Heat your house, not the planet, says Holly Hughes …
The energy we use in our homes equates to one quarter of all of Ireland’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. In both 2019 and 2020, our domestic energy use was the second-largest source of carbon emissions in Ireland, trumped only by transport. It’s clear that, aside from the blatantly obvious cost of living crisis we are hyperventilating through, we need to change our home energy habits for another, equally imperative reason – saving the planet.
WHERE DO WE START?
Most of our home energy usage, and therefore our carbon footprint, comes from generating heat. Whether turning on a radiator, heating water for a shower or even drying our hair, the most energy-intensive appliances in the home are those responsible for heating things. So, looking specifically at the issue of heating, from warming your food to your frozen hands, here’s how to lower your carbon footprint (and energy bill) not just this winter but always, room by room.
The trick to reducing our dependence on heat in the kitchen lies in the planning. Kettles, hobs, ovens, microwaves, and dishwashers all work up high carbon footprints due to the energy they expend heating themselves and our food. To minimise this damage, the secret is organisation and forward-planning. Take the kettle. According to Lyons, we each drink roughly five cups of tea daily, meaning that every day the household kettle is used a minimum of five times a day. Let’s not forget this figure is indicative of tea intake alone and doesn’t factor in the use of the kettle for cooking or different tea times for cohabitants. Suddenly, an innocuous and energy-efficient appliance doesn’t look so innocent. The solution? Invest in a good thermos and fill it with boiling water from which to refill throughout the day. That way, you get the same hot drink hit with a fraction of the energy usage.
A similar approach works for oven and hob use. A typical oven creates approximately 2.5kg of carbon emissions in two hours of use. Try to maximise this energy usage with batch cooking that optimises an oven’s heat. Remember, aside from baking, most recipes don’t need a pre-heated oven, so you can either put your food in immediately or use the pre-heating phase to cook foods that only need a low heat. Equally, turn off your oven early and allow residual heat to finish cooking your food. I also leave my oven door open once I’ve finished cooking so it doubles as a space heater. If boiling potatoes on the hob, add a steamer on top of the pot to simultaneously steam vegetables or fish. Make sure every pan has a lid on it to reduce energy use and cooking time. The microwave is your friend. Batch cook and then re-heat.
Whether turning on a radiator, heating water for a shower or even drying our hair, the most energy-intensive appliances in the home are those responsible for heating things.
THE LIVING ROOM
The room where my environmental intentions become lost like keys down the back of the sofa is the living room, where I spend evenings during the winter seeking refuge and warmth (usually in the form of a crackling fire, stove, or scorching radiator.) Around four per cent of household heat is lost through chimney draughts so using draught excluders for not only your door and window frames but also your chimney, can create huge environmental and financial savings. Where prevention measures won’t work, wearing thermals and investing in good quality throws and blankets can work wonders to keep a living room cosy without resorting to fossil fuels. We need to talk about the thermostat. While much has been said about the financial savings of lowering the heating by a single degree, I’d like to make you aware of the inspiring environmental benefits of doing this. In one home, a one-degree drop saves up to 340kg of carbon emissions. That’s the equivalent carbon footprint of a return flight from Ireland to the South of France. To show the potency of this, research demonstrated that if everyone in the UK committed to a one-degree change, 3.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide would be saved every year. If these are the possible savings with a single degree change, imagine what could be achieved by lowering the thermostat even more, by controlling our living room heating with a smart timer, by turning off disused radiators or by foregoing heating altogether?
Similar to the living room, the secret to keeping things hot in the bedroom without reverting to traditional heating is in prevention and decorative deflection. Bring your draught-blockers into the bedroom and load up on throws and blankets to drape over your bed, adding layers that will keep you toasty. A timed electric blanket is your eco-minded friend, provided you are mindful of regulating its usage. To use this efficiently, only put it on directly before you go to bed (most energy-efficient ones don’t need more than ten minutes to heat up) and avoid leaving it on overnight, even if only at a lower temperature. Even more environmentally friendly than the electric blanket is the hot beanbag or, failing that, hot water bottle. Requiring only a quick heat in the microwave or a refill from your thermos of parboiled water, these are portable heaters that slash your energy usage while keeping you toasty. Avoid the wheaty smell of a hot beanbag by sprinkling it with a few drops of an essential oil like lavender which will also help send you off on a blissed-out slumber. Another tip, courtesy of my mother, is to put an extra duvet underneath your fitted sheet. This not only acts as a heat trap, it feels marvellously decadent too. Finally, humans are great heaters! If you’re still feeling the chill, fill your living space, kitchen table, or bed, with a human (a pet is also a great option) and sponge off their body heat. Humans release 100 watts of heat so there’s plenty to be gained in acquiring a bedfellow or partner for Netflix bingeing this winter season. On that note, I’m off to re-download a dating app – all in the name of climate action, of course.
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