Our advice on buying an eco-friendly home

Read our blog post for our advice on buying green - everything you need to know.

Our advice on buying an eco-friendly home

Being green is no longer seen as being slightly cranky, it is acknowledged as making common sense - particularly when it comes to homes.

With more than a quarter of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions - a major cause of climate change - resulting from the energy we use to heat, light and run our homes, the Government has set the target for all new homes to be carbon neutral by 2016.

It is important not to imagine that a home is environmentally friendly simply because of bolted on items such as solar panels or wind turbines. Such technology has its place but does not stand alone; instead it should be part of a holistic approach bringing together a variety of interrelated solutions. The single most important thing that can be done to cut a home's energy use, and therefore carbon emissions, is to ensure proper insulation.

Composting facilities, allotments for growing food and cycle stores all contribute to a home's sustainability, while the use of natural paints and materials have health advantages. Consequently, it is worth remembering that a green home not only helps the planet and cuts fuel bills, but also can provide improved overall wellbeing and quality of life.

Buying a new home

While many developers are choosing to experiment with green initiatives at selected sites, few are doing more than is required under Building Regulations so, if you want to live in a real eco home, it is important to look beyond the glossy brochures to find those who are going the extra mile.

True eco homes are closely connected to their site, society, climate, region and the planet. In other words, it is not just the structure itself which is important, but what goes on in and around it as well as its relationship with the particular environment in which it is built.

With bigger housebuilders in particular, a good way of judging their commitment to eco issues is to look at their corporate responsibility report, environmental policy or green code. The incorporation of renewable energy technology, rainwater harvesting, materials from renewable sources and waste management, as well as attention to the eco-systems and community around developments, are all things to look for.

Housebuilders should be able to supply the SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) rating of individual homes: a figure between 1 (bad) and 100 (good). This is the Government's recommended system for assessing the energy performance of dwellings based on the annual energy costs for heating the home and hot water.

With the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), or a ‘predicted energy assessment' for off-plan sales, a clearer understanding of a new home's energy performance will be possible.

Complementing EPCs are two, currently voluntary, environmental assessment methods for new homes: EcoHomes and the Code for Sustainable Homes. EcoHomes ratings have been around for some time and rate a home as ‘pass', ‘good', ‘very good' or ‘excellent'. From April 2007 the Code for Sustainable Homes has replaced EcoHomes for the assessment of new housing in England. The Code has a scoring system of six levels, six being the highest.

To establish these levels the Code looks at design, construction, materials and factors ranging from energy and water efficiency to waste management on site. This not only helps you be sure of reducing your ‘footprint' on the environment, it also means lower running costs as homes built to the Code standards will have greater energy and water efficiency than others. In addition they will provide a more pleasant and healthy place to live, for example, with more natural light and adaptability for future needs.

Buying an older property

Up until now judging the environmental credentials of an older property has been difficult, but with the inclusion of Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) in Home Information Packs from 1 June 2007 it should be easier. Indeed, it may even provide some negotiating power on homes that perform poorly, and hence have higher energy bills and would require money to be spent to improve their rating.

Much like the rating seen on many domestic appliances such as fridges, EPCs provide A-G ratings on the energy efficiency of a home. An A rating shows that the home is very efficient so has lower fuel bills while a G rating is inefficient so will have higher fuel bills. The certificate will also show the building's environmental impact by indicating its carbon dioxide emissions.

EPC ratings take into account the home's insulation, heating systems, hot water system, fixed lighting, ventilation, number of windows and fuels used and provide an indication of how much it will cost to provide lighting, heating and hot water.

Obviously a higher rating is always preferable when buying a property but the EPC shows the potential rating which could be scored and gives advice on how to make these further energy savings by upgrading the home.

This may be lower cost, possibly DIY measures such as replacing all non low energy light bulbs with Energy Saving Recommended ones and upgrading loft and cavity wall insulation. Higher cost work might include installing individual thermostatic radiator valves or a new heating programmer. Further measures could be the installation of photovoltaic panels on the roof to convert sunlight into electricity or solar panels for heating hot water.

Grants may be available for all or some such improvements and anything you do should have a positive effect on the EPC rating when you come to sell - but it is worth remembering that older homes are rarely going to meet the same energy efficiency standards of a new property. With historic, listed properties some alterations may need consent and alterations such as installing double glazing may not be permitted.

Even so, it is far more environmentally friendly to upgrade an existing property than to demolish it and build a new one, so by improving your home and making changes to the way you live - for instance by turning the heating down slightly - you can go a long way towards a more eco friendly lifestyle.

Top 10 green buying tips

  1. Ask for evidence of the home's energy saving credentials
  2. Look for high levels of insulation
  3. Check that there is double or triple glazing
  4. Ask what the heating bills are and whether the boiler is a high efficiency condensing type
  5. Appliances such as the washing machine or fridge should be ‘Energy Saving Recommended'
  6. Plenty of daylight will mean less energy use
  7. Feel for draughts: enclosed porches and lobbies help cut heat loss
  8. Are there energy saving devices like solar panels?
  9. Check what grants are available for energy saving measures
  10. Good local amenities and public transport will mean you use the car less


With thanks to BuyAssociation.