Life Tips Special: Green Your Gaff with Jon Cowdrill

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22Shares So let’s get started. How can we reduce our energy use in the home and lower our carbon footprints? …


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So let’s get started. How can we reduce our energy use in the home and lower our carbon footprints? Usually people want practical advice about insulation, heating systems or micro-renewable energy such as solar panels for the home. I’ll be doing this over the course of future columns, of course. But first I’d like to take a step back. How can you reduce your energy levels if you don’t understand how much you are using and where it’s going?

Having a thorough understanding of your energy consumption is the first step towards reducing it. You probably check your bank balance once a week, and you might have set yourself a weekly budget of how much to spend. So it’s a good idea to do the same with your energy use – why not set yourself an energy and carbon budget as well?

There are a whole host of online carbon calculators out there that will make an estimate of the impact of your lifestyle on the environment. The Department for Energy and Climate Change recommend this one. Have a go, it’s lots of fun – honest! Online calculators are useful tools as they give you a decent guide to consumption, and perhaps a rough breakdown of your main energy uses – but they do have two major flaws.


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First, they’re estimates based on a whole range of assumptions about the energy use of an average lifestyle. But no one’s average. Do you watch more or less TV than everyone else? And is your TV more power hungry – or less? Estimates are not particularly good at capturing the detail of your lifestyle and might not be refined enough to record any changes you might make. For example, if you upgrade your fridge to a brand new super-efficient model, would a carbon calculator reflect this in a lower footprint? Second, carbon calculators might tell you that you are using 6 tonnes of carbon per year. But what does this mean exactly? Is it good or bad? To most it’s just jargon – a number without meaning or context.

Fortunately, there’s a very easy way for us to understand exactly what we are using. Every house is metered for electricity and gas, and these readings can give us precise figures. You could record them into a spread sheet and do your own analysis, but my favourite tool is a website called imeasure, which is free to use and developed independently by the University of Oxford. Simply get into the habit of entering your meter readings once a week, and the website will give you a record and fancy graphs of your carbon footprint.

Importantly, imeasure also gives you a comparison of your energy use against other households of similar size, so you can start to understand your consumption in relative terms. This kind of feedback has been shown to reduce carbon impact by 8%, not least because people start to get a bit competitive.

So why not give it a go for a few weeks? Try some things out and see if your use goes down. It doesn’t matter what it is – perhaps you might turn off everything on standby, or start taking shorter showers. But you’ll soon see the impact of those changes, and that will give you the impetus to make more. And that’s a start.

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Jon’s June Tip: In addition to signing up to imeasure, try fitting an energy monitor. You can get a basic one called The Owl, or a more pricey Wattson meter, which is similar but much more stylish, with a colourful display which engages children. Then you can walk around your house turning things on and off to see what the effect is. Leave the monitor somewhere easily accessible; you’ll start to realize if power hungry appliances have been left on. It’s surprising how much you can get into this – it’ll be like the new TV, and once you’ve had a bit of a play around you can always lend it to your friends and family. Want to go the whole hog? Ask someone to carry out a full home energy audit to help you understand where you can make maximum changes to save money.

Green Your Gaff is sponsored by Joju Solar, who are based in North London (in fact just a yard or two from NW5).

Got a question for Jon? Fire away below.

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