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Green mortgages: What are they and what are the benefits?

Thinking of making home improvements, or buying a more energy-efficient home? Green mortgages may be able to help, writes Vicky Shaw.

Many of us are trying to do more to help the environment nowadays. Perhaps you’re trying to reduce your household waste, recycle more, and find more eco-friendly places to buy items from.

And if you’re a homeowner, there could be some upgrades you can make to your property, to make it a bit more eco.

You may need to borrow more money to make your home ‘greener’, or you may be buying a home with a high energy efficiency rating – and that’s where green mortgages can come in.

Sustainable home improvements can be good for your wallet, as well as the environment. For example, someone could potentially save on their heating bills over the long term by having their windows replaced or reconditioned.

And with green mortgages, you may also find you can get a lower borrowing rate.

To find out more about green mortgages, we talked to James Pagan, head of mortgages at Nationwide Building Society…

What are green mortgages?

Pagan says green mortgage products tend to either encourage people to make their existing property more energy-efficient, or reward them for buying a property with a high energy efficiency rating.

In terms of mortgages which help people make their existing property greener, he adds: “A lot of people don’t necessarily buy a house on its energy efficiency. They buy it for other factors, such as location, space, garden. And once they get in there, they often think: ‘OK, well how do I make the most of the home that I’ve bought?’”

What sort of home improvements can green mortgages cover?

This could depend on the individual lender, but Nationwide’s Green Additional Mortgage can be taken out for a wide variety of upgrades – including new or upgraded windows, solar panels, boiler improvements, insulation including pipe and boiler insulation, air source heat pumps, electricity or lighting upgrades, rainwater harvesting, electric car chargers and small-scale wind turbines.

One couple from Bolton in Lancashire, for example, borrowed £25,000 to improve their home and installed a new warm, insulated roof on their orangery.

What green mortgages does Nationwide offer?

Pagan says Nationwide has a Green Additional Borrowing mortgage for existing members, who already have a mortgage with the Society. The fee-free mortgage has the Society’s “best” rate, at 0.75%, and people can borrow up to £25,000, depending on individual circumstances. The deal is available at up to a maximum of 85% loan-to-value (LTV) and the 0.75% rate is the same for all eligible borrowers, regardless of the LTV.

To qualify, at least half (50%) of the additional borrowing must be spent on energy efficient home improvements. The mortgage term of the additional borrowing can’t be longer than the existing main mortgage term.

And for existing or new members buying homes with high energy efficiency ratings, the Society offers cashback of up to £500 under its Green Reward scheme. This is available for existing homes and new-builds and flats as well as houses, with further details about the criteria on Nationwide’s website.

The schemes are part of the Society’s commitment to ensuring 50% of its mortgage book is rated EPC-C or above by 2030. Landlords can also benefit, with Nationwide’s buy-to-let arm, the Mortgage Works offering Green Further Advance mortgages for landlords.

Why has Nationwide introduced green mortgages?

“It’s linked into our core purpose, so we were created as a building society movement to get better quality housing for everyone,” says Pagan. “Take-up is improving all the time.”

The Society has also been working to minimise its own environmental impact, and is now carbon neutral in energy use and emissions for all internal operations and company vehicles, and uses 100% renewable electricity.

What other deals are on the market?

While the popularity of green mortgages could increase in future, Rachel Springall, a finance expert at Moneyfacts.co.uk, says products are still “rather niche” across the market generally.

“But some major lenders are already on board to offer a discounted mortgage rates to borrowers who purchase an energy-efficient home,” Springall adds. “This fact alone provides much optimism for more lenders to offer a similar approach.”

She highlighted Virgin Money, which recently launched Greener Mortgages – offering lower rates of interest to customers buying energy efficient new-build homes.

In a survey, Virgin Money found tackling climate change is important to 78% of people, and the pandemic has made over a third (34%) think more about their environmental impact.

NatWest has also launched Green Mortgages, offering discounted rates to those purchasing an energy efficient property.

Springall said: “It is vital borrowers seek advice when comparing deals, to ensure they can meet eligibility criteria and not be left disappointed.”

