Energy efficiency in older homes
Many people enjoy living in an older property, loaded with history and charm. But there’s a price to pay for that extra bit of character: extra upkeep and maintenance. In particular, older homes can be difficult and expensive to keep warm and cosy.
But even if your house is old, rickety and draughty, that’s not to say you can’t make it more energy efficient. In fact, there’s plenty you can do to save money and reduce your household’s impact on the environment.
December 2020 update: you should also read our new article on how to properly insulate your home here.
Steps all households can take
Whatever type of home you live in – from a Georgian townhouse to a newbuild flat – there are three significant energy-saving steps you should take before you even think about bigger changes. These are quick changes that make a real difference:
1. Tackle your phantom load
Some devices constantly sap energy in the background, when you’re not using them or have even switched them off. This is the ‘Phantom Load’.
Part of this can’t be helped. You don’t have much choice but to keep your fridge and freezer running, for example. But you can at least do something about the other contributor to your Phantom Load, devices that are left on standby. These add £30 a year on average to energy bills. So, try and remember to turn them off when you’re not using them.
2. Switch to LEDs
LEDs are just as bright as traditional bulbs, better for the environment, and they’re getting cheaper all the time. If you replace all of the bulbs in your home with LEDs, then for an initial outlay of £100 you’ll save about £35 a year on your energy bill.
3. Change energy tariff
Switching energy suppliers is one of the best ways to cut your energy bill, providing savings of up to £300 a year. It’s not as much hassle as you might think.
You’ve switched to a cheaper tariff - perhaps even a green energy one - swapped to LED bulbs and no long leave devices on standby unnecessarily. So, what’s next?
If you live in an older house - normally defined as pre-1919 - then you need to do your homework before diving headfirst into any serious changes. This is because older homes are built differently; they may have solid walls, for example, and you could end up causing problems like damp if you take a one-size-fits-all approach to renovations.
So, before taking any action, experts from the likes of Historic England and the Centre and the Sustainable Energy recommend you learn about the way your house is built, and what sort of condition it’s now in.
Historic England has produced a useful report ranking energy efficiency steps according to the risk they might pose to your ageing home, for example:
- Green actions are low-cost and low-risk options that can be considered for every building, such as draught-proofing, and refurbishing or replacing lost window shutters.
- Yellow actions involve higher risk or cost and their suitability will depend on the building in question. Examples include insulating a pitched roof, adding secondary glazing or plastering walls.
- Red actions require careful consideration, the correct choice of materials, good detailing and high standards of workmanship. Examples include insulating cavity walls, which can carry a significant risk of inducing liquid-moisture problems in older homes.
Its report includes other measures that involve more risk and come at a greater cost.
If you’re thinking about how to improve the energy efficiency in your home, but don’t know where to start or are a bit daunted, have a look at what others have already done.
One good source of inspiration and knowledge are the so-called SuperHomes. These are a network of some 200 older homes - not necessarily pre-1919, but not new builds either - refurbished by their owners for greater comfort, lower bills and lower carbon emissions.
Use the SuperHomes website to search for examples in your area; they provide a lot of useful details. Take, for example, a 1977 detached house in Aylesbury. The owners say they spent £12,782 after grants and managed to cut their carbon emissions by 69% and electricity bill by 45%. Their changes ranged from draught-proofing to fitting solar PV panels and solar water heating - you can see more details here. You can even use the website to contact the owners of a property and arrange a visit.
You might just feel inspired to create your own energy efficient super home. Good luck!
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