Builders are increasingly making energy-saving measures a priority. By Mary Wilson
ENERGY EFFICIENCY might not be your first priority when choosing a home, but it is beginning to become a selling point, especially with new houses. Most home-buyers are aware of the damage that global warming is doing to our planet and, although they are more likely to be thinking about their own heating costs than the cost to the world, they might be more interested in energy efficiency when they discover it can reduce their fuel bills.

"Energy efficiency is particularly attractive to our older purchasers who are moving to a smaller property and where budgeting is more of an issue," says Andrea Fawell, sales and marketing director of Linden Homes, who has been offering an Energy Cost Guarantee at some of her sites for the last 18 months.

At a two-bedroom flat at Sutton in Surrey, for example, the gas bill for cooking and heating was guaranteed to be only pounds 250 a year. The only downside of the guarantee scheme is that radiator thermostats cannot be put above 23C but, as most people run their home between 19 and 21C, this should not cause too much hardship. The contract period is for three years, but it can be extended.

The scheme has been developed by the independent energy consultants, National Energy Services, and guarantees that heating and hot water bills will not exceed a specified amount. Currently 20 builders offer the scheme on 28 sites around the country, including Linden Homes, Crest Homes and Westbury. The builders pay an insurance premium to the NES and, if the bills top the pre-set limit, NES refunds the difference to the householder. "The builders say their customers are very positive about the scheme, when they are told about it," says Nicci Griffiths of the NES, "although they rarely ask about energy efficiency in the first place. However, I can foresee a time when energy efficiency will be one of the top three priorities."

Linden is offering this scheme at its sites in Beckenham, Kent, where there are seven townhouses priced from pounds 222,000; at Reigate - two- and three-bedroom houses from pounds 125,000 to pounds 225,000; Priory Court, Cheam - two-bedroom courtyard cottages priced at pounds 129,950; and Shearwater, Cheam - three-bedroom townhouses priced from pounds 164,950 to pounds 192,950, which also have water- efficient gardens.

CALA Homes has been building energy-efficient homes for some time, although it does not offer the guarantee. "When people think of buying a larger home, they often expect to tolerate expensive running costs and fuel bills," says Robert Millar, managing director of CALA Homes (South). "This is no longer the case in today's new-build market and we adopt higher standards of insulation, together with quality construction to ensure that our new homes are highly energy-efficient".

At the company's Cedar Grove development in Radlett, Hertfordshire, one of the 11 five-bedroom houses has been awarded a top SAP rating of 100. The other 10 five-bedders all scored above 93, well above the minimum standard of 60 set by the Government and the 85 rating which most new house builders aim for. Two are left for sale, priced at pounds 860,000 and pounds 895,000.

"Our customers are particularly interested in all of the things which equate to such a good level of insulation and most of our developments have really good ratings," says CALA's Tiffany Jones. The company is also selling nine apartments and penthouses, which are all SAP-rated in the mid-nineties, at Enfield, Middlesex. The remaining large two-bedroom apartments are priced at pounds 239,950 and pounds 370,000.

Energy efficiency is not only the preserve of new homes. Older houses or flats can be made more energy efficient and can be SAP-rated. "An awareness of energy issues when looking around property is to be encouraged," says Steve Freeman of Ekins Surveyors. "The most energy- efficient properties are modern ones; anything built since 1990 will have to meet rigorous requirements and should have a good energy rating. However, those buying an older house can take plenty of steps to help increase their energy efficiency and reduce their fuel bills."

Roof insulation and cavity wall insulation make a real difference, and heating systems are critical. Condensing boilers are expensive to buy, unless your boiler needs replacing, but buying a home with one installed is good news. Thermostatic controls on radiators and on the cylinder help and, of course, double glazing is highly energy-efficient. "Even insulating your hot-water cylinder can make quite a difference at a very low cost," says Freeman. Curchods is selling a five-bedroom family house in Guildford, Surrey built in 1966, which had a new condensing boiler installed in 1998. This resulted in the gas bill being reduced by 35 per cent. The house is for sale at pounds 465,000.

Even building societies are going green and offering mortgage discounts to people prepared to improve their home in order to make it more energy- efficient. "Building societies are beginning to realise that if people have an incentive to make their homes more energy-efficient, this reduces running costs, allowing people to better afford their mortgage," says a spokesman from the Council for Energy Efficiency Development. The Norwich & Peterborough Society offers a green mortgage and the Woolwich Building Society has a package of energy-saving domestic appliances worth up to pounds 1,100.

National Energy Services (01908 672787); Council for Energy Efficiency Development (01428-654011); Ekins (0990 606090); Linden Homes (01883 744400); CALA Homes (01784 460033); Curchods (01483 458800)