And the podcast is back. This week Sophie is having a maximalist existential crisis – listen to find out if she should ditch her cushions. And even the yellow sofa is making her stressed and she might be about to rip down her gallery walls in favour of a more streamlined look. Also on the show we interview Tom Pike, aka The Builder Husband (not mine mine’s The Mad One) and get his tips on how to make your home more eco-friendly and sustainable. He has tips from easy to expensive so listen in to see where you land. And there will be pictures of lovely rooms as it’s hard to make an air source heat pump or a draught excluder look sexy.
Heating our homes, generating hot water and powering our appliances means that around 22 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our homes, according to a news report last week as COP26 rumbled on in the background producing its own quantity of hot air. But it turns out that by making a few changes – some of them small – you can reduce your personal carbon footprint by around 25 per cent.
Now we all have different houses, and different incomes so it’s about looking at what you are in a position to take on personally, says Tom. His first tip is draught-proofing.
“I used to go to so many houses where people would have called me in for a quote for solar panels for example and I would say ‘do you realise how much your windows are leaking’,” he says. That is the first, easiest and most affordable thing you can do to improve your house and your carbon footprint.
“If you have old sash windows you should look into getting them repaired but you can also draughtproof them yourself using a product from Reddiseals.com. This will be a large return for a small amount of money.”
Then look at your doors. Period houses often having badly fitting doors and, again, reddiseals, can sell you brushes that you can fit along the bottom of the door to prevent draughts. We have done this but the gap is too big so we have to use a sausage dog as well and need to get a professional in.
“If there is a large gap you can find a company who will router out a groove underneath the door and fit the brushes into it rather than just fixing something to the frame,” says Tom.
“So before you start thinking about spending lots of money on the big items deal with the issues you already have – doors and windows are the beginning.”
Once the doors and windows are done you should look at the floors – particularly in period houses with exposed floorboards. And I know a gale blows up through mine. In my north-facing office in winter there is a vicious wind that blows up the back of my trousers when I am sitting at my desk so I have layered rugs over the entire floor.
Once again there is a relatively easy solution – DraughtEx – comes with a free fitting tool and you roll it and squash it between the boards. This is definitely on my to do list and I should add that my office is over the kitchen so this draught appears to be coming from outside from a vent between the kitchen ceiling and the office floor.
But be careful when it comes to vents – sometimes they are needed. Once again old houses tend to have vents which were there to regulate the temperature before modern heating systems were installed.
As Tom says: “You do not want a completely sealed house or you can get mould and humidity issues. If you have UPVC windows make sure they have trickle vents or you could have the same problem. They are obvious – above the window there will be a little thing that sticks out and if you don’t have them you can get them retro-fitted.”
And then, of course, there’s the roof. Does yous need insulating? On average 40 percent of he heat of a house is lost through the roof says Tom so if you can sort that out it will make a big difference. “Fitting 100ml of Rockwool insulation and will make a huge difference.”
All this is, he adds, “low-lying fruit – maximum effect for what may not cost much. Do all this before you think about investing in solar panels or heat pumps.”
The next step is to sign up to to a green eco-supplier as the more of us that do this the greater the demand for green energy will become. I write this with the caveat that with the current gas supply issues we have all been advised at the time of writing not to switch suppliers so if you haven’t already done so (we did last Spring) then it might be wise to wait a little but it’s definitely one to add to the list.
Now, onto the bigger stuff. An air source heat pump is a big investment that will also heat water very efficiently. In short an air source heat pump is a renewable energy solution that uses the environment to generate up to 75 per cent of your heating and hot water needs making you less reliant on electricity and less vulnerable to price fluctuations.
Tom says if you are replacing a boiler or upgrading your system there is currently a Government grant of a £5,000 single payment, but, he warns, you do need some outside space – it can go in a garden or on a roof. And yes even if it’s -5 or -10 degrees it will still work. Prices range from £7,000 to £13,000.
There are also ground source heat pumps but these are much more costly to install so I mention them only for the sake of completeness.
Solar panels used to have to be massively subsidised but they have come down in cost now and you can pay them off in about five to seven years -it used to be 30. I see more and more of them from my London loft. Costs vary hugely depending on how many you need, and the type of building they will be fitted on.
Now before we leave this a word about woodburners which are often regarded as the devil incarnate when it comes to energy. Tom says there is a misunderstanding: “Wood is not a fossil fuel – it’s considered a green source of energy. It grows and takes carbon out of the atmosphere putting it into the wood and then when the wood decomposes or you burn it, it releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. So it’s almost carbon neutral – depending on where the wood comes from. Local garage wood has been treated with chemicals and shipped in from aboard and wrapped in plastic but if you are buying kiln dried wood, which you are supposed to use for woodburners, then it’s a better source of fuel.
“However, when you burn wood it releases particulates that create pollution which is s different thing from a greenhouse gas, Modern burners are 90 per cent more efficient at burning the fuel and not creating the particulates and from 2022 all woodburners must be environmentally friendly. But if you can upgrade your old one especially if you live in a city that is a good idea.
“It goes without saying that burning coal or oil is bad – anything that was created millions of years ago that has been stored in the ground will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when you take it out of the ground and burn it.”
A final tip is to future proof if you can. If you are doing some electrical work then consider adding the fuseboards so you can later add a charging point for an electric car for example.
I hope that has been useful. I should add that while Tom is an experienced builder who is passionate about the environment you must always do your own research.
Do have a listen to the podcast where we finished the show with our regular style surgery and this week we discussed what to do when you have different types of flooring in different rooms and how to make the joins work. It was genuinely more riveting than it might sound!