4 July 2012

It's Criminal to Waste Energy

There's a lot going on in your house that you don't know about.

Don't worry, it's nothing to do with the family and you haven't got mice.  The truth is that appliances, light bulbs, walls, floors and boilers may seem like harmless inanimate object but in many cases they're directly wasting energy - and money.
Did you know that a regular house loses over 40% of its heat through loft spaces and walls?

The world's scientific community is now agreed that climate change represents a calamitous threat to our environment.  
The burning of coal, gas and oil for transport, energy and electricity is releasing more carbon dioxide into the air than plants and the ocean can absorb.  For Britain alone could mean stormier, wetter and windier weather with wide differences in regional climate.  (As I speak, in the middle of July, when it's wet and windy, I can agree with this!)
Ultimately it will affect everything - including agriculture, water, resources, human health, wildlife and the countryside.
But not all is lost.  We can all 'do our bit' to help reduce the effects of climate change simply by taking a look at the many energy-wasting culprits in our homes and doing something to make them a little better behaved.

Wherever you buy and use products bearing the Energy Efficiency Recommended logo (see left) you'll be doing exactly that. The Energy Efficiency Recommended logo helps you identify and buy energy efficient products.
The logo makes the most efficiency products instantly recognisably, so it's easier to buy energy efficient products.  Only products which meet or exceed the energy efficiency criteria can use this logo.  It appears on a wide range of products (see http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/).  These items may cost more to buy but they will cost less to run, which will tend to work out cheaper over their lifetime, as well as reducing CO2 emissions.
The European Union (EU) Energy label (see right) rates appliances from A (most efficient) to G (least) and provides additional information, such as the capacity of the machine.  This label must, by law, be shown on all white goods, so if you can't see it, ask the retailer.

Grants and Offers
There's a wide range of grants and offers available to help your home become more energy efficient.  The Grant Information Database: provide a single central source of information about domestic energy efficiency grants and offers (see: www.government-grants.co.uk).

An A rated appliance could save these amounts per year:
  • fridge freezer - £35
  • upright/chest freezer - £30
  • fridge - £l20
  • washing machine - £5
  • dishwasher - £15
An energy-efficient washing machine will use a third less electricity for each wash which, over its lifetime, could save you more than the cost of the appliance, so a cheap second-hand appliance could cost more in the long run.

Energy saving light bulbs cost more but last longer and use far less energy (and the latest ones look exactly like ordinary lights bulbs) look for the Energy Efficient Recommended logo.

Ordinary bulbs  v  energy saving bulb 
25W  =  6W
40W  =  8 - 11W
60W   =   13 - 18W
100W  =  20 - 25W

The best place for energy efficient light bulbs is where they're on most often and for the longest period.  Tip: If a light bulb needs to be on more than four hours a day then it pays to have an energy efficient bulb.  However, energy saving light bulbs don't work with electronic sensors, dimmers and timers, so it's worth checking the manufacturer's instructions first.

What sort of heating do you need?
Full central heating is probably best if you need to keep every room warm most of the time.  If, however, your home is particularly well insulated or you find that upstairs rooms get too hot, then consider partial central heating or other alternatives.

You could cut your central heating costs by up to 17% simply by controlling heating more effectively through addressing these four elements:
  • room temperature
  • temperature of stored hot water
  • on/off times for heating and hot water
  • switching off the boiler when heating is no longer required
Controls should be able to react to changes in temperature, provide different levels of temperature in different rooms and you should be able to switch heating and hot water on and off when needed.  

You may need to upgrade controls to reap maximum benefits and installing a new energy efficient boiler could use a third less gas.

Timeswitch or programmer: turns boiler on and off automatically.

Room thermostats: should be fixed to the wall of the most frequently used room.  It should be part of a 'complete control system' that switches the boiler off to prevent 'dry cycling', which is where the boiler fires just to keep itself hot, even though no heat is needed by the radiators or hot water cylinder.  Tip: could fit one thermostat upstairs and one downstairs.

