Tuesday, 24 November 2009

End of year review

I can't believe we've got to the end of the Carbon Watchers pilot scheme already!

It's only been within the past 6 weeks we've really got a grasp of reducing our household electricity consumption and we've made a massive difference.

it's all since DH put in the tankless water heater. Our daily usage has reduced from 17 kwh per day back in February to 9 kwh for the past month. I'm over the moon with that reduction. It isn't solely because of the tankless water heater, it's because that one change increased my awareness about how we use electricity.

I started looking at how I cook and realised I was leaving things on the hob. I'd bring them to the boil, and leave them to simmer for ages because I would get side tracked. now I'm using a timer and I can't tell you how quickly 10 minutes disappears on this darn computer....

We're also turning everything off at night; all that is running is the fridges and freezer and one lightbulb for DD. The lightbulb is an LED, so that uses next to nothing.

I'm batch cooking more and using the residual heat from the oven to do things like roast onions for using in soups and curries later in the week. That means I don't need to use the hob to fry onions.

And now we have the woodburner going, I'm using it to cook on, keep things warm and pre heat water before boiling in the kettle - it's all making a difference.

I've just redone my carbon footprint. Back in January, when I started the plan; we used 4.72 tonnes, split up as follows:

Home 0.44
Appliances 2.53
Travel 1.75

In June, half way through I had 5.01 split up as follows:

Home 0.51
Appliances 2.75
Travel 1.75

Today, I had 3.9 tonnes as follows:

Home 0.45
Appliances 1.32
Travel 2.13

I'm not quite sure what's happened with the travel except that I might have under estimated the number of miles I do at the beginning of the year. I was surprised to see it's between 8 and 9000 per year; I thought it was around 6000. but DD was going to a club every day of the week at one point, so that involved a lot of driving around.

Plus, because we bought a car with better fuel consumption, we had three holidays away this year - normally we have just 1 holiday - a bit counter productive really, but there we are!
I'm really pleased with the appliances dropping lower and this must be down to the tankless water heater and replacing all the lightbulbs with LEDs.

We've also put in a couple of solar panels and had double glazing installed and we're currently STILL waiting for a more efficient wood burner to be installed.

All in all we've done loads when I look back over the year. I remember listing all our goals on the side of this blog and feeling they were well out of reach. It looks like we've completed about 80% of them, so I'm really pleased with that. There is always room for improvement, so we'll be contuntally monitoring things and seeing where we can reduce our carbon footprint further.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Our tankless water heater!

I'm really excited! DH got an old shower from a friend, attached it to the outside of the kitchen wall, has installed a new tap on the kitchen sink (which he also got for free) and we now have hot water for washing up without needing to put the immersion heater on!

I am hopeful this will enable us to reduce our electricity by a considerable amount. At the moment we have the immersion heater on for 1 hour a day and I feel that often a lot of that heat is wasted.

We only have a couple of baths per week, so for 5 days of the week we are heating up an entire tank of water for a couple bowls of washing up water. I know I could use the kettle to heat the water, but I do like to have hot water for hand washing - especially for DD as she plays with all sorts of unmentionable things.

We're going to see how we get on with it for a month or so. If it works out really well we will consider investing in a 'real' tankless water heater which we can use for the bath too. The investment will be around £200 but I have a feeling the payback will be quick.

So I'm off to bed and will be switching the immersion heater off until we need a bath - yipee!

Now you're wondering from looking at the photo how I get the water out of the tap, right? There is nothing to turn! Well my creative, genius man has installed a foot switch LOL!

It's tiny piece of wood attached to the kick board and I push my foot against it. Et voila - instant hot water!

He did this because I often have dirty hands from kneading sticky dough or have greasy hands from dealing with butter or oil. Now I don't need to touch the tap to turn it on!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

October;s theme - bye bye standby

The theme for October is to turn appliances off standby.

Apparently People in Britain waste more than £740 million worth of electricity each year leaving appliances on standby.

This equates to the average UK household spending up to 8% of their electricity bill by leaving the red light on at night!

The average home has 12 appliances on standby or on charge.

I've got back into good habits lately with turning off the computer peripherals (laser printer and router) before bed. I had been leaving these on.

This week we set up a power down in the bedroom for our monitor, DVD player and surround sound system. This means by turning off the DVD player, it automatically switches off the other appliances.

We have a CD, amp and pre amp in the lounge, but I'm good at switching those off the wall already and we only use it about once a week anyway.

The mobile phone is only charged about once a month as I never use it and I keep it on trickle charge in the car.

Just out of interest; I've also started using my energy monitor again to see what appliances and gadgets are using the most electricity.

