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Property: Five home improvements that will lower your bills and help save the planet

WE’RE all aware of the importance of doing our bit to protect the planet by reducing our carbon footprint, but the relatively high up-front cost of installing energy-saving improvements can be off-putting.

However, the new Green Homes Grant Scheme could save you thousands. Mike Thornton, CEO of Energy Saving Trust, said: ‘It’s great to see the government recognise that energy efficiency is a vital part of any green recovery.’

Here are some of the upgrades to consider.

Cavity wall insulation

Installation cost: £475

Potential annual saving: £165

Grants available: Green grant from September; low income or vulnerable households may be eligible for assistance under local schemes

A third of all heat escaping from an uninsulated home is lost through the walls, so proper insulation is vital. Most homes built after the 1920s have cavity walls, made up of two layers with a narrow gap in between. The cavity insulation process involves injecting the gap with insulation material through small holes drilled into the exterior, and the process can be completed in a couple of hours. Solid walls — generally found in older properties — can be insulated on the outside or the inside. This is much more expensive than cavity wall insulation, though annual savings are greater. All work should be carried out by a registered installer; find one at nia-uk.org.

Loft insulation

Installation cost: £300

Potential annual saving: £160

Grants available: Green grant coming soon; local assistance for low-income households

Up to a quarter of the heat in an uninsulated house escapes through the loft, but fortunately improving its energy efficiency is a relatively simple task. You should insulate to a minimum depth of 270mm, using rolls of mineral wool. The first layer should be laid between the joists — the horizontal beams over the floor — then add another layer at right angles on top of them. When using the loft for storage, you’ll have to raise the floor level before boarding so there’s enough room for the insulation, and if it’s been converted into living space, hire a professional to insulate sloping ceilings and vertical walls before covering them with plasterboard.

Solar panels

Installation cost: £4,800

Potential annual saving: Up to £390

Grants available: None, but you can get paid for exporting surplus power back to the National Grid via the Smart Export Guarantee scheme

Solar photovoltaic panels or tiles convert energy from the sun into electricity, though won’t be enough to power your home 24/7 so you’ll also require a main supply. The ideal position for these panels is on an unshaded, south-facing roof, though east or west-facing sites are also suitable, and they can even be fitted on the ground. You’ll also need an inverter to convert the current for domestic use, and once in situ, the system is virtually maintenance-free. Costs have fallen in recent years, but the Feed-In Tariffs subsidy is no longer available to new applicants.

New boiler

Installation cost: £2,300

Potential annual saving: £145

Grants available: Green grant from September; possible help from your local authority (though normally restricted to priority groups)

Heating accounts for more than half an average home’s energy bills, and an old boiler could be burning up money, as Martyn Bridges, director of technical communication and product management at Worcester Bosch, explains: ‘Since 2005 the only boilers that can be installed are condensing boilers that are around 90 per cent-plus in efficiency. Any boiler pre-2005 is likely to be a standard efficiency boiler and, at best, 78 per cent efficient. So you will save around 15 per cent in gas consumption by upgrading.’ A gas boiler is the cheapest option if you have a mains supply, and by law has to be fitted by an engineer on the Gas Safe Register, gassaferegister.co.uk.

LED lighting

Installation cost: About £60

Potential annual saving: £40

Grants available: None

Lighting accounts for around 15 per cent of an average home’s electricity bill, and replacing traditional bulbs with LED alternatives is an easy win. Prices have dropped and not only are they more efficient but they also last far longer — you’ll rarely need to change a light bulb again. Make further savings by fitting timers rather than leaving lights on when you’re out after dark.

Figures given are for a three-bed semi, with costs and savings supplied by the Energy Saving Trust, energysavingtrust.org.uk