Further renewable sources with Biomass

The UK is starting to focus on biomass as another option of renewable energy.

So I hear you asking “what on Earth is biomass?”

Well biomass is biological material from plants, animals and organisms. This material can be processed into heat, fuel or electricity. The great thing about biomass is that it’s renewable! The plants (mostly trees) used can be replanted with new ones. You may be thinking about the effects of cutting down and burning these plants on the environment but no need to worry. The carbon dioxide produced when making the biomass is absorbed by the replacement plants during photosynthesis.

So another question I hear is “How will this benefit me?”

If you decide to go for a biomass option to heat your home, depending on what system you choose will determine the cost, annual saving and energy output. If you switch from a gas boiler then you will save £100 a year. If you switch from an electric boiler you will make an annual saving of around £580.

Apart from annual savings and being eco friendly, there are other incentives for installing biomass boilers or stoves. The government have two schemes, the first one (RHPP, renewable heat premium payment) is if you live in England, Scotland or Wales, and decide to go for a biomass boiler, and have passed the green deal assessment, then you can get £2000 off your biomass boiler. This scheme and voucher will be valid until the end of March 2014. The other government scheme (RHI, renewable heat incentive) allows owners of biomass heaters to receive an income tariff according to how much energy their system can produce. This scheme will be available for everyone in spring 2014. At the moment it is only available to businesses. The tariff they are considering is 5.2-8.7p/KwH.

We have the benefits and incentives out of the way, now time for the option which would best suit you. There are three main types of biomass heaters. These are log stoves (around £2000), Pellet stoves (around £4000) and Boilers (around £11000). The RHPP is only for the boilers. With greater price comes greater efficiency.

There are several factors which affect what biomass heater would be optimum for you. http://www.biomassenergycentre.org.uk/pls/portal/url/ITEM/A98830E85133F094E04014AC08046624

To find out more about RHI click on the following link: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Renewable-Heat-Incentive-RHI

To find out more about RHPP click on the following link: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Getting-money-back/Renewable-Heat-Premium-Payment-Phase-2 this link will open a PDF document with a flow chart to show you which option would suit you.

Here is a link to a recent newsletter that we published. http://homeimprovementquotes.co.uk/newsletter/biomass-boost/04july13_biomass_links

To find out more about the biomass heaters click on the following link: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/Generating-energy/Choosing-a-renewable-technology/Wood-fuelled-heating

Your solar panels will still work come Winter

Despite the UK averaging around 48% overcast days in the year, solar panels, both the electricity generating kind (or photovoltaic to give them their proper name) and solar hot water panels continue to operate.
But what about the Winter?
Surprisingly, solar panels work even better – especially after a fall of snow. Providing the panel itself isn’t covered, the amount of light produced by reflecting snow makes it ideal generating weather.
Solar panels also operate more efficiently in the cold – something to do with the cooling effect allowing for higher voltages being produced which results in higher wattage.
Providing the panels are clear of snow themselves, which might sound like a chore but given they should be south facing, then they’ll melt off pretty quickly.
Some owners have gone to ingenious lengths, constructing extendable brushes to clear the snow off. Be careful though that you don’t scratch the panel surface or put your safety at risk by over-reaching or using ladders etc to gain access.
Most owners just wait for the sun to melt any accumulation naturally.
One other thing you might be able to enquire about is solar panels that may have an additional coating which aids dirt and deposit washing off through natural rainfall.
A bit like the coatings you can now get on self-cleaning glass – very popular with glass roof conservatories – helping your panels maximise your return.
photo credit: david wiley

Insulation companies urge us to act now.

With media warnings that our energy bills could rise by around £200 this year, insulation companies are urging homeowners to seek out any Government or local authority grants that they can use to insulate their homes.

They’re warning that in the future, inefficient homes may even be penalised as the Government acts to meet it’s CO2 reduction targets. Currently, british homes account for over 25% of total carbon emissions, due mostly to heating usage.

Even simple steps like fitting energy saving lightbulbs is a start. You’d have thought everyone had got the message about loft insulation but according to sources, many homes still lack this important energy saver, or at least the recommended level of insulation. Straightforward and easy to fit (typically in a single day), loft insulation cane save you around £145 a year off your heating bills.

