Disconnect the gas!

One woman’s experience of getting the gas disconnected #GasFree.

In April 2021, I moved into a very normal house. Gas central heating, double glazing and stripey lawns. I was 63, and on my own. I planned to “eco-up” the house.


With energy prices rising and a new £5k government grant announced, more of us are starting to think about shifting to renewables or getting a heat pump – than ever before. In this blog from self-described “little old lady” and local resident Ro Rodgers, you can hear how she “eco-ed” up her house, with solar panels and a heat pump, and finally disconnected the gas! 


Smaller Lifestyle Changes too

I was downsizing, and fortunately that gave me some spare cash.  So, there have been some big-ticket investments aimed at getting the gas disconnected and installing solar panels and the heat pump, BUT ALSO many much smaller lifestyle changes like…

  • turning things off
  • getting up with the sun
  • buying very little other than food
  • never driving anywhere that I can walk

Big-Ticket items like getting the gas disconnected

This blog is about the big-ticket items and, oh my goodness, did I pick the right time to do this given what has happened with gas prices!  Before I moved in, I started to investigate solar panels and heat pumps. I was working out how I could eventually disconnect the gas and go gas-free! Much of my information came from the St Albans Sustainability Festival in 2021, but of course Google helped too!

Getting Solar Panels Fitted

The panels were easy. I got a really good quote via Solar Streets – which they did from Google Maps and a few photos I took within the house. I am lucky to have a large south facing roof now, but on my previous house I had panels on that were east and west facing. The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity. The solar panels came with an app so I could see how they were doing from my laptop.

“The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity”

The only issue I encountered was with my electricity supplier. because you need to have a 2nd Generation Smart ter if you want to get paid. I had a first-generation meter, and my supplier would not even put anyone on the waiting list for a 2nd generation meter if they had a 1st gen. This caused quite a delay to me getting paid because I had to swap energy suppliers and then go on their waiting list. 

Moral of the story

If you are thinking of getting solar panels, swap to Octopus and get a 2nd gen meter before you do anything else. [*This is a personal opinion of the author and not that of Sustainable St Albans! Ed]

Getting the Heat Pump Installed and Getting the Gas Disconnected

Disconnect the gas – and get the heat pump installed!

The heat pump followed. I had an air source heat pump installed… (there wasn’t room for a ground-source heat pump).  

It was more difficult finding a supplier because there weren’t so many options – but again the answer came from #SustFest.  I got a quote from Better Planet, who I originally spoke to at the sustainability market. 

The first thing everyone asks me is: “does it work and did you have the floors ripped up?”

Yes – the heat pump absolutely does work, and it uses the existing radiators.

So then the gas boiler was taken out and a unit was fitted outside, and that was the sum total of all the disruption. Now my heat pump unit is fitted on the outside wall of my house – but it could be anywhere outside – as long as it is away from a neighbour’s wall.

Getting used to the heat pump

I have found the heat pump more difficult to get used to than the panels. This is mainly because of the app that mine came with as it is one of those apps that decides for me what I want and doesn’t really want to let me decide for myself! It was more complicated than it should have been to get my set-up right. However, I now have a set-up that works, warms the house and the hot water beautifully, and does not munch its way through enormous amounts of electricity. 

£5k grants to get your boiler replaced

I now get quarterly payments from the government for having the heat pump, through the Renewable Heat Incentive, but I had to wait until I had lived in the house for 6 months to claim it. (The RHI no longer exists, but there is now a £5000 boiler replacement grant.)

“Once the pump was installed, I had the gas to the house disconnected.”

This proved to be remarkably easy with the supplier but a nightmare with the gas fitters. I had a real struggle getting gas fitters to understand that I no longer wanted gas in the house.

” The guy who eventually came removed my gas hob as requested but didn’t cap the gas to the house as he couldn’t believe that is what I wanted. We got there in the end.”

Final step was to get my induction hob fitted. I have to say, I love that!

Gas free living…

“I do not burn any fossil fuels”

So, now I am living in an all-electric house and generating a fair proportion of my own electricity even in the winter. I do not burn any fossil fuels. Now I have everything set up as I want, I hope to at least generate as much electricity as I use as an average across the year.

