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Designing a Carbon Neutral Home

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 12 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Carbon Neutral Carbon Footprint Carbon

As part of a renovation project you might well be considering making the home carbon neutral, or at least reducing the carbon footprint. How you go about this will depend on how committed you are to that cause.

Where & How Can Design Help Achieve a Carbon Neutral Home?

If you are committed to energy saving as a concept and trying to go 'off-grid' then you are likely to want to pull all the stops out with the eco-conscious design. If, on the other hand, you are driven more by the rising cost of power then you'll be looking at pay-back periods and whether each part of a carbon neutral design is worth the financial investment.

The majority of the carbon footprint of each person, or a house, comes from the use of energy so there are two fundamentals that will make a big impact on your journey toward carbon neutrality. They are to use less energy and to make your own power. Much of the energy we use is in keeping warm and heating up water, so if the design for a renovation project can take these two aspects into consideration, it will go a long way towards creating a carbon neutral home.

Reduce Demand on Heating Systems

The first step is to reduce the demand on the heating system by putting in as much insulation as you possibly can. Although current government guidelines for new build home insulation have been updated, you should be aiming to install at least double those guidelines. Selecting natural insulation products from renewable sources such as sheep's wool or recycled newspaper will help keep the carbon neutrality of the build itself to a minimum.

Cutting out drafts will help reduce the carbon footprint of a home enormously too. Make sure that any new windows you put in as part of the renovation project are doubled glazed, if not triple-glazed, and that doors are insulated and fit the frames properly.

Change Fundamentals as Part of a Renovation Project

Depending on the extent of your renovation project you might have the opportunity to change the layout of the house around to make less demand on the heating systems. Putting more or larger windows on south facing parts of the home will increase the available light so that you use less electricity for lighting. There'll have to be some calculations to make sure that the benefits outweigh the heat loss of the glass compared to that of solid walls to make sure this will be worthwhile.

This concept can be taken a step further if you have the room and the money, by having a stone or concrete mass behind a large expanse of glass, perhaps the floor of the gazed area. This will then heat up in the day by the light of the sun and release that heat slowly during the evening when it's required.

Power Generation for Carbon Neutral Homes

This brings us into the area of energy production. If you can produce the energy you require from renewable sources then your carbon neutral dreams should be realised. Electricity for light and powering devices can be generated by photo-voltaic cells on a roof or wall although to make the best use of it there will need to be a bank of specialist batteries to store the power made during the day for use in the evening or night.

The other approach to this is to remain connected to the grid and sell the excess electricity you make during the day back to the power companies and use their source when there's no light falling on your own solar panels. This will effectively be carbon neutral if you make more power than you consume on average throughout the year.

Wind Turbines and Multi-Fuel Burners

Wind turbines can be plugged into systems like this too and can make sense as the times when you tend to have high wind in the UK is usually during periods when light levels are lower, so the turbine should complement the solar panels.

In practice turbines only make sense as part of a carbon neutral design if you live in an area that naturally sees a lot of wind. If not, the turbine will have to be mounted on a massive tower to reach the higher wind speed that exist a fair way above roof level and the necessarily large blade size noise will create a lot of noise.

To heat water, and perhaps the house too, in winter, wood burning boilers can be used. They are carbon neutral because the carbon released by burning the fuel is offset by that produced by the wood when it was grown. A multi-fuel stove is the best option as you can use other fuel sources that you might come across or when there is an emergency. You can design these into a kitchen and use them for cooking too.

Consider Using a Carbon Trust

If you are unable to make your home carbon neutral as part of a renovation project then you could consider using a carbon trust. The idea is that by donating to a carbon trust they will plant trees and other plants that will produce the carbon necessary to offset the amount that you produce during your day to day living. Experts disagree as to how effective this is in reducing the overall effect of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere.

Government to Act on Carbon Neutral Homes

There are so many more options than these when designing a carbon neutral home so this article can only scratch the surface. As the government has now begun to talk about carbon neutral homes and non-domestic building be enforced by law then we may well see more help and information to help with carbon neutral design in the very near future.

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