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Blog Post 13 May 2021 Updated 15 June 2021

Making home energy improvements with net zero in mind

Around one fifth of the UK’s total carbon emissions come from our homes – mainly from our heating, lighting and household appliances.

When fossil fuels like coal and gas are used to power our boilers, wash our clothes and keep the lights on, carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere, which contributes to global warming.

To reach our net zero target in the UK – a balanced state where the amount of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere is no more than the amount taken away – we will need to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and upgrade our heating systems to low carbon options.

Here, we offer some advice on making home energy improvements with net zero in mind.

Upgrade your insulation

One of the best ways to reduce your carbon emissions at home is to reduce the amount of heat that is lost through windows, doors, floors, ceilings and walls.

Installing insulation is a simple way to keep your home warm in winter and cool during the summer months. This reduces the need to turn on the heating as often or as high when it gets colder, and on very hot days, insulation can block out much of the sun’s heat, keeping you comfortable inside without the need for a fan or air conditioning.

If you don’t have any loft insulation, for example, adding a 270mm think layer could reduce your annual carbon dioxide emissions by around 610kg (if you live in a semi-detached, gas-heated home). If you already have some loft insulation, you can still save carbon emissions by topping up. Topping up your insulation from 120mm to 270mm could save you 55kg (in the same sized home).

Workman replacing old attic mineral wool insulation.

Replace your windows and doors

Making your doors and windows more energy efficient by upgrading to double or triple glazing will also help to lower your household carbon emissions. Energy efficient glazing helps to reduce heat loss, insulate your home against external noise, and can also help limit condensation build-up on the inside of windows.

By upgrading your single glazed windows to A++ double glazing, you could save 420kg or carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) a year.

If you can’t install double glazing – for example, if you live in a conservation area, period property, or listed building – you can install secondary glazing, use heavy curtains, or preferably both. Upgrading from single glazing to secondary glazing could reduce your CO2e by around 305kg every year.

Switch to electric heating

The biggest change that will need to happen to reach net zero is to the way we heat our homes. One way is to replace oil and gas boilers with electric heating systems like heat pumps, or renewable options like solar thermal systems.

There are two main types of heat pump – ground source and air source. Heat pumps need electricity to run, but they deliver more heat energy than the electricity they use. This makes a heat pump a sustainable, low carbon source of heating, particularly as we make efforts to further decarbonise our electricity generation with renewable sources like wind and solar.

Heat pumps can work well in a variety of homes, although they are most efficient when delivering lower temperature heat than traditional boilers. Because of this, if you can upgrade your insulation and increase the size of your radiators – or even install underfloor heating – it’s a good idea to do so.

An air source heat pump only needs enough outdoor space to install the unit – which is around the same size as an air conditioning unit – so they are generally suitable for more homes than a ground source heat pump. As a ground source heat pump is moving heat from the ground, you’ll need some garden space to bury the pipes underground. Switching to an air source heat pump from an A-rated gas boiler in an average four-bedroom detached home could lower your carbon emissions by around 2,200kg a year.

Generate your own energy

In the UK, we’ve almost completely switched away from coal power generation and considerably increased the amount of clean electricity generated from renewable sources like wind and solar.

While this is great progress on the path to net zero, more needs to be done. By installing a renewable technology at home you can reduce your reliance on fossil fuels and cut your carbon emissions.

Solar panels harness energy from the sun to generate electricity that you can use to power your appliances, or even charge your electric car. It’s likely there will be times when your solar panels are generating more electricity than you can use. Unless you have a PV diverter or battery, you’ll probably be exporting that extra electricity back to the grid, helping to decarbonise the electricity someone else is using.

So, whether you’re using it yourself or exporting it, a typical home solar PV system in the south of England can save around one tonne of carbon dioxide every year. In Scotland, it will save around 800kg of carbon dioxide a year.

Wind turbines are even more effective at reducing carbon emissions, but you do need a suitable site to maximise the benefits. A well-sited 6kW wind turbine can generate around 9,000kWh a year, saving you around 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

Bold action will be needed to reach net zero emissions in the UK. Now is the time to start changing the way we use energy in our lives and making energy improvements to our homes to reduce carbon emissions.

Last updated: 15 June 2021