Making our home more sustainable proved too costly for now

When we bought our current home over a year ago, I was in love with it. Affordable, in a nice and quiet neighbourhood, lots trees and plants, a decently sized garden. The only caveat was the air heating system, because I wanted my home to be sustainable. Because there weren’t much alternatives, we decided to buy our home and figure out ways to make it more sustainable later.

For sustainability advice I contacted Hoom, a non-profit organization which provides advice on sustainability measures for homes. They send an expert to inspect your home and determine which improvements can be made. This is free of charge, they only charge a small fee for the rest of the process. This starts when you actually want to proceed with making the improvements and ask them to gather and advise you on bids from construction companies. Afterwards they also evaluate the results of the improvement measures.

In November 2016 I had made an appointment with their expert to inspect our house. He was a nice and knowledgeable man who was honest in his advice: I shouldn’t do anything because I wasn’t going to break even on any of the measures I could take. To make our home seriously sustainable, the recipe would be underfloor heating at low temperatures, which in turn requires good insulation. Solar panels on our roof would reduce the electricity bill and a heat pump could replace gas used for heating.

Underfloor heating would require breaking up the floor, a costly measure. The insulation is still decent for a home from the 1980’s, further improvements would have a minor effect but cost lots of money. We couldn’t inspect the insulation of the floor because I couldn’t (and still can’t) locate an entrance to the crawl space. We can’t have solar panels placed on the sunniest southern half of our roof because the large flat roof dormer there can’t carry weight. The remaining free space there just isn’t enough to accomodate a decent surface area of solar panels. And a heat pump is still very expensive and possibly not sufficient to abandon gas completely.

After evaluating our electricity and gas bills I concluded that, even with our relatively inefficient air heating system, we don’t use much gas for our house type (a house at the corner of the block). No more than 1000 m3 compared to 1570 on average. Surprisingly it’s the other way around for electricity, more than 3600 kWh compared to 2930 on average. I don’t have the idea we use devices demanding much electricity often though and most of our lighting uses LED’s.

Sustainability is an ideal for me. I’d also appreciate the comfort of underfloor heating very much, because the air heating system does a very poor job at heating our attic in the winter. However, I’m also motivated financially and don’t want to spend a large percentage of my modest savings. I’ve heeded the advice of the expert and won’t perform any home improvements for now. I’ll focus on figuring out how we can reduce our electricity consumption, that would definitely be the low-hanging fruit now. At the same time, it’s disappointing that I can’t take serious measures. I’ll probably ask Hoom or another organization for a new opinion in a few years.

2 thoughts on “Making our home more sustainable proved too costly for now”

  1. It is more sustainable to build your own home the right way. My husband and I live in India where the temperature goes to about 35- 40 degree celsius and humidity is extreme. We built the perfect house for our summers with sustainable materials like bamboo, thatch roof and mud walls. We cannot regulate humidity, so what we bank on is the wind blowing in from the south constantly (hence we have a south facing house with deep verandahs). So far, we never had to use AC, and we are never having one! So unless you are making your home from scratch, there is not much you can do to make a considerable impact in terms of sustainability. All the more reason to invest in communities that push for the move towards building vernacular houses.

  2. That’s an interesting story Rupsa. My respect for avoiding the use of AC in India’s much hotter climate and the smart home construction. In the Netherlands we had a relatively hot summer with a heat wave, but even then the maximum temperature barely exceeded 35 degrees and there was no high humidity. Even so, most people in the Netherlands don’t have any tolerance for high heat and started a run on AC-units. It was hot for me as well in my attic, where I work the whole day. It doesn’t have any protection against the sun except for a flimsy curtain. Even so, I think AC-units are a silly waste of energy in our country, so I just acquiesced with it and took the sweating for granted.

    Regarding options to make a house more sustainable, I think the key difference between India and the Netherlands is that over here non-sustainable homes require a lot of energy (gas) to keep warm during the winter. Even existing houses can be made significantly more sustainable, especially better insulation and underfloor heating can contribute a lot. But just like back in 2017 when I wrote this the costs for this are a barrier. That’s why we are now more focused on looking for a more modern home with lower energy costs (or one which can be more easily renovated to be very sustainable) than considering a renovation of a current home.

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