Part I: Making your home more sustainable; improving your energy efficiency.
Many people across the world this year may find themselves relieved as the summer begins to draw to a close. The global prevalence of extreme weather conditions which resulted in devastating flash flooding and forest fires could not go unnoticed, particularly in regions with historically very neutral climates. In early August the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which characterises these significant environmental shifts as the effect of climate change. Although deemed to be a ‘code red for humanity’1 by the UN Secretary-General, this report also provides the evidence which proves there is time to help regulate global temperatures. In other words, there is hope.
News on climate change is incredibly overwhelming, with the sheer scale of the problem leaving many of us thinking what can I do that would actually make a difference? The simplest answer to that question is to reduce your personal carbon footprint, and that starts at home. With the overproduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being the core concern of the climate crisis, your goal should be to use as little non-renewable energy in the functioning of your home as possible.
Therefore, if you are currently looking to design a new home or renovate your existing space, why not consider making energy efficiency a top priority? Having a home that consumes minimal non-renewable energy is not only a positive contribution to the climate crisis, but it is also financially beneficial. Additionally, as it appears working from home will become a regular occurrence for many of us, it might be worth considering how this will impact your utility expenses long-term. This article will outline a few technologies that have the potential to transform the energy efficiency of your home.
3 key features that will increase your home’s energy efficiency and reduce its overall carbon footprint.
1. Incorporating a renewable energy source: Solar Panels
A renewable energy source means there is no finite supply, that it will reproduce indefinitely such as in wind, tidal and hydro energy, just to name a few. The commercialisation of solar panels makes solar energy the most accessible renewable form. In the future it is likely all the power for our homes will come from renewable sources, but for now, solar panels allow us to personally make use of the sun’s available energy. In a dense city like Amsterdam, installing a solar panel on the roof of your building would be an ideal solution. This additional energy could contribute to the electrification of your home or the heating of your water for example.
As solar technology has become more cost effective, the financial returns and environmental benefits can better offset the investment in terms of the installation and the maintenance costs. Some governments even compensate you in return. In Amsterdam for example, if you use solar panels to generate electricity for your home, you can deduct your solar energy production from your electricity usage, therefore reducing your energy taxes (see the IamExpat website for more information on this). If you are considering solar panels, remember to consult a solar contractor who can identify important aspects such as the orientation of the panels, site conditions where your building is situated, and the daylight hours and patterns.
2. Temperature optimization: Double-glazed windows
Whether you are in the process of constructing a new home or simply looking for ways to make your home more thermally efficient, we recommend opting for double glazed windows. A double-glazed window has two panes of glass which have either dead air or an inert gas in the space between the two panes which reduces the transfer of energy from outside the house to inside, and vice-versa. Double-glazed windows thus passively help maintain an optimal temperature in your home all year around, keeping it cooler in the summer and conserving heat in the winter. They also provide highly effective sound insulation and can improve the look of your home.
Although the upfront cost is higher than standard windows, double-glazed windows have been proven to lower the demand on the central heating and air-conditioning systems and increase your home’s value.
Gaasterlandstraat, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Designed by AKKA Architects
3. Main heating system: Heat pumps
The method you choose to be your primary heating source has a significant impact on the overall energy efficiency of your home. Heat pumps are designed to heat or cool a space by using a small amount of electricity to forcibly move heat from a higher to lower temperature, against its natural gradient. They control temperature by simply transferring heat instead of using energy from burning fuels. The small amount of energy they require makes heat pumps not only more sustainable but also cost effective. Again, governments often provide subsidies for the use of these more sustainable heat sources.
There are three overarching types of heat pumps: air, water and geothermal source. It can be difficult to decide which is most suitable, or even feasible for your specific project. Consulting with your architect and/or contractor is crucial to properly accounting for factors like your geographic location/climate, the age of your home, the size of your living area, access to a fuel source, and, of course, your budget. Whichever method you choose, make sure to have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems tested and cleaned once a year to improve their long-term efficiency.
Ensuring your home is as energy efficient as possible is an effective step to take towards making a positive contribution, or at least minimising your negative impact on our environment. Consider incorporating the features mentioned in this article if you have the opportunity to design/renovate your home, but these are just a few of the solutions available in the ever- innovating market.
Unaffordability is a common misconception when it comes to considering sustainable solutions. Although the cost of features like solar panels and double-glazed windows can seem high initially, they are specifically designed to lower your energy bills in the long term. In addition to this, a 2018 European Commission report found that in general, a 3-8% increase in the price of residential assets could be attributed to energy efficiency home improvements2. Not only do these findings exemplify that the cost effectiveness of these solutions is valued in the market, but they also prove financial return when the time comes to sell or rent your home.
Designing and maintaining an energy efficient home may seem complicated and or/ time consuming initially. However the systems themselves are designed to be efficient to use, for example many can be controlled remotely, in turn allowing you to easily reduce your energy usage. And in terms of the design process, always remember to consult a good architect and/or an environmental specialist who will be able to tell you what exactly to opt for with regard to the specifics of your space.
There are so many benefits to creating the most energy efficient home possible. You can simultaneously help combat climate change whilst significantly lowering your energy costs, not to mention the increased personal comfort of having a thermally optimal home. We can all make a difference in ways both large and small by choosing to improve our energy efficiency and reducing our carbon footprint.
If you are considering making your existing space more energy efficient, or are constructing or renovating your space altogether and would like some help, get in touch with us. We would be happy to help with any questions you may have.