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Why Buying an Eco Home is a Bit Like Juggling

A 2020 study found that 89% of prospective buyers are keen to opt for a planet-friendly home. Essentially, that means that as well as worrying about nightmare neighbours, Japanese knotweed, nesting bats, septic tanks and restrictive covenants, would-be homeowners are now also having to weigh up how green their prospective house purchase is.

For many people, considering the eco credentials of a possible purchase will include checking things like the energy performance certificate (EPC) rating, whether sufficient insulation is in place and whether solar panels have been installed. As these will all have an impact on your future energy use, they’re well worth checking out. (Though, please note that though your conveyancer will no doubt be thrilled for you and the fight against climate change if your new digs do indeed have solar panels, they will need to ask a lot of nit-picking questions about the installation and contract type to be sure all the legal ‘t’s and ‘i’s have been crossed and dotted).

If sustainability is important to you, there’s no need to stop there. Though the building industry as a whole has not been particularly quick to embrace sustainability, there are a growing number of developers building eco homes. These have various monikers, including ‘passivhauses’, ‘carbon neutral’ homes and ‘zero carbon’ homes. Whatever the name, these types of home are generally being built with environmental sustainability and efficiency in mind. For many, the zenith here would be a true carbon zero home that doesn’t contribute any additional CO2 or greenhouse gases into the environment. 

What are the benefits of a carbon neutral home?

If you’re seeking a carbon neutral home, you’re probably doing so for the large and fairly obvious benefit of it being The Right Thing to Do for the future of the planet. That being said, there are some additional, shall we say, ore personal benefits to buying a green home.

One of the major personal benefits here would be that eco homes can be delightfully inexpensive to run. 60% of residents in one of the earliest passivhaus developments in Exeter have found their homes so efficient that they’ve never had to turn on their heating, and some of them have lived there for more than 12 years!

If you’re buying an eco home, you may also be able to benefit from a ‘green mortgage’ scheme. The idea of green mortgages is that you would be rewarded for your home’s environmental credentials with preferential interest rates or other benefits, though with the current financial uncertainty it’s not clear whether a green mortgage would actually do you much good.

Are there any downsides to buying a carbon neutral home?

Again, let’s preface this with an acknowledgement that any so-called ‘downsides’ of buying a carbon neutral home would absolutely pale in comparison to the downsides of, you know, climate change.

Still! We like to try and see everything from all sides, and therefore think it’s only fair to point out that until eco building practices become the norm, green homes are going to be more expensive to buy than standard new builds. (It is worth keeping in mind, though, that all new housing developers have to designate a percentage of new builds as affordable homes, including eco builds). They’re also far less readily available, which means you may have to compromise on location as well as on budget. Finally, you’ll likely have to buy your eco home ‘off plan’, which can mean you’ll have to wait longer than you’d like before you can move in and get the (low energy) kettle on.

Of course, you may also find that you become rather too familiar with your conveyancing solicitor during the process of buying an eco home, as the extra building control and planning hoops that need to be jumped through will no doubt add another month or six weeks to the process. Though if your conveyancing solicitor is as nice as us (ahem), you might be only too pleased to stretch out your time together.

Can you retrofit a house to make it carbon neutral?

If you want to do your bit for the environment without buying a designated eco home (or indeed, perhaps without even having to move house) you might be wondering whether it’s possible to adapt any house to make it carbon neutral. Not to stamp on anyone’s dreams here… but the short answer to this is probably no. The majority of the homes we live in today were not built with this kind of sustainability in mind, and retrofitting a home to be completely carbon neutral would likely be prohibitively expensive.

However, this doesn’t mean you couldn’t take steps to make a non-green home much more carbon-friendly. Changes such as:

  • Updating to double or triple glazing
  • Insulating walls and floors
  • Switching to energy efficient lighting
  • Installing solar panels
  • Upgrading to a more efficient heating or heat pump recovery system

could have a really big impact, especially when you add them all together. You may even be able to make use of  government grants such as the boiler upgrade scheme or an insulation grant from your energy supplier.

Is there anything else you need to know?

There’s always a lot to think about when buying a house, but if you’ve set out with the aim of buying a planet-friendly one, you’re likely to have to keep a few extra juggling balls in the air. Though we don’t suppose that part will be much fun: once you’re finally settled in your carbon zero home, enjoying more sustainable living (and probably enjoying serious savings on your heating bills) will you really remember a few extra months’ wait or a few extra building control hoops?!

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the government do appear to be slowly closing in on net zero strategies, which is driving changes in the building industry. It’s reasonable to expect that carbon neutral building practices will become more the norm in the future, so why not start leading the charge now?

If you’d like to chat about buying an eco-friendly home, conveyancing juggling balls or the ups and downs of solar panel contracts, you know where to find us. As always, you can rely on us to ensure all the legal ‘t’s and ‘i’s are crossed and dotted.

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