  • My laptop is using 1/2 kw per day from 7am to 10pm - about 6p.
  • The kettle uses 0.9p to boil the water I need for one drink and 2.4p to boil a full kettle so it really does make a difference to boil only the water you need!
  • My dehydrator uses 32p to dry a complete load of food - about 2 kws for 8 hours.
  • My mobile phone didn't cost anything LOL! I guess it's either a tiny amount or it was already charged more than I thought when I did it this week; I'll have to do it again and see.
I really think we now turn everything off standby, but I will make the effort this month to spend 5 minutes walking around the house before bed to check.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Theme for September - Do you really need to travel?

This month's theme is about road travel again.

We've already looked at ways to drive more efficiently. I've been keeping a log of how much fuel we put in the car and how many miles we do on a spread sheet and it's showing our average fuel consumption to be 42 mpg. We have an onboard caluclator thing, but I've been keeping a record of how much diesel we put in and how many miles we get from it - I'm not sure which is the most accurate.

For September, we're encouraged to consider our road transport both in terms of
  • Personal travel
  • The things we buy

22% of the UK's carbon emissions come from road transport so looking at these two ideas can help cut the country's overall emissions.

Now I have to confess that we do 'pop out' more than we should. We changed our car to a more fuel efficient one, but didn't change our habits much; in fact I think we saw it as a green light (boom boom) to be a little more careless with car use.

I talked to DH about this the other day and so far I've managed to walk to the shops once, instead of getting the car out. I have other issues that prevent me walking as much as I might, but I can build on taking one trip a month to the local shop or Post Office.

We combine errands wherever we can, but our downfall is the occasional takeaway, DVD rental or beer - those are the three things we get the car out for, but forward planning and more self discipline could stop all of that.

We do however, 'shop local' in the grand scheme of things. I'm amazed how many of my friends travel to Gloucester to shop when we have so many great places in a more immediate area. We have a butcher and library 3 miles away and a co-op and Lidls about 6 miles away. Our farm shop is about 5 miles away and we have an orchard 2 miles down the road. We're very lucky and supporting the orchard and farm shop also means we reduce our food miles because it's grown on site.

In addition we grow some of our own food - this year it was tomatoes, courgettes, beans, sweetcorn, potatoes, beetroot, salad leaves, kale, cucumber, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, pumpkins and we grow our own herbs.

I am vegetarian and eat a lot of rice and lentils - flown in from India and turkey no doubt. I think it's easier for a meat eater to eat locally; we can buy organic meat which is reared a few miles away and get local eggs and cheese (neither of which I eat).

I've been thinking about going back to supermarket delivery - that is a greener way to shop because a full supermarket truck keeps about 20 cars off the road. The thing is we're not very good at organising and shopping for an entire week.

This is all sounding like excuses, but I just know my limitations!

I travel into Gloucester once a month for a healing treatment, and we end up with a long list of things to do while we are there, like catching up with my friend who lives over there and going to shops to get things we cannot buy locally. I also pick up a suma order from Gloucester, and try and combine it all on the same day.

I think we do pretty well, but there is always room for improvement. We do all our leisure activities locally; most of it involves walking outside the back door into the fields. And this term, we've cut our daughter's clubs and activities from one every day to three per week so that will help reduce our car use. There is also talk of a local brownies group which means she can leave the one we drive to and join one within walking distance.

I haven't been taking readings for long enough to see our yearly mileage, but it looks like it's between 500 and 800 miles per month or 6000 - 9600 per year. I'm sure that is below 'average'.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Theme for August - Eco driving

I tend to find ''eco driving' a bit of a conflict of terms, but in this instance it means getting more miles to the gallon and thus reducing your carbon footprint.

We traded our thirsty 4x4 for an MPV this year. The 4x4 gave us 23 mpg. Our people carrier gives us around 55mpg; so we've already made a massive difference to our fuel consumption.

Tips for eco driving include:

Before you drive

• De-clutter your boot and remove the roof rack if you don’t need it
• Plan your trip: try and combine several short trips into one longer one
• Time your trip: avoid peak times if you can and check local radio for delays
• If you’re going somewhere unfamiliar plan the route to avoid detours
• Arrange to share the journey if possible – more “people miles” per gallon

How to drive smarter:

• Drive off from cold, just don’t rev the engine
• Change up the gears early - between 2,000 and 2,500 rpm
• Drive in the highest gear possible without labouring the engine
• Keep your distance from the car in front and look as far ahead as possible to avoid unnecessary braking
• Step off the accelerator as early as possible (but remain in gear) when slowing down or driving downhill
• Avoid excessive speed: at 70 mph a car uses approximately 10% more fuel than at 50 mph
• Park so you can drive straight off again

Lucie, the lady running Carbon Watchers, reckons her fuel consumption has changed from 45 - 48 mpg since using these tips.

It is reckoned that smarter driving or eco-driving could save you up to £220 and half a tonne of carbon per year.

