More advice for energy saving

This page has general advice developed from our experience of visiting over two thousand homes in Waltham Forest since 2001.

Why save energy?

Every scrap of fuel you use costs money. Leaving the TV, lights, DVD or computer 'on' when you aren't using them, opening the window when you could turn the heat down, and not insulating your loft are just some of the dozens of ways that energy / money can be wasted. Fossil fuels - gas, oil, coal - produce carbon dioxide when they are burnt, whether for heating, fuelling a car, or generating electricity. The majority of weather scientists and most governments agree that increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere caused by human activity is the main cause of increased global temperatures. Global CO2 emissions need to be reduced by at least 60% to be sustainable and we all have a part to play. Making our homes more energy efficient is one of the most important and practical things we can do as 30% of the emissions produced in Britain come from the fuel we use in our homes. Here are some of the ways in which you can start to make a difference.

Insulation

Better insulation is the key to saving energy in the home and there is no ongoing cost after the initial investment. Loft and cavity wall insulation are inexpensive measures that in most cases will pay for themselves in fuel savings in less than 5 years.

Wall Insulation

Houses built before 1930 have solid walls which are expensive and inconvenient to insulate. Despite the fact that more heat is lost through walls than through roofs, windows or doors, the available solutions have generally not been adopted because of cost and practicality. If these obstacles can be overcome, however, wall insulation comes highly recommended as an energy saving measure.

Most houses since the 1930s have cavity walls i.e. a space inside the wall that can be filled with insulation. All houses built after 1985 should have cavity insulation already built in. If you have cavity walls that are not already insulated, this is the most cost effective energy saving measure available. Find out whether you have solid or cavity walls.

Double-Glazing

Double-glazing is expensive and should only be considered as an energy saving measure once cheaper and more effective measures, such as loft insulation or efficient heating, are in place. PVCU double-glazing (the most common kind) is very polluting in production and is therefore not an environmentally-friendly choice. It can also make condensation problems worse unless adequate ventilation is fitted and will need replacing after about 25 years. Timber (from a sustainable source) is preferable and will last far longer if looked after.

Heating in Your Home

If you have central heating

The timer or programmer should be set to suit your daily routine: ON 15-30 minutes before you get up; OFF 15-30 minutes before you leave the house or go to bed. This allows for warming up and cooling down.

The room thermostat should be set no higher than 21c and even 19c may be comfortable. There is no need to set it higher in cold weather as this will not make the house warm up faster. Each degree setting over 21c will cost you up to 10% extra on your bill. Too hot (over 23c) can be unhealthy just as too cold (under 15c) can be. Use a thermometer to monitor air temperature.

Thermostatic radiator valves (if fitted) should be turned to a low setting in areas of the house that are not being used. When the room reaches the temperature setting the radiator will slowly stop giving out heat. It will warm up again as the temperature in the room falls, maintaining an even temperature in the room. Turn the radiator control down if the room gets too hot. A medium setting will normally be sufficient. Avoid leaving them on the highest setting.

The boiler thermostat should be left on a high setting unless there are no other controls on the system. If you have room or radiator thermostats and hot water temperature control you should not need to adjust the boiler thermostat at all during normal operation. If you only have a boiler thermostat adding a room thermostat will significantly improve system efficiency.

Radiators will not be effective if they are covered or are blocked by furniture directly in front of them.

Reflective panels behind radiators will reduce heat loss through walls and improve efficiency.

Sluggish circulation of water through the system will cause the bottom of the radiator to remain cold. It can be caused by sludge and will greatly reduce system efficiency. A system flush will be needed to clear it.

Air in the system will cause the tops of one or more radiators not to heat up. The answer is to bleed the air out from the valve at the top corner or the radiator - a simple task you can do yourself with a bleed key. If this is a recurring problem it means that there is corrosion or a leak in the system and it requires checking by a plumber or heating engineer.

The Institute of Plumbing lists local registered plumbers in Yellow Pages.

If you need a new central heating boiler

Since April 2005 it has been compulsory to fit a condensing boiler when an old boiler is replaced or a new boiler fitted. Older boilers may be no more than 60% efficient whereas condensing boilers can operate at over 90% efficiency meaning that your heating and hot water costs would be up to 50% less. This is probably the single most effective measure you can take to reduce emissions

Room heaters

Gas is generally preferable to electricity because more CO2 per appliance is produced by electricity generation than by the domestic use of gas as a fuel.

Bottled gas room heaters are as expensive to use as peak time electricity and create fumes and moisture. If you are using bottled gas you are advised to switch to an alternative such as an electric convector heater with a thermostat and timer, which is cheaper, healthier and less harmful to the building.

