Cop26 has underlined the seriousness of the challenge facing our planet and the need for urgent action. Although hugely important decisions for the future of the planet are being taken in Glasgow, sometimes there can be a disconnect between what is happening at these gatherings and what is happening on the ground for ordinary people.
My colleagues and I in the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland Sustainability Group have drawn up these 10 tips to help people make their homes more energy efficient and sustainable. In this way people can mark Cop26 by doing their bit for the environment while also saving money and making their home more comfortable. Whether it’s draught proofing your home, reducing your thermostat or installing a heat pump, every little bit helps.
1. Planning: It’s really important to plan your home upgrades and to get professional advice to ensure that any proposed upgrades are successful. Not all work has to take place in one go, and for some homeowners, a deep retrofit will be appropriate, for others, works can take place over a number of years. All homeowners should keep a record of any such works undertaken, including product data sheets, contractor’s invoices etc. These can be added to a Renovation Passport for the home in future years.
2. Building fabric: Up to 40 per cent of a home’s heating energy can be lost and up to 87 per cent gained through glazing. Selecting the right type and size of glazing systems is vital to maximise energy efficiency. Insulation is essential to keep your home warm in winter, while it can also help with weather proofing and soundproofing. Depending on the type of home, it can be placed inside or outside external walls, in cavities as well as in the attic or at roof level. When upgrading insulation, its essential to think about potential condensation risks, and professional assistance is important to avoid cold bridging
3. Air leakage: Air leakage, for example around poorly fitting windows and doors, accounts for 15-25 per cent of heat loss in buildings. Sealing your home effectively is one of the simplest upgrades you can undertake.
4. Lighting: This consumes 8-15 per cent of the average household electricity budget. Efficient and well-designed lighting can make for significant energy savings. Design your home to maximise the use of daylight and use energy-efficient lighting such as LED.
5. Solar panels: Is your home suitable for the installation of solar PV (photovoltaic) panels? The siting, orientation and tilt of modules are all critical to gain maximum efficiency. As we move towards electrification of our entire economy, including home heating systems, producing a proportion of your electrical use from your own rooftop makes perfect sense.
6. Heat pumps: Is your home suitable for a heat pump? Heat pumps convert energy from air, water and the ground outside into heat you can use inside. They work best in well-insulated homes with good air tightness.
7. Grants: Grants are available from SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) for various energy efficiency measures. For deep retrofit, the Communities Energy Grant Scheme or the National Housing Retrofit Scheme can provide grant funding, and there are special provisions for energy poor households with grants of up to 80 per cent available. More information at www.seai.ie
8. Be “smart”: Smart meters are the next generation of digital electricity meters and will provide customers with greater access to accurate information on their energy usage, will monitor faults while also giving users greater control over their energy consumption. For further information on how they work go to Smart Meter Upgrade ( esbnetworks.ie ). Appliances and equipment in the home can now be automated or remotely controlled to turn on or off, or to adjust settings. Homes using automation, often with integration of broadband, are called “smart homes” and can improve energy efficiency markedly. If you don’t live in a smart home ensure all appliances that are not being used are switched off at the socket.
9. Reducing water consumption: Do you leave the tap running while washing dishes or brushing your teeth? Could you reduce your shower time? Changing habits while collecting/reusing rainwater and using water-saving systems are easy ways to reduce your household’s impact on the environment. For even more impact, change your fittings to water saving fittings.
10. Biodiversity: Hand in hand with our climate crisis, we face an existential biodiversity crisis. How can we make our homes and gardens more biodiversity-friendly? Perhaps we can leave areas of grass unmown; allow leaves to decompose; introduce small areas of refuge for insects and small mammals; introduce bat boxes or bird nesting boxes. We share this planet with all other life forms - make space for them in and around your home.
Taking as many of the above steps as possible should be seen as just the starting point.
Currently, almost half of the Irish housing stock has a BER of D1 or less, and only 10 per cent is B2 or better. In order to meet the targets, it will be necessary to bring 40 per cent of homes up to a BER B2 or better standard, and to improve the energy rating of a significant portion of the remainder of the residential building stock.
Overall, the target is to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030, so the scale of the challenge facing us cannot be underestimated.