5 ways to make sure that you are heading for a comfortable retirement

Unsure whether your savings will be enough to be comfortably off in retirement? Here are some expert tips to help give you an idea.

Would you shrug your shoulders if you were asked if you’re on track for a financially comfortable retirement – or would you be confident that you know the answer?

According to Which?, couples typically need an income of around £26,000 per year in retirement to live comfortably, while those who are single need around £19,000, including state and private pensions.

And many people are some way off their retirement targets, as separate research from Fidelity International found that while women expect to retire with an annual income of £33,980, this is significantly higher than the £70,052 the average women over 55 has saved into her pension pot.

Those who are unsure about their retirement options may want to speak to the free, Government-backed Pension Wise guidance service or get independent financial advice.

In the meantime, to help give people an idea of whether or not their plans are on track for the retirement they want, here are some tips from Maike Currie, investment director at Fidelity International.

1. Establish what you already have.

If you’re not sure whether you are in your workplace pension scheme, ask your employer. They will be able to provide the details of the pension provider and help you view your savings. From there, you’ll be able to track how much you and your employer are contributing each month.

If you’ve worked at multiple companies, you’ll probably have multiple pensions. These can sometimes be difficult to track down on your own, but the Pension Tracing Service can help you and it’s free of charge.

2. If you’re self-employed start a pension early.

Try to think about your pension as soon as you start earning money, particularly if you’re self-employed. According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures, self-employed workers aged 35 to 54 are more than twice as likely to have no pension wealth than those who have an employer.

You could consider self-invested personal pensions or Sipps. Like an employee with a workplace pension, you can still benefit from tax relief on pension contributions.

You don’t need to have a significant amount in order to open a Sipp, in fact you can put in as little as £25 a month into your Sipp with Fidelity.

By contributing to your pension early in your career – no matter how much or little you are putting in – you will benefit over time. This means the money you contribute in your 20s and 30s could be worth significantly more by the time you hit retirement (bear in mind the value of investments can go down as well as up).

3. Take ownership.

It’s your pension. Make sure you understand where your contributions are going and think carefully about how to maximise them. If you are an employee in your company’s pension plan, your contributions were most likely invested into a “default investment”.

These tend to be broadly suitable for most people, but some want to explore alternative approaches and funds that are better suited to their goals. A financial adviser could help if you are unsure about this.

It is also worth finding out whether your employer is willing to make contributions above the statutory minimum levels. Some will offer to match further contributions you make.

4. Set yourself up for a financially ‘worry-free’ retirement.

Everyone’s dream retirement will look different. The amount you need to save for your retirement will largely depend on what you want to use it for.

Start by working out your current day-to-day outgoings, then consider how often you’ll want to go on holiday and afford other luxuries. Make sure to also consider the cost of care, whether you plan to leave money to loved ones, and life expectancy to ensure your pension will last. Once you understand what you’ll need for your retirement then you’ll have a goal to aim for. Again, if making those calculations seems daunting, a financial adviser can help.

5. Finally, be aware of the pensions gender gap.

Women often face a significant gender pensions gap. The gender pay gap, being more likely to take time away from work to look after family, and a propensity to invest less all contribute to the gap but there are steps that women can take to close it.

For example, if you’re taking time off work to have children you could increase your contributions when you return, or even get your partner to contribute on your behalf. Fidelity’s research found that if women contributed 1% more of their salary each month, they could close the gender pension gap by retirement.

7 important tips for designing a kitchen you’ll absolutely love

Want to start the summer with a fresh, updated, modern kitchen? Liz Connor hears spend-smart tips from the experts.

Full-scale kitchen renovations can be expensive, which is why it’s important to make sensible, practical choices during the planning stage, that you won’t regret in the long-run.

While it’s tempting to opt for style over substance, the kitchen is arguably the most important room in the house, and for many families, it’s a space that needs to function as an office for homeworkers, an entertaining hub and a stand-up breakfast spot.

