How Can an Eco Consultant Make My Home More Energy Efficient?
If you want to save energy in your home, consider hiring an eco specialist to help with your next renovation project
Professional advice from: Alan Budden of Eco Design Consultants; Kit Knowles of Ecospheric; Rich Tyers of Rich Tyers Studios
Starting your renovation? Read How to Renovate Sustainably
“The process is essentially the same as you’d expect with other architects,” Alan Budden of Eco Design Consultants says. “There’s an initial layout design, energy calculations and optimisation, elevational design, planning, technical design, on-site support and post completion. Consideration of energy efficiency is built into each of these stages, so it’s going on seamlessly in the background.”
Kit Knowles of Ecospheric says he follows a three-tier approach involving passive design, then fabric selection and upgrade, followed by the choice of active technologies.
“The most important thing is to understand what the client is aiming to achieve, their goals and drivers, how they want to live in the house today, and their future plans,” Alan says. “We use this information to help the client achieve a whole-house plan, which enables them to realise their dream in the most efficient way without locking out future improvements or having to tear down expensive work completed at an earlier stage.”
“Energy efficiency is often a bolt-on to a larger project,” Kit says. “So the perception is that you either do a normal build or an eco build.”
These ‘normal builds’ are often driven by lifestyle wants and tend to include a connection to the garden and an open-plan kitchen-diner, as well as two en suites and a downstairs loo. “[Many people] think this is what they want, so they end up putting on an extension and adding a load of glass, and the budget goes towards doing all these things,” Kit says.
His solution is to bake in the eco element from the start of a project by understanding the building and the needs of the client. By considering different options, it might even be possible to achieve a home that feels more spacious and comfortable without the expense of an extension.
Thinking of renovating? Find everyone you need, from interior designers to builders, carpenters and decorators, on Houzz.
“In many instances, a client is first keen to engage and find out what’s possible with their property and budget,” Rich Tyers of Rich Tyers Studios says. “We do this through a home energy survey: an ‘MOT’ of the building that includes an assessment of the existing fabric, data collection and other services (such as airtightness testing, thermal imaging and other technologies) to establish a benchmark of performance.
“This benchmark performance study is often combined with an in-depth discussion about the client’s ambitions for the property,” he continues. “We generally find that energy efficiency is only part of the story. As more of us are working from home than ever before, insulating to keep the house warm in winter and cool in summer is often another key aspiration. A healthy space with high air quality and low volatile organic compounds is also important.”
For Kit, each project begins by using software to create a building model. “The surveyor visits the property to gather information, then punches all this into the modelling software,” he says. “This enables us to generate perhaps 30 ideas to present to the client.”
These ideas are then whittled down in order to find the most effective and cost-friendly options for each particular home, depending on the brief and budget.
The second stage of the process for Kit involves comparing options for each particular renovation project. The team will explore different fabric and technology choices to help identify the right approach. They’ll also write a sustainability statement for the local planning department and attend any meetings to ensure the message is clear.
Rich’s team moves to the design phase at this point. “Once we’ve studied the existing building and understood the client’s ambitions, our next step is to develop a concept design,” he says. “We can then iterate and refine the design with the client, picking up any new briefing items that might come to mind when they reflect on our proposals.”
After this is the technical stage, Rich says. “This stage often requires expertise from consultants such as structural engineers, Passivhaus certifiers and hydroponic consultants,” he explains. “We will also engage with suppliers to assess potential products for the project.”
Finally, Rich’s firm will help the client to tender the project to appropriate contractors and oversee the works on site.
More: 8 Sustainable Materials to Consider for Your Renovation
“Improving the fabric of the building is considered to be the best first step,” Rich says. “This could include glazing upgrades or insulating the walls, roof and floor.
“It’s important to remember to ‘insulate AND ventilate’,” he adds. “Increasing the insulation and airtightness of a building can increase humidity and reduce air quality. This can cause issues such as mould. Therefore, be sure to seek advice in relation to ventilation when upgrading the fabric of the building.”
“Managing moisture in the building fabric is really important,” Alan agrees. “Don’t leave the ventilation and MVHR [mechanical ventilation heat recovery system] until late in the process. Ensuring good air quality is crucial.”
Finally, Rich advises you don’t just think about gas and electricity. “Water is also an important and valuable resource,” he says. “Switching your taps, baths, showers and toilets to low water use products can lead to significant savings.”
“Every home can be made more energy efficient, though there are obstacles impacting the level of improvements,” Alan says. “We get a lot of enquires from homeowners with 1980s properties, but as the windows, brickwork and plasterwork are generally OK, there’s often a reluctance to undertake some of the improvements that are required.
“Interestingly, we often find Victorian and Edwardian homes easier, as they can have a smaller heat loss area and more of a compact shape,” he adds.
“We charge a fixed fee based on the assumption of how long a project will take, so each project is different,” Alan says. “The main difference with going down an energy efficient route is the time required for energy calculations. This step is needed to optimise improvements and avoid increasing embodied carbon.
“[Such a project] will also require more technical drawings to ensure the quality of the build to reduce the risk of cold bridges and draughts,” he continues. “[Other than that], you’ll be looking at similar fees to other reputable designers.
“At the build stage,” he adds, “you’ll be looking to buy more insulation and have the builders on site a little longer, because of the extra attention to detail required.”
“Finances are always the biggest obstacle,” Alan says. “The housing market in the UK doesn’t yet fully recognise energy improvements, and a cold, leaky home can be listed at the same sale price as an energy-efficient one, just because they’re the same size. We find more and more of our clients are now building in phases and doing each element well.”
“Be sure to look into grant schemes for financial support,” Rich advises. “There’s lots of information about grants out there from organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust, One Home, and the Centre for Sustainable Energy. Local councils also offer support for PV [photovoltaic] panels and heat pumps. Be sure to take advantage of these schemes, as they’re often undersubscribed.”
Rich also says that upgrading glazing is not always the most economical solution. “Insulation upgrades can offer greater savings on your energy bills at a lower cost,” he says.
Kit says a lot of costs can be saved during the tender process by finding architects or surveyors who are able to compare costs of sustainable products and materials. If this isn’t done properly, it can add up to 50% to the price of a sustainable option, making it tempting to go for a less energy-efficient option.
“Clients can do this tender analysis, ensuring they compare apples with apples,” Kit says. “You can do that by asking around, casting a wide net, and going to trade shows.”
Are you planning to make your home more energy efficient? Will you now consider using the services of an eco consultant? Share your thoughts in the Comments.