I’m moving on to eco-up the garden now!

Ro Rodgers


Links and resources:

Find our ‘Get some Solar’ resource page here, with all sorts of useful information.

To find installers:

Local Installers used by Ro:

Government £5k Boiler Upgrade Grantsee here for information


Solar Streets photos: installing solar panels. A Solar Streets spokesperson said:

“As electricity prices have surged even higher, (by at least 54% at the price cap increase from 1st April and likely more) the return on investment on solar panel systems is actually better than it has been since Solar Streets started 3 years ago.

The time it takes to break even has fallen -from around 11-12 years to 7-8 years – at current typical levels of pricing (based on Octopus Price of 38p/kWp versus their price 12 months ago of 16p/kWh). 

The headline price for the popular 10 panel system with a capacity of 3.7 kWp is now £4,810.  That system will save 0.75 tonnes of CO2 per year

What is ‘Passive’ about a Passive House?

Building and living in a Passive House -Why did we build a Passive House?

Approaching retirement, we lived in a lovely village far from the support services we might need as we age.  So, I searched, and found, a house for sale in an appropriate location and asked my husband to view it.  He went to the wrong house!  But he arrived home excited about demolishing it to build one to our own design.  Serendipity?


This blog about building and living in a Passive House, is written by Linda Shall, a volunteer with Sustainable St Albans. Linda lives in Harpenden with her husband and cats! Linda is also giving an online talk about her experience of the Passive House on 23 June – requires booking.


I recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science and learned that running a Passive House emits much less carbon dioxide than conventional ones.  We investigated this environmental sustainability claim…demolished the ‘wrong’ house…and built one of the earliest Passive Houses in Harpenden.  We moved in a whisper before Lockdown One! So, what is passive about a Passive House?

What is ‘passive’ about a Passive House?

A Passive House is one that becomes and remains warm enough for human comfort all year round, without using an ‘active’ space heating system that is likely powered by fossil fuel.  We have NO boiler, NO radiators. 

In essence, a Passive House captures the energy in sunLIGHT (not heat) entering through its windows, converts it to heat for circulation around the building; along with heat emitted by human and animal bodies, domestic appliances, computer equipment, hot water, cooked food etc…

What are the essential basics of a Passive House?

Passivhaus certified

They are –

  • insulate, insulate, insulate!
  • draught-free construction
  • high-performance windows and doors
  • mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

There are no prescribed building products to achieve Passive House standards.  Consequently, all Passive Houses do not look the same and are not built using the same materials. 

What matters is that the detailed performance requirements in the Passive House Planning Package are fulfilled to achieve the mandatory comfort, health and energy standards for certification by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany.  A straw house could be a certified Passive House if it meets the standards!


ONLINE TALK Building and living in a Passivehaus – One Harpenden resident’s real life experience

Thursday 23 June 8-9pm. ONLINE PLEASE REGISTER IN ADVANCE.

In this one-hour online meeting, you will hear from Harpenden resident Linda about her experience of building a new house to Passivehaus standards. Time for Q&A at the end.


Insulate, insulate, insulate!

For buidling and living in a Passive House, insulating the outside walls, roof space and beneath the ground floor is essential basic #1 for a reason.  Often, Passive House outside walls are 450-500mm thick compared to new conventional cavity wall thicknesses of 250-300mm.  Ours comprise several empty and filled cavities, waterproof membrane and myriad insulating materials, to prevent inside heat and outside cold from moving through the walls. 

Our house sits atop an underground c300mm thick polystyrene raft to prevent heat leaching into the ground.  ‘Whoa!  Plastic?’ But I contend this is where plastic is the best material, and lasting around 200 years is hardly ‘single-use’… 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the:

  • absence of warm/cold air leaking outside/inside the house
  • reduction in outside traffic noise penetration through thicker walls?

Draught-free construction for a Passive House

We applaud the heroic properties of ‘line of airtightness’ tape used throughout the house.  It hermetically seals joints between any two materials.  It is so much more than duct tape that dries out, cracks and bubbles over time.           