The Governments “Green Deal’ is pipped to be focusing heavily on loft and wall insulation. Whilst many properties are solid walled, they can still be insulated and the savings? Well, potential fuel savings are considerable. Cavity wall insulation can cut your energy bill by 15% a year and usually pay for itself inside 2 years.

With over 7 million homes currently not having any wall insulation, there’s a very large area of emission and energy savings to be encouraged.

If you’re considering exterior work to your home’s walls – rendering or pointing, then it may be a great time to look into exterior wall insulation. Similarly, carrying our any major internal refurbishments? Getting a quote for internal wall insulation will save you undoing all your renovation and decorating afterwards.

Last but not least, insulation companies are encouraging even simpler energy saving steps like draught proofing. It’s inexpensive but stopping heat escaping from your home should be a priority they say.

And that doesn’t necessarily mean replacing windows and doors with energy efficient double glazed units (although this is the ultimate energy saver), try inexpensive sealing strips which you can fit yourself. Choosing heavier curtains and using curtains over doors in older properties will all help, as well as making your home ‘feel’ warmer, which will encourage you to turn down your heating a notch, saving even more energy.

If the draughts really are too much to bear but you’re on a budget, why not think about just replacing the worst windows or doors and then completing the rest of the windows at a later date? Be sure to get comparison replacement window quotes from reputable companies.

This article first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter dated 20th June 2011 – click here to read our full homeowner newsletter.

photo credit: lululemon

Warning to put energy efficiency first

The UK’s got to start putting energy efficiency at the top of it’s home improvements list if it’s to meet its target of having 80% of housing stock ready by 2050.

The comments made by the Director of the National Home Improvement Council – Andrew Leech – were made as he asked home improvement retailers and installers to encourage the public to have energy saving and efficiency in mind when they planned home improvements.

In particular, he singled out new kitchens and bathrooms as areas where more could be done. Energy efficiency measures would “pay dividends in the long run”.

In addition to opting for energy efficient appliances, he also recommended that more homeowners should be looking at solar and other renewable energy sources.

His comments came after it was revealed that the UK had failed to meet its 2010 renewables target – a story we reported on last week.

Energy (and fuel bill) savings can be made all around the home but the chief energy user – heating – can be reduced with a mixture of insulation incorporating the latest double glazing advances and for older properties without a cavity wall, homeowners should consider interior or exterior wall insulation.

Even owners of newer homes should be checking their loft space for the current correct level of insulation.

Extra lagging of hot water apparatus and lowering thermostats by even 1 degree can still make enormous savings without affecting your families comfort. If you’re replacing your heating boiler, it’s the ideal time to use the most fuel efficient model you can afford or even opt for changing to a combo boiler which only heats the water as you use it.

The next time you’re getting a quote for any home improvement, don’t forget to discuss energy saving and energy efficiency with your installer.

photo credit: timothy vollmer

This article first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter dated 10th May 2011 – click here to read the full newsletter.

New premises incorporate green energy features

Price Engines Ltd, the company behind the ‘Quoter family of online home improvement quoting websites have been moving premises over the weekend.

From our old offices on Pride Park, Derby, we’ve moved to a brand new office in the slightly more rural setting of Stenson Marina on the outskirts of Derby.

Our new home incorporates some pretty nifty technology which will help us reduce our energy usage, whilst being kinder to the environment.

And as we’re now sited beside the Trent and Mersey Canal, if ever an environment was worth saving… let’s just say we feel very lucky to be here.

For starters, the hot water and underfloor downstairs heating is powered by an air-source heat pump. The upstairs heating/whole building cooling is powered by a set up of air-con units that reduce power consumption via a clever arrangement of one generator allowing different individual units to blow hot or cold.

And we understand from the buildings owners that there are plans for a photovoltaic solar panel installation in the very near future.

photo credit: gavin stewart

Will you look for green features in your next house purchase?

When you’re thinking of moving house, how important will green features be in your decision making, as to which new home you buy?