Thermostatic radiator values (TRVs): these work best in rooms which overheat, such as kitchens or conservatories; or in rooms which are rarely used, such as spare bedrooms.  Tip: don't fit a thermostatic radiator valve in the same room as a room thermostat.  It'll stop the room thermostat from turning off the heating when it should.

Which controls are best?  The more control, the greater the energy and financial savings.  A full controls package includes a room thermostat, cylinder thermostat, timer/programmer, motorised valves, TRVs and upgrade of central heating pipework to a fully pumped system.  It's best to upgrade heating controls as part of more wide-ranging work on your heating or hot water system, such as replacing your boiler or hot water cylinder.

Boilers: there are four main types of modern gas boilers:
  • high efficiency boiler (about 88% efficient)
  • conventional boiler (about 78% efficient)
  • high efficiency combination boiler (no hot water cylinder)
  • conventional combination boiler (no hot water cylinder)
Like other appliances, boilers are given an average seasonal efficiency rating from A to G (see http://www.boilers.org.uk/) or ask your installer.

As can be imagined, high efficiency boilers waste the least energy.  In a conventional boiler much of the heat produced by the burning fuel is either lost in the surrounding air or disappears up the flue.  If your boiler is more than 15 years old, replacing it could save as much as one third off fuel bills.  These boilers can be fitted to most new and old heating systems, they're easy to install and can be bought for oil, solid fuel and gas-fuelled homes.


A smaller, well insulated property could just have partial or no central heating.  Individual heaters may be cheaper to install and run - or gas fires, convector heaters, electric storage heaters or solid fuel stoves.

When it's cold outside, most people instinctively turn up their heating, and others grab hats, coats, scarves and mittens.  You wouldn't go out wearing a string vest in January, yet your home could be doing the equivalent, by providing flimsy protection against outside cold.

The wider the surface area, the greater the potential heat loss.    Uninsulated walls account for up to 33% of your home's lost heat.  If it was built post-1930s, your home will most likely have cavity walls.  To find out simply measure the thickness of the wall at any window or door.  Cavity walls are at least 12" thick, whereas solid walls are normally only 9" thick.
If you have a cavity then cavity wall insulation is preferable, although it's necessary check that your walls are suitable for such insulation.  It's a straightforward, inexpensive and low-disruption job, although the work must be carried out by a professional.  Alternatively it is possible to insulate the inside - or even the outside - of your walls although this is far more costly.
Time within which you're likely to recoup your costs:
  • cavity wall insulation: 3 - 5 years
  • internal wall insulation: 5 - 6 years
  • external wall insulation: 11 - 14 years
As heat rises lofts are the obvious place to start insulating your house.  You could save 25% of your heating costs with 10" of insulation in your loft. Even if you already have some form of loft insulation, topping up to this level is even more advantageous.  The cost of 10" loft insulation compared with none will be recouped within two to three years, less if you do this yourself.  However, good ventilation is vital to minimise the risk of condensation and subsequent wood rot.
There are three types of loft insulation:
  • blown mineral wool/blown cellulose fibre (professionally installed)
  • mineral wool quilt (DIY/professional installed)
  • loose fill  (DIY/professional installed)
Don't forget to draught strip and insulate the loft hatch.  Once your loft is insulated it will be cooler up there, so the tanks and pipes need insulating too.
Hot water tank and pipe insulation costs don't save much money but they're cheap to do so the cost can can be recouped within between one and two years.  Where possible, use materials which .  comply to the standard BS 7386.  If you already have a jacket but it's less than 3", putting another one on top can save even more money.
Oh, and don't forget to check where your pipework comes into the house, see if there's a draught and if so, seal it up!  However, without ventilation your house will become stale and stuffy, especially if you have solid fuel fires, gas fires or an open-flue boiler - so sweep chimneys regularly and check your air bricks for blockages.