Other draught prevention solutions include no metal cold ‘bridges’ through outside walls eg nails, screws, brackets, ties, mesh etc.  Borrow Sustainable St Albans’ Thermal Imaging Camera to find them! 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • permanent absence of draughts
  • constantly warm temperature everywhere?

Passive House high-performance windows and doors

Passive House High performance windows

We are enthralled by the properties of Passive House windows and doors.  Although not a prescribed product, they help achieve Passive House standards more easily.   

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • high G-value triple-glazing that captures and keeps more solar energy than standard window glass
  • fine-tuneable hinge/locking systems to pull windows and frames closer together?

BUT… We do acknowledge the challenges presented by keyholes and cat-flaps!

Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery – MVHR

Passive House Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

In a conventionally-built house, internal air turns over between 6-15 times PER HOUR which means that it needs to be warmed 6-15 times PER HOUR for comfortable living.  Because of our superior insulation plus draught-free construction plus high-performance windows and doors our internal air naturally turns over only ONCE EVERY 3 HOURS. 

Consequently, we mechanically ventilate our house to keep the air fresh, dry and warm.  MVHR technology transfers 95% of the heat in stale, damp air extracted from bathrooms and kitchens and transfers it to fresh, filtered incoming air for circulation around the house by a low 35w/hr fan (saving ten times the amount of energy it uses). 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions of constantly fresh air that is warmed passively by sunlight and heat emitted during the normal running of the fridge, freezer, TV, hairdryer, computer, shower, humans and pets etc. 

So – does building and living in a Passive House live up to billing?

Ours does!  Building and living in a Passive House has set new sustainable standards for us. We have no draughty room corners, windows or doors; we set our preferred temperature per room – bedrooms cooler than living rooms; incoming air is filtered against air-borne pollutants; we suffer much less noise penetration from road and air traffic.

We prevent overheating in summer by shading windows using an array of external blinds, louvres, an awning and hit-and-miss cladding over smaller windows.

Of course in winter, heat is not created from sunlight inside the house when window blinds are closed, nor is it emitted from most domestic equipment when we are away from the building.  Consequently, when returning after a few days’ absence it takes the air a few hours to reach our preferred temperature.  It would take less time if our household comprised more people, as we resumed operating heat-emitting equipment around the house.  Because we could, during the build we installed a small air-pump for occasional use, which we have used a few times on these occasions.  We also installed under-floor heating for emergency use in the lounge, which we have NEVER used!   

Finally…the building cost of a Passive House

Yes, the capital cost per m2 is higher than for a conventional house.  Recent estimates state c7% depending…. this concentrated our minds on how many rooms we actually need.  We had 14 rooms, now we have 10; overall square meterage is down 18%.  We compensated for the extra capital cost by building a smaller house more suited to our lifestyle needs.

But we have slashed our carbon dioxide emissions by an extent we didn’t think possible. 

How we insulated our Victorian home

Insulation is a strange affair – lots of effort with nothing to show. Friends admire the kitchen clock, the lights, the flooring. ‘But you should see the insulation,’ I cry. ‘Just pause and you’ll feel it.’


This is Week 12 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This blog by local resident Judith Leary Joyce tells the tale of insulating their Victorian terrace.


I never thought the day would come, but finally we’re on the last leg of our home retrofit. (See Judith’s earlier blog about the project here. )

In terms of insulation, it took me a while to get my head round what was needed. Here is what I worked out (apologies to any experts reading this): we first had to stop the cold air coming in, and then make the place cosy. (Technical term!)

“We first had to stop the cold air coming in, and then make the place cosy.”

Stopping the draughts

Draughty homes make up 14% of UK emissions so this is serious stuff. Our house was no exception. Built in 1901, we had single brick walls, no cavity to fill, ill-fitting doors and windows – you name it, we had it. Just trying to catalogue it all bent my brain. 

Windows

Our Victorian sash windows with secondary glazing were in reasonable shape but draughty, so we refurbished with double-glazed units and held onto the secondary. Then we replaced our ordinary double glazing with Internorm triple-glazed windows and doors – I’ve been teased too much by my Swedish friends to consider anything else! I just love these windows and the feel they give to the place – especially the quiet – but we weren’t totally convinced by the installers, so we borrowed the Thermal Imaging camera from Sustainable St Albans and had a good look. Sure enough, we still had draughts at the junctions. It just needed one small adjustment by the makers and we were done. 

