Checklist for a greener way of living
Whether buying a new home or giving your property an environmental make-over, there are plenty of eco-options out there, from solar panels to rain-water harvesting
Sunday 14 May 2006
Going green in your own home means more than installing double-glazing and putting in a combination boiler. Today's developers have a wide range of features they can install in new homes which really make a fundamental difference to the environment and often a reduction in household costs, too.
*** Improved insulation - although all insulation improves energy efficiency and most enhance air quality, some are greener than others. Experts recommend 300mm-400mm of shredded newspaper or natural wool. Under-floor heating, through either loops of hot-water pipes or electrically heated mats running beneath a floor, can also substantially improve energy-efficiency in a home. Remember, the average "old" home loses 35 per cent of its heat through the walls, 25 per cent through the roof, another 25 per cent through draughty doors and windows, and 15 per cent through the floor.
*** Natural construction materials - building and maintaining our homes accounts for 28 per cent of UK carbon dioxide emissions according to the Government, so the use of timber frames, organic paints or even straw bale walls (tightly compacted straw, covered in render) can reduce environmental impact.
*** Solar thermal heating systems on the roof - photo-voltaic tiles and/or solar panels can generate 25 per cent of a household's electricity in winter and 75 per cent in summer.
*** Mini-wind turbines - David Cameron is installing one of these. They vary in size and power from 300 watts to three megawatts and must be located on rooftops or hills free from turbulence and obstructions like trees, houses or buildings. A downside is that they can cost from £1,800 per home;
*** Wood-fired central heating systems - this can heat your hot water along with your home from the same boiler, and some systems can fill extra heat-storage tanks too. Because wood fires burn quickly at a high temperature, they burn cleanly with relatively few emissions.
*** Rain-water harvesting for flushing toilets - rainwater can be captured from the roof of a home, directed via normal guttering and down-pipes to a tank where it is filtered and then pumped to bathrooms or other rooms as required. This saves using mains water and reduces the amount of rain forced into drainage systems so minimising the risk of flooding during extreme downpours.
*** Grey-water collection from sinks and baths for watering the garden - similar in principle to rain-water harvesting, this diverts the outflow of water from baths and sinks into a storage tank where it can be filtered and treated if required, then pumped for use elsewhere in the home, often in the garden.
*** "Passive Solar Orientation" - this is eco-jargon for homes or glazed areas with a southerly orientation to maximise natural heat entering through windows and to maximise heat impact on appropriately located solar panels or PV tiles.
*** Ground source heat systems - these pump heat from the ground into a building to provide central heating or to heat water. Every unit of electricity used to pump the heat produces three to four units of heat in return. A typical eight kilowatt system would cost £5,000 or more to buy and install.
Currently these features are associated mainly with niche properties produced by specialist developers.
One example that has been extensively praised by the environmental lobby is The Wintles, a 40-home "eco-village" in Bishop's Castle, Shropshire, where each property is solar-glazed with high levels of insulation. The designers claim electricity bills in a standard property will be £6 for two months.
In addition to the physical attributes, an eco-lifestyle is promoted by the developer, Living Villages, via the development's organisation committee which is responsible for running communal land and making decisions that affect all 40 homes.
"Each household has an automatic share in the ownership and control of these areas via a residents' management company. When the development is completed, the residents take over the complete ownership and control," says a spokeswoman for Living Villages.
"The residents' company is also empowered to do things like set up car clubs, bulk-purchase telephone time or power supplies from green sources, organise local food supply and childcare, or build new facilities such as health clubs," she says.
Another development to be praised for its environmental credentials is the much more mainstream Berkeley Homes 1,000-home scheme at Holborough Quarry, north of the village of Larkfield in Kent.
The first phase of the homes has included a Canadian air- recycling system known as Super E, which has also been widely used in Japan. A property built to Super E specifications is effectively airtight and an air filtration system is used to reduce dust while heat-exchange technology re-circulates warm air from room to room.
Berkeley adopted the system because of its low build costs - elements of the homes are built in Canada, then shipped over here - but even so, it has won plaudits from environmental groups and may show how future mainstream developers will adopt green technology.
The trend of pushing volume builders into environmentally- advanced construction techniques is being accelerated by new government guidelines.
Planning Policy Statement 22, unveiled quietly in 2004, gives local councils power to insist on 10 per cent renewable energy sources for new developments granted permission under certain circumstances.
The first local authority to act on the guidelines was Surrey County Council, and Linden Homes was the first developer to have the requirement imposed on one of its schemes in the county.
"As a windmill on an estate wouldn't be very popular we're going to use solar panels. Each house will have a two sq m panel. Because Linden buys in bulk and will use its own sub-contractors to fit them, it will cost only £1,500 per property," says Ivan Ball of Linden Homes, which has seven developments in the county.
"Most home owners are suspicious of solar heating. They think it's a device on their roof that they don't understand and may prove a hassle to maintain, even though it's nothing of the kind. For us as a volume developer, the exercise is pretty painless and the cost quite small," explains Ball.
Another legal sanction is the use of building regulations to push green issues to the fore.
Building Regulation L, one of the latest to be introduced, obliges developers to improve the quality of double-glazing, enhance the type of boilers installed, and significantly increase the efficiency of insulation fitted into walls, floors and roof spaces.
Public resistence to eco-features highlighted by Ivan Ball may be about to change as more substantial evidence of the effects of global warming and soaring energy bills force the environment on to the political and personal agenda for people.
There is now a website advertising green homes for sale (www.greenmoves.co.uk), a campaign urging owners and builders to be more green (run by the WWF on www.wwf.org.uk/sustainablehomes) and details of how older properties can be made more energy efficient (with the Energy Savings Trust, www.est.org.uk). There's no excuse for not going green anymore - and soon there'll be a green home near you.
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