Kitchens and bathrooms suffer the most, so while it's fine to draught proof-internal doors, you should leave kitchen and bathroom windows open to prevent condensation.  If condensation remains, an extractor fan will help, also opening windows while cooking, running hot water or drying clothes.  Tip: Trickle vents (fitted in the window frame) can provide limited additional ventilation, particularly when opening a window is likely to let in a cold draught.

Floor insulation helps if you feel a draught under your feet, as it reduces heating costs still further by applying a regular tube sealant to the gap, much like the type found around the bath.   Or, the trick years ago was to put bits of newspaper between each floorboard, cheap and effective.  Ditto between floor and skirting boards.
If you have access under the floor (through a cellar for example), or if you need to take your floorboards up for some other reason, it's worth insulating underneath.  Will make the room warmer and saving up to £25 per years.  Tip: Don't block any under-floor air bricks in your outside walls as the floorboards will rot without adequate ventilation.

There are also the most obvious - and cheapest - forms of insulation: round the edges of doors and window openings.  Draught-proofing strips cost pennies and save pounds.

Double glazing could halve the heat lost through your windows.  By trapping air in the gap between the two pieces of glass it creates an insulating barrier that reduces noise, condensation and cuts heat loss though the windows.  Again, if you can't afford to double glaze the whole house, fit it where the rooms cost most to heat.   

The government has introduced new building regulations which set a minimum standard of thermal insulation for replacement windows.  This glass has a special invisible metallic coating which reflects heat back into your room, thus conserving heat.  
Although it's the window installer's responsibility to comply with these new regulations, check anyway.  The key to reducing heat loss lies in the width of the air space between the two panes of glass - the wider the gap the better the insulation.  The standard gap is about 16mm, whereas anything above 20mm achieves little additional saving.

Secondary glazing is less expensive than replacement double glazing and can still save money on bills.  Tip: There may be restrictions on your house due to age or location.  

Conservatories are good a trapping the sun on hot days, but are just as good at losing the heat on cold days - even when double glazed.  Keep the wall and any doors between the conservatory and the adjoining room well insulated to reduce unnecessary heat loss.  South-facing conservatories stay reasonably warm in winter; but become clammy in summer.

Exterior doors: to eliminate draughts and wasted heat use an easy-to-fix brush or pvc seal on exterior doors.  However, ventilation is a vital. Letterboxes and keyholes can let in draughts, a nylon brush or a cover help, also a cover over the keyhole.

Ordinary (not power) showers uses only two-fifths of the hot water needs for a bath - or share a bath with a friend.

Be energy efficient without spending a penny

  • Turn CH thermostat down.  If you're going away for winter leave the thermostat on a low setting to provide protection from freezing at minimum cost.
  • Hot water needs to be hot, but never scalding.  For most people, setting the thermostat at 60C/140F is fine.
  • Always put a plug in your basin or sink! Leaving the hot water taps running without the plus is akin to washing money down the plughole. 
  • Don't leave tap running when cleaning your teeth.
  • Close curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows. Also close curtains when it's very windy and blowy.
  • Always turn off lights when vacating a room - and adjust your curtains or blinds to let in as much light at possible during the day.
  •  Don't leave machines on standby, but first check that this won't reset the appliance's memory.  Tip:  Also don't leave machines on charge unnecessarily. 
  • Don't leave the fridge or freezer door open longer than necessary. Avoid putting hot or warm food straight into the fridge or freezer.  Preferably don't site fridge or freezer near cooker, or in hot sunlight.  
  • Remove food from the freezer in good time, saves energy.
  • Always wash a full load in washing machine, dishwasher and tumble dryer. Use low temperature programmes where possible. Hang washing outside to dry.
  • Choose right size pan for the food and cooker - the base should just cover the ring. Keep lid on when cooking.  Use the minimum amount of water possible to cook food.
  • Heat the amount of water needed in the kettle, not more, but ensure that the element is covered.
  • Mend dripping taps.

Then relax, know that you're doing all you can to save energy - and money.



Energy Efficiency Advice centre: 0800 512 012.http://www.actonenergy.org.uk/

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