Using a thermal imaging camera to check for draughts
Using a thermal imaging camera to check for draughts. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Entrance

Our hall and front door are an eco-nightmare – it is essentially a conservatory with a draughty front door and letterbox. The best option was to seal it off with an external double-glazed door between the hall and rest of the house. The Crittall style looked great and kept the warmth in beautifully, but the lack of a ridge for the door to sit in meant there was still a draught. Fortunately, Aluco took on the challenge and now we are fully sealed.

Judith used an attractive Crittall door to seal off the porch. Photo: J Leary Joyce

Fireplace

And then there was the draughty old fireplace. It had to go, but dear heaven, that was a tough day! I can tell you that dust and soot from 1901 is dense, smelly and invasive. Walking through the room I couldn’t see a thing – we definitely should have moved out and lived with our daughter during this one! That left us with just one chimney, which we then filled up with insulation – thankfully, a lot less messy. 

“We had single brick walls, no cavity to fill, ill-fitting windows and doors – you name it.”

Draughts sorted, but how do we breath?

Leaky houses make for plenty of fresh air, that’s for sure. So what now? We needed fresh air to stop condensation and mould, but we didn’t have space to install a full Mechanical Ventilation Recovery System so we went for single room Heat Recovery Ventilators. As with much of this process, opinions differed: did we need one in each room or since we have a fair bit of open plan would one on each floor be enough? I’m definitely for the ‘belt and braces’ approach – I can’t bear the thought of having to start again – so we’ve gone for one in each room. Big bonus – helps get the washing dry.

Cosy house 

Cold draughts sorted, now we needed to retain the gentle warmth created by our Air Source Heat Pump. Just like zipping up a warm jacket to retain body heat, we needed to ‘duvet’ the floor, walls and roof to hold heat in. This is where concrete floors in newer houses struggle – it’s fine as draught-proofing, but it’s very cold and draws heat out of the room.

We could have used the conventional foil covered Celotex/Kingspan insulation. Product specifications show it works very well, more efficiently in fact than anything else for its thickness, but it’s made from petroleum products.  We really wanted to do our best by the Earth, so we took advice from Ecological Building Systems and used wood fibre Pavatherm and Isolayer in the floor and walls, and used sheep’s wool in the loft.

“We needed to ‘duvet’ the floor, walls and roof to hold the heat in.”

Insulating external walls

Our carpenter attached a wooded frame to the external walls, which was then filled-in with two layers of Pavatherm, and then Isolayer (eco plaster board) put on top. Thickness between 100mm and 160mm.

Insulating the external walls of a Victorian end of terrace home.
Insulating the external walls of a Victorian end of terrace home. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Insulating Floors 

Our floors now have 160 mm of Pavatherm between the joists, with the floorboards on top. Where we were installing underfloor heating, we replaced floorboards with Econna Board.  

We did the insulation under the floorboards ourselves. I say ‘we’, in fact my husband John did the bulk of it. He worked out a way of suspending a sling of waterproof breathable roofing membrane between the floor joists and filled it with a double layer of Pavaflex, 160 mm thick. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, we measured each gap, I sawed the ‘bat’ to size and we fitted them into place, plugging any small gaps with offcuts. As we progressed the rooms became quieter and ‘softer’. Finally we added Pro Clima Contega tape between the walls and the floor to cut off any last bits of escaping draught. It was so satisfying, knowing we were creating a warm, cosy room. Whoever thought insulation could be sexy! 

Insulating the floor of a Victorian end of terrace home.
Insulating the floor of a Victorian end of terrace home. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Lime plaster 

Natural fibres need to breath, so finishing the walls meant lime plaster and eco paint. Easier said than done, I’m afraid – turns out lime plasterers are a rare breed, especially when it comes to a ‘small’ job. The plaster goes on in layers, so there’s lots of coming and going before its ready to be painted. In our case, the kitchen installation was looming and no plasterer in sight. We finally struck lucky by tapping the network. Never mind being six steps from Obama; three steps from a plasterer was far more exciting! 

