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There is a great deal of confusion among householders as to how to achieve energy savings cost-effectively.

The Case for Refurbishing the UK’s Old Housing Stock

The UK’s 23M homes are responsible for around ¼ of the country’s CO2 emissions
80% of the homes standing the UK in 2050 have already been built. Thus refurbishment of existing homes is vital to reduce CO2 emissions – the old housing stock can’t be ignored!

Average Annual UK Energy Bill (electricity and gas) is £1400

Energy bill breakdown for the average UK home (see pie chart below)

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From this pie chart, 84% of the average bill is made up from hot water (24%) and space heating (i.e. heating a room) (60%). As such, investing in these areas is likely to result in significant cost savings. On the other hand, lighting is just 3% of the average bill, so installing low energy light bulbs won’t deliver as dramatic cost savings as improving the efficiency of space heating or hot water. If we want to save money (and carbon), we need to emphasise the importance of tackling areas such as space heating and hot water, as opposed to lighting or appliances.

Space Heating

The amount you have to heat your home depends on how quickly the heat is lost. The average house loses different proportions of heat from different parts of the house e.g. walls, the roof, the floor etc. The pie chart below outlines these proportions in the average UK home.

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When giving refurbishment advice, instead of encouraging homeowners to install double glazing (windows, after all are only responsible for 15% of heat loss along with doors), emphasis should be placed on insulating walls (which are responsible for the largest proportion of heat loss, 35%) and installing roof insulation. By insulating walls and the roof, heat is lost at a slower rate, which means that less energy is needed to heat your home.

Interesting facts

  • By April 2016, landlords aren’t legally allowed to stop tenants from making energy efficient improvements to your property
  • By April 2018 it will be unlawful to rent out a house/business premise with an Energy Efficiency Rating that is less than ‘E’ i.e. F and G properties (currently there are 682,000 properties in the UK that have an F or G rating).
  • 42% of houses in the UK have solid walls (‘If your home was built before 1920, its external walls are probably solid rather than cavity walls. Cavity walls are made of two layers with a small gap or ‘cavity’ between them. Solid walls have no such gap, so they let more heat through. Solid walls can be insulated – either from the inside (i.e. internal wall insulation) or the outside (external wall insulation). This will cost more than insulating a standard cavity wall, but the savings on your heating bills will be bigger too.’ – EST. Work out what sort of walls your property has here). N.B. Existing damp/mould problems (which are common in homes with solid walls) must be addressed before solid wall insulation is installed.
  • 2013 – to qualify for FiT, your home must have an energy efficiency rating of a ‘D’ or above
  • The payback time of installing double glazing is very long. It costs approximately £4000 to install double glazing, and you save £40 off your bill for doing so. Thus, the payback period is (£4000/£40 per year) = 100 years! Not such a great deal. Double glazing however has other benefits, such as increased security, decreased condensation and noise from outside. On the other hand, cavity wall insulation costs £450 (subsidised), you save £150 per year, so the payback period (405/150) would be just 3 years! N.B. Parity Projects recommend installing timber windows, not PVC windows, for environmental reasons – this is because PVC windows are difficult to recycle and emit chlorides when landfilled. Double glazed timber windows perform just as well as double glazed PVC windows. However, timber window require maintenance (painting every 5 years).
  • Heating your home to 24°C costs 2.1 times as much as heating your home to 18°C.
  • An old boiler which has its pilot light permanently on is less than 65% efficient – modern condensing boiler can be 90% efficient
  • There is 5 times as much CO2 per unit energy of grid electricity compared to natural gas in the UK. This is because electricity is lost when transmitted power stations and your home, making it less efficient than gas.

The Refurbishment/ Energy Hierarchy

  1. Reducing the need for energy e.g. heating control, behavioural changes
  2. Insulate
  3. A-rate appliances
  4. Generate power from renewables

The first step in the hierarchy is to reduce the need for energy/ heating as much as possible. This can be done by carefully control the amount of energy you use as this is the easiest and cheapest way to deliver savings. This can be done by programming your thermostat intelligently (e.g. bedroom temperature is lower than living room temperature), and even controlling your thermostat remotely via a smart phone app. Behavioural changes come into play here too e.g. lowering your thermostat by 1°C.

Insulate – initiatives like draft-proofing, sealing windows, doors, unsealed floorboards, letterboxes, chimneys, loft hatches but also insulating walls, roof, floors.

Appliances – e.g. low energy light bulbs, energy efficient kettles, washing machines etc. Such appliances won’t save you as much money (and thus CO2) as insulating your home, which will cost more but deliver greater annual savings.

