What can we do right now to make our homes more energy efficient and comfortable, reduce our carbon footprint and future proof them?
350,000 homes across Ireland have already received grants for energy improvements through Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the national energy agency that promotes energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Here are 4 ways to enable your home to be more sustainable and cheaper to run today:
1. How’s Your Home’s Energy?
The first thing to do before setting about considering any improvement work on your house is to do an audit of your energy demands and costs.
Architect, environmentalist and presenter of Eco Eye, RTÉ’s longest-running environmental series, Duncan Stewart, advises that the first thing to do is “look at your energy bills. If you’ve been in that home for a number of years, find out the energy costs over those years.”
“Check the bills every two months. In Ireland, approximately 43% of houses are oil heated and 33% gas heated. On average, households spend around €2.5k per annum on heating and electricity in their homes. This works out around €1,800 usually on heat and €700 on electrity.”
“Look at the money that you will save over 10 or 20 years. Once you do it, it’s done. Think of the benefits that will accrue, along with the comforts”.
The SEAI recommends homeowners to consider getting a Building Energy Rating or BER which will tell you how your home’s energy performance rates on an A-G scale. There’s also a useful advisory report available to help you identify the priority upgrades for your home.
2. Environmental impact and future proofing
Doing the right research now will help to justify your investment in the future. “If you are conscious of environmental impacts, climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity, you’ll undoubtedly be thinking about your own role on this subject and that of the impact of your home,” says Duncan Stewart.
“Improving your energy efficiency will genuinely add value to your house. If you move your BER from, for example a D (the average in Ireland) to a B or A1 rating, it will reflect significantly in the sale price of your house. You’re investing in your home. Besides all the important environmental benefits, the public is becoming much more aware and discerning about energy efficiency, as indicated in data from the ESRI and Ronan Lyons, Asst. Professor of Economics, TCD.
3. Insulation – a smart place to start
Whether it’s internal or external, insulation is a great place to start when making your home more sustainable. There are completely different needs, whether you are based in a period house, a country detached or a semi-d or apartment in an urban area.
There are massive benefits to insulating your house properly and you can even get grants from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). “Concentrate on your roof insulation first,” advised Duncan Stewart. “This is the low lying fruit – the easy one. You’ll have payback in 2-4 years and it’s a no-brainer.”
“You need to have the right type of insulation, to the right thicknesses, applied in the right way” to achieve the right environmental and economic benefits.
“Many houses built in the 70’s and 80’s had no insulation and are poorly performing. A different amount of heat flows out through the roof than does on the walls and windows and floors,” says Duncan Stewart.
Most importantly you should have your walls insulated as this can be hugely beneficial to your home, radically reducing heat loss. The best way to insulate your walls is through external wall insulation. You can cut your heat loss by up to 90%. “You are dramatically dropping down the heat loss by doing this, plus wrapping the house and protecting the house like a tea cosy,” explains Duncan. “In addition, you also now get the opportunity to put a whole new aesthetic on the outside with a range of choices of finish. External insulation is a really great option and will make a massive difference”.
When it comes to brickwork walls, another choice is to dry line them on the inside. “This is not necessarily the best way, but it can still achieve good insulation for you”, advises Duncan. “There are lots of challenges however around this and you’ll have to tackle those head-on.” To qualify for an SEAI grant you must put in at least 80mm of insulation.
“The issue then is that you will have to move kitchens and bathroom fittings, you’ll lose space and it’s quite disruptive with builders in your house. You’ll have to move electrics and there will be cold bridges everywhere. The big risk is condensation driving through from the inside rooms towards the cold wall,” he points out.
If you live in the country, the chances are that your house is built with cavity walls and you can consider cavity fill insulation as a quick fix with minimal disruption. This involves blowing or pumping the insulation into the cavity through holes drilled in the outdoor surface. “The payback on this is 4 or 5 years and you’re reducing heat loss by half from a very very bad wall to a better wall.”
“Your house will have to be insulated at some point as the price of energy will go up. It makes sense to do it now. Try to do your external insulation at a time when you are replacing windows. It is good to get it all done together.” Bear in mind if you get your home insulated, you need to have good ventilation.
4. Solar panels and heating systems
When looking at solar panels, there are thermal solar and PV solar systems and doing your research on the options here will pay off.
“If you have done lots of work to improve the energy efficiency of your home (a deep energy retrofit) you are really future proofing your home. Heat loss could already be reduced to a quarter or a fifth of what it was before. The comfort level of the house will have improved. With significant upgrade works the boiler size can also be much smaller and the whole distribution of the heat in the house will be different.”
“If you want to move away from fossil fuel altogether, think about the other options – from heat pumps, to wood burning stoves, wood pellet or chip boilers or thermal solar options”.
Home energy grants are available from SEAI. Grants, which cover up to 30% of the upgrade, are available for roof and wall insulation, heating system upgrades and solar panels, helping to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient. Works are carried out by registered contractors to guarantee the quality of the work.
Why not join the 350,000 households around Ireland who have already got grants for home energy improvements?
Apply for your home energy grant today. Visit www.seai.ie/homeenergygrants or call 1850 927 000