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Open Homes Could Help Us Improve Our Homes And Cut Emissions



Tomorrow COP21 will devote the entire day to considering the use of energy in buildings. The UK’s Federation of Open Home Networks believes the homes of the future will necessarily be dramatically improved older homes. Our homes accounted for 22% of the UK’s CO2 emissions in 2014.

To get to the government’s target of 80% less CO2 emissions by 2050, making older homes energy efficient will be vital, since 8 out of 10 homes that will be in standing in 2050 have already been built and are old and inefficient.

“It needn’t cost the earth”, says Federation Director John Doggart.

Open Homes groups are opening their doors to demonstrate the benefits of energy improvements and visitors are not only inspired – they also take action. A survey of visitors to SuperHomes, one such group operating nationally, found respondents went on to spend an average of £3750 on energy saving improvements. Respondents planned to spend, on average, £5770 over the next 12 months. “If every visitor to the SuperHome Open Days last September were to proceed in this way we would see £18 million spent on energy saving measures by visitors.” says Doggart.

The Federation represents 26 groups and over 1300 green households which share their experience of refurbishment, renewables and energy efficiency. 200 SuperHomes already show how we can refurbish and achieve carbon savings of 60% and more. Interest in visiting these homes is strong and SuperHomes alone attracted over 3000 visitors in September 2015.

By one estimate we should be refurbishing 600,000 properties a year to meet the government’s 2050 target. The government’s flagship Green Deal offer was supposed to deliver this scale of change, but its loan offer was poorly received and it was recently axed.

Retrofitting existing homes should be a priority, but what’s the best way to kick start this market? Open Homes are rebuilding interest from the bottom up.

“Attending an Open House event provides the credibility and a touch-and-feel experience that is so crucial at present” says John Doggart.

Andrew Warren, Chairman of the Federation, adds “Seeing really can be Believing! There’s no question that Open Homes are helping visitors see the improvements that can be made in homes like their own. They’re helping visitors build up the confidence to take the next steps. Often visitors look to the hosts to provide reassurance on what works.”

John Doggart says “Now there is a real opportunity to engage with the numbers of people we need to make a significant increase in take-up of retrofit energy measures”. He puts the number of homeowners who must be inspired to take action at around 1 million, or around 5% of private homeowners. In marketing terms, these homeowners will be the ‘early adopters’ largely responsible for influencing the majority of homeowners to take action.

Open Homes provide inspiration at a very low cost both to the public and funders. The events are normally free and the recent Brighton event ran successfully at a funded cost of £8 per visit.

Many of the Open Home groups are operating largely as a result of hard work by enthusiastic local volunteers, often assisted by an enlightened local authority, some local sponsorship and a small grant from DECC’s green homes programme.

There remain, however, vast areas of the UK where nothing as systematic as Open Days is taking place. There is plenty of scope to continue building provision if DECC and other regional funders elect to support this type of peer-to-peer activity in 2016.

John Doggart says that there are few difficulties in the way of further success. “All we need to do is to recruit and assess more exemplars and put these homeowners’ experience into play online.”

A huge increase in peer to peer sharing online including videos, podcasts, articles and Q&As is a possibility. John Doggart says: “The hope is to reach a point where we’re catering for 5000 online visits per days within 2 years. That will make for an estimated 10 fold increase in beneficiaries.”

Photo: Seeing is believing – visitors at an open home event


Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?



sustainable wood burning ideas

Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?

Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.

Is Biofuel Green?

One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.

Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?

Homegrown Technology

Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.

Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.

Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.

Benefits Of Biomass

The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.

Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.

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7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees



As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.

After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:

Financial Advising

One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.

Life Insurance

While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.

Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies

Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.

The Ability To Work Remotely

It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.

Health Insurance

Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.

Unlimited Time Off

This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.

A Full Pantry

Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.

Final Thoughts

Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!

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