Barriers to Refurbishment

  • Money
  • Knowledge – what to do and how to do it, and awareness (why to do it)
  • Disruption/lack of time
  • No pressure from government/society – not enough incentive/punishment
  • Payback period may be too long
  • Refurbishment may not add value to the property (this needs to change!)
  • Aesthetics especially a listed property – this requires creativity e.g. Somerset House has secondary glazing (instead of double glazing) so as to not change the outside appearance. External wall insulation is unlikely to be appropriate for listed properties since the external appearance of the house will change – internal wall insulation is a better option.
  • Fear of the unknown, not normal, lack of experience
  • Lack of trust in builders or the refurbishment industry
  • Performance of technologies in question (look for guarantees and field trials of technologies e.g. ground source heat pumps)
  • Waiting for prices to drop (this will only happen if more people start refurbishing their homes)
  • Energy is still cheap (but this is changing…)

Table 1: Estimated costs of different measures (average 3 bed semi)

(from cheapest measure to most expensive)

Measure

Cost (£)

General Draft proofing

50

Low Energy Light Bulbs

100

Cavity Wall Insulation

350 with subsidy
(900 without)

Heat Exchange Ventilation

350

Gas Condensing Boiler

2000

Solar Thermal

4000

Double glazing

6000

Solar PV

7000

Solid Wall Insulation

12000 (detached solid wall house; 6k subsidies are available)

Table 2: Estimated payback periods of different measures (average 3 bed semi)

(from shortest to longest payback time)
In terms of annual savings, solid wall insulation is the most appealing – however, it is also the most expensive according to table 1, hence the long payback period.

Measure

Annual Saving

Payback (yrs)

General Draft proofing

£25

2

Low Energy Light Bulbs

£50

2

Cavity Wall Insulation

£350

1 with subsidy
(3 without)

Gas Condensing Boiler

£400

5

Heat Exchange Ventilation

£58

6

Solar Thermal

£200

20

Solar PV

£280

25

Solid Wall Insulation

£300

40

Double glazing

£60

100

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I visited Manchester Art Gallery recently (took a trip to the city just to see Raqib Shaw). Lovely city – I thought Beetham Tower was so cool! My only complaint was that I thought that Manchester city centre didn’t have enough trees, and greenery in general. I stayed at the Manchester YHA – thoroughly recommend, it’s a great hostel!

Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw is all about glitter and what looks like glitter pens – I love it!

Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw

Raqib Shaw

And this is one of my favourite pieces of art in a long time… ‘Summer in Cumberland’ by James Durden. It’s spectacular!

Summer in Cumberland

Summer in Cumberland

What do you think of Raqib Shaw’s work?

 

 

 

 

Did you know that you can reduce your impact on the environment by replacing dairy milk with soy milk?

Water Footprint

The water footprint of a product is the amount of freshwater required to produce it.
A 2011 study found that that the water footprint of 1 litre of dairy milk produced in the UK is 540 litres. In comparison, the water footprint of 1 litre of soy milk produced in Belgium is 297 litres. (N.B. The UK is largely self-sufficient in milk. Alpro, a leading soy milk brand in the UK has a factory in Belgium).

Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of a product is the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during its life cycle – from agriculture, through processing and packaging, distribution, use and disposal.

British dairy milk from Tesco has a carbon footprint of between 1.2-1.5 kg CO2 emissions per litre (0.7-0.9 kg COemissions per pint) depending on the type of milk (skimmed milk has a lower carbon footprint than whole milk). In comparison, Tesco own-brand soy milk has a carbon footprint of between 0.8-0.9kg CO2 emissions per litre (N.B. Tesco does not disclose which country its soy beans are sourced from).

Rest assured that both Tesco and Alpro soy milk do not contribute to deforestation to grow soy beans in the Amazon. Interestingly, Alpro mainly sources soy beans from France, and is committed to carbon neutrality by 2020.

If you can’t wait until 2020 and prefer a local plant milk alternative, try ‘Good Hemp’. This hemp milk is grown in Devon and is herbicide and pesticide-free.

Other carbon footprint considerations

  • Storage: fresh milk requires refrigerated transportation and storage in supermarkets. On the other hand, long life soy milk doesn’t require refrigeration, which means that the energy needed to refrigerate the product is being saved.
  • Packaging: Dairy milk tends to be packaged in HDPE plastic bottles which are commonly collected by kerbside recycling schemes. Soy milk tends to be packaged in Tetra Pak containers which aren’t always collected – find out if your council can collect Tetra Pak here.

Did you know?

  • This study suggests that 14 calories of energy are required to produce 1 calorie of milk protein on a conventional farm. In comparison just 0.75 calories of energy are required to produce 1 calorie of soymilk protein.
  • The average cow emits 100kg of methane every year. Methane is a greenhouse gas with an effect 23 times greater than carbon dioxide, so this is equivalent to 2300kg CO2 emissions per year.
  • Dairy milk has a lower carbon footprint than beef because you get more milk out of each cow over its lifetime than beef. Cheese has a higher carbon footprint than dairy milk due to the intensive production process of cheese-making – It takes 10 units of milk to make 1 unit of cheese.

Price Comparison

  • Cheapest fresh dairy milk (Tesco Semi-skimmed milk, 6 pints): 56p/litre
  • Cheapest long life Tesco soy milk: 59p/litre
  • Cheapest long life Good hemp milk from Tesco: £1.49/litre

I’m taking a break from blogging at the moment.

