Energy Efficiency Guide | Zero Carbon Properties
As part of the Love Energy Savings commitment to energy efficiency, our latest Energy Guide looks at how we can detoxify our homes and places of work. As you may have read previously in our help centre, technology can help you to save serious money on your electricity bills; today we will be looking at how you can embrace sustainable technology to enhance your building.
We could all be forgiven for not giving it too much thought, but the structures in which we spend most of our time, whether this is at home or at work could actually be compromising our energy survival. In fact, recent statistics from the International Panel on Climate Change suggest that as much as a quarter of global CO2 emissions come from our homes, offices and other buildings.
How Toxic Is Your Property?
Look around you as you read this energy article, you will no doubt have a mixture of lighting, cooling and heating which will be combining to create substantial emissions. If this is not the case for you then fantastic, but the chances are that you will have at least two of the three taking place right this second. This is of course, not your fault but there are steps which can be taken to at least start to remedy the situation.
Unfortunately, we have only just really started to get the gist of how toxic our structures really are. As a result, the majority of our offices and houses are antiquated resulting in them being draughty and inefficient when it comes to retaining this heat. It is thought that over half of these buildings will still be in use in the year 2050, meaning that these levels of inefficiency are unlikely to improve significantly for generations to come. Of course, no one is suggesting that these buildings should be knocked down and rebuilt with better standards of efficiency, so what is the answer?
A process by the name of ‘retrofitting’ seems to be the prudent course of action and basically involved the implementation of energy saving features and add-ons for the business or home. There is actually a myriad of energy management technologies available which can have a dramatic effect on your carbon output. There have been examples of buildings that were constructed nearly two centuries ago, being transformed into zero carbon emitting structures – so it is possible to play your part in the wider energy efficiency project.
Insulating your home or office is obviously a concept that has been around since we first started to address carbon footprint and climate change. By complementing this with triple glazing, solar panels and therefore creating an efficient and airtight membrane around your building; you can achieve a great deal. Not only does this reduce your emissions, but if you live in a sunny area you could even produce enough energy to sell some power back the National Grid. You can find out more about this in the Love Energy Savings Guide to Feed-In Tariffs.
In addition to this, mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) can be utilised, this transfers internal heat out to counteract the cooler air coming into the building. This can recover in excess of 90% of the heat going out of the building, so can have a remarkable effect when used properly.
Clay blocks which have been hydraulically compressed can also be used to enhance your building’s energy efficiency. They absorb heat and then radiate this very effectively and are far more useful than standard cement blocks that have been used over the years in construction. Heat retention can also be addressed using rammed earth, which is an ancient building method which is still very useful for thermal retention and easy to construct. Although these enhancements do cost money in the short term, dividends will most certainly be reaped in the long term both in terms of the environment and gas and electricity bills.
What the above really emphasises, is how bad existing brick built structures are when it comes to energy efficiency. The likelihood of the entire country and indeed, world, embracing these techniques are slim to non-existent which opens a whole can of worms in itself. This said, we can all take responsibility and least be assured in the knowledge that we are doing all we can when it comes to being as energy efficient as possible.
How Much Can We Save?
In order to establish exactly how much more energy efficient each UK home can become, a study was undertaken by the Technology Strategy Board and the Energy Saving Trust with the help of mass data analysts Mastodon C. The project was entitles ‘Retrofit for the Future’ and revealed that our buildings can actually reduce consumption by 80% when adopting the aforementioned techniques and similar. The study cost £17 million to complete as it measure the output of 120 homes fitted with the described materials but could save us a fortune as a nation, as it confirmed just how much energy we can conserve by installing such systems.
Initiatives such as The Green Deal can also help to incentivise businesses and households that are reluctant to make improvements to their property. Although these have been slow to get off the ground, there are numerous advantages for individuals who do choose to start taking their energy efficiency commitment seriously. Many believe that the initiative needs to be taken by legislators and policy makers to really give these schemes real momentum.
Zero Carbon Living…
If starting from scratch, creating a zero carbon living or working space is actually remarkably easy; as anyone familiar with the Cube Project will already be well aware. This project was undertaken to demonstrate exactly how easily low carbon techniques can be applied, but was so successful it caught the eye of the BBC. Perhaps the most crucial finding was that there was no noticeable drop in standards of living when adopting these various techniques and technologies.
The latest version of the zero carbon home is the QB2, which includes wooden frames, 140mm insulation, heat recovery ventilation, triple glazed windows and an air source pump. Although nothing cutting edge, the combination results in near zero emissions due to facilities such as a low flow shower. A thermally efficient cooker, LED lighting and even an LED television mean that individuals can still relax with creature comforts they have become accustomed to.
Another advantage of these zero carbon structures is the time it takes for them to be erected. In fact, Sky House in Lewes, East Sussex was put up in less than one week. Certain materials were unsurprisingly imported from Germany before being put together with great ease here in the UK and with the lowest possible carbon emissions. Any carbon that was used during the construction of the home will be offset by the lifespan of the building, which is thought to be in excess of a century.
Business energy usage can also be positively affected by retrofitting. LED lighting is already commonplace across offices in the UK and thermal imaging is also becoming more and more popular. But, as with other aspects of energy efficiency, more companies need to start taking their responsibility more seriously. Not only will this help the planet and future bills, but also do wonders for an organisation’s reputation with its customers. To learn more about implementing a successful business energy management system or making your workspace more energy efficient, there is a mine of resources in the Love Energy Savings Help Centre.
Other systems such as natural cooling systems, cladding and smart heating automation can all help to reduce commercial emissions by up to 33% but the problem is commercial incentives. The tendency is for most businesses to think they will get around to it later or it is just not top of the agenda, why not buck the trend and make your organisation energy efficiency champions? You may just find that new and returning customers appreciate these efforts and reciprocate with their loyalty.