Consider these tips when planning your revamp for a space that’s both beautiful and functional…

1. Suss out your storage needs early on

“If you’re partial to a crockery collection or two and have a pantry bursting with exotic ingredients, storage is going to be particularly important,” says Stephen Lynskey, head designer at Hammonds Kitchens (hammonds-uk.com). “What many people don’t realise is that storage options are decided right at the beginning of a kitchen plan, when the blueprint is being mapped out.

“Think about whether you need more drawers or cupboards, whether a display unit is specifically important and how big your pantry needs to be at this stage, to avoid disappointment later down the line.”

2. Lighting is really important

“Lighting is so important when creating a cosy atmosphere in a kitchen. I recommend focusing on three different kinds when creating your perfect setup: top lighting, task lighting and ambient lighting,” advises Lynskey. “All three need to come together perfectly to create the mood you find most relaxing.

“Thinking about where to have shadows and where to cast light can have a surprisingly large effect on the feel of a kitchen. Aim to shed light on the parts of the kitchen you will use regularly, such as the cooker and worktops, but play with shadows in the rest of the space to create an atmospheric and zen place to relax.”

3. Opt for matt cupboards if you have small children

Lynskey continues: “Nobody wants jammy hands all over their kitchen cabinets. Choose a matt finish as opposed to gloss, as they are easier to clean and disguise visible marks better.

“Matt also has a timeless appeal, so your kitchen will remain fashionable for years to come.”

4. Go for practical materials

Laura Davie, marketing manager for Cosentino UK (cosentino.com) says: “Consider a kitchen surface that’s suited to your lifestyle and the way in which you use the kitchen.

“For instance, keen cooks will benefit from a heat and scratch resistant surface, such as a composite surface. It’s ideal for those wanting to recreate a specific look, such a marble or wood, without wanting to worry about the hassle of maintenance.

“As for splashbacks, composite surfaces offer the opportunity to use a large, single slab splashback, making a real design centrepiece, while being easier to clean with no awkward tile grouting.”

5. L-shared islands are great if you like socialising in your kitchen

“If you’re the type of household that loves having gatherings in your home, thinking about elements such as seating in the kitchen, is essential,” says Lynskey.

“Kitchen islands are a great opportunity to create a sociable space, but rather than having seating down just one side, why not opt for two sides so that your guests can face one another when socialising? For this, I recommend an ‘L’ shape, rather than the standard square. ”

6. Get an expert involved

Bella Glenn, design expert at Benchmarx Kitchens And Joinery (benchmarxkitchens.co.uk) says: “I would always recommend getting an expert planner involved in your kitchen design early on, to ensure you maximise the features that are important to you.

“There’s a wealth of knowledge available at kitchen retailers, who are best placed to discuss ways to achieve a bespoke look. Many manufacturers will have options available that can replicate a look at a range of price points, so if you have a style in mind, then it’s certainly worth talking this through.”

7. Accessibility matters

“Accessibility is of utmost importance when designing a kitchen for older clients, or those with elderly relatives,” stresses Lynskey. “Doorknobs may prove troublesome for arthritic hands, so larger handles that can be easily grasped are a better option. Soft closing doors and drawers make for one less thing to worry about and give the kitchen a luxurious feel.”

He adds: “Lighting also needs to be a key consideration, as it must be bright, easy to find and operate. For this, opt for a one-switch policy that controls all lighting, to avoid confusion. “

Living the green dream: 13 ways to bring home nature’s most calming colour this summer

Sam Wylie-Harris shops a mix of forest shades.

Calming, optimistic and fresh, the colour green can steer us from summer meadows to manicured lawns, botanical gardens and olive trees.

And when we want to conjure that connecting-with-nature vibe, a variety of plants, green decos and furnishings is the easiest way to achieve that in our homes – and style up a favourite space in the process.

From minty accents to fertile ferns, everything ‘grows’ together with a healthy, grassy palette to play with. These are some of our favourite ways to go green at home this summer…

1. Sophie Allport Home Grown Mug and The Kitchen Garden Mug, £12 each (other items from a selection), Sophie Allport

To turn your kitchen into a cottage garden setting, these sweet illustrated mugs evoke thoughts of vegetable patches, foxgloves and a wall of climbing roses.

