How to give your home a detox and reduce energy bills

Spring is a good time to assess your home’s energy efficiency and make smart changes

It’s almost at that time of year again when fashion magazines will be urging us all to get “beach ready” – and one of the suggested methods to become fitter and healthier will undoubtedly be a detox to cleanse the body and make a fresh new start.

But with the weather warming up, it’s also the perfect time to give our homes an energy detox and discover ways of reducing our heating bills and electricity usage, switching to lower energy lightbulbs and appliances and disposing of energy-sapping equipment efficiently.

The first way to reduce the amount of energy we use in our homes is to keep heat from escaping and John Neylon, engineer and registered BER (building energy rating) assessor, from Ennis, Co Clare, says a few simple changes can make all the difference.

“In much the same way as we put on another layer when we’re cold, we should all aim to do the same with our homes,” he says. “Insulation is the most efficient means of ensuring a warmer house without turning up the heating. The simplest way is to pump the cavity wall or if that isn’t possible, add an external layer – which is more expensive but less intrusive.

“The attic is the next step and it’s really simple to just lay out a roll of insulation like a quilt – both the walls and the attic insulation may be eligible for a grant.”

Sarah O'Connell, of Superhomes Ireland, an initiative of Tipperary Energy Agency, agrees and says insulation is key to an energy efficient home.

“Energy use in the home accounts for 25 per cent of energy related CO2 emissions so we all have a part to play in reducing Ireland’s CO2 emissions,” she says. “When people think of an energy efficient home, they immediately think of reducing bills. But while reducing your consumption will obviously lead to cheaper bills it may not be the best idea as you could just not heat your house at all, which would be very energy efficient and cheap, but it wouldn’t be comfortable or good for your health.

Holy trinity of efficient energy homes

“Therefore, when we talk about an energy efficient home, we need to specify it as one that is warm, dry, retains heat and is cost effective to run. There are lots of aspects into achieving this, but the holy trinity of an energy efficient home is insulation, heating and ventilation.”

The energy engineer says best practice when building or renovating a house involves taking a “fabric first” approach by insulating all areas of your home well – roof, walls and floors as well as having energy efficient windows and doors and improving airtightness.

“These measures help trap heat inside your house in winter and keep heat out in summer,” she says. “By improving your insulation and airtightness, you will either increase comfort by making your home warmer or save money on energy bills because your heating system will work more efficiently as heat is not being lost easily through the building fabric.

“Your heating system should be properly sized to heat your home to between 18-21 degrees, run on economical fuel which emits minimum CO2 and have a high efficiency. The best way to achieve this is by installing an air source heat pump. As Ireland moves away from fossil fuels, oil and gas will get more and more expensive and air source heat pumps will make more sense financially – and as the grid uses more forms of renewable energy our CO2 emissions will fall.”

The energy expert says while it is important to trap heat in your home by improving “air tightness” it is also vital to have adequate ventilation.

“You need to ensure adequate fresh air comes into your house to make it comfortable and remove moisture generated from washing, cooking and breathing because a damp indoor environment is bad for your health,” she advises. “Traditionally this was achieved with the hole-in-the-wall vents we are all familiar with, but best practice today is a far more energy efficient system called mechanical ventilation with heat-recovery system (MVHR). This draws cold fresh air from outside into the house and removes warm damp air.

“What makes it energy efficient is the heat-recovery system which pre-heats the cold fresh air being drawn into the house using the heat from the warm damp air without the two air sources ever mixing. So, you get fresh air pumped into your house but instead of it being heated by 10-15degrees it only needs to be heated 4-5 degrees.”

John Neylon says it’s important to have a BER assessment done to see what your energy rating is. And if the rating isn’t sufficient, there a number of ways in which to improve it – some are more expensive and time heavy than others, but a few simple things will get you on the right track.

Turn off the immersion

“Once you have given your house an extra layer with insulation, the next thing is to get rid of fires and put in a stove which will make a huge difference– particularly as new boilers can be up to 95 per cent efficient and will definitely save on your electricity bills.

“It’s also a good idea to upgrade your heating system and install controls so your house is split up into zones which can be heated separately. I would also advise people to stay as far away from the immersion as possible as it eats up electricity. We don’t need hot water 24 hours a day, so heat the water through the boiler – by having switches for separate zones, you can heat the water without turning the heating on.”

While it doesn’t make financial sense to throw away working appliances to replace with more energy efficient varieties, when buying new electrical or electronic equipment, it is important to check the energy rating label.

“Labels show which appliances are cheapest to run,” says O’Connell. “Aim to buy the appliances with the lowest energy consumption, particularly those which use hot water such as washing machines or dishwashers which should have both low energy and low water consumption.

“Retailers must take back your old appliances (as long as it is of the same type or has the same purpose as the old one) and many larger stores must accept small appliances for recycling without insisting a purchase.”

O’Connell says the most effective way to reduce your energy consumption is to undertake a deep retrofit – a whole house solution with a bespoke detailed advisory report from an engineer and up to a 50 per cent grant is available from Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) to undertake the relevant improvements.

But while saving energy can feel like a mammoth task and a lot of people have no idea where to start there are very simple things, we can do that can save a lot of energy and don’t cost a penny.

“Install LED bulbs or every time a light bulb goes, replace it with an LED one as they are much cheaper to run and have a much longer lifespan,” she advises. “Turn off appliances at the plug as those on standby can use up to 20 per cent of the energy they use when they’re on. If you think of all the appliances you use during the day – TV, computer, phone charger – it soon adds up, so flick the switch at the plug and that’s money in your pocket. And avoid using a dryer so try to dry clothes outside whenever possible.

“Although changing electricity provider doesn’t reduce your consumption, it can mean saving quite a bit just by shopping around to make sure you’re on a competitive rate. I’d suggest doing it once a year – also get to know your usage and try to keep it down.”

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