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Property - Making Your House More Sustainable

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

This week we are showing you how to make your existing house more sustainable and thus more energy efficient.

Liz O'Kane - Property Expert

Liz is best known to viewers since 2004 as the enthusiastic, energetic expert and presenter on RTE's, House Hunters and House Hunters in the Sun series, where she lends her advice and expertise to property hunting participants. 

This is Liz's second season as the property pundit for The Afternoon Show, where her main challenge is to find property gem's and bargains around Ireland as well as commenting on the current market.

Liz has also written a weekly property column for The Evening Herald as well as submitting regularly to other publications including the House Hunters in the Sun magazine.  She is also a regular commentator on radio and press and is known for her 'matter of fact' attitude and uncomplicated manner of explaining things.

Liz runs her home finding business is married to Rory an architect and has two children, Rossa aged 8 and Ellie aged 5 and a half.    

The response to our piece on sustainable housing was phenomenal so we've decided to elaborate on it this week.

Sustainable Property Examples

As you know Sustainable Energy Ireland has a brief of pursuing technologies and methodologies for conserving energy.

One small part of that is the 'House of Tomorrow' program that aims to encourage builders and buyers to opt for energy efficient construction methods and lifestyles. 

To acheive 'House of Tomorrow' designation there is a list of initiatives to choose from (see the website for details). 

Derry Gaurry's developer (PJ McHale) fulfilled the requirement with:


Achievement of a BER (Building Energy Rating) of B1 or better.

Use of insulation at least 20% better than standard building regulations.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions to below 70% of the required standards.

The use of energy efficient lighting (elimination of incandescent only sockets)

Solar water heating.

Internal heating with a heat pump system (like a giant fridge run in reverse)

Zoned heating controls.

All stages of construction are overseen by an independent consultant to ensure compliance with these requirements.

Designation was achieved about a month ago. They have used it freely in their marketing and have certainly seen a surge of interest.


Prices for 3 to 4 bedroom houses range from €265,000 to €330,000


Mandalay Developments Limited are a rarity in Ireland where they commission Okohaus to build sustainable homes for their private clients and for sale to the general public.
Great care goes into the design and planning of these houses and their specification includes high performance windows and doors installed in the component walls in the factory in Austria and low energy heating systems.
Despite the extra costs associated with this level of care and attention to sustainability in the build quality the developer feels that his customers are willing to recognise the quality and pay that little bit more.

Information on OKOHAUS

Okohaus is Ireland's premier building systems company. Our website at shows our wide range of completed stunning private homes and commercial buildings. Okohaus is an Irish owned and managed company.

Okohaus is Ireland's only full service off-site timber frame construction company in the premier market. We are proud to have built some of Ireland's most beautiful homes. We use the finest materials and pre-construct all components in our Austrian factory to ensure the highest quality structures. Okohaus constructs A rated sustainable homes to order. Our clients are very particular about quality and sustainability of their construction.

Building costs vary but a highly specified house can cost anything from €180 per square foot to €300 per square foot.

Ground source heat pumps are extensively used by Okohaus and 9 out of 10 clients have opted for this solution after examining all the qualities and advantages of the system.

Basically, the system gathers heat from deep within the ground usually up to 100 meters down which is drilled using two ground boring drills.

The system generates heats by extracting thermal energy from deep in the earth and pumping it to a compressor system which increases the energy output by a ratio of 1 to 3 creating the heat required to use the house.

Simply put, for every cent invested 2 cents are gained. This technology is proven as viable and is becoming widely popular.
The majority of us do not live in a sustainable home and even if we would like to that's not going to be possible for most of us. 

Lets look at some really easy heating and insulation tips that you can achieve in your home. . .

. Remember that electric heaters other than storage heaters consume electricity at the most expensive charge rates
. So, choose heaters with thermostat controls and timers
. Proper control and regular maintenance of your heating system can reduce fuel consumption by 10-20%
. 20oC is the ideal room temperature and it's 18oC for bedrooms. Now, if you turn down thermostats by even 1oC you can reduce your annual heating energy consumption by 10% with the same reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Heat loss:
. Open fireplaces although gorgeous are wasteful of energy with more than 70% of energy going up the chimney
. If your radiator is mounted below the window put a shelf on top of it to direct the heat into the room and not out the window!
. Keep the doors closed!

Hot water heating:
. Use the timer with your immersion heaters, this should supply you with all the hot water you need
. Heating hot water accounts for 64% of energy consumption in the home.  Be thrifty!
. 90% of the energy consumption of washing machines goes on heating water! So, wash clothes whenever possible in cold or cool water.

. Most of the heat loss in the home occurs through the windows and attic.
. You can put a reflective foil, backed by insulation behind your rads (if space permits) to keep heat in and not going out the windows!
. If your replacing a hot water cylinder, a cylinder with factory applied insulation should be considered.  This insulation is much better at retaining heat than a lagging jacket, is much more durable and can't be pulled out of place.

Well they're the quick and effective, simple methods. What about more sophisticated methods of adapting your home to a more sustainable environment?

Last week we mentioned solar panels and wood pellet burning stoves.  This week there's several more products worthy of a mention.

. Geothermal heat pumps are used for heating spaces and cooling spaces as well as water heating. The operate on the fact that the earth beneath them remains at a constant temperature throughout the year, and that the ground acts as a heat source in winter and a heat sink in summer.

. Geothermal heat pumps take advantage of this by transferring heat that's stored in the earth or ground water to heat buildings in the winter and cool them in the summer time.

. In winter the heat pump removes the heat from the ground or fluid and upgrades it to a higher temperature for use in the building.

. A distribution system is needed in the form of piping to transfer the heat extracted from the ground.

. Generally this heat is in the form of hot water and is distributed via radiators or low temperature under floor heating system.

. The life expectancy of the geothermal heat pump is around 20 years and once it's installed it requires little or no maintenance.

. It is however usually higher in cost than other conventional heating systems.  But there are grants available and the system is among the most energy efficient and cost effective heating and cooling system available.

What about wood fuel?

. Using wood fuel to heat our homes instead of peat and coal is a sustainable choice and makes a positive contribution to the environment.

. Wood is CO2 neutral, it absorbs as much CO2 when it grows as it releases when it burns.

. In comparison, burning fossil fuels releases the global warming gas carbon dioxide as well as other damaging pollutants.

. Wood fuel takes just 5 - 20 years to grow, whereas peat and coal were formed over thousands of years.

If someone really wanted to build their own sustainable what should they be looking into?

According to Liz they should really look into passive solar design which is:

Design that uses the energy freely available from the sun to provide heating and lighting in buildings. 

Just by facing a house south to capture maximum sunlight, energy bills can be reduced by 10%.

With additional measures these savings can be trebled!

There are also passive ventilation and cooling techniques i.e. completely natural options which are an extension of passive solar design and they help to eliminate the requirement for wasteful artificial and cooling.

Is there an organisation who can help or give advice to anyone who is considering adapting their home to more sustainable methods?

Yes, there is an energy consultancy company who specialise in providing energy advice to the residential market for both new and existing properties.

. They are called the The National Energy Assessors

. They are 100% independent and are not associated with any energy efficient products

. Therefore they give impartial advice on saving money and energy.

. They also have a locall number and it's 1890 793 793

. Web