It is increasingly important for us to all try to save energy at home in order to help take climate change, every security and fuel poverty.
There are lots of things that we can all do and I noted a few them in my post “What am I doing about climate change?” but most advice tends to revolve around the same standard ideas such as loft insulation, switching off lights and buying more efficient appliances.
So I thought it would be good to write a post about more unusual ways of saving energy around the home that we have used ourselves. What’s more, many of them are free or very cheap.
When you fill a bath with hot water you are filling it with a lot of energy. Water has a high thermal mass and you most probably used electricity or gas to heat it, so you don’t really want to pour all of that heat down the drain.
Simply by leaving the dirty water in the bath for an hour or two, you will be using the hot water to warm up your bathroom and therefore keep a lot of the heat in your house. This is especially great for people that have cold bathrooms. Of course it also works for showers if you have a shower over your bath, and baths are themselves a waste of energy so a shower with the plug in is ideal.
The bath plug isn’t the only thing that sucks valuable heat out of your bathroom. The toilet does too (unless you have a composting toilet).
Every time you flush your toilet in winter, cold water from outside is pumped in to refill the tank, which then absorbs heat from the air in your bathroom to warm up. Then you flush it down again and repeat the process. The more you flush, the more energy you lose.
So just follow the old saying: “If it’s brown, flush it down. If its yellow, let it mellow!”
Most heat in a home is lost by drafts and conduction through the walls and windows. However, some heat is lost through infrared radiation.
You can buy paint that reflects infrared radiation back into the room, cutting down on a lot of this loss. It works in a similar way to suncream and contains tiny particles engineered to reflect heat. We used Nutshell Thermo Emulsion but others might be available.
Another old trick is to put foil behind your radiators to reflect heat back into the room.
If you have a wood burning stove or solid fuel burner that you use for heating a room, then you can use a stove kettle to heat water for cooking and hot drinks.
Electric kettle and hobs are hugely energy intensive, but the beauty of a stove kettle is that it uses heat that is already inside your home.
When your stove is hot it doesn’t use any extra energy to heat the kettle but instead simply channels some of its heat through the water before it disperses into the room.
Some stove kettles are really expensive but we got ours from the market for £9 and it has been fantastic.
A friend of mine introduced me to the concept of a hay box, which was traditionally used by the poor as a way to cook food with minimal energy input (because fuel is expensive).
The concept was that you would heat your pan of vegetables and then as soon as it was hot you would place the pan into a box stuffed with hay and close the lid. The hay instulated the pan so that the food inside could keep cooking in the heat for a long time.
Our friend had made himself a modern hay box out of polystyrene (nasty stuff, by a great insulator!) and had some spare that he gave us to make our own.
One of our favourite uses is to make porridge in the morning. You just heat it up and stick it in the box, then go off to get dressed, exercise or whatever you need to do. When you come back you have perfect hot porridge, cooked with minimal energy and without burning on the bottom of the pan.
Some appliances like dishwashers and tumble dryers generate a lot of heat during their cycle. You can use this to heat up your room by timing them to come on just before you will use the room.
For example, our kitchen has no heating and is usually cold when we enter in the morning. If we put the dishwasher on after dinner before we go to bed, then the kitchen warms up while we are sleeping (a complete waste!), but if we set the timer to switch the machine on at 6am then the room will be warmed gently for us in time for breakfast, with no additional energy input.
If you have a stove for heating, conventional wisdom might tell you that you should switch it off when you go to bed to avoid wasting any unburned fuel.
However, in our own experience, the unburned fuel will all combust and vanish by morning anyway, but if you leave it burning on its optimum setting then it will generate a lot more heat in the process. We find that if you just leave the stove burning and go to bed, the living room is noticeably warmer in the mornings and without using any more fuel.
Now it’s time for me to have a little rant! People who live in centrally heated homes seem to have little or no idea of how much heat is wasted when you open doors and windows in winter. I know this because when they visit our house, they have a habit of opening the outside door and then loitering near it, or just leaving it wide open while they pop out to the car. I am pretty laid back when it comes to house rules, but in winter I can be strict about keeping the doors shut. You are either in or you’re out!
When you live in a house like ours that has only 50 year old storage heaters and a wood burning stove, you soon learn to keep the doors closed. If you let it all gush out of the door, you’ll struggle to heat the house up again until tomorrow.
The same applies for windows. Open them only as much as you need for healthy ventilation during the winter.
Low energy food is a great way to save energy at home. I don’t mean food that is low in calories, but food that uses less energy in its production, packaging, transportation and preparation.
The key variables are plant vs animal, food miles, seasonality, packaging and cooking.
The ultimate low energy food therefore would be raw fruit and salad grown in your own garden. The worst would probably be a highly packaged, processed cooked meat from the other side of the world. Basically, imported SPAM!
You eat at least three times a day, and every time it is an opportunity to not just save save energy, but positively impact a huge number of other social, environmental and ethical issues. Making conscious food choices on one of the best things that any individual can do.
There is a culture that we will generally buy the biggest home that we can afford. Homes are a status symbol and most people dream of having a large home.
This culture is crazy though. Homes are the most expensive things that most people ever buy and the bigger and more expensive your home, the more years of your life you have to spend earning money to pay for it, maintain it, furnish it and heat it.
The bigger your home, the more energy you need to pump into it to keep it warm. It isn’t rocket science.
To illustrate this, my wife and I have a tiny tent that we take camping and despite being only separated from the elements by a tiny sheet of fabric, it warms up with our body heat because it is so tiny. Contrast this with a PassivHaus that we visited, which despite its vast amounts of expesnive insulation and triple glazed windows, still had underfloor heating and a wood burning stove because it was far too big for its two occupants.
The solution is simple. Instead of buying or renting the biggest home that you can afford, choose the smallest one that you can manage living in. It will save you a fortune in money, time, stress and save energy. Not to mention the positive social impact of freeing up valuable space for larger families who actually need it.
If you have any interesting energy saving ideas, I would like to hear them so please share them in the comments or message me.