The last 12 months have seen a definite increase in concern on the part of our clients, at the ‘revenue’ costs of a owning a house (i.e. the cost of ownership) – which is almost reaching the level we experienced in the 1973 oil crisis (when the rapid increase of central heating oil costs encouraged a swing to gas, straw burning boilers, etc).
This time, the effective devaluation of the £ implied by quantitative easing (coupled with the UK’s increasing dependence on imported energy) predicts energy costs continuing to rise well above the rate of inflation. At 67p – 76p per litre, current oil prices have nearly doubled over the last five years (and are three and a half times greater than a decade ago) – and electricity prices (few country houses are on mains gas) are rising by 7% a year
In the circumstances, it is no surprise to find greener sources of energy coming under the spotlight – as buyers can factor in the costs of improving energy efficiency in both their refurbishment plans and overall budget.
That said, with the average country house owner only expecting to live in a house for between ten and twenty years, the costs of some solutions tend to hold less appeal! Also, many apparently eco-friendly solutions have yet to be fully developed – and committing to an expensive installation of an, as yet, unproven form of efficiency (often with a relatively recently established company) can take a leap of faith!
Looking at the alternatives:
Obviously the most cost effective means of energy saving, yet largely ignored in Energy Performance Certificates. Why? Competitive quoting has forced the cost of EPC’s down to the point where an assessor daren’t ask about insulation – as, if they do, the need to see documentary proof implies remaining at the property for far too long. Recent national and local government initiatives (e.g. The Green Deal) have encouraged greater loft insulation – but other solutions such as secondary glazing are as popular (double glazing is rarely acceptable in Listed buildings – few of which offer cavities in their walls, either!)
Very cost effective, but aesthetics tend to rule against unless there is somewhere unobtrusive to install it (for example, a hidden roof valley – assuming the house isn’t Listed – or a small area of garden close by that can be fenced off). Efficient quality solar panels tend to pay for themselves over a shorter period of time than, for example, ground source heat pumps – and can give free hot water during the summer as well as greatly reduced electricity bills (one installation we saw recently created £3,500 worth of electricity a year)
Less attractive, in both appearance (unless you are Glyndebourne!) and in terms of development. Alas, also noisy. Not likely to endear you to even distant neighbours…..
Ground source heat pumps
Recognised as being the most efficient method of extracting latent heat – but, due to the earth works involved, extremely expensive to install (too much for the average buyer, expecting to see their investment paid off during their occupancy of a house). Alternatives are, of course, water source heat pumps (far less expensive, as they do not need the cut/fill of their ground source cousins – but few houses offer the required area of water!) or – increasingly found – air source heat pumps (although these are unsightly, and the number needed for a reasonable sized country house difficult to hide)
We know of one or two large country houses with bio-mass boilers – but there is concern as to whether the technology is far enough advanced (one of our clients, having installed a wood chip boiler, got used to a ‘are we going to have hot water day today?’ frame of mind). They also require a lot of space for both the fuel and the resultant ash The life expectancy of an oil-fired boiler being only ten to fifteen years, the increased efficiency of condensing boilers is being experienced by many owners?
Easy to install, if a buyer is replumbing the house anyway – and assuming there is an unobtrusive spot in which to hide the tank (though, as heating oil tanks can serve, not unduly expensive). That said, the resultant water savings rarely justify the cost – though it is satisfying to be ‘green’
This article was quoted in Country Life on 24th, 31st July and 21ST August 2013