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The benefits of self-build to the UK energy landscape

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With Ecobuild 2013 underway at the ExCel in London, Chris Farrell writes about the important role for self-build in ensuring the UK’s housing stock is sustainable in the future.

Back in 2011, David Cameron vowed to “get Britain building. This has been supported with a variety of schemes, most recently the green deal and the government-backed online self-build portal. However, the UK now has the oldest housing stock in the developed world, with 8.5m properties over 60 years old, and with the current energy pressure the UK is facing, there is more that can be done.

Self-build, both in building new homes and refurbishment of our existing ones, has a key role to play in ensuring the UK housing stock is able to adapt to future changes in the global energy situation.

Currently there are around 100,000 new homes built in the UK every year. There are many factors that motivate people to build their own home; the cost is generally much less than buying an existing home, and you have better control over the location and design of your property. However, what I wish to focus on are the benefits self-build can provide for the UK energy sector and environment as a whole.

The key advantage of a new build from an energy perspective is that you are not constrained by a pre-existing physical structure, heating system, or even energy source. As such, there is the opportunity to utilise innovative technologies and ensure improved energy efficiency for your building, and a lower lifetime cost for your home heating.

The benefits of this are clear to see. With energy costs rising every year, and 5m UK homes now in fuel poverty, improving energy efficiency in any scenario represents a way for the UK to tackle its energy issues and achieve short and long-term stability.

In fact, newly-built homes often lead the way in energy efficient design. According to the British Building and Social Housing Foundation, “Low-energy self-build houses are among the best national examples of environmentally sound building, with high NHER (National Home Energy Rating) scores of 9 or 10 (out of 10)”.

However whilst the benefits of building a new home are all well and good, it is clearly not an option for a majority of current homeowners. For the UK to make real progress towards future energy use and emissions targets, existing homes will need improvements.

Fortunately, self-build is not limited to new homes. The refurb sector represents a considerable opportunity for the UK to improve the energy efficiency of our domestic buildings through a variety of self-build projects.

Incorporating simple, new or retrofitted energy efficiency measures into our existing homes, such as heating insulation, super condensing gas boilers with flue gas heat recovery, or new lighting controls are a means for the UK to tackle it’s energy problems and save money.

Self-build projects and home renovations do not have to be complicated, long-term projects; the nature of self-build means you can tailor a project to your needs and situation, something as simple as upgrading your boiler will be of great benefit.

Furthermore, the government’s green deal, despite its much publicised problems and perhaps misguided approach, has the key issues of promoting energy efficiency at its heart, and I believe will eventually benefit UK consumers.

The improvement of domestic energy efficiency also ensures you will be financially rewarded from any project you undertake, especially with rising energy costs projected for the future.

It is clear that the potential that self-build represents for the UK economy and energy landscape cannot be ignored. Both new and existing homes can benefit from a range of self-build improvements, and the government clearly knows this, having acted to promote adoption of this approach, through the green deal, Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) and other funding.

Whilst there are problems with its methods, the positive intent is there. It is up to us, the public, to take advantage of this, and ensure our homes can be as energy efficient as possible. This will benefit not only ourselves as homeowners, but also the UK and government as a whole.

Chris Farrell is the managing director of Zenex Energy, a British company founded in 2003 specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets. This post originally featured on his blog, The Green Entrepreneur.

Further reading:

Why supporting innovation is vital for UK energy policy in 2013

Government launches long-awaited green deal scheme

Time for a change in energy policy

Green homes: will patience pay?

Study paints UK as a leader in green building

Chris Farrell is the managing director of Zenex Energy, a British company founded in 2003 specialising in innovative energy saving products for both the domestic and commercial markets

Economy

How Going Green Can Save A Company Money

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going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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