2. Gluggle Jug in Woodland Green, £39, Graham & Green

If you’re a Jenny-come-lately to the joy of gluggle jugs, now’s the time to snap up one of these fish-shaped pitchers. Famed for making a gurgling sound – think how much better your Pimm’s will sound and taste – they also make brilliant vases for showing off those pink peonies.

3. Sage Green Linen Table Cloth, £89, Graham & Green

Sage green is cited as the shade of the season and thanks to its versatility (it’s the neutral on the colour chart), it works like a dream in interiors. Made out of stonewashed linen, picture a bowl of avocados and some recycled glass tumblers artfully placed atop this table cloth, to pull it all together.

4. Set of 4 Eucalyptus Green TruGlow Taper Candles, £29.99, Lights4fun (available from July)

Whether it’s a rustic setting with cabbage-green earthenware plates or something more serene, tablescaping with LED tapered dinner candles is so much easier without the worry of wax dripping.

5. Monstera Deliciosa & Helena Rose Pot, £56 (£48 Soho Home member), Soho Home

A collaboration between Soho Home and Leaf Envy, what could be easier than festooning with foliage in your own ‘House’, with their carefully edited selection of real house plants and pots, similar to those you’ll find around Soho House members’ clubs.

6. Onism Moss Green Wallpaper, £85 per roll, Woodchip & Magnolia

Larger than life, if you’re feeling brave, think about creating a wonder wall of wild flowers for maximum impact. The different colour combinations in this delightful paper can be picked up with an accent chair, scatter cushion or decorative piece of furniture.

7. Copper Cube Terrariums, from £69.95, The Urban Botanist

Housed succulents make a stunning edition, especially when your trump terra has been hand-picked by a team of botanical experts. Each copper frame is designed to house a selection of three succulents resting on a bed of gravel, with the option to add lights. We’re in.

8. Small Flagon Table Lamp in Thyme Green Vintage Linen, £135, Loaf

With a clear base and linen shade in Mediterranean thyme green, not only does this lamp sit well next to a sofa in a similar shade, but you can ‘switch on’ to the herb’s medicinal benefits, with the soothing effects of ambient lighting.

9. Lilly of the Valley & Ivy Charity Candle, £49, Jo Malone

Softly scented and blending wellness with whimsy, this gorgeous Jo Malone candle channels Lilly of the valley with cassis, narcissus and cool green ivy notes, such as herbs and foliage. An added bonus, a donation equal to 75% (less VAT) goes towards charities and projects supporting mental health.

10. Magnolia Solar Smarttech Illuminated Plant Pot – Small, £135, Amara

Suitable for indoor and outdoor use with four flash settings, your favourite fern will love basking in the spotlight.

11. Betty Armchair in Olive, from £330, Sofa.com

Fashioned on a mid-century cocktail chair with a curved, padded back, rounded edges and a plush seat, style Betty with hanging grasses and a trug of dried woodland flowers to weave it all together. Did someone say grasshopper cocktail?

12. Garden Trading Rive Droite Bistro Tray Table in Forest Green Steel, £30, and matching Bistro Chairs, £80 for two, Garden Trading (available from June 7)

Practical and space saving, this foldable bistro table with detachable tray and matching chairs will pimp up a patio or tinsy lawn, plus we love the simplicity of steel.

13. Heating & Plumbing London Pure New Wool Picnic Blanket – Mint Green & Yellow, £125; matching Waterproof Outdoor Cushion in Pure New Wool, £44.50; ‘Keep Your Cool’ Champagne Bucket – Yellow Leather Strap, £85, Heating & Plumbing

Heating & Plumbing have done all the hard work for you and foraged three vital ingredients to make your garden party a chilled – and cosy – celebration. And you can always branch out and hang the champagne bucket from a pretty parasol to enjoy the first sip, and toast those slow days of summer, in the shade.

6 ways to get your garden party-ready for summer

Award-winning garden designer Chris Beardshaw offers tips on planting, lights and show-stopping centrepieces. By Hannah Stephenson.

