Environment Week 2014: Green House-Hunting

Energy: yet another house-hunting consideration? Or an important choice?

November in Durham can mean a lot of things. It now gets dark by the end of your three o’clock lecture and the Christmas decorations are already up in the DSU café, as early term finishes bring Christmas celebrations forwards by a premature three weeks. You’re suddenly surrounded by a multitude of moustachioed fundraisers and if you’re a liver out you’ll awaken on the first of November to find the “To Let” sign hammered to the outside of your house. November is also Energy Awareness Month, Greenspace’s Environment Week, and it’s these last three that I’d like to consider in combination in this article.

House hunting can provide you with a lot to think about. Do you live with your flatmates? Friends from your subject or society? How many people?

Then there’s location. Viaduct? Claypath? Neville’s Cross?

What you might not be considering right now is how your choice of house can affect your energy usage and the resulting expense of bills.

According to an initial NUS survey, only 36% of respondents thought that their home was adequately insulated. Yet as a student, it’s hard to make changes to a house you’re only renting. This is why looking out for energy efficiency whilst house hunting can be an important factor to take into consideration. Look for houses that are carpeted, without large gaps below doors, and consider installing draught excluders around doors and windows. Large houses can often take more time, energy, and money to heat – a smaller house can certainly be cosier! Terraced houses are insulated by their neighbours on either side. Greenspace’s Green House Hunting guide suggests asking landlords and current tenants about whether the house has double glazing or wall / loft insulation. If not, you could ask your landlord if this is a change they are considering making, as it would save you a lot of energy and money and make your house much more comfortable to live in. This is where house hunting in the snow is a blessing in disguise – it’s easy to identify the houses on the street where the heat isn’t all escaping through the roof! You can also ask current tenants about heating – find out whether they’ve needed to put the heating on yet and how much they pay in bills. Greenspace has a handy tip for checking the warmth of a room: see if the radiator is on, and then see if the room is warm. If not, it might be that the room takes a long time to heat up and therefore might not be very well insulated, so see what changes are possible to make to save expense and energy!

It’s also worth looking into the energy rating of appliances. Unipol, a student letting service in Leeds, estimates that the average energy rating for its 19th Century terraced house properties, a similar type of home to much of the student housing Durham, is C and D energy rating certified – not excellent, but still not too bad. Appliances will have a sticker identifying their energy rating, and some might also have an “Energy Star” sticker identifying themselves as an energy efficient appliance – often using 20–30% less energy than legal standards. Greenspace also recommends checking the temperature settings on the washing machine: being able to wash at 30oC will save a lot of energy and money. Tumble dryers use a lot of energy so invest in a drying rack and see if there is space to dry clothes.

There are also ways that you can check about water efficiency. Greenspace recommends asking whether toilets are fitted with toilet-hippos, or showers and taps with water saving devices. If not, you could ask whether these can be fitted – lots of houses are cleaned, repainted and repaired over the summer, so it’s worth asking your landlord if any changes can be made to make your house warmer and cheaper to run. While you’re at it, try finding out whether energy efficient light bulbs are or can be used in the property. These can make a massive difference: The Energy Saving Trust estimates that if every UK household installed just one extra energy saving light bulb in their house, the CO2 saved would be equivalent to taking 70,000 cars off the road!

A further point to consider is whether your energy usage will be affected by whether you elect to go bills included or excluded. Difference in bills paid could represent a difference in energy use, although efficiency and expediency are also issues to consider. It might even be something you want to consider when choosing groups to live with – will you all have the same approach to bills and heating? Establishing this early can save you disagreements later. If you are opting to go bills excluded, think about selecting an energy supplier that uses renewable power. Greenspace recommends www.good-energy.co.uk and www.ecotricity.com.

Many houses in Durham have good recycling facilities. Ask the current tenants to leave you the relevant information, ask your new neighbours, or check online. If you have a garden, consider finding out if you’d be allowed to compost: the Energy Trust suggests that over 30% of the average household bin can be composted at home. Find out more about home composting here: http://www.recyclenow.com/reduce/home-composting/why-compost

House hunting can be exciting, stressful, laborious, or all of the above! Yet for many it’s the first time you’ve signed your own contract or paid your own rent: it’s a momentous step of independence. With independence comes increased responsibility, so consider using that responsibility for the good of the environment, as well as creating a more comfortable, efficient and probably cheaper home to live in!

Much of this information is drawn from the Greenspace Guides to House Hunting and for Livers Out, which can be accessed here: https://www.dur.ac.uk/greenspace/student/documents/2010-11/

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