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Can domestic energy efficiency make a difference?

Domestic energy efficiency has the potential to play a significant role in reducing energy generation needs in colder countries.
I think it’s living in really bad accommodation that has sort of started it all out. I’ve lived in a number of Victorian houses in Bristol and even the last flat we lived in was built within the last 10 years and it was just awful still. Standard building regulations don’t really push builders to make things energy efficient and so they have no desire to, landlords have no desire also to, to make anything more energy efficient, they’re not paying any of the bills and it just really frustrated me that there was this sort of like lack of link between you know a standard comfort and standard of living and energy and energy usage I guess.
We tried to buy a house and we found in Bristol that we couldn’t really afford anywhere and so we found this very empty house and it was falling to bits and we thought actually here’s a really good opportunity to make a house that will cost us a lot less money in the future. Energy prices are always going to go up and so we thought, ‘well we can do lots of things to our house.’
Beneath the plaster there was just all these root systems covering half a wall, it’s really sometimes quite difficult to see the potential but actually I think Hannah and I we looked at the house and we thought, ‘this is it, this is what we can do, this is how we can make a difference.’ And actually getting mortgage as well was really difficult. At the time, well in fact still now, both my wife and I, we were on fixed term contracts and so none of the high street banks would give us a mortgage and so how do you get onto the housing market with a system like that, where people don’t guarantee you?
But we found a really good Building Society and they were willing, they specialise in energy efficient renovations, and they said if you increase your EPC ratings, so your Energy Performance Certificate rating for your house by two levels then then they will give us a mortgage.
We had lived in a little one bed flat and just our heat felt like it was seeping out everywhere when it was a windy day, especially in the winter just these cold breezes were coming in and we wanted to stop that. And so one of the first things we decided to do is try and make it airtight and stop these sort of drafts coming in and out and effectively letting all our heat that were paying lots of money for out of the house and I think that was sort of the first thing and then the other thing was to actually try and insulate it as much as possible so that it doesn’t conduct any of the heat out of the house that we actually do put in.
So because we’re air tight we actually need to move air around the house because otherwise it will get all damp and whatever else, and so we have it’s called Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery System, MVHR, and basically what that does is that draws air from the outside in, it passes it through a heat exchanger, it draws the air from the inside of the house and passes that back through the heat exchanger. And so the air coming in gets warmed up by the air going out, and then that air then gets passed around the house and we have ducts all around our house that pass air in and out of the house.
In a place like a kitchen or in a bathroom it sucks the air out and in places like the living areas and the bedrooms it blows the air in.
I had a look through my energy bills the other day just to see what we’ve done and against the standard gas bill we’re just over half, we used just over half the energy that a normal 3 bed house would use and so we’re saving a lot of money, like £400 or £500 a year so that could go onto our mortgage, go into a holiday, go into doing other things, which is great, and electricity we’re about two-thirds the normal three bed house.
It makes such a difference to living but also at the end of the day we’re saving energy through this and I think sometimes people think these two things can’t go hand-in-hand but actually the sort of the living standards that we’re getting from this and the energy savings are completely combined and I think that’s pretty amazing. It makes us feel a lot happier, our life is better because of this which sounds really stupid but it just makes everything nicer and it makes it a much more happy place to live.
When people just voluntarily open up their houses and say ‘come and have a look’, ‘come and have a feel’, ‘see what it’s like’, ‘see what it feels like to actually be in this house’, that really makes a much deeper impression on you and I think that was really powerful from Green Doors that it’s able to do that.
And so we wanted to show people that we weren’t this, number one, we weren’t a really rich couple who had lots of money and no problems and we’re just throwing lots of money at this house, because at the end of the day we weren’t, we were an ordinary husband and wife that found a house that was falling down and thought, ‘we can do this.’ We had lots of advice from builders, from energy consultants and whatever else, but we could do it and the support network is there to be able to achieve what you want to do.
And I think it’s just understanding that it’s all there and being able to do it, and so I think that was why we opened up and it was really interesting that most of the people who came were our neighbours but they got to have a look around the whole house and just see see what we’re doing. And our external wall insulation really interested our next door neighbour and in fact a couple of days after she came on the Bristol Green Doors she had a letter for a thing from Warm Up Bristol saying ‘we’ll give you a subsidised external wall insulation’ and so she sort of gave me a call and said, ‘what do you think about this?’
and I said, ‘yeah, get them in, see what they say’ and within six months she got external wall insulation. And it’s the best thing she’s said she’s done, she just feels so much warmer in the winter and it made such a difference for her. 00:06:18.300 –> 00:06:22.300 And I think that’s sort of being able to put a face
and being able to talk to somebody that you sort of know about these sort of things, that’s where the power is on Green Doors. But also there are all the little things as well, so there are little changes you can make. You can put in draught excluders on the doors is a huge thing, around windows, even just taping up windows in the winter when you’re not going to open them up anyway.
I think the technology is all there to be honest. I think everyone thinks the world will be solved through technology and I think a lot of the technology that we need to do we need to get to being 80% reduced by our emissions by 2050, we’re already there. I think the astounding thing about retrofit is that I think it’s about 80% of our housing stock that we’ve already got at the moment is going to be here in 2050 and so we need to do something with the houses that are here at the moment and that’s really imperative I think.
The other push I guess from policy and regulation is through the builders and encouraging builders to actually learn about these techniques and being able to being able to implement them then and being able to do that. And I think policy is again, is really important, because the government policy just keeps on changing; they never keep the same thing going. Everything just changes all the time at the whim of a government and so nobody can invest in that, no builders can invest, no householder can invest in that because you’re just rushing at the end. You know, when the last solar subsidy went through and they cut it, so many solar panels got installed in that last week, it was just ridiculous.
And so having that consistent, stable policy, from the top is really important.

Domestic energy efficiency, particularly with regard to building warmth, has the potential to play a significant role in reducing energy generation needs in colder countries (Downson et al, 2012).

Estimates suggest that domestic heating is responsible for around a quarter of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions. New buildings are governed by regulations that ensure they meet a certain level of thermal efficiency. For example, the wall of a new house built in the UK today is expected to be three times as effective at insulating heat loss as a wall in a building from the 1990s. Existing buildings dating from before such regulations were put in place can be ‘retrofitted’ to be more energy-efficient, to reduce bills and improve comfort. The cost of doing this can be reduced if it is done at the same time as other building works.

A case study

We spoke to Sam Williamson about his experiences retrofitting his Victorian home as part of a major refurbishment. Sam has also opened his home to neighbours through the Bristol Green Doors event, which helps raise awareness of energy efficiency retrofit as an option when people are renovating homes.

We caught up with Sam during lockdown, 2021, over five years after he moved in. He told us his family is very happy there: “Our household has expanded, we now have 2 children as well as the 2 cats!”

And, despite the larger family and lockdown increasing consumption, they have still managed to keep it to 75-80% below the average household. But he says the biggest benefit is comfort: “There aren’t cold spots in the winter in rooms or the house as a whole, and in summer we can cool it down by flushing the house out at night.”

Bristol Green Doors offers a practical and inspirational look into homes across the city. Flats and houses open their doors to show how different types of homes can be transformed or retrofitted to become more sustainable, and homeowners share their personal stories and advice with visitors.

Keeping energy use low, efficient and carbon-friendly are key goals of the project. Education events also help to give people the knowledge to make informed sustainable choices.

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