Energy use in and around the home

Our homes use lots of energy.  We need to cook, heat and cool our living spaces and power the various devices such as radios, TVs, games consoles and computers that are a feature of 21st century lives.  Here are some ideas to help reduce the amount of energy that we all use. Some are free to implement, and may even save you money. Others may save more energy but can cost more.  Pick and choose the ideas that fit in with your needs, resources and abilities!

Ideas that are free and easy to do.

  • Unplug devices when not in use. Quite often power supplies will still draw energy, even if the device is “turned off” or put on stand-by.
    Impact: depending on the devices you have this may reduce your electricity usage by quite a bit. Not only will this reduce your carbon footprint, but it will save you money too!
  • In cold weather keep the heating down a degree or two lower than you normally would, and wear warmer clothes instead.
    Impact: Heating is the major source of energy consumption in most homes.  Having your heating at 17C or 18C instead for 20C or higher will reduce your fuel bills considerably and make a big dent in your carbon footprint.

Cheap to implement ideas.

  • Replace existing bulbs with low energy versions, especially LED ones.
    Impact: LED bulbs are slightly more expensive than other bulbs still, but they consume far less energy, and usually last far longer. You might pay more to buy it but this means it costs less to run and doesn’t have to be replaced so often. The latter can be very handy if you have difficulty reaching the bulbs to change them.
  • Install draught proofing around doors, windows and letter boxes.
    Impact: Cold draughts can make you uncomfortable and tempt you to turn the heating up, resulting in unnecessary increased energy use. They can also be ways that the expensively heated warm air in your home escapes to the cold outdoors.
  • If you have chimneys but don’t use the fireplaces, put “chimney balloons” up the chimneys to reduce draughts and heat loss.
    Impact: chimneys are designed to ventilate a fire or stove, but if you don’t have one of these, they’re just another route for warm air to escape from your home, costing you money.  Bear in mind though that gas fires do often use the chimney as flue, so don’t block those.

Medium cost improvements.

  • Switch to a “green” energy tariff such as those offered by companies such as Ecotricity or Good Energy.
    Impact: a “green” energy tariff is one that uses more, or in some cases only, renewable generating sources to supply power to the National Grid. Some or all of the energy you use at home will be matched by low carbon energy being made, rather than power generated from coal or gas power stations. Not only does this reduce your carbon footprint, but it also increases the demand for low carbon generating capacity to be built, helping to speed up the decarbonisation of the energy networks. The downside is that they can cost a little more than some of the bargain deals available (but are often the same or even cheaper than the “incumbent” tariff that people who have never switches energy supplier are on).
  • Install thermostatic valves on individual radiators so that you can fine tune the heat delivered to different rooms in the house.
    Impact: There’s little point heating seldom used spaces to the same extent as your living room.  Similarly, the amount of heat required in bathroom is likely to be different to the bedrooms. These radiator valves will let you direct your expensive heat to the spaces in your home that need it most.
  • If you have cavity walls and have not yet had them insulated, do so!
    Impact: Cavity wall insulation reduces heat loss through walls resulting in a warmer house in the winter and lower fuel bills.

More expensive, large scale projects.

  • Replace older gas boilers with more efficient ones.
    Impact: Older gas boilers use far more gas (a high carbon fossil fuel!) than more modern ones, as well as being increasingly difficult and costly to repair when they go wrong.
  • Install solar panels, either for electricity generation (solar PV) or water heating (solar thermal).
    Impact: Solar panels can allow you to generate quite a bit of the energy your home requires, especially in summer. For solar PV excess energy generated that you do not use can be exported to the Grid to help decarbonise it (which you will be paid for).  Solar thermal can mean that you don’t need to run a gas boiler at all for much of the summer to heat your water, and even in the winter can add a few degrees of heat to the hot water tank to reduce the gas usage.
  • Insulate solid walls around your home, either externally or internally.
    Impact: Solid walls are harder and more expensive to insulate than cavity walls but once done will reduce the heat loss and energy bills considerably in the winter. They can also make the house cooler in the summer. External insulation is more energy efficient but most expensive and potentially disruptive. Internal insulation can be done on a room by room basis whilst redecorating to spread the cost.