Energy efficiency should be as high on the list of desirables as the number of bedrooms, storage space and proximity to local schools/amenities when buying a new house, but isn’t necessarily given as much attention as the rest of the list.
Many people searching for new homes are looking for the greener option, so what should you be looking for when buying a new home in terms of how energy efficient it is? When any home is sold, an Energy Performance Certificate or EPC must be made legally available. This certificate provides information on the energy efficiency band of the property (which is rated from A down to G), the estimated energy costs and an overview of existing features, such as insulation and the heating system, and the energy efficiency band that could be reached if improvements were made.
How good is the insulation in or around the property? Approximately 30% of heat can be lost in through walls and 25% via roofs that aren’t adequately insulated, so proper insulation could make a significant difference to energy consumption and energy bills.
Walls can either be insulated internally, or externally, the former being the more economical of the two. Most modern homes have cavity walls and insulation boards filled with mineral wool fibers which retain heat fairly well. External insulation involves fixing an additional layer of material to the external walls and plastering with a specific render. This option is more expensive, but in the long run could save more.
Some properties also feature insulation under floor boards, while lagging of pipes, tanks and radiators could further improve efficiency. Ensuring gaps between the flooring and skirting and any other holes are blocked up to prevent draughts will also help.
Solar panels have grown in popularity not only because they are an environmentally friendly, renewable means of generating electricity, but because electric companies will pay owners for any excess energy they create via a Feed-in Tariff scheme.
There are two types of solar panels: photovoltaic panels and solar thermal panels. Photovoltaic panels harvest the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity to power household goods and lighting, while solar thermal panels transfer the sun’s energy from a collector to a tank via a circuit and heat exchanger to heat hot water or power heating/cooling systems.
When considering a property with solar panels, it is important to bear in mind the age of the panels, if they are fully paid for or on a lease agreement, and if they are under warranty as this could represent an additional cost when buying and maintaining the property.
If there are no solar panels, it might be something to think about adding, particularly if the property is south facing – this direction maximizes the amount of energy you can create. Although initial costs are high, they are low maintenance and can boost the value of your house, while also creating a modest income.
Many people heat their water constantly or cyclically to ensure they have hot water whenever they need it, but using tankless water heaters – also known as instantaneous or on-demand heaters – to heat water as and when it is required can be anywhere between 8% and 34% more efficient.
With the news that there might not be enough water in the UK to meet demand within the next 25 years, it will be important to consider how water might be conserved in an energy efficient home. Water harvesting systems may be necessary; these could be as simple as a sloping roof and plastic barrels to collect rainwater to feed plants, grass and homegrown crops, or as complex as underground storage tanks and the collection of grey water from the kitchen/bathroom.
Other Things to Think About
Windows: what type of glazing do they have: single, double, triple? The more layers of glazing the less heat will escape from your new home – and there is the added bonus of reducing noise pollution. Most homes are now fitted with high quality double glazing, but be sure to check seals to cut out draughts.
Roofs and gutters: are they leaking or in a good state of repair? Is the roof insulated and can water be collected from the gutters for use elsewhere? These may be things to consider when looking for a greener home.
Smart meters and thermostats: many homes are now being fitted with smart meters to closely monitor a home’s energy usage and to provide more accurate bills. Smart thermostats also automate the heating and cooling process and are therefore more energy efficient, and can be controlled via voice-controlled commands and apps like Alexa and Google.
References and Further Reading