Living la dolce vita
On the face of it, our lives at the moment should resemble hell. We’re having building work done and have vacated our bedroom but thankfully our son is a grown up and living in Newcastle, so we can live in his old room. Despite the noise (we’re both still working from home), life is surprisingly comfortable.
Our master bedroom is a little wow, about twice the size of a standard bed one and the ensuite is of the same proportion. We’re having that ensuite completely remodeled. It will take a while and we’re a week in. Thankfully, that’s the ripping out and because no nasty surprises were found, the rebuild is already underway.
Our son’s room is bed 2 and has it’s own bathroom too. So we’re not really slumming it. His bed is a little smaller and there’s less storage but we’ve moved a unit in from our room which makes it feel like home from home.
There are terrible things happening, as usual, across the world. These have caused gas and electricity prices to go up, however going through our budgets, things do not feel too scary. Yes, it will mean more money going on power but the steps we’ve taken to reduce our carbon footprint have all meant we’re spending less than the average house in terms of power anyway.
Our house has a carbon footprint of 3.99 tonnes per annum: we’ve knocked nearly 0.4 tonnes off our annual consumption. Our electricity bill is negative (i.e. we’re contributing more than we’re using) and goes a long way towards paying for our heating.
While we’re still using gas in the house, we use 19,176 kWh per annum over approx. 653m3. So that’s approx. or 29 kWh per m3 a day, which isn’t at all bad.. We’re never cold. Over the summer, excess electricity generation from our solar cells warms our hot water, reducing our footprint a little.
We’re not using a heat pump, but given the average house in the UK produces 6 tonnes of CO2 a year, we’re using a lot less than the average.
Aren’t you goody two shoes?
For me, everything everyone does matters. The price of electricity and gas going up is awful. Simple things can help.
Using gas to keeping warm and using the same techniques to stay cool during summer
- Fit blinds to your windows. Thermally insulated ones needn’t cost the earth but provide an extra layer of protection to an area where heat is lost.
- Ensure your loft is insulated. There are many options, but fibreglass works really well and is relatively cheap but ensure condensation and roof leaks are sorted out. If fibreglass gets wet, it doesn’t work well. There are other alternatives as seen in https://www.insulation-info.co.uk/roof-insulation including Rock wool. If you’re relatively fit and healthy, it can be a DIY task, but both these options require the use of protective equipment to ensure skin and lung irritation is avoided.
- Only heat what you need to: we’re talking thermostats here and timed ones are better than just setting a temperature as all people have different physiological needs during the day. The big beauty about controlling your heating by the thermostat is you can protect against frost, keeping rooms above 12°C means burst pipes are avoided and above 16° helps avoid condensation and therefore damp. For radiators, although this is not a cheap option, smart radiator valves can make a huge difference where you already have thermostatic valves on your radiators. At least one radiator needs to be open (we have that in the bathroom) to protect the boiler, but this can make a huge difference to heating bills and comfort.
- During the winter, make use of thermal gain. Open curtains during the day and close them about 30 minutes before sunset. Teamed with room thermostats, this can make a big difference on a sunny day.
- If you’re sitting at home cold and it’s possible, go outside. This sounds insane, but stepping outside for 15 minutes and getting your muscles working will make your house seem warmer when you go back inside. Remember to wrap up warm before you go 🙂
- During the summer, close curtains and blinds to prevent solar gain. Open them up once the late afternoon arrives. The thermally insulating blinds we used over the winter can stop thermal gain too – don’t air condition, block the sun. For a modern look, a plain blind a similar colour to your wall can help tie in a look while a white one can help make the most of lighting schemes.
- Keep air flowing – insulation is great but you and your home need to breathe. Trickle vents should be open during the winter when people are in the house and opening windows would lose too much heat.
- Service your boiler at least once a year. This ensures it is working at its best efficiency and every 1 kWh of gas burnt is used to full benefit.
- If you have a dual cavity oven and are only cooking a small thing, try using the small oven. Much like using the right sized hob ring, smaller spaces are cheaper to get to temperature.
- Over the winter, we use a big (not thick) duvet. Going from a single to a double on a single bed can stop draughts by ensuring the duvet hangs over the edge of the bed. We use a super king on a king size. That allows us to have the room we sleep in down to 16°C without suffering at all. Over the summer, I swap the duvet for sheets under the much thinner and smaller duvet. When it’s really hot, the duvet can be stowed at the end of the bed and the sheet allows for a wicking effect to happen and at 3am or so, the duvet can be readded.