With lockdown restrictions easing, there’s likely to be a lot of entertaining going on in back gardens throughout summer.

So, is your garden party-ready – where guests will be able to sit in comfort, savour the beautiful plants around them, and enjoy the atmosphere late into the night?

Of course, your own home-grown cut flowers will always pretty up a table, while sprigs of lavender or other herbs could add a scented accent to your place settings.

“All the research shows there’s a generation of gardeners, who have been exposed to the opportunity of getting outside, growing plants and experiencing the green world around them as a result of being locked-down,” says award-winning garden designer, Chris Beardshaw.

“One of the ways to keep that focus going is to provide opportunities in our gardens for increased socialising and increased sharing in the garden. People can enrich their garden without it becoming hardcore gardening.”

Beardshaw, who is supporting Readly, an online subscription service to consumer magazines including major gardening titles, offers the following tips…

1. Plant a riot of colour

“Plant up containers of colour. Take any container – basically if it has a hole in the bottom and you can put gravel and compost into it and stick it somewhere with light, you can grow something,” says Beardshaw.

“Choreograph those containers – perhaps with colour coordination, or with particular design approaches which suit the rest of your garden or your interiors or particular passion – so you get that instant colour creating a wow factor.

“Of course, the best range of plants to use for this are the annuals, the live-fast die-young plants, and short-term perennials such as dahlias and chrysanthemums, or perhaps bulbs like galtonias and leucanthemums. They create a chic, stylish look.”

2. Make a floral ice bowl centrepiece

“If you have two bowls which are interlocking (one smaller than the other), you can pour water between the two, then put it into the freezer and as it starts to freeze, layer on the petals like geraniums, cistus and nasturtiums as a veneer, and then keep topping up with water between the two bowls.

“When your guests arrive, you remove the inner bowl (by filling it with warm water), upturn the bigger bowl and you then have a complete iced bowl decorated with petals.

“You could fill it with fruit or ice cream as the entertaining takes place. It’s a great summer centrepiece.”

3. Create ambience

“Make sure you’ve got cushions and blankets and throws, which really extend internal furnishings into the great outdoors. Corral seats around a firepit or under a parasol, where people can feel a bit more at home and a bit more willing to sit outside later in the evening and listen to the way nature is putting itself to bed, and maybe owls and other creatures making themselves heard.”

4. Wow guests with wildlife

“Choose plants which are more biodiverse and wildlife-friendly, with more open flower, things like cistus for instance, anthemis, the wonderful daisy flowers, an advertising hoarding for insects.

“Angelica is also very good, along with alliums and astrantias, where you have cluster flowers that are bringing in insects. You’ll not only see beautiful butterflies but also night-time moths.”

5. Enjoy home-grown party food

“Growing your own is a fantastic experience of gardening, with the rich flavours and satisfaction you get, and you’ll also have a knock-on admiration from anyone you invite in, as they munch on your lettuce or rocket, or fresh strawberries warmed by summer sunshine. Your guest will be in love with your dining style forever.

“If you are growing produce in containers, go for short-rooted varieties. So if you are growing carrots or beetroot, go for the dwarf types; if you are growing salads, go for the cut-and-come-again varieties, where you can harvest them and they’ll keep growing back relentlessly.

“If you do have a glasshouse, conservatory or porch, you can grow things like peaches. A home-produced peach is like nothing else. You might not get many of them, but they are sweet, juicy and delicious.”

6. Add subtle lighting

“In my own garden, we don’t shy away from subtle lighting. We have old-fashioned festoon-style lightbulbs, which are solar powered and have little LEDs in them.

“They hang from some of the trees, shrubs and bushes to give a moonlight wash, a subtle extension of the internal lighting of the house.”

Visit readly.com/gardening for more information.

How to get your community involved in wildlife pursuits this summer

Encourage your neighbours, friends and relatives to connect with nature for 30 Days Wild, urges The Wildlife Trusts.

