14 March 2023

5 energy-saving tips from the owner of one of the UK’s most energy-efficient homes

14 March 2023

As many people struggle to pay their energy bills, a new study suggests two-thirds of Brits would introduce eco-friendly measures if it saved them money.

Research by the sustainability and money-saving platform SaveMoneyCutCarbon found 66% of householders would implement more green behaviours to save money, while 45% said the next house they buy will be energy efficient.

For a shining example of how to save as much as possible on home energy, look no further than a beautiful and eco-friendly country home in the Hampshire hills, which is making more energy than it uses.

Sustainability guru Martin Evans, aka Mr Net Zero, and his wife Ruth have transformed their five-bedroom farmhouse into what could be the UK’s most energy-efficient home.

Due to the energy they generate through solar panels and how well-insulated and cleverly designed their home is, they were effectively being ‘paid’ to run their home, until the recent rise in energy prices.

“When we first completed the house six years ago, we were actually being paid to live here, but energy costs have changed and now it’s not quite as good,” Evans explains. “We weren’t trying to be zero cost, we were trying to be net zero carbon, and we achieved that.”

He estimates that without introducing energy-saving and generating measures, including replacing an LPG boiler with a ground source heat pump, installing triple-glazed windows, adding external insulation, putting in mechanical ventilation systems, and installing solar panels, the energy costs of the house, including charging the two diesel cars, would have been around £24,000 a year.

With the measures, the costs are just £2,400 a year. “Doing the right thing pays back quickly,” he observes. “But you’ve got to make sure you do things correctly.”

In summer, the panels generate more energy than the house and cars use, so the couple export the spare energy to the grid, and there are periods in winter when they use more than they generate, so they sometimes import energy. But they use a battery to store summer’s spare energy, and in winter they charge the battery on a very cheap overnight energy rate.

“Our objective was to get to the point where, in a year, we’d generate the same amount or more of the energy we use for all the travel and running of the house,” he says. “In fact, we generate about 30% more energy in a year than the whole of the house and the cars use, so we’ve become net energy negative.”

However Evans, a civil engineer who specialises in low energy housing and buildings, understands that, particularly during the current cost-of-living crisis, most people don’t have the money to invest large amounts in making their home super-energy-efficient. So, what can financially-strapped homeowners do to ensure their energy costs are as low as possible?

Those planning to stay in their home long-term could benefit from a 10-year plan, suggests Evans. Raising capital by getting a lifetime mortgage, or a pension lump sum, to invest in energy-saving measures, such as heat pumps, and/or solar energy generation.

“A lot of these things won’t pay back in a couple of years, but investing in future-proofing your house to make running costs cheaper in the long-term can be a sensible move,” he says.

“Otherwise, you’re left with trying to do minor things – the basics that everyone should be able to do.”

These include…

1. Checking and installing loft insulation

Check how much loft insulation your house has, or get an expert to do this for you. “People often don’t have much insulation in the loft. It doesn’t cost thousands, and it can improve energy efficiency,” says Evans.

2. Draughtproofing

Feel where heat’s escaping through doors and windows, and block gaps. Draught excluders and heavy curtains can also help keep the heat in and the cold out.

“Reducing energy losses through draughtproofing windows and doors is another simple and cheap measure you can undertake,” advises Evans.

3. Using LED light bulbs

The SaveMoneyCutCarbon research found 51% of householders want to swap all traditional light bulbs in their home for LED by the end of the year to reduce energy bills.

Evans points out that old-fashioned downlighters are “crazy-high energy”, as are spotlights, which also produce a lot of heat, and stresses: “Using LED light bulbs makes a huge difference – they use a tenth of the energy of a traditional light bulb, so it’s definitely worth checking them out.”

4. Reducing hot water circulation pump use

Evans says many houses have a hot water circulation pump, which runs continuously, explaining: “When they’re running, you’ve got heat losses from the pipework, so all the time the hot water’s circulating you’re losing energy for no benefit.”

He says it’s a good idea to only switch the pump on half an hour before it’s needed, and not to leave it on all the time. “Restrict usage, so you’ve got hot water when you need it, but the boiler isn’t topping it up all the time,” he advises, estimating he’s reduced his hot water circulation energy losses by 90%.

5. Reducing water use with aerated showers and taps

Evans points out that while showers use a lot less water than baths, aerated showers only use around a third of the water of a standard shower, although they still feel the same.

Cheap screw-in fittings for taps, which will reduce the flow to around a quarter of the normal flow are also available, he says. “The actual experience of washing your hands is really no different, it’s just spraying out, rather than coming out as a solid stream.

“If you store hot water at a lower temperature, only circulate it when you need it, and restrict the amount of water you draw.

“All these things can make a significant difference – and they’re pretty simple to do, that’s the nice thing.”

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