This makes them four times more efficient than gas boilers. Nothing is burned, nothing is wasted.
Heat pumps use the existing network of pipes within your home to heat the radiators and underfloor heating. Water is heated more slowly than a gas boiler system, so as long as you have a water tank and an outside space to install the heat pump, you can have one. The temperature reached will be similar to that achieved by a gas boiler.
Heat pumps run on electricity, which is heavily taxed in the UK and perversely at a far higher rate than gas. Now that more electricity is being produced from renewable sources, the 100% fossil-fuel gas we use is beginning to be taxed more heavily.
With regard to its take up of heat pumps, the UK is in joint last position of the 21 countries in Europe. The Europe Heat Pump Association’s assessment showed that the UK sells 32 times fewer air source heat pump than Norway. So why not take the plunge and take advantage of the £5,000 grant being offered towards the cost of installing a heat pump when the scheme rolls out in April 2022?
A Heat and Building Strategy is due to be published by the government.