Will green / renewable features figure at all in your choice? Or will the energy efficiency of your intended new home sway your decision?

They say you very often instinctively know when you’ve found THE home for you, but hold on to your heart just a few moments and stop to consider the properties green credentials.

We’re talking insulation – roof and walls, energy efficiency of any built in appliances, the control you’ll have over the heating system and hot water, draught exclusion (including double glazing) and finally, the condition of any renewables systems like solar panels (or the potential for having solar panels etc. fitted when you own the property).

Does it face South, are there any overhanging trees or other obstructions that might interfere with a solar panel installation? Is there enough garden/grounds to install a ground source heat pump?

I know it’s easy to get carried away but a few moments considering all your options and the opportunities for installing / increasing renewable energy sources, could well pay you dividends in the long term.

It’s easy enough to change light fittings and bulbs to energy efficient ones and add extra insulation to lofts, walls and water tanks.

Double glazing isn’t usually a problem (unless the property is listed) and heating systems can be upgraded or replaced.

Larger projects like solar panels will require certain criteria to be a success – location, roof direction and roof space. Ground source heat pumps require fairly large gardens / plots of land to be of any benefit.

And if your intended purchase already has solar panels fitted, check whether they were fitted as part of a free-installation type deal. Who gets the Government’s feed-in tariff money? Is it you (as the new owner) or some investment company to whom you only rent the roof out to.

Check the age and condition of the panels and be prepared to call in an expert if you don’t think they’re generating the levels of energy they should be. In such cases, a proper survey is probably a very good idea before you part with your money.

photo credit: diana parkhouse

Energy efficiency is the first step to lower fuel bills.

In the second part of this weeks look at saving money on your energy bills, we explore what part energy efficiency plays in that process, particularly if you’re thinking of installing solar panels on your home…

Getting a cheaper energy supplier is only half the story in the homeowners battle with rising energy prices. If you’re not careful, any savings you make can soon be wiped out needlessly due to poor insulation or heating management.

If you’re getting a solar panel installation, then an energy survey (which some solar panel companies offer free as part of their discounts) will help pinpoint the areas in your daily life where energy usage savings are possible.

Why is this important? If you’re thinking of generating meaningful amounts of energy to supply all your needs, then the less you have to generate, the cheaper the overall installation will be as you won’t be paying for generating capacity you don’t need. This can mean a saving of several thousands on a solar panel system.

In addition to the everyday energy saving methods – plugging draughts, switching off lights, fitting energy saving lightbulbs, insulating lofts and water tanks, by carefully re-evaluating your lifestyle and energy usage, it may be possible to make a real difference to your typical energy bills.

For example, we know turning down the heating thermostat by 1 degree can make a difference but why stop there? Turning it down by 2 degrees and wearing a light sweater around the home will make twice the difference. Consider using a shower more and your bath less. And if you’re on an Economy 7 type tariff (where you pay less for night time electricity but more for daytime) then think about timing washing machines, tumble driers, dishwashers and immersion tank heaters to only come on during cheap rate hours.

Green Deal

Many homeowners are now keen to hear exactly how the Government’s new Green Deal system will work – the idea is that private businesses will pay into a ‘green fund’ which will pay for energy saving home improvements like wall and loft insulation etc. The premise that’s been outlined so far is that the ‘improvement’ must pay for itself in expected energy savings. Whilst the homeowner will have a more comfortable and energy efficient home, their energy bills won’t reduce. The savings they would have made go back to the private investors but the installation work is effectively free for the qualifying homeowner.

There is hope the measures will include certain double glazing aspects, but it will probably ultimately depend on whether the installation costs can be repaid with energy savings within the scheme’s a specified time frame.

*This article first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter dated 7th March 2011. Click here to read the full newsletter.

Why are upvc windows so energy efficient?

With energy bills ever-increasing, we’re being forced to think smarter and more long term about making our homes as energy efficient as possible. One of the best ways of achieving that is to get a quote for replacing your old windows. But what makes upvc windows so energy efficient?

A upvc window is made up of a upvc frame and double (or even triple) glazed panels, which are inserted into the frame. Both components add to the overall energy efficiency of the complete window.

