Go Green With Your Barn Conversion
10 Easy Ways To Make Your New Home Energy Efficient
Use Recycled Rainwater
Collecting rainwater in water butts is common practice, but sophisticated versions of this
system have been developed to supply rainwater directly into the house. Rainwater can be
used to water gardens and wash cars, and in washing machines and toilets. Used in this way
it can save up to 50% of household water use.
The recycling of greywater is more complicated. Grey-water is water that is mildly soiled
(there is debate on whether laundry and washing-up water falls into this category) and must
therefore be filtered and treated before it can be used to flush toilets or water gardens.
Because the energy and chemicals used to pump and treat the water may have a greater
environmental effect than the water it is saving, these types of systems are not always
appropriate for domestic use.
Energy Efficient Siting and Orientation
In the Northern Hemisphere energy consumption can be reduced by siting the house so that it
faces south in order to maximise passive solar gain. The south side should be up to 60%
window, while the north facing side should be more enclosed with minimal glazed openings.
Heat loss can be further reduced by setting the house back into a slope so that the earth acts
as a 'thermal store'; slowly absorbing heat during the summer, and releasing it to the building
as the weather turns cooler.
Passive Ventilation Systems
Current building regulations call for extractor fans in the kitchen, bathroom, utility and WC and
trickle vents in the windows or airbricks to allow air back into the home.
The key is to minimise
the amount of heat leaving the building - which is where a heat recovery ventilation system
comes into play.
Here, stale air is taken from kitchens, toilets and bathrooms, and passed
through a simple heat exchanger where incoming fresh air is heated by means of the energy
in the exhaust air. These systems have few moving parts, are very quiet and use little power.
It is important to make the house as airtight as possible when using heat recovery ventilation
and these systems cannot be used in houses with open fires.
Ceramic Stoves are the most efficient of all the woodburners as the energy produced in the
combustion chamber is stored in the mass of the stove, then released over a 24 hour period.
Two hours of burning is normally all that is required. The stove is never shut down on a 'slow
burn' and is therefore always working at a maximum efficiency of up to 90%.
fireplace, in contrast, achieves an efficiency of around 10%.
In a modest family home a
ceramic stove can replace a central heating system on all but the coldest of days.
Green Power Suppliers
Even the most energy efficient home will require some form of supplementary power. A
committed ecologist with the money and the space may deem it worthwhile to install their own
generator of renewable energy.
For the rest of us, the easiest
way to minimise the environmental impact of our energy use is to sign up with a green
provider. The website www.greenelectricity.org features a comprehensive list of green energy
In most cases, the customer either pays an additional fee which funds renewable
energy projects, or the energy used by the customer is matched with generation from
renewable sources. An exception is Unit(e) (0845 4561640), which supplies electricity from
100% renewable sources.
Increase Insulation Levels
Sufficiently insulating your home is a great way to reduce energy costs. Unfortunately, the
best insulators in the scientific sense are synthetic materials, whose production is particularly
A slightly more eco-friendly alternative to the most efficient
insulant, polyurethane panels, can be made by using insulating blanket made of recycled
polyester. Mineral wool can be replaced by cellulose, made from recycled newspapers, which
has similar U-values to mineral wool but lacks the health risks associated with breathing in
broken glass-wool fibres.
Cellulose is available as loose filler, in panels or sprayed directly onto walls. When sprayed, cellulose is tight fitting and reduces air leaks considerably, but
because it is important to achieve the right density, this work should be carried out by specialist contractors.
Other 'green' insulating materials include various types of wood
fibreboard, panels and rope made of flax, and sheep's wool. This latter used to be an
expensive option but is increasingly affordable and, unlike mineral wool, which permanently
sags and thins if it gets damp, recovers its natural springiness.
Use Green Materials
The Green Building Store (01484 854898) offers a number of products such as paints and
timber preservation treatments with low toxic constituents. As a general rule, traditional
building materials are 'eco-friendly', primarily because of the lack of chemical additives.
can be found from specialist suppliers such as The Scottish Lime Centre (01383 872 722)
who also run courses for the public on traditional building techniques.
Choosing materials that are recycled or salvaged, particularly if they are reclaimed from a
nearby site, is another 'eco' strategy that may also have aesthetic benefits for your project,
since reclaimed materials tend to have more character than modern alternatives.
Reduce Water Consumption
Modern homes use huge amounts of water, but only a small proportion of this is used for
drinking. The rest goes on washing, bathing, dishwashing and flushing toilets.
people, simple lifestyle changes are the most appropriate way of responding to the need to
reduce water consumption. In practical terms this can mean showering rather than bathing,
only using the dishwasher when full, and maintaining taps and valves against leaks (a tap
dripping once a second, for example, will waste 4 litres per day).
There are also a number of
devices available which, once installed, will reduce household water consumption without
requiring any further thought.
Dual flush cisterns also significantly reduce water consumption.
Energy Efficient Windows
The building regulations will enforce a minimum standard of energy efficiency for your
fenestration requirements, but there are many extra things you could do. Paying attention to
the placing of your windows, for one, could save surprising amounts of electricity.
them high up a wall allows the light to penetrate further, whilst long thin windows, rather than
short wide versions, allow more light in. Roof windows, light pipes and internal windows are
useful for both self-builders and renovators, allowing light into areas closed off from external
walls, and therefore limiting the need for artificial lighting.
Natural sunlight is not only brighter than flourescent light, it does not distort colour, thus creating a more attractive and
If there are significant
areas of glazing in your home, it may be worth investing in low-emissivity glass, such as the
Pilkington K range (01744 28882), which incorporates an insulating coating that provides U values
equivalent to a well insulated cavity wall.
Buy Low Energy Appliances
Nick Grant from Elemental Solutions suggests that for the average person interested in
creating a more eco-friendly home, it is generally advisable to look at simple lifestyle changes
rather than introducing completely alternative technologies into your home.
One way in which
this principle - known as 'Eco Minimalism' - can be easily implemented is by maximising the
efficiency of your appliances. Not only will this benefit the environment, it can also save you
considerable money on your bills.
Should you need further encouragement, the Government
offers a range of incentives in the form of a grant, discount offer or interest free loan to help
you carry out the work. Grants are available for people in all sorts of circumstances and cover
everything from replacing appliances to cavity wall insulation. For more information see
The first step in maximising appliance efficiency is to ensure that your central heating
system is scaled according to your household's needs and the level of insulation.
If your boiler is over ten years old, it is worth replacing it. Technical improvements mean that new boilers
and control systems are significantly more efficient that they were even five years ago, now
achieving energy ratings of more than 90%.
The most efficient type of gas fired boiler is the
condensing boiler which recycles otherwise wasted energy from the combustion gases.
The Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (0800 512 012) runs a database on suitable products.
You can find out more about green energy at the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows which take place around the country every year.