What about insulating the bay window?

We have a traditional Victorian bay window in the front room, so 100mm of Pavaflex was not doable. After hours of googling and asking questions, I found Diathonite, an insulating plaster that can vary in thickness to accommodate strange spaces. Turns out lime plasterers are the people to apply it – of course they are! Although we did discover late in the day that any standard plasterer could do it, if they’re willing to try something new.  

Using Diathonite to insulate the bay window of a Victorian end of terrace. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

A happy insulation ending

It’s finally finished and looking great. Yet again, despite all the hard work, nothing indicates that the wall is anything other than just plastered. But we’ll know – and together with the insulation under the floor we should finally have warm feet this winter!  

Favourite insulation memory? 

A mercy dash to pick up Pavaflex from a marooned delivery in Northampton. Plumbers were due the next day to lay down Econna Board so the dining room had to be finished. I arrived at the depot with 30 minutes to spare, cold and pretty fed up. But then the person behind the counter asked me where I’d parked my lorry. I felt 10 feet tall! It kept me going through the stormy drive home, our Nissan Leaf overflowing with Pavaflex and the late night of measuring and sawing. We did it in time and of course the plumber was a day late. But never mind all that – I looked like someone who might drive a lorry!

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use the inspiration of Judith’s story to choose the “Insulate Your Home” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog encouraging you to Wear Clothes to Last by Emily Southcombe.

How to dial down your home energy consumption

As we move towards winter, a sleeping giant begins to stir, ready to dominate our energy consumption – our space heating. The nights draw in, the air gets chilly and we reach for the thermostat. Yet, as we do, we should stop and think – the thermostat temperature we choose directly affects our personal energy consumption and carbon footprint. Do we really need to turn that dial up or could we Dial It Down?


This is Week 10 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week, Ian Yenney, Sustainability Consultant from AECOM’s St Albans office, outlines the benefits of Dialing it down: choosing a lower temperature on your thermostat.


‘Dialing down’ your heating thermostat is one of the 16 steps that “Count Us In” recommend as the most impactful at reducing your CO2 emissions. There are many other simple energy saving measures we can all take to reduce our home energy usage and COemissions and which may also save you money.

What is dialing it down?

Dialing it down is lowering the temperature of your home heating. Count Us In suggests turning down your thermostat by 1°C, although the more you can turn it down the more savings can be made. 

“The thermostat temperature we choose directly affects our personal energy consumption and carbon footprint.”

Why should we dial it down?

We all have different temperature preferences in our homes but the higher that we set our thermostat, the more energy that we use for space heating. The Energy Saving Trust reports that turning your heating thermostat down by 1°C could save you save 0.3 Tonnes of CO2 and £60 per year. Not only will the heating come on later in the season and less overall, but when it is running it will use less energy. Dialing it down saves you money and lowers your carbon footprint.

Dialing down your thermostat is very easy if you have heating controls, but may require some adjustments

Photo by he gong on Unsplash

What temperature should I dial it down to?

Everyone has a different perception of comfort so dialing down the thermostat will mean different things for different people. Have a discussion with your household about this, and compromise where necessary.

Your preference may be affected by your age and activity level and how draughty your home is. The NHS recommends that the internal temperature is at least 18°C if you’re not very mobile, are 65 or over, or have a health condition, but those not in this category could dial it down lower.

Wear warmer clothes indoors during winter: this should enable you to set your thermostat much lower and use less heating.  Wear slippers; keep a blanket or throw on the back of your sofa; have a hot drink even. It is not right to expect to wear only a short sleeved t-shirt in the house in January!

Aim for the lowest temperature at which you are still comfortable but do beware that at lower temperatures the relative humidity will increase, so you will need to ventilate your home to ensure you don’t end up with mould or damp issues. 

“Wear warmer clothes indoors during winter.”

Can I reduce my heating bills in any other ways?

As well as the temperature controls, also set the timing so that the heating is only on when and where you need it.

Having the heating on when it is not needed is a waste of energy. It is generally best to turn your heating off when there is no-one in your home for an extended period. Most people will not need to keep the heating on overnight; a warm duvet and / or extra blankets can help you stay warm through the night.