How can you reconnect with nature? It could be taking your breakfast outside to start the day, listening to the birds, reading a wildlife book or photographing a ladybird.

Connecting with wildlife and reconnecting with families and friends in the process is hugely important, says The Wildlife Trusts (wildlifetrusts.org), organisers of the 30 Days Wild campaign throughout June, in which gardeners and the wider public are being encouraged to carry out one ‘random act of wildness’ every day for a month.

You may want to start simple – putting out a birdbath, or stacking up some logs in a forgotten corner for insects – or you could join the campaign trail, writing to your MP to ask for more local action for nature and wildlife.

Ian Jelley, director of living landscapes for Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, explains: “The whole premise of 30 Days Wild is about people engaging with nature more often. People individually can make a big difference to the species on their doorstep, but also need to take collective action to help bring our wildlife back.”

Encourage neighbours

“The key is to share enthusiasm and what everyone can enjoy if you all work together. As a charity we have been trying to do more landscape-scale conservation where more people work together. If people are inspired by people they know and live near, it’s really powerful,” says Jelley.

Share experiences

“We moved into our house in November, put in a trail camera and discovered we had a hedgehog in our garden and I started having a conversation with the neighbours, asking them if they had hedgehogs in their garden.

“A hedgehog moves through quite a large area when it’s feeding, so it needs access to gardens. One of the challenges is that a lot of gardens are fenced or have a wall, so hedgehogs can’t access the gardens so easily,” he says.

“Talk to neighbours to see if they can help create a corridor by cutting a small hole in the bottom of their garden fence. Then the neighbour can share stories of what the hedgehog was doing in their garden and it starts to feel like it’s a community pet, with shared responsibility for looking after its welfare.”

Connect through social media

“There is a 30 Days Wild Facebook group which is a great example of how people from all walks of life share their experiences of wildlife, ask for help in identifying something, or support each other with practical ideas on how to make space for nature,” explains Jelley.

“Technology is a brilliant way of recording wildlife, but it’s also a brilliant way of celebrating it. There are loads of different groups on social media platforms who are sharing stories of what they’ve encountered and asking questions about species.”

Join or set up a community group

“If you have a shared community green space within an urban area, there is an opportunity to influence that to help wildlife,” he notes. “We work with social housing providers to help them manage their land. Often these providers will engage the residents that live there and ask them what they’d like to see – to accommodate what is good for wildlife, but is also interesting for people.

“You might get involved in creating a wildflower meadow. It doesn’t have to be a huge field. You can create a wildflower meadow in a raised bed or a pot or at the side of a shrubbery.”

You can get all generations involved too. The charity suggests recording some older community members talking about their most treasured wild memories as part of a wild time capsule project.

Create neighbourhood competitions

Challenge the next village along to build the best bug hotel, for instance, the charity suggests.

Think about doing less

“Sometimes with wildlife, it’s actually about doing less. If you’re cutting back verges or hedges less often, you are providing more natural conditions for wildlife. Engage with decision-makers and people who manage the green space around you, which is a powerful community influence.”

Donate wildlife-friendly gifts

Donate nest boxes to a local school, business or care home, which will not only give the recipients a connection to nature, but encourage neighbours and friends to do the same, to cast the natural network wider, The Wildlife Trusts suggests.

Learn from allotment holders

“[Allotments] are fantastic places for wildlife. They are a lifeline for species like slow worms and other reptiles that rely on compost heaps and the conditions allotments provide,” says Jelley.

“Allotment holders are often very knowledgeable about the need for bees and butterflies, to grow the crops they are trying to grow.”

Access specialist groups

“There are specialist groups around the country for all sorts of different things. The Wildlife Trusts can help signpost people to them. If people don’t know where to start, contact your local wildlife trust to find out what’s happening in your area,” says Jelley.

“The local trusts will often be running activities and events, but are also the facilitators of more specialist groups, such as those who are interested in bats or dragonflies or whatever. They are keen to pass on that knowledge and to help newcomers learn about stuff on a basic level.”

For more ideas and to join in the fun at 30 Days Wild visit wildlifetrusts.org/30DaysWild.

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