Is the Future Green?
It’s one of those questions which sorts the glass-half-full people from the glass-half-empty types. Optimists point to things like the continuing worldwide fall in the real cost of generating green energy, especially solar and wind, along with worldwide record levels of green energy production and installation. Pessimists will look at recent drops in green investment and subsidies in many places, including the UK.
But however fast or slowly it grows, green technology is out there and it might affect the things that matter to you. For example, around 10% of the UK’s new homes are currently of timber frame construction rather than more traditional brick and blockwork construction. This non-standard construction methods can be greener than traditional building methods.
Not only can well-insulated timber-framed building be more thermally efficient than a traditionally constructed one, but the trees used for structural timber will lock away carbon dioxide away in their wood and for every tree that is felled, another can be planted. Not only does wood store carbon dioxide, but turning trees into a house requires less energy, compared with other industrial materials which take energy to create in the first place and more time and energy to assemble and leave more unusable waste – with timber processing, even the left-over sawdust can find a use in chipboard or paper.
But, like anything that’s non-standard, a timber-framed home can raise questions, especially with insurers. What about the fire risk? What about damp, rot, and physical security against break-ins?
The answers aren’t as black and white as you might think. A properly constructed timber-framed could be no more of a fire risk than its brick and blockwork equivalent and plenty of well-built timber framed buildings have already stood for hundreds of years. Just because non-standard construction raises questions doesn’t mean that there aren’t insurers willing to look past the preconceptions about “non-standard” construction, ask the right questions and provide cover at the right price. Finding the right cover may not always be straightforward, but your insurance advisor should be able to help you find the right cover for your timber-framed home.
It’s not just timber frames – eco-homes can be non-standard in any number of ways, from unusual construction materials, or solar panels, to growing green roofs. But even when your house isn’t a standard box that fits into an insurer’s standard cover box, cover at a reasonable price is usually out there – if you talk to a professional who knows where to look.
As well as green homes, there’s green transport. But, surprise, surprise, going green isn’t black and white, either. We’re seeing ever more hybrid and electric vehicles on the road, but on the other hand, it’s not long since fuel efficient diesels were being held up as our green future, before being called into question over such issues as faked emission readings to health worries over particulates, while people still argue over how long it takes a new eco-mobile to starts helping, rather than harming the environment, given that any new vehicle comes front-loaded with the carbon footprint left over from manufacturing the thing in the first place
The insurance market hasn’t quite caught up with green impact of transport yet, although some insures have experimented with policies which offset a percentage of a vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions by investing in green projects, or trying, where possible, to recycle or reuse parts, rather than replacing when a car goes in for an accident repair.
But there are indirect ways where insurers and policyholders can make driving greener. Telematics – putting a black box in a vehicle to record whether you’re driving safely, with the incentive of lower premiums – can be green. The insurer’s black box is measuring the ABCS of driving – Acceleration, Braking, Cornering and average Speed. The main reason for recording this sort of information is safety, but all these factors also affect a vehicle’s emissions, so a safer driver can be a greener driver.
Drivers with limited mileage have lower emissions, too. If your mileage and emissions are miserly, don’t forget to tell your insurer, or you might be paying a higher premium for journeys you never made.
You can also be green with your money with eco-investment. There are now a number of funds in the UK which invest in environmentally friendly goods or services, in such sectors as renewable energy production and storage, energy conservation and recycling.
Finally, you might find yourself going just a little bit green with your next insurance policy renewal – the trend towards online policy documents shows no sign of stopping and every year that’s quite a pile of paper that isn’t being printed and sent out, ready to be binned in a year’s time when it’s time to renew or replace your cover.