Your home’s energy use is probably one of the biggest parts of your carbon footprint. In fact, according to Energy Saving Trust, around 22% of the country’s carbon emissions come from our homes – including heating, lighting and appliances.
In order to ‘decarbonise’ UK homes, the government has laid out plans to ban fossil fuel boilers in newly built homes, and switch more than 23 million households that are currently heated with gas or oil to a low-carbon system.
But these changes won’t happen straight away. Low-carbon heating systems are not yet suitable for every home, and can be costly and inconvenient to install.
If you’re keen to reduce your carbon footprint – and your energy bill – there’s still plenty you can do now.
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Cut your carbon emissions: here’s what you can do now
The simplest way to cut your emissions is to use less energy.
No matter what heating system you use, it’s easier and cheaper to maintain a comfortable temperature all year round in a well-insulated home. So while it may not be the right time to replace your boiler just yet, it’s always a good time to improve your home’s energy efficiency.
There are five main sources of heat loss in most homes: the roof, windows, walls, floors, and through cracks or gaps around doors and windows. There are improvements you can make to all five.
Some projects, like insulating solid or cavity walls, are best left to the professionals. But others are cheap and easy DIY jobs that can be tackled by just about anyone.
How energy efficient is your home?
The first step is to find out how much energy your home uses, and what changes you can make to improve it most cost effectively.
If your home has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), it will help you identify possible improvements. Your property is likely to have an EPC if it has been marketed for sale or rent since 2008, and they’re valid for 10 years.
If your home doesn’t have an up-to-date EPC, you can get one for around £60-£120, depending on the size and location of your home. For a more detailed report, consider a home energy audit, which may include thermal imaging as well as one-to-one advice and a comprehensive refurbishment plan.
You can find any current or expired EPC for a home in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland on the government’s EPC Register or, in Scotland, on the Scottish EPC Register run by the Energy Saving Trust. You can also find a list of qualified Domestic Energy Assessors on both websites.
What information is on an EPC certificate?
The EPC shows the current and potential energy efficiency rating of your home from A (most efficient) to G (least efficient). It also lists ways you can improve the rating along with indicative costs. The government-endorsed Simple Energy Advice website has more information about what you can learn from your EPC.
Recommended improvements may include big projects like installing external wall insulation or solar panels, as well as smaller changes such as switching to low-energy lighting.
While these improvements should help you save on bills and lessen the environmental impact of the property, they may need considerable investment.
Five ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency on a budget
If your home needs solid or cavity wall insulation or new windows, then you’ll usually require a qualified installer. Check Which? Trusted Traders to find professionals near you.
But there are other ways to reduce heat loss that most of us can tackle. Here are five DIY jobs to try:
1. Insulate the loft
Reduce heat loss through the roof by adding loft insulation. According to the Energy Saving Trust, a quarter of the heat is lost through the roof of an uninsulated home, and correctly installed loft insulation should pay for itself many times over in its 40-year lifetime. The recommended minimum depth is 270mm (approximately 10 ½ inches) of mineral wool insulation, so if you have less than this, it’s worth topping it up.
If you use your loft for storage, you can still install flooring above the insulation, using timber battens or purpose-made plastic spacers to raise the boards to the required level.
Alternatively, you can insulate at the rafters – the sloping roof timbers – to create a ‘warm roof’. This will be more expensive, and you may need a professional installer. Read more about loft insulation costs and savings and which type of insulation is best for you.
2. Prevent draughts
Cut out cold draughts by filling gaps around doors and windows and blocking unused open chimneys. Although controlled ventilation is important to prevent damp and condensation, uncontrolled draughts waste heat and energy. You can buy off-the-shelf products to seal around doors and windows, and ready-made products to draught proof keyholes and letterboxes.
There are also simple ways to stop draughts from floorboards, skirting boards, loft hatches and more. Find out more on how to draught proof your home.
3. Insulate hot water pipes and tanks
Reduce heat loss from your heating system by insulating pipes, tanks, and radiators. If you have a hot water tank that’s not insulated, fit a cylinder jacket. They are very cheap to buy and easy to fit, but make sure it’s at least 80mm (3 inches) thick. The Energy Saving Trust says that insulating your hot water tank is likely to pay for itself in just one year.
Insulating all accessible hot water pipes is also an inexpensive DIY job; simply buy foam tube of a suitable diameter, cut to length, and fit around the pipes. Adding reflective panels behind radiators is another low-cost option. They prevent heat from being lost through external walls by reflecting it back into the room instead and are especially effective for radiators on uninsulated solid walls.
4. Fit secondary glazing
If you have inefficient single-glazed windows, it can be costly to replace them all with new double- or triple-glazed units. In rented homes, listed buildings and conservation areas, it may not be permitted. But you can still improve the performance of your windows by adding a secondary layer on the inside.
The cheapest and easiest DIY option is to fit a thin film, like cling film, onto the window frame. Acrylic sheet is a more effective and long-lasting option, and only a slightly more difficult job. If you prefer a professional installation, a fully opening secondary glazing unit can be installed in the window recess, though this will be more expensive.
5. Add cosy furnishings
Rugs, curtains, and draught excluders can all help stop heat escaping from your home, and are especially useful options if you rent. Carpet is a better insulating material than wood or tiles and, if you have bare floorboards, it will block draughts from between the gaps too. Fitted carpets are most effective, but large rugs also work – the thicker the better.
The same is true for curtains; heavy, lined materials can keep the heat in and prevent draughts, with the added benefit of keeping rooms cool in summer by minimising solar gain.
No insulation without ventilation
Ventilation is important to maintain adequate air movement throughout the building. Badly fitted insulation and draught proofing can lead to unintended consequences, such as poor indoor air quality, damp, condensation, and mould.
A good installer will make sure not to block or seal any intentional ventilation. If you’re installing insulation yourself, be careful that you’re not covering any ventilation grilles or air bricks. If your windows have trickle vents, make sure they are still accessible and operable.
Find out more about how to stop condensation.