Save energy while you wait for the ultra green house

All new properties will soon be emission-free, writes Esther Shaw. Meanwhile, you can take your own steps to save the planet

It's official: going green can be stressful. In a recent report assessing people's attitudes to environmental issues, the not-for-profit lobby group Energy Saving Trust (EST) discovered that three-quarters of respondents felt a growing pressure to change the way they live to reduce emissions.

It also found that more than half the UK population recognise a real link between the energy they use at home and climate change.

But now, it seems, the architects will help them to be greener. In the wake of the 2006 pre-Budget report, in which Gordon Brown set out the Government's aim to make all new homes "zero-carbon" by 2016, housing minister Yvette Cooper gave her stamp of approval last week to the first British house to achieve a "zero carbon" status. It could save the owners £800 a year in bills.

The two-bed property uses renewable-energy technology, solar panelling and state-of-the-art insulation to keep the environmental impact to an absolute minimum.

It also includes a biomass boiler and a wind-catcher to ensure ventilation during the summer months.

The property, yet to be priced commercially, has attained a "carbon neutral" certificate, which means purchasers will be exempt from stamp duty. The Government hopes it will be the first of a new generation of homes that will form specially designed "eco towns".

"A quarter of emissions come from our homes," says Ms Cooper. "That's why zero-carbon houses are so important. We need a revolution in the way we design and build our homes."

While government initiatives such as this are a step in the right direction, there are measures you can take yourself in the meantime to improve the efficiency of your home . "It's extremely easy to waste energy without even thinking about it," says an EST spokes- woman. "Making small changes to your daily life can dramatically lower the amount of energy you use."

While you may be put off by the initial cost of implementing some of the measures detailed in the graphic above, the Government, energy suppliers and local authorities all provide grants to help you carry out improvements such as changing a boiler and insulating the loft. And ultimately you will reap the benefits in lower bills.

You don't have to be a low earner to qualify - most grants are available to any household. For more details, go to www.est.org.uk/ myhome/gid.

EST findings also show that the message is starting to get through: nearly a fifth more households have installed efficient "condensing" boilers compared with the same time last year. Many households also claim to have five or six energy-saving lightbulbs.

Additionally, nearly seven out of 10 people now believe that properties boasting energy-saving features command a premium. Almost half would be willing to pay an extra £5,000 to £10,000 for a green house, the EST found, on the basis that good insulation, double-glazing and boilers, for example, will be more attractive to buyers.

It's also worth noting that when the new home information packs are finally introduced for four-bed properties on 1 August, they will have to contain an "energy performance certificate."

While the packs, designed to speed up the housing chain, have been dogged by U-turns and vociferous criticism, the green element has been welcomed. The certificates will rate homes on a scale of A to G according to their efficiency.

Cost of Living: Inflation reined in by falling energy prices

Inflation edged down to 2.5 per cent in May, its second monthly decline in a row.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the consumer price inflation index (CPI) fell from 2.8 per cent in April.

Lower bills for gas and electricity lay behind the easing inflationary pressure, the ONS said, as well as lower food prices - particularly for vegetables and meat - and cheaper clothing and footwear.

The fall in the cost of living will bring relief to the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee, which has raised interest rates four times since August 2006 in an effort to get a grip on rising prices.

In March, inflation nudged 3.1 per cent - the highest level since the Bank took charge of setting rates in 1997.

This prompted a letter from Governor Mervyn King (pictured) to Chancellor Gordon Brown to explain why the 2 per cent inflation target had been exceeded to such an extent.

It was the first time the Bank had been obliged to do this. A letter of explanation is only necessary when the CPI either under- or overshoots the target by more than a whole percentage point.

Last month the Bank hiked the base rate up to 5.5 per cent, and in a speech last Monday, Mr King argued that the Bank may have to raise rates again unless consumers and companies slow their spending.

There is widespread speculation that the cost of borrowing will go up again this year - possibly as high as 6 per cent before the end of 2007.

For many homeowners on variable-rate mortgage deals, such as base rate trackers, this could translate into an extra £40 a month for a £150,000 home loan.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

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