DAVE Butters was already a fan of renewable energy - solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps. But when he found that it would cost £8,500 for his newly-built house to be connected to the gas mains, the green, clean fuel option was a definite winner.

Dave, a self-employed builder, has now had a ground source heat pump fitted in his five bedroom home in Coundon, near Bishop Auckland, which heats enough water for his family, including wife, Vicky, and sons James, 17, Lez, 15 and Ethan, six. His plans for the future include fitting two solar panels and a wind turbine - in short, he hopes his home will become his own mini power station so he can say goodbye to energy bills.

"I've always been into energy efficiency but building the house has really given me the opportunity to get involved in it," he says. "At the end of the day, in 20, 30 or 40 years' time, people are going to be struggling to get energy. Plus, by doing this, it will still be a modern house in 20 years' time."

Loading article content

According to the environmental advice organisation, the Energy Saving Trust, renewable energy - energy which occurs naturally in the environment - is an issue which is on three quarters of peoples' minds. A recent survey released by the Trust said 74 per cent of people in the North-East were considering turning their homes into mini power stations capable of generating their own energy.

Says Steve Hunter, director of the North-East based Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre: "With climate change constantly in the news and energy prices rising steeply, public interest has never been so high.

'As our homes are responsible for more than a quarter of the UK's carbon dioxide emissions - the leading cause of climate change - it is extremely positive that people in the North-East are keen to reduce their homes' impact on the environment through energy efficient technologies."

The ground source heat pump is housed in the corner of Dave's garage. The system works by taking its heat from pipes which are buried under his driveway. The pump pushes a cold fluid, usually a mixture of water and anti-freeze, into the network of buried pipes. As the fluid enters the pipes, it gradually absorbs heat energy so that the fluid returns to the pump warmer than when it left. The pump then "upgrades" it to a higher level to provide heating.

Dave, 38, says he spent £18,000 on renewable technology at his home and sourced it from Revolution Power in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.

"I'm into renewable energy and when I found out how much the gas board wanted I thought it was an ideal opportunity," says Dave. "They say in ten years' time it will have paid for itself but it will be a lot less for me because I didn't have to pay £8,500 to the gas board."

In the bathroom upstairs, tucked neatly behind a cupboard under the eaves, Dave has had a heat recovery system fitted, which took a week to install. Two plastic air filters are fitted to the ceiling at the top of the house, one of which draws in the warm air which has risen to be recycled, and a second which pumps out cool air akin to air conditioning but without the damage to the environment - or the bills.

"So when we had the heatwave over the summer we were all nice and cool," he says.

The house also has energy efficient lightbulbs and thick insulation. "It's OK having energy efficiency but if you don't have the insulation what's the point?" says Dave.

The Energy Saving Trust, which is government funded, has advised more than 1,700 homeowners in the North-East about the benefits of installing renewable energy in their homes. Solar water heating can provide almost all of your hot water during the summer months and 50 per cent all year round. Even in cloudy weather the sun will provide enough energy for the panel. Alternatively, small scale wind energy can cut your electricity bill by £200 a year.

There are also opportunities to apply for grants to help with costs. The Department for Trade and Industry offers grants through its Low Carbon Buildings programme with the value of the grant depending upon the technology used and the size of the installation. But you must use a grant accredited installer.

Dave received a £1,500 grant from npower for his work. He hopes eventually to produce enough energy to give some back to the National Grid - for which he will be paid. Proof, if ever he needed it, that it's been well worthwhile going green.