Eco ‘bling’ – do we need it?

Many people get carried away with all the new technologies coming out. It seems at times that people start from the add-ons and forget the fundamentals.

A classic example for you. On Flatholm Island (in the Severn Estuary) they have a problem of power supply for the running of their accommodation, visitor centre etc. So in order to get around this they have installed a 6kW wind turbine and around 10kWp PV along with two generators and some solar thermal arrays. Cost a packet as you can imagine, especially having to get it all out to the island and put in the infrastructure. BUT, their main use of electricity is pumping water up from the Victorian rainwater store across the island to the farmhouse. Did they minimise water consumption first through aerating shower heads, low water flushes on the toilets, etc? The answer is, of course, no. On the back of a stamp I estimated that £250 spent on water saving measures would have saved them £30,000 in renewable technology.

So the message is that we really need to start from minimisation of resource use and then look at the eco-bling (if indeed it is even necessary).

By investing in the ‘boring’ elements like insulation, good design, draughtproofing and airtightness, water minimisation measures, etc you could potentially save money on your overall budget by cutting out the need for the eco ‘bling’. You don’t need a ground (or air) source heat pump (at around £10-15,000) if you insulate your home so well that it does not need a heating system.

For certain areas of living, we do need energy – electricity and domestic hot water for example, so having some renewable technology is advantageous here, but again it begs a wider question: Is it better to invest £10,000 each on PV systems or to reduce use down to an absolute minimum and ultimately de-carbonise the grid? I recognise that the Feed In Tariff skews all of this to a large extent, but the principles remain. Minimising usage and wastage should always take priority so that we minimise the need for expensive bling.

When thinking about a refurbishment (or new build) really have a close look at where your priorities are. Can one cut out the expensive add-ons and use these savings to really make a lasting difference to the consumption needs of the home? The Feed In Tariff only lasts 25 years, whereas insulation lasts for the lifetime of the house.