The world's largest offshore wind farm recently opened off the Kent coast - an example of energy-efficiency on a large scale. If you want to do your bit to contribute to a greener world, here are 10 things you could do to your home abroad...
Using wind to generate electricity suits “off-grid” homes, ie those that are not connected to a national grid, and homes that are connected to a grid. In the former, they are often combined with other energy sources, such as solar panels, to ensure the home has enough power; any excess power can be stored in batteries. In the latter, the property may use wind power simply to reduce electricity bills, but if any excess power is produced this can usually be sold back to the grid. Note, turbines require a large plot and prevailing winds, and can be unsightly.
Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels
Like wind, the sun's energy can be converted into electricity using solar PV panels. These can be used in the same way as wind turbines – ie for off-grid homes or connected homes – but are not limited so much by space. And while PV panels require sunshine – which is in abundance in most of the countries featured in this magazine – they are still effective in cloudy conditions. These days PV panels come in a variety of designs, from grey “tiles” that look like roof tiles to transparent cells that you can use on glass.
Solar thermal panels
Thermal panels use the sun's energy to heat up water, rather than convert it to electricity. You'll often see these stand-alone units on the flat roofs of homes in hot countries. In fact, since 2008 any new or refurbished property in Spain is required by law to be equipped with either solar panels or air source systems to provide up to 70 per cent of the home's hot water. Thanks to clever heat exchanger and storage technology, solar panels can offer unlimited hot water day and night, even when it's cloudy.
Air source heat pumps
Air source heat pumps offer an alternative to solar panels for hot water, but can also be used for heating (often underfloor) and cooling (instead of air con). They work like a fridge, just in reverse: from the surrounding air, they extract wasted air and convert it using a compressor, heat exchanger and fan into heat for heating and hot water – this process is fully reversible so can be used for cooling. Units require only a small amount of power and can deliver up to 4.4 times the energy they consume.
Capturing and storing rainwater can reduce a household's water consumption by up to 50 per cent. Harvested rainwater cannot be used for everything but is suitable for toilets, washing machines and outside taps. Water flows off your roof and through guttering in the usual way and enters an underground tank via a filter. Tanks should include a submersible pump – to feed outlets around the home – and a mains water top-up facility – to ensure a constant water supply when rainwater levels are low.
Grey water recycling
Defined as being water from baths, showers and washbasins, grey water can be collected and treated for reusing in toilets, washing machines and outside taps. Systems that allows you to do this collect grey water in reservoirs. The water is processed biologically, when bacteria decompose organic substances, and then passed through a submerged membrane filter. The cleaned water is stored in a service water reservoir until needed. Also, look into connecting your grey water system to your rainwater harvesting system.
Double glazing salesmen might have made a name for themselves but you can't deny the value of their products. Adding to the insulation benefits, double glazed windows often have a UV coating, which can be customised to your climate, either maximising the warmth of the sun, or, if you're somewhere hot, reflecting the heat. Even much of the Med gets chilly in winter, especially inland, and expats living there will tell you that central heating is advisable. To save on your heating bills, update your wall and ceiling insulation and at night draw curtains to contain the heat.
Get your own well
It's not uncommon for isolated, rural properties on the Continent, and further afield, to have household water supplied by their own well, having no connection to mains water. Even if you are on mains water, it's possible to get your own well, or borehole, drilled. Companies that offer this service will work out the optimum site for a well, drill the borehole, install a pump and then take samples of the water and test its purity. Usually, you don't need a licence for a borehole so long as your daily usage doesn't exceed a certain amount, but this can vary by area.
Start by installing energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. These fit into standard sockets and have a longer life and better energy efficiency than the old incandescent bulbs. Changing just three light bulbs to compact fluorescent could save around €44 (£38). When you come to choose electrical appliances for your overseas home, only buy ones with a high energy efficiency rating. By EU law, most white goods must have an EU energy label, from A to G, with A being the most efficient and G the least.
Your swimming pool
To get maximum usage out of your pool, you'll need to have it heated during the cooler months, even abroad. One of the most efficient ways to heat your pool is with an air source heat pump, combined with a suitable cover – this way, up to 85 per cent of the energy used to heat the pool comes from fresh air. A good cover makes a difference as it will not only reduce evaporation – by up to 97 per cent – but it will limit heat loss. If want to get really close to nature, you could opt for a natural pool that uses no chemicals and very few manmade materials.