Open Homes – How going green could transform your home and bills

Going green worked for the G— family.  They reduced their energy use, kept their home warmer and saved on fuel bills. They would like to tell everyone about how they did it.

The G—-s are just one of the families whose house will be on show in the autumn. They can explain what they did, how they did it and what to look out for. Many of us would like to do the same but are unsure exactly what’s the best thing to do and how to afford it.  Visiting the homes of those people who’ve already done it can show us what’s possible, what works and what a difference it makes.

More than 20 homes will be open between 13 September and 11 October. In some places there will be several homes open on the same day: around Minehead, Watchet, Wiveliscombe and Wheddon Cross. Others, more scattered, will be open on specific days or by appointment. All of them have interesting things to show and stories to tell.

Two people are building what’s called a passivhaus – a house that keeps warm without  extra heating. Two others are building their own eco-homes. One home has installed a ground source heat pump, and others have air source heat pumps. One has its own electricity charging point. Others have done complete retrofitting to an existing home. In one property you can see an old water wheel being put back into to use by volunteers.

If saving water is your thing, you can see how one owner saves water from the roof into a large underground tank in the garden. Some grow their own food or garden for wildlife.

It always helps to talk to people who have already done it. If you want to know how ‘German’ radiators work, go and talk to someone who is using them. If you want to find out how a thermodynamic heating system works, go and see. If you are wondering about a pellet boiler, visit homes that have installed them You can find out about the latest materials and equipment  – things are changing all the time.

Not many of us, of course, can build our own homes. But we can all do something to improve what we have. It may be knowing whether it’s worth having a new boiler, whether solar hot water really saves money; or how we can do anything about chilly windows if we can’t afford double glazing; or we live in a listed house.

And there’s always the problem of paying for all these improvements. So many grants have come and gone over the last few years that we’ve stopped believing in them. But two current schemes can offer real help in installing energy improvements. If you install a water wheel, solar panels, heat pumps or wood boilers, the government will pay you for the heat you produce – called the Renewable Heat Incentive, or RHI.

And the latest Green Deal Home Improvement Fund is offering some real savings to install energy improvement equipment in our homes. There’s a maximum of £6000 to help pay for external wall insulation – and you can visit people who’ve had it done – and £1000 if you install two measures from a list. For the first time, the list includes double glazing and flat roof insulation. It’s easy to apply for these grants, and we can tell you how to do it.

But beware of scam phone calls or door to door callers. There are untrustworthy organisations seeking business for what may be cheaper shoddy work – or no work at all. Always be cautious and seek advice elsewhere.

Open Homes 2014 is organised by Transition Minehead and Alcombe and Forum 21.

Look out for programmes later in the summer in libraries, tourist offices, council offices and local shops. Details can also be seen on our websites.