It is widely accepted the UK needs to revamp its ageing and draughty housing if it is to reach its climate targets.
With Britain’s buildings accounting for about a fifth of the country’s carbon emissions – a raft of upgrades will be needed if the country has any hope of reaching its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.
After the release of the government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy, laying out plans to tackle the issue, we look at the key things we can do to reduce the carbon footprint of our homes, the cost, and what help the government is offering.
Heat pumps and other gas boiler alternatives
New homes will be banned from installing new gas and oil boilers by 2025 and the government wants to see no new boilers sold after 2035.
There are three main contenders to replace them – heat pumps, hydrogen and district heating.
Homeowners in England and Wales will be offered subsidies of £5,000 from next April to help them to replace old gas boilers with heat pumps.
The grants for 90,000 pumps are part of a £3.9bn government plan to cut carbon emissions from heating buildings.
Heat pumps currently cost between £6,000 and £18,000 – and they need high levels of insulation which aren’t always possible in the UK’s older, solid walled homes.
The government is also pioneering trials of hydrogen heating. But there are huge challenges and many believe hydrogen is unlikely to be produced in sufficient quantities to warm many people’s homes.
District heating, where large pipes are laid in the ground to supply heat from a variety of sources is also a possibility in some areas.
Insulate walls, roofs and floors
One of the most effective ways of cutting your home’s emissions is by reducing heat loss through the insulation of walls, roofs and floors.
In an uninsulated home, about a third of heat is lost through the walls, a quarter goes through the roof, about 15% through the floor and the rest out of windows and as a result of draughts.
How you go about reducing this will depend on the type of home you live in, says the Energy Saving Trust (EST).
- Homes built from the 1990s onwards will likely have cavity walls – two walls with a gap in between – and will also likely already have insulation to keep the heat in.
- Homes built after the 1920s but before the 1990s are also likely to have cavity walls, but they may not have insulation. In these cases, cavity wall insulation can be added.
- Older homes from pre-1920 are likely to have solid walls – a single layer of brick or stone. Solid walls can be insulated either from the inside or the outside, but it is a more complicated, and expensive, challenge.
Costs and savings vary considerably, but a typical installation in a mid-terrace house would cost about £390, with annual energy savings of £95.
Replace or adapt windows and doors
Making doors and windows more energy efficient will also reduce your carbon footprint.
One option is to fit double or triple glazing – windows with two or more glass panes in a sealed unit.
The costs of double glazing costs vary hugely. Windows for a semi-detached house that are A-rated, taking in as much heat as they let out, would cost about £4,250, with energy bill savings of about £75 per year.
A cheaper option is to install secondary glazing – a second pane of glass inside an existing window – or using heavy curtains to reduce heat loss.
Draught-proof leaky areas
Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to save energy, according to the EST.
To draught-proof your home, you should block up unwanted gaps that let cold air in and warm air out.
Draughts can be tackled in a number of places, most commonly around doors and windows, chimneys, skirting boards and loft-hatches.
Just be sure not to block or seal any intentional ventilation needed to keep fresh air flowing.
Draught-proofing around windows and doors could save you around £25 a year, and draught-proofing an unused chimney could save around £18 a year, according to the EST.
Fit LED bulbs and buy energy-efficient appliances
Energy-efficient lighting and appliances could also help lower your emissions.
If you replace all the bulbs in your home with LED lights, you could reduce your carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40kg a year – the equivalent emissions to driving your car around 140 miles, the EST says.
When looking for new appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, make sure you only buy the size you need, as larger items will use more energy and end up costing you more.
Also consider the energy rating of your new appliance and look for the product with the best energy rating for the size you require.
You can also reduce energy use by using “eco” modes and turning off standby.
So why aren’t we all doing this already?
Environmentalists and leaders across the housing and construction industries have pointed to the many barriers preventing people upgrading their homes.
MPs on the Environment Audit Committee have highlighted obstacles that need to be overcome: cost, the age of the housing stock, worries about disruption, and the variety of households – all with different needs.
There is clearly a long way to go.