Home & Garden

Save energy (and money!) in your home

Save energy (and money!) in your home

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Home & Garden

Save energy (and money!) in your home

Energy efficiency starts at home.
Saving energy at home will provide a dual satisfaction: less greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and, sooner or later, more money in your pocket.

The following tips should help you streamline your household energy use. You may also want to contact your local government office to see whether if offers free home-energy audits or energy-efficiency grants.


Heating and hot water

Heating and cooling is a key area, accounting for a staggering 82 per cent of household energy use in the UK. Older houses are especially inefficient in this regard, though there's room for improvement in nearly all homes.



Start small with weather-stripping -- sealing up cracks around doors and windows -- but be sure to consider beefing up your loft and wall insulation (the attic is a good place to start, since it's easier to access and less expensive to insulate). If you live in a hot climate, you can save on air-con by using bright, reflective window drapes and shades wherever sunlight enters, and by using light colours or a reflective coating on your roof.


Turn down the dial

Reducing your heating and hot-water temperatures by just a small amount can make a disproportionate difference to your energy consumption. You may find you sleep better, too. Try 16-18°C (61-64°F) and throw on a sweater. As for hot water, aim for 50°C (122°F). If you use air conditioning, shoot for 25°C (77‚F), or, if you're in a warm, dry climate, investigate swamp coolers, which can take the edge off summer heat while humidifying the air and using far less energy than an air conditioner.


Boilers and heating controls

An efficient boiler (hot-water heater) would make a sensible long-term investment for many households. Modern condensing boilers produce more than 10 per cent extra heat and hot water per unit of energy than a typical boiler from 10 years ago. Efficient heating controls -- especially those that let you specify the temperature of individual rooms, or program different temperatures for different times of day -- can also take a significant chunk out of your energy demands, in return for a comparatively small investment.

If you have a hot-water tank, be sure to insulate it. Purpose-built blankets are inexpensive and can save 25 to 45 per cent of the energy required to heat the water. (Some newer hot-water tanks have insulation built in.)


Pick your fuel

In general, natural gas is a more climate-friendly fuel for home heating and hot water than oil, electricity or coal. If you're not connected to the gas network, wood could be your best bet, as long as the fuel is coming from forests that are being replenished as fast as they're being harvested.


Showers and baths

Everyone knows that showers use less energy than baths, and that shorter showers use less energy than longer ones. Less widely known is that a low-flow shower nozzle, which mixes air with the water flow, can reduce the amount of hot water needed by half.


Appliances and gadgets

Close to 96 per cent of the power that drives an old-fashioned incandescent lightbulb goes to produce heat instead of light (which explains why those bulbs are so hot to the touch). Compact fluorescent bulbs generate far less heat, enabling them to produce almost four times more light per unit of energy (the replacement for a standard 60-watt bulb typically uses about 18 watts). These efficient bulbs also last more than 10 times longer, meaning that they earn back their higher initial cost several times over and save you time and hassle in buying and replacing bulbs (not to mention the emissions involved in making and shipping them). The whiter light of the cheapest fluorescent bulbs takes some getting used to, but there are new versions that mimic incandescent light more closely.

What about halogen light? These are a subset of incandescents and tend to be middle-range performers in the greenhouse stakes. High-quality halogen bulbs are around twice as efficient as typical incandescents. However, they're still half as efficient as compact fluorescents, and halogen light fittings often take multiple bulbs, raising their overall energy consumption. Whatever kind of lights you have, turning them off when you leave the room is an obvious energy-saver. Organizing your home to maximize the use of natural light -- putting desks next to windows, for instance -- can also help.


Invisible power drains

The proliferation of remote controls and consumer gadgets has come at a surprisingly high energy cost. In the typical modern home, 5 to 15 per cent of all electricity is consumed needlessly by TV sets, stereos and other devices that are supposedly turned off by are actually on standby. Indeed, some devices use almost as much energy in standby mode as when they're in use. To stop the waste, unplug items -- or switch them off at the socks -- when they aren't in use. A power strip with a switch can help if you don't have switches on your sockets.

Computers vary widely in terms of the energy they consume in standby and screen-saver modes. Turn them off when not in use or, even better, dedicate their downtime to the fight against climate change.


Refrigerators and freezers

These are among the biggest users of energy at home -- not least because they're running 24/7. Models produced since the 1990s are far more efficient than their predecessors, so if yours is old, consider taking the plunge: a modern replacement could recoup its costs within several years and save plenty of energy from the start. Be sure to dispose of the old one properly, as older refrigerators contain ozone-depleting chemicals. Check with your local government or a home-appliance dealer for more information.

If possible, locate your fridge or freezer as far away as possible from hot-running items such as ovens and dishwashers.

Doing the dishes

Like fridges, dishwashers vary widely in their energy consumption, so be sure to consider efficiency when purchasing. As for how they compare with washing up by hand, this depends on the individual machine (some models use less than 15 litres of hot water per load), the efficiency of your hot-water heater and, most importantly, how economical you are when washing up by hand. A much-cited 2004 study from the University of Bonn suggests that dishwashers use less energy overall than the typical person at a sink, but this doesn't include the production and delivery of the machine. Moreover, the study gives figures for hand-washing that can be slashed with just a bit of care, and assumes you run your machine with full loads, skipping extra features such as "pre-rinse."


Washing clothes

To save energy (and minimize colour fade) keep washing temperatures as low as possible to get the job done well. Even more worthwhile is letting clothes dry on a line or rack rather than using an energy-hungry dryer.



Excerpted from The Rough Guide to Climate Change (1st edition) by Robert Henson, published by Rough Guides Ltd. Copyright 2006 by Rough Guides Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.




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Save energy (and money!) in your home