Check out this article in the Guardian on ‘demitarians’

Take care 🙂

The Guardian has created a guide to ‘buying the right sustainable fish species’.

The fish are listed below.

Sustainable Fishing Guide

Sustainable Fishing Guide

The traffic-light guide helps you to chose sustainable fish.

  • Green: represents fish that are considered sustainable
  • Amber: represents fish that are at risk of becoming unsustainable
  • Red: represents fish that in the MSC’s opinion, should be avoided due to unsustainable fishing practices

You may notice that some fish have the green, amber AND red label. If you click on the fish in question, you will find further information to explain this. For example, I clicked on ‘Salmon’, below:

Salmon

 

As you can see, salmon sustainability depends on the type of salmon. For example:

  • Sustainable salmon (green): Pacific and Atlantic organic farmed
  • At-risk-of-becoming-unsustainable salmon (amber): Atlantic farmed
  • Unsustainable salmon (red): Atlantic wild caught

Hope it’s useful! 

spoon

Not to mention the effort of transporting the used plastic spoon to a landfill site/incinerator

Why cut down on single-use plastic?

  • Most plastics are made from petroleum, a polluting, non-renewable resource
  • Plastics can leach (release) toxins that are harmful to our health
  • Plastic litter blights the landscape and poses a threat to wildlife
  • Plastic cannot be recycled over and over (unlike glass); instead plastic is downcycled. This means that when plastic is recycled, a lower quality product is produced (e.g. clingfilm), which in turn cannot be recycled, ending up in landfill
  • Thus, reducing the amount of plastic waste that is generated should be a priority for all

Six tips for reducing your personal plastic use

  1. Don’t buy plastic water bottles, favour re-usable water bottles instead. This great video outlines lots of great reasons to give up on plastic water bottles for good. I am a huge fan of the Klean Kanteen Reflect (silver stainless steel bottle) because there’s no plastic – even the lid is made of stainless steel (and bamboo). So eco!
  2. For coffee on the go, why not favour a reusable mug?
  3. When buying clothes, check the labels for choose natural fibres, such as cotton, wool and hemp. Avoid clothes made from plastic e.g. polyester, acrylic, lycra, spandex, nylon. Did you know that plastic fragments from clothes were recently found in the thought to be pristine waters of the Antarctic ocean? These fibres are shed from synthetic clothing in our washing machines, where they pollute our waterways, eventually migrating as far as the oceans.
  4. Most of us already bring our own bags to package our shopping from the supermarkets (if you don’t I’d recommend this funny video). But what about when you’re clothes shopping or shoe shopping? Loose fruit and vegetables can also be contained in your own reusable bags, or even just placed in your shopping basket/trolley, instead of taking a plastic bag.
  5. There are all sorts of plastics we can replace with more eco-friendly alternatives. I use compostable loofah sponges for washing the dishes, a compostable toothbrush, wooden hairbrushes and re-usable glass straws. Whenever I need to buy something that’s made from plastic, I do a little research to try and find a more sustainable alternative.
  6. Consider plastic-free feminine hygiene products. Not only do most conventional pads and tampons come in plastic wrappers, they are also made from plastic fibres, as well as cotton. Consider reusable menstrual cups, reusable cloth menstrual pads (both of which you sterilise between uses), or organic Natracare disposable products (made from cotton and plant cellulose, so can be composted). Similarly, an alternative to disposable nappies are reusable cloth nappies.

For more ideas on reducing plastic consumption, take a look at this guide: http://plasticfreeguide.com/

Top left-right: using reusable bags, choosing non-plastic clothes, and compostable toothbrushes.Bottom left-right: compostable feminine hygiene products, reusable water bottles and reusable coffee mugs.

Top left to right: Tips include using reusable bags, choosing non-plastic clothes, and compostable toothbrushes.
Bottom left to right: compostable feminine hygiene products, reusable water bottles and reusable coffee mugs.

Do you try to reduce using single-use plastic?
Do you have any tips for avoiding single-use plastics? 

End Overfishing

Great video isn’t it?

But what can be done?

1. Buy fish and seafood that has a low rating on the Good Fish Guide – including restaurants and takeaways if possible. The most sustainable seafood (rated 1) is listed here (not much of a list!) and the second most sustainable seafood (rated 2) is listed here. Try to avoid fish that are rated as 3, 4, and worst of all 5. (N.B. Their rating system is explained here)

2. If you are in the UK, buy fish with the MSC logo from the Marine Stewardship Council. This label ensures that the seafood ‘comes from, and can be traced back to, a sustainable fishery‘.

3. Reduce your consumption of fish, or even eliminate it entirely. Doctors tell  women to limit/avoid eating fish during their pregnancy and breastfeeding due to high mercury levels in fish that can damage the baby. But even if you aren’t pregnant, why should you take the risk of ingesting something that contains high levels of mercury? No-one can predict how individuals react to pollutants, particularly over long periods of time.

What do you think of these solutions? Are they viable? Would you do any of these actions/ do you currently do any?