Zone your heating so that the temperature varies between different rooms and at different times depending on your needs. If you rarely use a room, dial down the heating in that room to low levels using your Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) or other controls.

If you work from home on your own, consider getting a small electric desk heater or room heater for the area you work in, and using this rather than heating the whole house. 

Photo: thermostatic radiator valve by Sustainable St Albans

What if I don’t have heating controls?

If you don’t have a thermostat, programmer and other heating controls, get them! The Energy Saving Trust suggests you can save £70 and 0.3 Tonnes of CO2 each year by installing and correctly using a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves. Ideally your heating controls should allow you to decide the temperature in different rooms at different times, so you don’t use heating energy that you don’t need. You may prefer to leave the management of your heating system to smart control systems which learn from your behaviour (e.g. Nest, Hive or various others available).

Dialing down your thermostat can play a key role in maximising the benefits of any renewable energy systems you have at home. When we use less energy at home, any renewable energy system that we install will supply a larger proportion of our energy usage. (Please note, however, that some low carbon heating systems such as heat pump may need you to keep the heating on for longer periods than you are used to with gas boilers so that they can work efficiently and effectively).

“Most people will not need to keep their heating on overnight.”

12 other home energy efficiency quick wins

  1. Limit window opening during winter to short times when necessary (e.g. after showering or when cooking). Remember, however, to ensure your home gets reasonable ventilation to remove humidity and odours. Window opening may not be needed at all during winter if you have sufficient ventilation from mechanical ventilation systems. 
  2. Reduce your hot water usage by having showers rather than baths and minimising your shower time. Reduce the shower time as far as you can whilst being comfortable and getting the job done. That way, you can save both water and also the energy needed to heat the water. Waterwise suggest using a shower timer or playing a short song so you can keep to the optimum shower time of 4 minutes.
  3. Update your hot water control settings if they need it; you may be able to reduce the amount of hot water generated by reducing the length of time it is set to come on, which may take some trial and error. 
  4. Turn off electrical devices and lights when not in use. Do so at the time e.g. when you stop using the device or when you leave a room. Standby modes still use electricity to keep devices running at low levels, which adds up when you leave all of your devices on. Why not put your main TV electricty plug on a timer switch?
  5. Run appliances with a full load, especially washing machines and dishwashers.
  6. Dry your clothes outside on a line rather than using a tumble dryer.
  7. Save water: fill your kettle or cooking pots and pans with the amount of water you need and no more.
  8. Use lids and turn down the hob heat when cooking using pots and pans.
  9. Consider using the microwave rather than the oven for cooking and reheating food when you can.
  10. Check energy efficient LED lightbulbs are installed in all your light fittings including lamps.
  11. Choose low energy appliances. When you are replacing your white goods (hopefully after the old ones have had a long life), check the energy label and buy the most efficient products of the type and size your need. There is a new A to G rating system which you can read about at Label 2020. The ratings are relative to the size of the unit, so a smaller unit with a lower rating may actually use less energy than a large unit with a higher rating.
  12. Read further guidance and tips for saving energy and water (which also has embedded energy) from Energy Saving Trust and Waterwise. Watch videos with energy saving tips published by the Telegraph featuring the Energy Saving Trust and B & Q.  
Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash
We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Ian’s tips on cutting your home heating energy to choose the “Dial it Down” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on Flying Less by James Blake.

Our New Solar Panels: A Real-Life Experience

I was delighted when we got the quote through from Solar Streets provider IDDEA. For less than the price of one annual season ticket into London we had the opportunity to install electricity-producing photovoltaic solar panels. These would simultaneously reduce our draw on the electricity network, reduce our monthly bills and make a small but valuable contribution to a local community solar scheme.


This is Week 6 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week, Will Tucker, Chair of the Council’s Climate Advisory Group, and Lib Dem Councillor for St Peter’s ward in St Albans, shares his experience of installing solar panels on his house using the Solar Streets St Albans scheme.


