Upgrade Your Home: The Complete Guide to Green and Eco-Friendly Renovations for Homeowners
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An introduction to home renovation
Rising house prices and spending plenty of time indoors has made a lot of homeowners reconsider how to best utilise their current space. For many of us, we can’t afford to keep moving home, nor are there enough houses on the market to guarantee homeowners a new property in the location they want, at the price they want. As a result, home renovations are on the rise.
In this guide, we’ll look at the value of home improvements, the different sustainable options available for both large- and small-scale renovation projects, practical considerations, and financial considerations – such as the effect of renovating on insurance.
What is classed as a home renovation?
The term home renovation can be used to describe anything from a fresh lick of paint to a complete overhaul of the layout of a property. Some people do differentiate between home renovation and home remodelling, with home renovation referring to simply updating the space and making it look new again, and remodelling covering larger, structural changes. For the sake of ease, we’ll group these two similar projects under the same umbrella.
In reality, it doesn’t matter which term you use. Just make sure that you’re clear about the size of the project when looking around for quotes, rather than relying on having the same understanding of ‘renovation’ or ‘remodel’.
The value of home improvements
Housing is rarely cheap, but newly modernised homes can be particularly expensive. Choosing a property that needs substantial work to bring it up-to-date can be a good way to allow a buyer to purchase a home for less money, and then do the work gradually, as and when they can afford it. You’ll often find that these homes are listed as ‘homes with potential’, if the estate agent thinks they need work.
Whilst the property ideally needs to be liveable in order to allow the buyer to both live in it and work on it at the same time, many people choose to put up with a less than ideal home until they can afford to renovate it to their own personal taste and requirements. Not only does this mean that the end result is their dream home, but the property is also likely to be more valuable due to appreciation, even with the money spent on renovations added to the property purchase price. It could also be more sellable due to the modern features that have been added.
As well as making a property look more desirable, home renovations can also improve the property’s EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating. All properties for sale in the UK are required to hold a valid EPC when built, sold, and rented. The certificate lasts for ten years and indicates how energy efficient the property is, on a scale of G (least efficient) to A (most efficient). It also indicates the potential rating that the property could get if work was done.
Research by Gov.uk has shown that a higher EPC rating leads to a higher selling price per square metre, which is a positive when it comes to justifying the cost of home renovations. The study also found that properties with C and D EPC ratings “appreciated at a significantly higher rate” when compared to dwellings with a G-rated EPC certificate, indicating that even improving your EPC rating by a few steps can add value to your property.
Sustainability and home renovation
What is sustainability?
Sustainable development, according to the United Nations, is the idea that development should “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The value we’re placing on sustainability across our lives is increasing, as we try to combat climate change and become more aware of the importance of our buying and lifestyle choices on future generations. In particular, Millennials and Generation Z (born between 1980-1996 and 1997-early 2000’s, respectively) are often known for their green activism, as they grew up against the background of a climate crisis. Therefore, it’s understandable that sustainability is particularly important to them.
Sustainable renovation options
Sustainable renovation focuses on both using more locally sourced, eco-friendly materials to replace existing ones when renovating, and actively making changes to allow a property to become more environmentally friendly.
In theory, both should be increasingly important for homeowners, as Millennials and Gen Z begin to buy homes, and older generations become more aware of the importance of making sustainable choices. Right now, eco-friendly options are not always immediately the cheapest choice, but they do tend to be worth the investment for both the planet and your wallet after the initial purchase cost.
Let’s take a look at some of the green and eco-friendly renovation options available to homeowners.
Large scale renovations
One of the best things you can do for your home is to insulate it correctly. Insulation is important for keeping the temperature right inside your home – both for keeping warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Choosing the material for your new insulation is the perfect chance to make an eco-friendly choice.
- Sheep’s wool is a natural fibre that is fire-retardant and good at moisture control, making it a great choice for insulation. It requires minimal environmental impact to make, and it is also allergen-free. It has a long lifespan and can be composted when it has gone past its best, making it an excellent sustainable option, as it doesn’t need to go to landfill.
