Where to Start

How to approach making your home more efficient

We would all like to make our homes ultra-efficient and reduce the carbon footprint (and our bills) to a negligible level. But this can appear to be a daunting task, and a big obstacle can be knowing just where to start. Here are some tips to help you on your journey.

First, some simple rules of thumb:

  • Break the task down
    You don't need to do it all at once; tackle the various changes one at a time because even a partial improvement is worthwhile.
  • Start with the easy bits
    Look at the small things you can do straight away, and for very little cost (e.g. changing your own behaviour). Then move on to simple but effective changes to the fabric of your house (such as draft proofing or loft insulation). These changes may be small, but they are cost-effective. Finally tackle the big jobs, as and when your time and budget allow.
  • Be realistic
    If you live in a drafty Victorian house you are unlikely (at least, not without vast expense) to achieve the efficiency level that you could get with a modern house. But don't despair, there is still plenty you can do!

So, where do you actually start?

I have made some suggestions below. The list is not exhaustive, and not all the suggestions will be appropriate to you or your house. I have grouped them in order of increasing cost and complexity so it makes sense to start with the top group; decide which items are relevant in your case, and consider them before moving further down the list.

Behavioural changes

These cost nothing, apart from a bit of self dicipline. You can find more details on some of these items here.

  • Switch off lights and other equipment when not in use
  • Ensure doors and windows are kept closed
  • Turn down your heating controls when/where not needed
  • Find ways to avoid using your high energy appliances (for instance, don't overfill the kettle, or use a washing line instead of a tumble dryer)
  • Ensure the heat from radiators (especially, on external walls) is not blocked by furniture or curtains.

Fast and cheap solutions (a few tens of )

These are simple additions to your household, none of which will break the bank. They should be suitable even for rented accommodation. Again, more details here.

  • Fit energy saving lightbulbs (CFL - or even better, LED)
  • Find and block any drafts (using draft excluders, chimney baloons, or even just newspaper and sticky tape). More information on drafts and ventilation is here.
  • Reduce heat loss through windows, with secondary glazing film or thick curtains.
  • Ensure your hot water tank has an insulating jacket
  • Fit foil behind radiators (on external walls)
  • Get an aerating head for your shower (but only if the water pressure is good)
  • Insulate your loft.

Medium sized projects (a few hundred )

Having done the simple things above, you can move on to these as your budget allows.

  • Upgrade your old boiler to a condensing one.
  • Fit TRVs (Thermostatic Radiator Valves) in all rooms, and set each to an appropriate level for the room.
  • Or as a stage further, think about a zoned heating control system.
  • Replace any single glazed windows with double or triple glazing.
  • In bathrooms and utility rooms, replace the standard vent with and MHRV (Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit.
  • Fit a wood burning stove.
  • Whenever you replace an appliance, get one with a good energy rating.
  • If you have cavity walls, ensure they are filled.

Big Projects (a few thousand and major disruption)

These are a big undertaking and not within everyone's budget, but are likely to make your home much more comfortable and resilient against energy price shocks. In some cases, financial grants are available.

  • If you have roof space facing even approximately Southwards, the most efficient way of using it is with a solar thermal panel.
  • After this you will probably still have some spare roof space, so consider solar photovoltaic panels.
  • If the house has single-skin construction, external or internal insulation is recommended.
  • A rainwater recycling system will reduce your water usage, and can save your plumbing from the effects of hard water.
  • Whole house heat recovery (a bigger version of the MHRV mentioned above) will help reduce fuel use.
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