Modern frames are a very engineered piece of the energy efficiency puzzle. They’re designed to place as many barriers between the cold outside air and the warm interior air as possible, lessening the cooling effect of outside temperatures and the heat loss through the frame. Look through a cross-section and you’ll see multiple chambers that create barriers and air pockets.

Each frame manufacturer will claim their frame is the most efficient, when in reality, your choice may be limited to what frame manufacturer your preferred window company uses. If the company make their own frames (and many do), then it will depend on the manufactured plastic extrusion design – the raw lengths from which window frames are made.

The frame also deals with the insulation and draught proofing around opening panels.

The second component is the glazing itself.

Most upvc windows achieve a ‘C’ energy efficiency rating (think energy ratings similar to electrical appliances) although by choosing the right glazing option, it is possible to specify an ‘A’ rated window.

To achieve this, you’ll want to think about specifying glass that goes beyond the normal twin glazed sealed unit. You’ll need to think about gas filled cavities and glass coatings which reflect cold but absorb warmth.

If you live in a particularly noisy environment, then you may want to consider triple glazing. That’s 3 panes of glass with a cavity between each pane.

In the process of improving your homes comfort and reducing your energy bills, you’ll also benefit from increasing your homes value. Double glazing is one of the key elements people look for when buying a new home.

Of course, the best, most efficient window available is only as good as the team that installs it. Correct installation will ensure that you get the energy savings you’ve paid for.

To help homeowners avoid the double glazing cowboys, we developed Window Quoter – Instant online double glazing and conservatory quotes.

Users can enter their own approximate measurements, select the style and number / position of openers before getting an instant online quote.

After you’ve got your online quote, we’ll give you the opportunity to get that quote confirmed in writing by up to 3 companies that cover your address.

It’s a completely free, no obligation service but not only could it save you pounds on your double glazing, it will save you the hassle of weeding out the cowboys yourself – we’ve already done that, with a feedback system where other homeowners have left their honest opinion on the service they received and the quality of the finished job.

*This story first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter, dated 21st February 2011. To read the full newsletter – click here.

New energy efficient boilers are not enough

An Aberdeen journal has reminded readers contemplating fitting a new energy efficient boiler to ensure they don’t waste the savings they’re making.

47% of the UK’s energy use is spent on heating – that’s more than they spend in Sweden (whose temperatures are generally a lot lower than our own).

It warns that to maximise the energy efficiency of a new boiler, it’s imperative that homeowners also invest in double glazing.

“if you are spending money to change the heating, it is advisable to ensure that you have double glazing to keep the heat in” the paper reported.

It also warned residents who have oil fired heating systems to make sure their storage tanks are secure following the theft of 1,000 litres from one unlucky resident in October.

If you’re securing your fuel tank, then it’s worth checking your tank for signs of leakage – a family member lost litres of oil when their tank developed a leak. The company who supplied and fitted the new ‘plastic’ tank were able to syphon off the fuel in their old metal tank (which had rusted through at the bottom) and deposit it into their new tank when it was connected, saving valuable litres of oil that they’d already paid for.

photo credit: e.r. vicol

Victorian home to undergo energy efficiency improvements experiment

A typical Victorian terraced property is to be the subject of an ambitious series of home improvements in an effort to raise its current energy performance rating of F to a B rated property.

This type of housing makes up a large proportion of the UK’s housing stock and if the UK is to achieve it’s carbon reduction targets, then it’s vital that older properties are made more fuel efficient.

The ‘experiment’ will see 5 different types of window installed on the property including triple and double glazing.

Other measures planned for the ‘makeover’ include fitting a new boiler, wall insulation, water saving devices and air source heat pumps.

Other properties on the same street will be fitted with a range of conventional and innovative products, new or coming to the market soon, before the whole project is evaluated on individual effectiveness of one measure over another.

The Government hopes the practical lessons gained from making this one house more energy efficient can be used to transform other properties.

The ‘test’ home will be opened to the public, once it’s complete, to help homeowners learn what energy saving measures they can take themselves.

This story first appeared in our homeowner newsletter on the 22nd November 2010.

photo credit: paul stevenson