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How to Make Your Self-Build Home Greener

Over the last decade or so, the green building movement in the UK has gone from strength to strength. Not only do energy-efficient additions help to combat climate change, by reducing carbon emissions, but also save money in terms of running costs.

Confronted with such a win-win situation, more and more self-builders are looking to make their homes ‘greener’ - but knowing where to start can be half the challenge.

In this guide, we explore the key things to consider when constructing your eco-friendly home and delve into ways you can reduce the costs of running your self-build (in terms of heating, lighting, water use, et cetera) without compromising on the aesthetics of your dream home.

Building regulations

A critical milestone in any building project is obtaining Building Regulation approval. As the government gears up towards hitting its carbon emission targets, British Building Regulations are becoming ever more stringent. To make sure you abide by these rules, you can consult the necessary documentation, which outlines the minimum requirements (with respect to conservation of fuel and power) that all new housing has to hit.

The National Planning Policy Framework also sets out how to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment, which could be an important factor when seeking out planning permission.

Material Matters

Choosing the right materials well in advance is the best approach to creating an eco-friendly home. And that means paying particular attention to elements such as insulation.

Good levels of insulation are like choosing the perfect jumper - keeping you warm in the winter, but not stifling you in summer. There are many forms of insulation for your home, which can significantly reduce heat loss and have the knock-on effect of lowering your heating bills.

In terms of roof, wall and floor insulation, some of the most popular choices for residential properties include: Aerogel, Vacuum Insulated Panels, Multifoils, Sheepswool, Hemp, Wood Fibre and Paper Based (such as recycled newspaper).

Poorly designed/chosen windows are a common source of major heat loss from homes in the winter. A number of factors can mitigate this such as frame material, frame types and glazing. A common approach to improve the energy-efficiency of your windows is to add double or triple-glazing. The number of layers of glass planes will resist heat flow due to the insulating air or gas-filled spaces between each pane.

Materials, such as brick and concrete, can absorb warmth from the sun’s rays during the day and release it into the home, as external temperatures drop, which will all help to reduce energy consumption. In comparison, timber frames tend to fluctuate in temperature due to their lower mass levels, so they heat up and cool down much more quickly. Yet timber frames are largely hollow, so they’re relatively easy to insulate to a good standard.

One way to make sure your materials are as ‘green’ as possible is to source locally, which will reduce your carbon footprint. Another way is finding out if your materials meet high environmental and social standards. For example if you’re buying wood, you should look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) sticker, which means you can be confident that buying it won’t mean harming the world’s forests.


Structural Defects Insurance

Eco Interior

There’s a multitude of new eco-friendly energy-generation technologies you can consider to reduce the costs of running your home such as heating and ventilation.

Heating - You’d be forgiven if heating sends you into a haze of confusion, because there’s loads of information about heaters out there. Just some of the most popular eco-friendly heat generators for self-builders include:

  • Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP)
  • Air Source Heath pumps (ASHP)
  • Micro Combined Heat and Power (CHP)
  • Fuel cells, Biomass boilers
  • Group/district CHP
  • Smart controls

Ventilation - When choosing ventilation, you need a well-designed mechanical ventilation system to provide the right amount of clean, fresh air and one that largely avoids heat loss.

Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) systems extract warm air from the home, which is used to heat cool, fresh air that is drawn in. Because the fresh air is pre-warmed, heat loss from ventilation is largely avoided, which means the cost of heating the property will be reduced.

You could also consider compact service units, which is a relatively new idea that has a heat pump and MVHR in one unit and also heats the hot water.

Renewable Technology

Once you have an efficient material in place, you can begin to look renewables, such as heat pumps and solar technology. While energy-efficient materials offer a passive defence, renewables are active - helping you to reduce your CO2 emissions and saving you money.

Among the most popular renewable technologies are:

Solar Photovoltaic (PV): By affixing these panels to the roof of your building, they will directly converts the sun's light into electricity.

Solar thermal: Like PV, this generator concentrates the light from the sun, but instead creates heat that is used to run a heat engine, which turns a generator to make electricity. Solar thermal is more attractive for large-scale energy production as heat can be stored during the day and then converted into electricity at night, which is a far easier and efficient method than PV solar panels, which are only effective during daylight hours.

You should however consider shading issues for both of these type of solar panels, to make sure you benefit from the most sunlight as you possibly can

Micro wind turbines cost about £2k for a generator capable of delivering 1kW at peak wind. Some manufacturers claim they save/generate about £200 a year; but with windy rural site it’s likely they might save £30, and in urban setting, it could be as little as £3-4/year. One major issue with these is that they’re not always easy to install and can be noisy.

Likewise, community wind power can be controversial with local residents (people will either love it or hate it) and can be difficult to overcome planning issues. Although they cost around £6-8k per home to install, they should save/generate about £500 with Feed in Tariff. Plus the running/maintenance costs are minimal and usually easy to fit too.

Other options include rainwater harvesting systems and boilers that generate electricity as a by-product of their heating cycles.

What else?

 Other additional extras for you to consider making your home ‘greener’ is lighting. Think about using LEDS - although they are currently relatively expensive, they will save you around 80% of electrical power compared to incandescent bulbs and lasts around twenty times longer. They also need very little maintenance and easy to install and available in a number of different colours and shades, so you can create the perfect ambience in a room.

Also using low-energy appliances such as fridges, dishwashers etc. should reduce running costs by 30- 50% and help cut your CO2 emissions.

To sum up

 There's lots that can be done to when building an energy-efficient home. The first step is to address insulation solutions before experiment with renewables. Renewable appliances such as solar panels and wind turbines are a fantastic investment for your new build, although as discussed above, they can be rather expensive to install, so if you already have a well-insulated design it may be hard to justify some of them.

Overall, a greener self-build home will ensure you not only reduce your carbon footprint, it will lower running costs and give you peace of mind that are helping conquer climate change.


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