The smart home: a homeowner’s guide to eco technology and renewable energy

We’re all trying to do our bit for the environment. And with the effects of global warming being felt all over the world, the time to shift our habits and energy consumption is now. Sustainability in the home is becoming increasingly important for us to reduce our carbon footprints and impact on the environment. 

We’re all trying to do our bit for the environment. And with the effects of global warming being felt all over the world, the time to shift our habits and energy consumption is now. Sustainability in the home is becoming increasingly important for us to reduce our carbon footprints and impact on the environment. 

Thanks to smart home technology and renewable energy options, there are more opportunities than ever to make your home more eco-friendly. Technology also allows you to track these efficiencies and potential cost savings too – something that’s particularly encouraging when trying to embrace a greener lifestyle.  

In this guide, we’ll look at what technologies and energy sources are available, affordable and accessible to UK households.  

An introduction to sustainability in the home

Sustainability is a priority for us all nowadays, but in the home specifically, it can take many different forms. Let’s look at it in a little more detail. 

What is sustainability?

Sustainability refers to a method of consumption whereby we generate and use energy without depleting the Earth’s natural resources. It means living in a way that fulfills our needs and allows us to live our lives, without further damaging the environment with CO2 emissions and the creation of greenhouse gases.  

What can homeowners do?

Sustainability takes many forms, from smaller, everyday actions to large decisions about your home. The smaller acts can include things like reducing waste, turning off lights and opting for eco-friendly products. And then on a larger scale, homeowners can look at switching to renewable energy sources and investing in eco technologies.  

Green mortgages

You can even look out for the planet before you buy a property. Green mortgages are offered to buyers if you can show that the home you’re borrowing for meets certain environmental standards. Perhaps you’re buying a new-build which has been created with sustainability in mind, or you’re able to prove you’ll take measures to improve the sustainability of an older home – for example, installing solar panels. 

Lenders may have different criteria for getting a green mortgage, such as: 

  • A minimum energy efficiency rating 
  • An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) at bands A or B 
  • Sustainable building practices 

They may offer you a lower interest rate, or increase the loan amount you’re eligible for. This is because you’ll be seen as lower risk. Less energy use means lower utility bills, which means you’re more likely to be able to afford to pay your mortgage each month. Sustainable buildings are also more likely to hold their value.

Financial help

Eco technologies and renewable energy are often labelled as expensive options, but making eco-friendly choices in your home is easier on your wallet than you think.  

Sustainability isn’t just a priority for homeowners, but the government too. They’ve planned to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, as part of their plan to reach net zero by 2050. And they offer financial aid to homeowners wanting to make renewable changes in their homes. Let’s look at some of them.

The Green Deal loan

The Green Deal was designed to support those wanting to make eco-conscious improvements to their homes in the form of a loan. You can apply for a loan through the Green Deal for a range of home improvements, including:

  • Insulation
  • Draught-proofing
  • Double glazing
  • Renewable energy installations such as solar panels

Source: GOV UK

The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) 

This incentive promotes the use of renewable heat in the home, which you can do by switching to renewable heat sources. You receive quarterly payments for seven years, with the actual amount depending on how much renewable heat it’s estimated your system produces. 

Eco technology

Smart home technology refers to software that can be built into household appliances to enable automation or remote control features. We most often see this with things like smart heating, where fitting smart thermostats and valves onto your heating system allows you to not just control your home’s temperature from your phone or tablet, but also gain insights into your usage and heating costs too. This information can help you to better manage your energy consumption and ultimately lower it (and your bills).  

A brief history of smart home technology

The first home appliances were introduced in 1901, with the first smart automation system following earlier than you might expect, in 1966. Users could make shopping lists, control the temperature of their home, and turn their devices on and off. 

However, this kind of technology didn’t become more affordable until later. The cost of appliances dropped in the 1970s, while smart technology began to become less pricey in the early 2000s. This combination opened the door for the smart technology we know today, aided by the rise of the home broadband, WiFi, and smartphones. 

Using smart technology

When it comes to using smart technology to save energy (and money) in your home, there are many options available to you, depending on what you’re looking for and your budget. 

What’s available?

Smart heating

Smart heating uses smart thermostats and valves on your heating system to allow you to remotely control your home’s heating and cooling, as well as set automated programs that work around your routine. Aside from having complete control over your heating, you can also gain insights into your usage and costs. 

