HOME improvements can add thousands of pounds to the value of your property, and when done effectively they can also reduce your monthly energy bills considerably.
Over the past five years, UK homeowners have spent a whopping £41billion on smartening up their pads in a variety of ways, spending an average of £1,875 per household, according to research by NAEA Propertymark.
And although government grants have been cut in recent years, there are still a number of ways in which you can get financial support to improve your home.
The Green Deal scheme, originally run by the government, is now managed by private investors who offer loans for a range of improvements, including boilers, insulation and renewable heating systems. The aim of the initiative is to make homes more energy-efficient.
The loan is simple to repay because the instalments are automatically added to your electricity bill each month, and the loan terms are longer than normal consumer credit, making it more affordable.
The loan remains with the property, rather than the person. If you move out, it switches across to the new electricity bill-payer, so you have to be upfront about it and it is worth considering that it may discourage someone from buying your home.
Make sure you use a Green Deal Provider endorsed by the government, such as the Green Deal Finance Company.
Free boilers and insulation
Heating bills account for around 60 per cent of energy spending, according to the Energy Saving Trust, so an efficient boiler makes a big difference. Depending on your boiler’s age, a new efficient one could save you up to £300 a year.
Under the Energy Company Obligations scheme, eligible customers can apply for thousands of pounds-worth of energy-efficiency improvements, including replacement boilers and loft and cavity wall insulation. Freebies tend to be for consumers who get tax credits, receive benefits such as income support or pension credit, and have an income of £16,190 or less. If your boiler is efficient but broken, you apply to have it repaired rather than replaced.
Not all suppliers offer totally free replacements. Some provide subsidies and discounts instead, and there may be an extra cost if an engineer needs to carry out extra work, such as fitting additional pipework.
To find out if you are eligible, call an energy provider and ask for a free assessment. You can usually pick any company offering a deal and don’t necessarily have to be their customer. Alternatively, contact the Energy Saving Trust to see if you qualify.
Free loft and cavity wall insulation is easier to come by, and even if you are not eligible for a 100 per cent grant you’ll probably only have to pay a tiny amount for the work, often less than £30. It’s a better idea to get this done professionally than tackle it yourself.
The government have set strict efficiency targets for energy suppliers, so many of the big companies are offering free work. For example, British Gas offers free insulation worth up to £1,000 per household. Ricky Swann of Heat Insulation Ltd says: ‘The vast majority of loft insulation jobs can be paid for by a government grant, but people who go down the DIY route will often purchase the material themselves, as they do not know the grant exists. In cases where someone has undertaken a DIY job and then got damp, all the loft insulation will more than likely need replacing, which would be a minimum of around £350, depending on the extent of the damage.’
So-lar, so good: Solar panels can save you money and earn you extra cash
Homeowners can get money towards the costs of renewable heating, such as biomass boilers, solar water heating and heat pumps, via the Domestic Renewable Heat Initiative.
If you switch to an eligible energy source that helps reduce carbon emissions, the government will pay you quarterly for seven years based on the amount of renewable heat created.
Thinking of buying a hybrid or electric vehicle? There’s a £500 grant towards the installation of a home electric vehicle charge point through the OLEV Homecharge scheme. This can reduce the cost of a charge point by around two thirds.
Installing solar panels is a great way to save money and make money tax-free. Installation costs between £4,000 and £6,000 to cover 21 sq m of roof space, but you can save around £800 a year, meaning the average family can recoup their costs in around seven years.
The other advantage to solar panels, and also wind turbines, is that under the Feed-in Tariff Scheme you receive a certain amount of money for each unit of energy produced and for extra electricity sold back to the grid.
Home repair and maintenance help
If you are elderly, disabled or on a low income, your local Home Improvement Agency may help you to repair, improve, maintain or adapt your home.
There are around 200 of these agencies across the country. They offer help finding reliable local builders and contractors and if you can get financial assistance to make your home more energy-efficient.
If you are a landlord, you may be eligible for a grant or interest-free loan from your local council housing team. Schemes vary across the country, but in some areas include the empty home grant of up to £20,000 towards essential works, such as roofing, heating installation and electrical rewiring. This will enable your house to reach a suitable standard to be rented, but there are conditions on completion, such as it must be leased through a particular housing association or letting scheme for a period of time.
Free smart meters and fire alarms
Every home is entitled to a free smart meter and your energy supplier will fit one between now and 2020 at no extra cost. The benefit of a smart meter is that it takes accurate readings and sends them directly to your provider, rather than bills being estimated. The display allows you to see how much energy you are using in near real time. Contact your energy supplier directly to see if they can fit one now.
And if you want to protect your home from fire risk, ask your local fire station if they offer a free home assessment. You can plan what to do if a fire starts in your home, and usually be given a free smoke alarm if you don’t already have one. The scheme is open to anyone, but is aimed at the elderly, families with young children or homes with a high fire risk. You can find out what your local fire brigade offers on the Chief Fire Officers Association website.
If you find yourself in bill arrears or in a crisis situation and in need of white goods, there are a range of grants available.
Some energy-providers offer grants to help cover arrears and assistance payments to contribute towards white goods, boiler repairs or funeral costs. EDF Energy Trust awards millions of pounds of grants to vulnerable families each year to clear domestic gas and electricity debts and buy essential energy-efficient household items.
National charity Turn2Us provide financial support to help people get back on track, including hardship grants. Their website has a database of £200million worth of UK grants. Their response fund supports those impacted by life-changing events, such as the Grenfell Tower fire.