How to make your home more energy efficient
There are many ways we can be more efficient in how we use energy while still meeting all of our energy needs. Here are some general recommendations that have little or no extra cost and can save considerable amounts of energy.
Around the house:
- Select the cheapest form of heat. The cost of heating a room (or water) using electricity costs three times more than oil.
- Try and heat water using the main heating system rather than using an electric immersion.
- Choose an electricity supplier that produces its energy through renewable sources e.g. Airtricity. Although this will not reduce the cost of your electricity, it is an environmentally friendly option.
- Read your metres and compare to your bills - studies have shown that awareness reduces use.
- Ensure you choose the correct tariff to match your needs from your electricity supplier.
- Slightly turn down the thermostat (minimum 18°C). It's obvious, but how many of us sit in over-heated homes and don't bother to turn the heat off. Reduce the settings of thermostats as the weather gets slightly warmer - it's only a matter of developing the habit.
- Fit thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) to radiators and set them properly.
- Check that the thermostat on your hot water tank is not set higher than 60°C.
- Turn off lights as you leave a room or in areas of the house that are not frequently used.
- Reduce heat loss by closing curtains at dusk.
- Use CFL low energy light bulbs throughout the house as they use 1/5th of the power used by tungsten bulbs and last up to 15 times as long.
- Phone chargers, TVs, computers and other electronic devices often use more power while on standby mode than when in use - turn them off.
- Avoid unnecessary electricity use between 5pm and 7pm - help reduce national CO2 emissions.
- If you need to replace your boiler then the modern, energy-efficient boilers are good value. Condensing boilers are the most efficient - they only lose about 11% of the heat up the flue, whereas a conventional boiler loses up to 30%. The price might make you flinch but you should get your investment back in just three or four years.
- Next best is a high-efficiency, fan-assisted boiler. Both types of boilers are available as conventional or combination types.
- An electric boiler consumes about 3,200 kWh/y (average figure for OECD countries). But producing that electricity in highly inefficient gas, coal or peat plants, and then transmitting that electricity down the power line to your home costs some 9,600 kWh in electricity wasted as heat - so roughly 2/3rds of the energy is lost before it even reaches your home. Using gas or oil directly to heat water reduces energy use to 3,800 kWh.
- A solar boiler can further halve that figure to 1,900 kWh in a moderate climate zone - for total energy savings of about five times what the electric boiler uses. However, do not use a solar boiler combined with electric heating, as this will be less efficient than a gas boiler alone - the energy cost of the electric heating usually wipes out the savings gained by the solar boiler.
- For pipes to an external boiler house, a district heating pipe should be used as this will prevent massive heat loss over long runs. A yearly service of your boiler will significantly increase its efficiency also.
Computers and IT:
- Buy a laptop instead of a desktop - it consumes five times less energy.
- If you buy a desktop, get an LCD screen instead of an outdated CRT.
- Enable the power management function on your computer; the screensaver does not save energy.
- Screensavers with movement can use more energy than the computer itself!
- Check if your computer supports the more advanced Speedstep™ power management.
- Switching off a computer extends its lifetime, contrary to some misconceptions. This is a practical way to cut 200 kWh/y or more of standby losses.
- Leaving a computer running the whole year will cost you more than 1,000 kWh/y, or almost as much as the total electricity consumption of a high-efficiency household.
- Use one large power strip for your computer, broadband modem, scanner, printer, monitor, and speakers. This will make it easier to switch off all appliances when not in use.
- Minimise your printing - laser printers use more electricity than inkjet printers.
In the kitchen:
- The kitchen is probably the most energy intensive room in the home and so it is a great place to look for energy-saving ideas. There are lots of little things you can do to reduce the impact of appliances in the kitchen such as ensuring that the fridge is set to an appropriate temperature. Making small changes to the way that you cook can also help to reduce your electricity bill.
- New laundry and refrigeration products now require this - when you go shopping you will find energy information labels on all these appliances. The energy label allows you to compare how energy-efficient one model is against another.
- Buy 'A' rated kitchen appliances - they cost less to run and over time will give you considerable savings on your electricity bill.
- Buy efficient electric appliances - they use two to ten times less electricity for the same functionality, and are mostly higher quality products that last longer than the less efficient ones. In short, efficient appliances save you lots of energy and money.
- In many countries, efficiency rating labels are mandatory on most appliances. In the EU, models are labelled A++ for the most efficient, then A+, A, B, C, D for subsequently less efficient models. Look for the A++ or A+ models.
