Easy as 1, 2, 3…

 In Blog

A Happy New Year to all our readers.

The last few months of 2018 brought a real sense of urgency around climate change, with a seemingly endless series of warnings from academia about the shortfall in our collective action compared to what is required to avoid the worst impacts from global warming.  Other parts of our society are starting to wake up to the dangers, with the business community and – increasingly – local government calling for more action, more quickly as the risks to society loom ever larger.

In 2019 we all need to up the ante, with a growing acceptance of the need to reduce carbon emissions to zero no later than the mid-2030s in order to allow developing countries some flexibility in developing a sustainable energy system.  Some of the responsibility lies with government, as the ability to decarbonise our energy supply lies in their hands.  On the other hand, we as consumers must also recognise our own responsibilities: the richest 10% of the global population is responsible for around 50% of carbon emissions, and the richest 20% accounting for 70% of emissions.  WinACC employees, volunteers and supporters almost certainly fall into one of those categories.

Here we look at three very simple things you can do in the home energy realm that can save a huge amount of energy for very little effort.


1.      LED bulbs

Although most energy in the home is used for heating, lighting can be one of the largest consumers of electricity.  More significantly, it is also one of the easiest to make more efficient.

The filament-based bulbs that most of still use to some extent are fantastically inefficient, with just 2-3% of the energy they use being turned into light.  The remainder turns into heat, which is not welcome when you’re trying to cool the house after a hot summer’s day, and is a very expensive way to heat your home at any time.

A few decades ago now, compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs – often called “energy saver” or “low energy” bulbs – started to appear as a much more efficient alternative, using around one-quarter of the power for the same output.  They had their disadvantages, however, as they were relatively fragile, and in some cases being slow to warm up and somewhat unattractive.

In the last few years, the latest lighting technology – LED (light emitting diode) – has come to the fore, demonstrating all the advantages of filament lighting and none of the disadvantages.  LED bulbs use just 10-15% of the energy of filament bulbs, and have excellent light quality these days.   Not only that, they are designed to last for 10-25 years, compared to 1-2 years for traditional bulbs.  Increasingly, they are being designed to look like filament bulbs, just like the one pictured here.

Almost every bulb in your home can be replaced with an LED version now, with DIY chains like Screwfix offering the most common bulbs for around £2, and halogen GU10 replacements in bulk for just £1.  With annual savings of £6 per bulb (assuming 3 hours’ use per day) and up to £100 annually across a typical household, this really should be near or at the top of everyone’s to-do list for 2019.


2.      Radiator controls

Fancy saving around £200 with five minutes’ work?  I thought so – and no, it’s not by switching to a cheaper energy tariff (although you could look at this too!).  If you have a radiator-based heating system you might well have huge potential to save on your gas bill.

Thermostatic radiator valves – or TRVs – allow the temperature of individual rooms to be controlled independently of the main thermostat.  Traditional thermostats have a dial with numbers which correspond roughly to room temperatures, the idea being that you set the dial to the appropriate number/temperature for the room.  The numbers go something like this:

  • ‘1’ is around 16degC – this is appropriate for spare/unused rooms and utility areas
  • ‘2’ is around 18/19degC – for many people this would be the right temperature for bedrooms, kitchens and perhaps dining rooms.
  • ‘3’ is around 21degC – a comfortable temperature for living rooms.
  • ‘4’ is around 23/24degC –generally works well for bathrooms.
  • ‘5’/’6’/’MAX’ settings are generally too hot to be useful.

There is also usually a frost setting marked ‘*’ for when you are away for long periods and want to prevent the house getting too cold.

So why not go round the house now and look at your own TRVs – in my experience as an energy consultant they are usually set too high, and often at the maximum setting, resulting in rooms becoming warmer than is needed.  Research has shown that if this was the case and you then set the TRVs appropriately, you would immediately save around 30% on your heating bill – a cost saving of around £200 annually for a typical three-bedroom house – without affecting comfort.

3.      Chimneys

Many homes, especially those built more than 30 years ago, have a chimney.  Older homes often had one fireplace per room as open fires were the main form of heating right through to the middle of the twentieth century – think of the picturesque rooflines of Mary Poppins riddled with multiple chimney pots.

These days, the majority of fireplaces lay redundant, and even those that aren’t tend only to be used on an occasional basis.  Towards the end of the 20th century and the introduction of central heating, many fireplaces were blocked up, however they are now being exposed once again, if only as an architectural feature.  It is estimated that around three-quarters of all fireplaces are currently exposed and open to airflow.

What most homeowners don’t seem to appreciate is the amount of heat that is lost up an open chimney over time – it’s often only when you place your hand at the base of the chimney aperture that you can feel the air moving.  The rate of air movement is quite staggering, with the Chartered Institute of Building Service Engineers measuring an average rate of air loss of 75-80m3 per hour – that’s all the warm air in a large living room lost each hour.  In cost terms, this translates to around £60 of heat energy per year for each chimney, assuming you heat with mains gas.

Unused chimneys should ideally be capped – this is quickly and cheaply done by a roofer or stove installer using a plastic cap over the opening of the chimney pot that still allows a little ventilation but keeps the rain out, and can be removed just as easily.

More importantly from an energy-saving perspective, the base of the chimney should be blocked to prevent heat loss through convection and wind-draw.  Inflatable chimney balloons do this very well, allowing a small amount of airflow to remain in order to ward off damp.  Chimney “sheep” and chimney umbrellas are an alternative that do the same job, for perhaps a little more cost.  If you do use the fireplace on occasion, make sure you leave a tag hanging down to remind you to remove the draught excluder before you light the fire!

Andy Smale – WinACC Technical Consultant and owner of Expert Energy





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