Energy efficiency can begin at home

Attaching a wind turbine to your house is no easy undertaking

Making your home energy-efficient has never been more talked about or popular. Throughout the UK an increasing number of companies are dealing in energy-saving schemes and equipment designed for the home.

Domestic wind turbines are not new, but with people increasingly aware of the dangers posed by climate change, their popularity is growing - in B&Q you can now buy a wind turbine for £1,498.

In 2006, home-generated wind power received a welcome PR boost from David Cameron. Eager to establish his green credentials, Cameron gave his Notting Hill family home in West London a complete overhaul designed to minimise its carbon footprint. In addition to rooftop solar panels, Cameron installed a wind turbine on the side of his house.

The neighbours immediately objected on the basis that it was an eyesore and Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council promptly ordered that the wind turbine be removed because it said there had been a breach of planning permission: it was attached to a wall rather than the chimney stack specified in the plans. There is currently no turbine on Cameron's house.

The possibility of falling foul of the planning authorities need not put you off. Wind turbines could become the ultimate home owner's accessory: a bold statement of your commitment to saving the planet.

For those thinking of making changes to their homes, such as buying a wind turbine, there are four factors to consider.

First, there is wind speed. Ensuring that your home is in a high wind-speed area is essential for a wind turbine to produce enough electricity. The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) website can check your location for wind speed.

Second, reducing your carbon footprint is not a cheap option. Cameron is believed to have spent £150,000 on the environmental makeover of his home, although the wind turbine accounted for just a fraction of that. A D400 Stealthgen turbine costs £900.

One way of reducing the cost of minimising your carbon footprint is to apply for a grant through the government's Low Carbon Buildings Programme, managed by the Energy Saving Trust. The grant could cover as much as 30 per cent of your costs. So far more than 1,370 applications have been approved. However, the D400 Stealthgen, ideal for urban areas, is too small to qualify.

Third, there is planning permission. Companies selling wind turbines all recommend that you check whether you will need planning permission. If you do it will cost at least an additional £135.

There are government proposals to loosen planning regulations for wind turbines by October 2007. In the meantime David Cameron is still waiting to hear whether the council will allow his turbine to go back up again.

Under current restrictions, aesthetics can prove a major obstacle. The opinion of your neighbours will be paramount in deciding whether or not planning permission is granted.

Fourth, you must consider the return on your investment. Will you make back through energy savings the money you have spent buying and installing a wind turbine? According to Colin Barden, director of Eclectic Energy, the makers of the D400 Stealthgen, the turbine is likely to produce about 660 kilowatt hours (KWh) of energy per year. The average British household uses 3,300 KWh a year.

Before you even think about punching your post code into the BWEA search engine, you should do a home energy check. There are probably other ways in which you can reduce your energy consumption. There is no point in spending £900 on a wind turbine if your home has holes in the walls and poor insulation.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, 26 per cent of heat-loss from a home can occur through an uninsulated roof. Some companies selling wind turbines, such as Proven Energy Ltd, will carry out a home energy check free of charge.

Turbine websites:

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The Brown revolution begins