- Cotton is also a good choice, as cotton insulation is made from leftover denim that otherwise would have gone to waste, so you’re already using a recycled product. It is a natural insect repellent and is also non-flammable.
- One of the most eco-friendly products available is cork. This panelling is actually carbon negative as the cork forests act as a carbon sink, capturing carbon dioxide from the air. These forests also act as a habitat for many different animals. It’s a natural, renewable and recyclable resource.
When you’re finished with your insulation, make sure that your windows are well-fitted so that none of your newly contained heat escapes. If you’re looking to go even further, you’ll need double or triple-glazed energy efficient glass, with sustainably made frames.
There are several eco-friendly options for your frames, and the best choice for your renovation will depend more on your preference and the style of your windows.
- uPVC (unplasticised polyvinyl chloride) windows are recyclable, and don’t need any regular maintenance, making them a great choice. However, they may not be a sympathetic choice for period properties, where wooden frames may better suit the overall aesthetic.
- Wooden frames do require maintenance, but they also absorb CO2 and are made from natural materials. If you’re happy to keep an eye on their condition, they are an eco-friendly option that also allows you to maintain the character of your building. This can be particularly useful in renovations, where the properties tend to be older.
- If you prefer a more modern look for your windows, you can opt for metal or composite frames. Composite frames consist of a timber core, which is then covered with a metal coating. This means that you get both the benefits of the timber frame, and the longevity of metal. Additionally, both elements are recyclable.
- You can also opt for Low-E glass, which has a thin layer of metal oxide on the top of one of the layers of standard glass. This aims to reflect the heat back into the room, rather than letting it escape out of the window.
- Placing windows in the areas of your home that are used the most will allow you to utilise as much natural light as possible, rather than needing to turn on the lights in the day.
It’s worth investing in these eco-friendly options, and not just for the planet. Windows are rated from A to G on the Window Energy Rating scale. Energy Saving Trust states that if you had A++ rated windows, you could reduce your carbon footprint by a total of 405kg, and save around £115 per year, when compared with single glazing.
Once you’ve insulated your house, the next thing to do is to take a look at how you’re heating it. Making sure that you have an energy-efficient, eco-friendly heating system is the first step.
- Heat pumps are a new, green way of heating that uses thermal energy. They are more efficient, safer and cleaner than gas boilers, and don’t use fossil fuels, meaning that they are much better for the environment. Combine this with a smart thermostat and split your home into zones for the ultimate eco-option.
- The Government has also recently announced that they are aiming to make heat pumps the same price as gas boilers to encourage people to make the switch. They will also be offering grants from April 2022, so make sure you look at what’s available to you.
- You could also consider installing underfloor heating. This is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional radiators, because it means that the whole floor effectively becomes one large radiator. Whilst at first glance this doesn’t seem eco-friendly at all, it means that it can maintain a more constant temperature, so you use less energy than if you were regularly turning the thermostat up.
Solar panels are one of the most eco-friendly changes that you can make to your home, as they harness energy from the sun. With enough panels, you can power your home completely, and even store energy using batteries for when you need it, or sell it back to the grid, so it’s never wasted.
Houses that run entirely off external elements are known as passive homes, and they’re a trend that can also help with keeping running costs low, by working with nature, rather than against it. If you’re looking to create a passive home from scratch, then make sure to look at the way the building is positioned, in order to best utilise the space.
You shouldn’t need planning permission for solar panels, although it is always best to check. However, you will need to register them with your Distribution Network Operator.
Moving away from the design of the building of your home, a garden can be a good opportunity to make some eco-friendly changes. Planting a lawn can require a lot of water to keep it looking lush, and regular cutting, which does not support wildlife, and contributes to emissions via your lawnmower.
Instead, make sure to use native plants – plants that are originally from the local climate – and wildflower beds in order to restore the ecosystem. Choosing these over far-flung species also helps encourage wildlife and restore some of their natural habitats. They can also help reduce erosion, as their roots are suited to the soil, and so hold it in place.
If you have your heart set on a lawn, look for a seed mix that contains drought resistant grasses. These will offer a slightly wilder look than perfectly manicured lawn, but they require much less maintenance and water.