Time was when dinner party conversations about home improvements focused on loft conversions and new kitchens. But a combination of increasing fuel costs and growing concerns around the environmental cost of our petroleum and gas dependency has made green energy home improvements a hot topic.
It’s not simply a question of installing the latest alternatives. To make the most of green energy you need to rethink how you use it, whether you’re considering geothermal energy, wind turbines or solar panels.
If you install an electricity-generating technology from a renewable or low-carbon source such as solar PV panels, you could benefit from the UK Government’s Feed-In Tariffs scheme (FITs). This is money paid to households generating electricity and putting what they don’t use into the National Grid.
Your energy supplier will make the FITs payments to you. The large energy suppliers are required by law to provide them; smaller suppliers are not, but many have opted to. You should check this first. The installer and the products must both be certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme. Another thing to check. There’s a lot of useful information on the Energy Saving Trust website.
To make the most out of solar panels you may need to make some other changes. For example, if you have an electric shower it won’t benefit from the hot water your panels generate. Likewise, you may want to check that your dishwasher and washing machines can be plumbed (or are already plumbed) to run off the hot supply.
Once installed, it’s also worth thinking about when you do things. For example, showering later in the day, rather than the morning, gives your panels plenty of time to heat up your water. Try to completely empty the laundry basket on sunny days (assuming your washing machine is plumbed accordingly) rather than staggering loads of washing throughout the week.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, some 40% of all the wind energy in Europe blows over the UK. Domestic households can harness this energy using small systems known as “microwind” or “small-wind” turbines, which produce electricity to help power lights and electrical appliances. Again, you can benefit from government Fits.
If you opt for wind turbines think about doing your laundry on windy days rather than sunny ones (windy days are also great for drying laundry, of course). The more energy efficient your electric appliances the better, so opt for A and double AA rated models. And store power by charging batteries.
Ground source heat pumps
Heat pumps harness the natural heat found underground using a heat exchanger. This heat can then be used to used to heat your home. Generally the technology doesn’t produce the levels of energy that solar and wind power can but this option is very low maintenance.
Because the heat levels are not high, having an energy efficient home is particularly important – that means good insulation in ceilings and walls, double or triple glazing and good draft proofing. You also need an efficient home heating system.