There are a couple more tips that I am aware of; getting regular services on the car and checking the tyre pressure is correct.

I've now signed up for the Energy Saving Trust MPG calculator; so I'll be interested to hear what that comes up with.
We only have one car and there are always the three of us in it, we combine errands, plus we only do around 6000 miles per year. So there is probably little else we can do to change our figure on this month's challenge.

Theme for July - Reducing water consumption

We're back onto water again! In April we looked at capturing free water, such as installing rain butts.

We now have 4 in the garden, all full thanks for the recent rain. We're considering using them to flush the toilet, but until the weather improves for hubby to be able to get safely on the roof, that won't be happening.

This month we had to focus on the water we pay for i.e the stuff that comes out of our taps and look at ways we could reduce waste.

Tips included:

  1. Catch it: always put the plug in or a bowl underneath when you are running the tap.
  2. Re-use it: unless the water is really greasy and dirty you can usually re-use it for something, the garden is always good but other ideas include rinsing the dirt off the car before washing or giving your unwanted drinking water to animal.
  3. Cleanest first: really a variation on re-using, if you wash the cleanest things first you can re-use the water on the dirtier bits after, at least for a pre-wash. Works for dishes, surfaces, floors, cars, dogs – everything!
We don't have a water meter here and I've been advised by the water board not to fit one as my usage means my water bill would increase!

However, I believe that over the next few years, water meters will be compulsory, so now is a good time to get into some better habits. Apparently, you can have a meter fitted and if you find it is not cost effective you can go back to unmetered; as long as you let the water company know within 12 months.

I must admit, I was quite shocked to think we used so much, but we have old toilets which require a lot of flush water, a mud magnet for a child (baths, washing) and DH does love to run that tap when he brushes his teeth.

This week my daughter was lying in the bath musing over whether a bath was a waste of water. Pouring all that water down the drain seems like a terrible waste and I'd love some way to capture it easily. I have to admit, if it requires much work it will be something I won't do.

it would be great to have that water captured in a tank, but with a downstairs bathroom we don't have much force of gravity.

Still, it made for an interesting home education experiment - how long does it take a dripping tap to fill a washing up bowl of water :)

We discovered too that the average person in the UK uses 150 litres of water per day. That's just astonishing...

I tried a couple of calculators recommended by Carbon Watchers and got the following results:

99 litres per day from the BBC water calculator (it didn't ask for drinking and eating requirements, which I thought was very strange!)

Over on the Thames water calculator, we just had a reading of 'low' for our water usage; it gave little information and I wouldn't recommend it.

So anyway, what can we do. Well, I don't really know. We already share bathwater; DD will bath after me or I'll share it with DH. Yes we *could* fit aerated taps, but I really don't think that will happen. One thing that might make a difference is putting a shower over the bath - I might be more inclined to use it as I ALWAYS take baths. I hate our shower room; it's manky and needs refiting, so I can't bring myself to go in there! Lame I know, but there we are; that is my eco confession!

Regarding washing I only ever wash with full loads and I simply do not agree that a dishwasher is more efficient than washing by hand. It depends on how you wash, surely? If I wash up twice a day using a washing up bowl each time, then that is only 18 litres of water. I'm sure a dishwasher would use more than that. plus I can use my water on the plants, whereas dishwashing water ends up down the drain. Plus most of the time I wash up without washing up liquid; unless things are greasy there is no need for a product, which I would then need to rinse off.

So I'm yet to be convinced on this dishwashing vs handwashing arguement.

There is an intriguing statistic on the Carbon Watchers site, which I don't actually understand:

The average family's annual water use releases as much CO2 as two transatlantic flights, according to Waterwise.

What on earth does that mean?

Anyway, we were sent a showerbob which is a timer for the shower; I must admit I've been using it for soft boiled eggs as it's three minutes LOL!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Double glazing

We're almost there with making a decision about double glazing!

We have had four quotes now, all from small, local firms rather than large corporations.

I feel a bit uneasy about the whole UPVC idea; I know it has its issues with the environment, but also, heating your home, only to have that heat leak outside is not a good move either.

We cannot afford hard wood frames, which would be my preference, so this is a time when we will have to compromise.

The one company I feel best about has a recycling policy at least - the glass is all recycled, but not the wooden frames as they have to be careful of lead paint.
Our house was build in 1936, so underneath all the modern paint will be some lead somewhere. Normally, I would burn the wood, at least to get something back from it; but I won't be burning it with the lead paint on it. So sadly, it will end up in a skip and eventually in landfill where it will contaminate the earth :(

I also learned that the manufacturer of PVC windows uses lead to stop discolouration! This will be phased out in 2012 and two of the companies we have had quotes from already use lead-free PVC.

There is so much to learn about making ethical decisions and it still seems to be a case of compromise no matter which way you look!