Lock in the warmth to lower your bills...

... and reduce your carbon footprint
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The Government’s recently announced initiative to help homeowners with the costs of making their homes more energy-efficient wasn’t just highlighting concerns about the environment.

This winter’s unprecedented rises in the price of gas and electricity have also flagged up the prospect that many people now struggle with the cost of heating their homes. However, the “Great British Refurb”, as it’s being called, isn’t a quick fix. The proposals have to undergo consultation before being put into practice. So what can you do in the short term?

The first step to cutting those bills is to retain as much heat in your home as possible, which means making sure it’s well insulated.

The Energy Saving Trust (EST) claims up to 15 per cent of heat can escape through the roof of a house and recommends you instal around 270mm of mineral wool insulation, which would save the average owner between £60 and £205 per year.

There are also more environmental insulations on the market, such as sheep’s wool, which costs around three times more but is less toxic and easier to instal.

Inaddition, you need to prevent heat escaping from other areas of the house. Your hot water cylinder, for example, should be wrapped in a jacket at least 75mm thick. This will cut down heat loss by up to 75 per cent, saving you money in the long term.

If your boiler is at least 15 years old it’s probably inefficient and you might want to think about replacing it. These days, condensing boilers are the only legal option, and they’re highly efficient, converting much more energy into heat than traditional boilers. Like other appliances they’re rated for energy efficiency, with an A-rated boiler saving up to £275 per annum.

Properties built after 1920 will almost certainly have cavity walls (two layers of brick with an air gap between). If your home is built this way, then you should consider cavity wall insulation, in which a layer of foam is pumped between the two external walls. This costs an average of £200 to £500, depending on the size of the property, but can cut average heating costs by about 15 per cent and only takes around two to three years to pay for itself. This method isn’t suitable for homes with solid walls, such as Victorian buildings.

However, there is the option of solid wall insulation, which involves adding a layer of insulating panels either to the internal or exterior walls of the house. This costs from around £5,500 and, though the EST claims it helps reduce heating bills by as much as £500 per year, you’re still looking at payback taking around 11 years.

Having sorted out the roof and walls, you also need to consider whether your windows are as heat-efficient as they could be. If you don’t have double glazing, think about installing it as it can cut heat loss by half, with the added benefit of being noise reducing as well.

Double glazed units cost between £300 and £500 per window on average and now come with energy efficiency ratings. However, Gordon Miller, of eco property portal What Green Home, believes if you can afford it Argon-filled, triple-glazed windows are a good solution. “They cost around 20 to 40 per cent more, compared to double glazing and the payback period is quite long,” he says, “but having that threelayer barrier will definitely keep the heat in your home.”

Period properties can now benefit from traditional-style double-glazed windows, though if your home is listed or in a conservation area you need to check with your local planning office. Original sash windows that can’t be replaced can be fitted with small draught-proofing brushes that sit between the frames.

Alternatively, secondary glazing, which is cheaper than double glazing, can be useful in cutting heat loss. Miller also feels householders don’t really think about easy and inexpensive ways to save heat. “Simple draught proofing around doors and windows can make a huge difference,” he says. “Old-fashioned draught excluders, for example, can really reduce heat loss under doors.”

If you’re buying a new house you won’t have to worry about taking the above measures, as new properties must be built to specified energy-saving standards. However, you should still check the energy-efficiency rating of the property and aim to buy an Arated home.

For those keen to minimise energy use there are also new eco-technologies that can be installed by specialists, though they don’t come cheap. Passive heat recovery systems, for example, take stale warm air from around the home and recycle it as fresh air by passing it through a filtration system.

However, according to Gordon Miller, the system is complex to instal in existing buildings and is really an option for new-builds. Similarly, biomass systems, in which wood-burning stoves generate heat through burning waste wood pellets, are a green alternative to oil or gas but are currently costly.

The average price of installation in a standard three-bedroom property, for example, would be around £5,000. However, this might be agood option for householders in rural areas who are currently dependent on oil-fired systems. Of course, the ultimate heat source is the sun and if you have a property that receives direct sunlight it makes sense to use this free energy.

Photovoltaic panels that generate electricity can be fitted to most properties but cost around £16,000. More realistic for the average homeowner are solar panels that just heat your water. They cost around £3,000 to £5,000 and will provide 100 per cent of hot water in summer, and around 60 per cent in winter. They should pay you back in around five to 10 years. Though if our summers continue to be as wet and gloomy as recent years, it might well take longer.

What Green Home: www.whatgreenhome.com

The Energy Saving Trust: www.energysavingtrust.org.uk

Get a grant

Grants towards the cost of insulating your property are available from the Government, utilities companies and local authorities. If you’re elderly, on an income of less than £15,460 or receiving benefits, you’re entitled to help. The Energy Saving Trust (www.energysavingtrust.org.uk) carries details of grants and offers in your area.