Like lots of families in St Albans, Harpenden, and the wider district, we are really worried about the climate emergency and the need for society to rapidly reduce our reliance on carbon-intensive energy production like dirty coal and gas. We think of ourselves as a reasonably green household: we’ve used Ecotricity as our energy supplier for years, we minimise use of our car, we eat a mostly plant-based diet and we’ve installed extra insulation in our loft cavities and on our external walls to keep us warmer and reduce our energy use. Many people nowadays aspire to being even greener and, for us, solar panels was the next step.

Solar Panels. Photo: Will Tucker

St Albans Solar Streets is a community solar project. St Albans District Council is working in partnership with the installer, IDDEA Ltd, to help homeowners and businesses access discounted solar panels. For every installation completed, a contribution is made to a community energy fund. This will be used for a community project in St Albans District. There are several other local solar installers too – look on the MCS Accredited suppliers list and search for St Albans. 

For us, the Solar Streets scheme gave us the confidence to install solar panels.

You might be in the same position as we were – unsure about various aspects of what it involves. So, let me deal with any worries you may have.

“For us, the Solar Streets scheme gave us the confidence to install solar panels.”

1. Will solar panels go on our house?

Like thousands of residents in and around St Albans, my wife and I live in a 100 year-old terraced house with a rear loft extension and Velux windows to the front. I was worried that there might not be space on the roof for solar panels, or that the roof structure might not be appropriate. I needn’t have worried – within a day of seeking a quote the company had worked out a draft layout using satellite images of the roof of the house and were ready to come and quote ‘for real’. The solar panels come in different sizes so they’ll find a solution which fits your home.

The need for new wiring was minimal in our house as there was a mains connection on the wall just below the solar panels. The electrician only took a few hours to install what was needed inside – a couple of power line cut-offs and an inverter which takes the Direct Current from the panels and converts it into Alternating Current for our use.

Inverter. Photo: Will Tucker

2. Do I need planning permission for solar panels?

This is an important consideration. Planning permission wasn’t necessary for us as we live outside the conservation area and the way the panels have been fitted meets the requirements for ‘permitted development’. Check out the Planning Portal, then St Albans District Council’s website to check for your property and speak to your solar panel installer too.

Whether you need planning permission or not, your installation will need to meet building regulation requirements. By working with a reputable supplier, such as IDDEA, you’ll ensure that building regulations are complied with and get the compliance certificate once installation is complete.

“The solar panels come in different sizes so they’ll find a solution that fits your home.”

3. Will solar panels be affordable?

Our total installed price was £3,175.75, which is a lot of money. However, we rationalised it by saying to ourselves that we’ve just had a year of working from home, so we haven’t had to pay for our daily travel into London which would usually be £3,712 each.

2020 was a tough year for so many residents and I appreciate that now won’t be the time for everyone to invest. But for those families in the area who have saved money on commuting, holidays and other expenditure over the last year, now might be just the time to invest in your home.

In terms of return, our calculations are that the panels will cover around two thirds of our usage. We hope to get back our spend on the solar panels via savings on our electricity bills within four or four and a half years – which is a pretty good pay-back period. On top of that, Ecotricity are working on an improved ‘export’ tariff and other suppliers already offer good rates for households who produce more electricity than they use. So we hope to take advantage of that as well.

4. Do solar panels need to face south?

It’s true that solar panels do produce maximum electricity when they face south. However, with ours facing East, we should still get most of the benefit: they should only produce around 20% less than if they faced south. For us, they were still well worth it. IDDEA has some nifty software which works out how much energy the panels will produce when they provide a quote.

5. Is it disruptive having solar panels fitted?

It wasn’t disruptive for us. Scaffolding was put up in front of the house in a morning, then over the course of a couple of winter days the solar panels and electrical connections were installed. We’ve had these installed during the Covid-19 pandemic and so we were a bit worried about having workmen in the house. However, the vast majority of the work was outside the house and the electrician who needed to come in was very attentive at keeping more than two meters away from us, wearing a mask and keeping the room he was in well ventilated.

If you think solar panels might be an option for you, get in touch with IDDEA for a quote via the Solar Streets page on Sustainable St Albans website. Mention Solar Streets when you contact them to ensure they contribute to the local St Albans District community solar project fund.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Will’s solar panel story to choose the “Get Some Solar” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on eating seasonally by Juliet Foxwell.