Coal effect gas fires are very inefficient as heating and waste fuel.

Electric fan heaters can be efficient to warm air quickly in a bathroom but only while the room is in use. They should always be mounted at high level and operated by a cord. Installation should be by a qualified electrician. It is dangerous to use any electric heater in a bathroom other than one installed in this way.

Electric storage heaters with off peak electricity are considered efficient when gas central heating is not an option. They are however inflexible and additional heating is almost always needed. For economy, set the output control to minimum at night and turn it up only gradually in the day as you start to feel cool.

Hot water with central heating

If you get hot water from a cylinder connected to your central heating set the hot water to come on for half an hour in the morning. Unless you use more than a bath full in the morning you will only need to heat it for half an hour later in the day to have as much hot water as you are likely to need. The amount of hot water you need will depend on the size of your household and what you need hot water for (bathing, washing etc) but there is no need to keep the hot water switched on if your programmer allows the heating and hot water to operate independently. A properly insulated cylinder will keep water at a useable temperature most of the day without further heat input.

Set your hot water cylinder thermostat to 60c. If it is hotter than this it will tend to scale up the pipes. If your water is scalding hot the thermostat may be broken, turned up too high or missing. Each degree setting over 60c will cost you money unnecessarily and is a waste of fuel.

Hot water by electric immersion heater

If you get your hot water from an electric immersion heater it should be fitted with a timer and set to come on for just sufficient time to heat the water to 60c (about half an hour) once in the morning and again in the evening. Or just switch it on when you need some hot water and then switch it off again. Leaving it on constantly will waste energy. The cylinder should also have a good, well-fitted jacket to retain the heat.

Paying for Fuel

Read your electricity and gas meters to keep track of your energy use and to check that your bills are correct.

If you are looking for a better deal, don't sign up to a different fuel supplier on the doorstep, shop around to compare energy prices to get the best price for you and consider signing up to a supplier who invests in renewable (non CO2 producing) forms of power generation.

Damp

Damp is caused in three ways apart from condensation - rainwater penetration, rising damp, or a broken pipe or drain. Apart from the damage that it causes, which may include rot and mould, insect infestation and damage to plaster and paintwork, damp makes a home colder because it conducts heat away. Sources of damp should always be rooted out and remedied before serious damage is caused.

Do not assume that damp low on a wall must be rising damp. There is usually another simpler explanation and a new damp proof course may not be the correct remedy.

Wooden windows and doors need protection from moisture inside and out or they may swell and rot. Flaking paint should be scraped off and primer painted on bare wood when it is in a dry condition. Next, undercoat and one or two coats of gloss paint should be applied. This should be done externally about every 5-7 years.

Paints and solvents also give off greenhouse gasses and less harmful types should be used where available.

Lighting

Low energy bulbs use about one fifth of the electricity of an ordinary light bulb and last 8-10 times longer. You can save £50-60 over the life of the bulb making the initial extra cost very worthwhile. Fit them in hallways, living rooms and landings as a first priority then to the rest of the house. Use lower wattage bulbs where bright light is unnecessary and switch off lights when they are not needed. Light colours on walls and window frames reflect more light and reduce the need for lighting.

Ceiling downlighters use more energy than is required and when fitted upstairs create heat leakage points because the ceiling around them cannot be insulated.

Curtains

Open curtains during the day to benefit from the sun's heat and close them at sundown to help keep heat inside. Thick, lined curtains can reduce heat loss through a window but must not cover radiators.

Electric appliances

Energy labels tell you how efficient a new appliance is. By selecting an energy efficient model you will save on your bills and cause less pollution to the atmosphere.

Fridges and freezers should be sited away from sources of heat with space behind to let air circulate. They should be defrosted regularly to remain efficient. If the door seals aren't working or the door to the ice-making compartment is broken the fridge will leak energy. Old fridges must not be dumped but collected for the refrigerant gases to be extracted.

Use Washing machines on an economy setting; wait until you have a full load; don't pre-wash unless very dirty; 40c setting is hot enough for most washing.

Only use Tumble driers when you can't hang out washing; use extra spin before drying; never let machine vent inside the house.

Make sure the oven door of your cooker is sealed; use small rings for small pans; use lids; turn heat down once boiling; use toaster instead of grill.

Switch off the standby button on TVs, stereos etc. as they use 25% as much power on standby as in use.

Conserve your own body heat by wearing sufficient warm clothing when indoors rather than turning up the heating!

Get more information on solar heating and climate change.

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