We all need to look at ways to cut carbon emissions and energy use and, as the average household in the UK now faces an annual energy bill of £1,293, a rise of £381 since the beginning of 2008, in a very real sense saving energy has come to equal saving money too.
Whether you are already serious about energy conservation or just beginning to think it might be a good idea, the ideas here could form the basis of your ‘must-do’ list. They are the easiest and most common-sense steps to take to reduce energy consumption in the home, and can reduce bills by as much as 10 to 20 per cent at no cost other than a small change in habits.
This doesn’t mean you have to sit shivering wrapped in a blanket in a dimly-lit room! Applying these simple energy saving tips can deliver long-term financial rewards and make your home more comfortable too. If you dig out last year’s energy bills you can compare energy use and see how well you are doing. Then as you start to make some real savings you can invest the money saved into energy efficient products and measures such as increased insulation to reduce energy use and costs even further.
1. Central heating
Turning the thermostat down by just 1 degree could cut your heating bills by 10%. The recommended temperature range is between 18-21°C and by dressing appropriately for the weather you won’t even notice the difference. If you are out at work all day set the heating to turn off 30 minutes before you leave home and come on again 30 minutes before you are due to return. Turn the heating off at night and set it to come on again 30 minutes before you get up. Only heat the rooms you need – close the windows and doors of unused rooms – and if you’re going away in winter, leave the thermostat on a low setting just enough to provide protection from freezing.
2. Keep the draughts out
Close your curtains in all rooms at dusk to reduce heat escaping through the windows and save between £10 and £15 a year on your heating bills. Take care not to drape curtains over radiators – shorten them or tuck them up onto the windowsill if necessary. Make draught excluder ‘sausages’ by rolling up old blankets to stop draughts under external doors. A ¼ inch wide gap under your front door will waste about the same amount of heat as if you had a 2″ square hole in the wall!
Turn off the lights when you are leaving a room. Standard, incandescent light bulbs should be turned off whenever they are not needed. Fluorescent lights should be turned off whenever you’ll be away for 15 minutes or more. Adjust your curtains or blinds to let in as much natural light as possible during the day.
4. Electrical appliances
The Energy Saving Trust estimate 7% of our electricity bills in the UK are for power used by electronic equipment on standby. To cut down on this wasted energy turn off appliances such as the TV, video and DVD player at the socket or pull out the plug (If in doubt check the operation manual first to make sure that this won’t reset the appliance’s memory). Unplug battery chargers when the batteries are fully charged or the chargers are not in use. Many chargers draw power continuously, even when the device is not plugged into the charger. Remember not to leave electrical equipment on charge unnecessarily.
Activate the power management settings on your computer and turn it off when it’s not in use. A computer monitor left on standby can cost you £30 per year. A laptop uses 70% less energy than a desktop computer.
6. Hot water
Is your water too hot? Your cylinder thermostat doesn’t need to be set higher than 60°C/140°F. Every 5.5 degrees C. reduction can save up to 13 per cent on your water heating costs. Always put the plug in your basin or sink so you don’t run the water continuously when washing dishes by hand, shaving, or washing your face and hands.
An average bath requires 30-50 gallons of water. The average shower of four minutes uses 20 gallons of water (power showers often use more water than a bath in less than 5 minutes). Monitor the amount of time you spend in a shower and challenge yourself to reduce that time.
8. Dripping taps
In just one day, a dripping hot water tap can waste several gallons of water – make sure taps are off and replace worn washers.
9. Washing machines
Always wash a full load – if you can’t, use the half-load or economy programme if your machine has one. 90% of the total energy used by a typical washing machine is for heating the water – only 10% is used to power the motor. So use a low temperature or cold programme – with modern washing detergents this will be just as effective and can noticably reduce the electricity consumption.
10. Tumble dryers
An average tumble dryer cycle uses just over 4kWh of energy and produces around 1.8kg CO2. Line dry clothes whenever possible, or dry indoors on a rack or hangers – don’t put them over a radiator as this will stop the heat from reaching the rest of the room. Or put a clothes rail in an unheated room, open the window slightly to allow damp to escape, and keep the door closed to prevent heat being drawn into that room. Never put really wet clothes into the tumble dryer. Spin-dry and separate them out before putting into the dryer- they will dry much faster. Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes. Be careful not to overdry. Clean the lint filter every time the machine is used. If you have a condensing dryer keep the condenser unit clean and if there is a water tray ensure it’s emptied after every load.
11. Fridges and freezers
Don’t leave the fridge or freezer door open for longer than necessary as cold air will escape – get your contents organized so you can find what you want right away. Avoid putting hot or warm food straight into the fridge or freezer; allow it to cool down first. Make sure there is room for air to circulate behind your fridge and keep the condenser coils on the back free of dust. Try not to place refrigeration equipment near heaters or the cooker – the cooler your refrigerator’s immediate environment, the less energy it will use.
Defrost the freezer regularly to keep it running efficiently. If it tends to frost up quickly, check the seal by closing the door/lid onto a piece of paper – if you can easily slide the paper out it might be time to change the seal. If possible, keep the freezer in a cool room or garage.
Modern dishwashers use half the energy and one-sixth of the water compared to washing the same amount of dishes by hand. Always wash a full load or use the half-load or economy programme. Use a cool setting – 80% of the energy used by a dishwasher goes to heating the water. Rinse dishes off in cold water before putting them into the dishwasher.
Heat only the amount of water you really need – jug type kettles can boil less water as they have smaller elements. In hard water areas, you need to remove limescale to keep your kettle working efficiently for longer. Every six months or so, soak the element overnight in vinegar.
Microwaves cookers are a fast and cheap way to cook smaller quantities or to reheat food, using between 70% and 90% less electricity than an electric oven. Use a toaster rather than the grill to make toast.
Don’t peek while using your oven; you lose about 20 per cent of the heat every time you open the door. Choose the right sized pan for the food and cooker – the base should just cover an electric cooking ring. With gas the flames should only heat the bottom of the pan and not lick up the sides. Keep lids on when cooking and don’t use more water than you need because it not only wastes energy, it can spoil the food too! Pressure cookers and food steamers save energy.
15. Energy saving appliances
If you are replacing household electrical appliances look out for the ‘Energy Saving Recommended’ logo. All new electrical appliances should display a label explaining how much energy the appliance uses. Energy efficient products don’t always cost more than inefficient models and will use less energy over their lifetime so will be cheaper to run. An appliance graded A (most efficient) uses less than half the energy of similar models graded G (least efficient) and could save you up to £37 a year.
16. Could you be paying too much for gas and electricity?
You could save £100 a year or more by switching energy suppliers, especially if you’ve never switched before. So if you haven’t compared prices recently it’s worth checking at http://www.uswitch.com/. You don’t necessarily have to switch your supplier to make savings – if you pay your energy bills by cheque or cash you’ll get a discount for paying by direct debit instead or switching to an online account. One of the simplest ways to cut your carbon emissions is to sign up to a green tariff so that all or some of your home’s electricity will come from renewable sources such as wind power. For more information see the Green Electricity Marketplace website at www.greenelectricity.org.
17. Take an online home energy check
18. Get some free advice
In the UK you can get advice about saving energy at home by calling your local Energy Saving Trust Advice Centre on 0800 512 012.
If you have some more tips I haven’t thought of please do let me know.
See also Phantom Power
For a selection of energy saving products see the turning2green shop .
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step‘ Lao Tzu