Check a Trade estimates that a smart thermostat costs between £120 and £220 to buy, plus £30-£80 for installation by an electrician. 

Smart power

Smart plugs work on timers to prevent energy wastage, and let you monitor what power you use and where in your home. You simply plug it into an outlet, plug in an appliance, then connect the plug to the smart plug app or a home assistant. You can then control the appliance’s energy use from your phone or tablet. 

Smart plugs can cost anywhere from £9.99 to £40, depending on the make. 

Smart meters

This piece of smart home technology lets you have an overview of two of the main elements of your household energy consumption: gas and electricity. You can also see how much you are spending on these household utilities to manage your energy usage and, therefore, the emissions your home produces. 

The government has been rolling out smart meters for free across the country in the hopes of making our energy system cheaper and cleaner, with the most recent figures showing that 24.2 million smart meters are now in use in homes and businesses across the country. 

Smart lighting

Smart lighting works similarly to heating and power technologies – you can control the lights in your house from your phone or tablet. Individual bulbs can cost anything from £25 to £50 and normally require some kind of control, like a hub or remote. 

How it makes a difference

We can see the difference that smart home technologies make in the numbers. 

Smart Energy International estimates that a smart home can save between 30-40% of energy. Meanwhile, big names in the smart heating world, such as Nest, claim that their smart thermostats can save users 10-12% on their energy bills.  

Research by Delta-ee showed that homeowners who embrace a new energy system using smart home tech can save up to 20% on their annual energy bills. This saving is only realistic if homeowners are engaged with their energy consumption, and take the right measures to limit use in peak times and manage their power usage across the home. 

Domestic energy consumption rose by 8.9% in the first quarter of 2021 as people continue to work from home. We’re spending more time in our homes than ever before, making household bills inevitably higher, which gives us more reasons to save wherever we can. 

Renewable energy

Most of our energy traditionally has come from fossil fuels, but the rise of renewable energy has been impressive, as governments invest in greener sources of energy in order to reduce our impact on the environment. Whilst fossil fuels have made up the majority of our energy sources for years, in 2020 things changed in favour of eco-friendly energy. 

According to a government report, renewable energy generation overtook fossil fuels for the first time in 2020, representing 43.1% of total energy generation in 2020, up 6.2% from the previous year. And this rise seems to be a sustainable one, with the report showing that renewable energy is still outpacing fossil fuel generation, and has done so for four of the last five quarters.  

A definition of renewable energy

Renewable energy refers to energy that comes from renewable sources, which can be used again and again without damaging the environment. There are many options, from the sun (solar power) to wind and other organic materials.  

Using renewable energy at home

Solar power

You can generate your own electricity with solar energy by installing solar panels. Typically, they’re installed on the roof of your home, where they absorb the sun’s rays and create electricity for use in your home.  

Solar power also provides the opportunity to make money too, as any excess power you generate can be sold into the national grid under the government-backed Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) initiative. Installation of solar panels can be pricey, but there is an impressive return to be made on them over a long period of time.

Wind energy

Power can be generated from the wind by installing wind turbines on your land or house. We’re used to seeing wind turbines as we drive on the motorway, but individual homes can in fact generate their own wind energy too! 

You need to consider whether your property is suitable for a wind turbine first. Upfront costs are another factor. A 5kW wind turbine system costs approximately £23,500, although their return on investment is good. 

Air source heat pumps

This source of energy uses heat from the air outside your home to create energy to heat your water or power your heating system. They need electricity to run, but their heat output is higher than the amount of electricity needed. 

Biomass systems

Biomass energy creates power by burning organic matter, such as wood chips, logs or pellets to generate electricity for heating or hot water. Whilst many avoid this system because it adds to carbon emissions, it is still a lower carbon source than fossil fuels. This is because the wood burned in a biomass system only emits the carbon that the wood contains inside it, rather than creating new carbon emissions like the fossil fuel industry does. 

Hydroelectric systems

Water is another natural resource that is completely renewable and can generate electricity in homes. Whether it’s from a large hydroelectric plant based nearby or an individual system for your home, running water can power your household. The potential energy from the water is converted into energy in a turbine, which generates electricity.