If weather pundits are to be believed, we’re in for one of the harshest winters yet and chilly winds equal soaring energy bills. Buying your first home is enough of a worry, even before you factor in heating it, but is there anything you can do to minimise your outgoings?
Stretching yourself financially to get a mortgage is one thing, but assessing how much you’ll pay for heating bills is often overlooked. Statistics show that the type of property you buy has a big impact on your budget, so being armed with the facts may help you make that crucial decision when choosing a home. Research from the NHBC found that, on average, annual heating bills for a ground floor, one bedroom flat in a Victorian property cost around £940 annually, but, for an equivalent newbuild home, are just £500. A three bed semi in a period building comes in at a whopping £1,670 per year, whilst its modern equivalent costs around £780.
New standards for newbuild homes
New homes may be cheaper to run, but the Code for Sustainable Homes – intended to make newbuild homes even more energy efficient – was abolished earlier this year. Recently launched at Grand Designs, the new Home Quality Mark (HQM) intends to give consumers a new standard to judge what makes an affordable and easy to run home as well as promote better home design, aimed at improving living conditions. Registered HQM homes will result in reduced household energy bills, and contribute towards an improvement in householders’ health and wellbeing. Created by BRE, the UK’s leading building science centre – which gift-aids its profits to the BRE Trust, a registered charity that works to improve the quality and sustainability of the country’s buildings and built environment. BRE says, “the HQM has been designed to empower and enhance the lives of both buyers and renters of new residential properties”.
BRE believe that new homes meeting the highest HQM criteria will be up to 50% more energy efficient than existing dwellings in the UK. Additionally, they are being built to ameliorate a wide range of health-related issues brought about by inferior quality housing. These include poor air quality, cramped and badly designed living spaces and the impact of climate change, such as flooding.
House builders back the scheme
So far, many house builders have already shown support and are contributing to study sites across the country. HAB, CALA Homes, Lendlease, Kier, Pocket Living, Weinerberger and Userhuus are all taking part and it is expected that, by the end of the first year, around one in five of all new homes (around 30,000 according to NHBC statistics) will have an HQM rating – a significant proportion of the UK’s new homes market. Current sites include; London, Oxford, Royston, Sunderland, Watford, Winchester and Witney, and range from affordable housing to larger five bedroom family homes. As well as energy issues, the HQM also focusses on what users want from a new home in terms of cost, location, healthy living and technology, with a star rating system with which to assess homes.
Developments where homes are cheaper to run
There are developments around the country where you can buy a snug, well insulated home, without huge energy bills. Elmsbrook in Oxfordshire is the first true zero carbon residential development of its size in the UK. Built by FABRICA by A2Dominion, these pioneering properties are part of the wider North West Bicester Masterplan, which aims to deliver 6,000 energy efficient homes locally. At Elmsbrook, 393 homes start from £302,500 for two-bed houses and all come with rainwater harvesting to reduce water usage and solar panels to cut heating and energy bills. Water and heating come from a combined heat and power plant and the homes have high levels of insulation and triple glazing. Owners can check how much energy they’re using and estimate costs through a tablet home information system, known as a Shimmy.
Cutting bills in period-style homes
Not everyone wants newbuild, but there are ways to make draughty period-style properties more energy efficient and save on bills. Tim Pullen is the spokesperson for The Homebuilding & Renovating Show, homebuildingshow.co.uk, where he gives tips and advice on how best to cut energy use and reduce costs. Pullen says that thinking about the following aspects of your home can help…
How old is the boiler?
Gas and oil-fired boilers tend to have a useful life of 10 to 12 years. By that time, they are getting expensive to maintain, and have lost efficiency. Check moneysavingexpert.com/family/grant-grabbing to see if you qualify for a government grant, as a new boiler could cut heating bills by up to £300. Turning down your central heating could also help. Thermostats
are usually on a wall, but the centre of the room could be up to four degrees warmer. The Energy Saving Trust has shown that each degree you turn it down cuts 10% off your heating bill.
The cheapest, easiest and most effective way to reduce energy bills is to seal gaps around windows, doors, floorboards, skirting boards, loft hatches and pipes through walls. Fireplaces can also make a big difference. In a typical house, 15% of heat is lost to draughts and, if you have an unused fireplace with an open flue, this rises to over 65%. Draughtproofing the whole house typically costs under £200, but you could save that within the first year.
Insulate your home
Ensuring your home is properly insulated minimises heat loss, but bear in mind that 35% of heat can be lost through walls, but only 25% through the roof. Houses built before 1920 are most likely to have solid walls and can still be insulated internally, or externally. Loft insulation should be 270mm of mineral or sheep’s wool,
or 140mm of rigid foam. Grants are available. Check out which.co.uk/energy/creating-an-energy-saving-home/guides/insulation-grants/ for more information.
Double glazing is good, but replacement units are not always the answer. Single-glazed windows lose a lot of heat, but secondary double glazing can come in at a tenth of the price of new double-glazed units and are just as useful. However, only 10% of heat is lost through windows, so be budget aware.
Control Power Consumption
As the proliferation of electrical equipment has increased, so has the amount of electricity used – a steady rate of 2% per year since the 1960’s. You can minimise electricity consumption by using low-energy lighting, power-down plugs and A-rated appliances. Voltage optimisation cuts electricity consumption, by making sure equipment is running at the optimum energy level. This not only saves money, it also reduces CO2 emissions and extends your equipment’s life. Voltage optimisers cost approximately £350 and cut electricity consumption by around 10% each year.