- Do make the effort to close doors. Even if there is a draft under them, thermally, they make spaces smaller and easier to heat 🙂
- Swap out halogen lights. While they are bright, they are as bad as incandescents in terms of power use (or may actually be worse). CFTs or LEDs are better alternatives and both are available in a range of fittings. Typically, lighting will make up 20% of your household consumption.
- When looking at lights, check the rating of the lumens (may be given in lm) , this is the brightness, against the power, measured in watts. High lm value against a low W value is the ideal and can help you work out the best options for you.
- Cooking options using electric rather than gas: cooking is typically 7-10% of a weekly “energy spend”. Microwave ovens are much more efficient and combination microwave and convention or grills can make cooking quicker while leaving a crispy finish. You’re not limited to just reheating either, microwaves can be used for many “from scratch” recipes including stocks, soups, poaching, and baking. I love them for vegetables and fish. If you don’t have one already, a basic one can be bought for very little, https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=microwave+oven against what it might save.
- If you have solar cells, cook main meals at midday and have cold or quickly cook meals in the evening, making the most of your prepaid power.
- You don’t need to replace your whole hob with an induction hob, a simple plug in one can allow you to access this cheaper form of hob cooking without a huge expense. I bought one for our barbequeing to reduce our carbon footprint and reduce fire risk but my lunch is often cooked on this. The only downside is needing a steel pan – I would recommend doing that as opposed to buying a big adapter plate for all your pans and that will reduce efficiency.
- Of course, using the camping induction hob has let us know we really like this way of cooking, so that’s something we’re saving against.
- Use a lid when heating on a hob. A bit like insulating your house, your cooking will heat at a lower temperature and boil quicker. I bought a Silicone Lid for Pots a while ago which not only provides that cover but stops the pan from over boiling.
- We keep vegetables in the fridge to maximise shelf life. Taking them out 30-60 minutes before you’re going to use them makes use of ambient temperature rather than the oven or hob taking the strain. You can do the same with roast meats too.
- Roast meats at a cooler temperature. Cooking for a little longer at 160°C for a small joint can make a big difference, especially if your using solar electricity to cook.
- Use the timer on the oven to ensure the oven is switched off when cooking stops.
- Heat pumps (air or ground) are not the only way to switch from gas central heating. Modern storage heaters are worth looking at, especially if you are out of the house all day and have solar cells. Originally, they were used to balance the grid and cheap electricity provided at night was used to provide heat during the day. Instead, the new ones make use of cheap, green electricity generated by the sun while you are at work and store heat in the radiator until it is needed when you get home. Storage heaters expect there to be a period in your day you don’t need to be using the heaters so they can get warm. If someone is in the house 16 hours or more a day, they may be less suitable.
- “Effectively going off grid” and ensuring you are not going over your solar generated electricity can be done with some serious planning. High power kettles, running cookers on full power, washing machines on a boil wash and microwaves run on high can all hurt the cause if run willy nilly but staggering when things run can mean you make the most of what you generate. In the summer, the UK has between 5 and 8 hours of sun on average (over the last 10 years). which makes this an interesting option.
- If you have solar, the other thing you can do is buy a Solar iBoost. Any unused solar power is used to turn on your hot water immersion heater without the need for complicated solar heaters. Over the summer, our gas consumption goes down to 400 kWh a month without modifying our behaviour (4 baths a week and a morning shower every day). It works during the winter too but is harder to see. When our boiler broke down one year, we just used immersion hot water and can really cut our CO2 usage: so we’re thinking that might be the way we run things over the summer.
- Again, if you have solar, charge batteries during midday rather than over night.
Of course, there are other options for cooking including using charcol, wood, or bottled gas. This is an interesting take on the cooking issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ueUXAzPltE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kXWfmN1wMhs, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szIRgcGyLdw if you have the patience to wait if there’s no direct sunlight. An interesting option for spending time in the garden though. GoSun are not the only manufacturers on market, as https://www.ecowatch.com/solar-oven-guide-2655204322.html demonstrates. If you have a suitable area, an option for weekend living and going zero CO2?