- Use an electric kettle to boil water for cooking instead of using the hob.
- Don't overfill your kettle - only boil as much water as you need.
- Use a toaster instead of a grill.
- Choose gas ovens and cookers over electric.
- Avoid using the oven to cook one dish - bake a few things at one time.
- Cook with lids on the pans.
- Use pressure cookers and microwave ovens whenever it is convenient to do so. They can save energy by significantly reducing cooking time. Boil water in the kettle for cooking rather than heating it up in the pan.
- Match the size of the pan with the size of the heating element.
- Make sure your fridge door seals are airtight.
- Don't keep the fridge door open for longer than necessary.
- Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
- When buying a fridge be sure to buy a high efficiency refrigerator that consumes around 100kWh per year. This is four times less than the EU average. These efficient refrigerators are about 5-15% more expensive to buy, but will save you loads of money and energy in use. In general, they are also high quality products that will last longer, will need less repairing and make less noise.
- Size doesn’t matter! Remarkably, energy consumption by the most efficient refrigerator models is largely unrelated to their size. The most efficient 400-litre fridge on the market today only consumes 106kWh per year.
- Avoid refrigerators with a built-in frozen food compartment, if you have a separate freezer. These models are less efficient and you lose cooling space.
- Place fridges and freezers in the coolest area possible.
- It is best to always keep the fridge and freezer full; (newspapers or plastic bags will suffice to pack that freezer!) The less space available for cold air inside, the less cold air can escape when the door is opened.
- Do not place anything hot inside - more energy is required to cool it.
- Keep your fridge/freezer at the right temperature (2-3° C for a fridge and -15° C for a freezer), and make sure the door seal works properly.
- Allow air to circulate behind your fridge and clean 'fuzz' off the piping at the back.
- For most home consumers it is better to buy a two door refrigerator/freezer combination with separate compartments, than a separate refrigerator and freezer. Chest type models are more efficient than uprights.
- Unlike refrigerators, with freezers size does matter. Larger freezers do need more electricity. So don't buy a freezer that is larger than you need, especially if you live close to your local supermarket.
- The most efficient models on the market will only use 180kWh per year for a 300 litre chest, and 240 kWh per year for a large 450 litre freezer chest. The best upright models range from 170 kWh per year for a 190 litre model to 220 kWh per year for a 310 litre model. Defrost your freezer regularly.
- Buy a high-efficiency model with a power consumption of less than 0.9 kWh per washing cycle. If you will be using a clothes dryer to dry your clothes, make sure that your washing machine can spin at 1600 or even 1800 rpm. Also, the most efficient washing machines save some 1,500 litres of water per year - a double gain!
- Consider a 'hot fill' model which connects directly to your efficient gas-fired water heater. Using gas to heat the water almost halves electricity consumption. Installing a hot fill appliance needs to be done correctly, so good advice is required.
- Run the washing machine with full loads as it is more energy and water efficient.
- Jet spray type washing machines use less water and therefore less electricity to heat.
- Use low temperature washes whenever possible.
- Consider drying the natural way (i.e. on a clothes horse indoors or a line outdoors) if practical, as this will save you 3-4 kWh per drying cycle.
- If natural drying is not an option, first make sure that your washing machine can spin at 1600 or even 1800 rpm. This will almost halve the energy needed for drying. Drying through spinning is 20 times less energy intensive than with heat.
- There are two clothes-drying technologies that use far less energy: the gas-fired clothes dryer and the dryer with an electric heat pump. The gas-fired dryer is the best alternative, especially for more intensive use: it uses 60 percent less energy (including the gas) and dries 40 percent faster. If gas is not available, consider a dryer with a heat pump. A heat pump dryer will use half the electricity of a traditional dryer. However, heat pumps can be rather expensive.
- So-called 'condensation' models - without an exhaust tube - use even more energy.
- An efficient dishwasher consumes no more than one kWh per washing cycle, compared with 1.4 kWh for an average model.
- Consider a 'hot fill' model which connects directly to your efficient gas fired hot water heater. That way, gas is used to heat the water instead of electricity, thereby reducing electricity consumption by 50%, or even up to 90% for the top models. This is because gas is almost twice as efficient for heating water as electricity. Note that installing a 'hot fill' needs to be done properly so good advice is required.
- Ensure your dishwasher is full before use.