Stay Warm this Winter


Warming Ourselves, Warming our Houses

As autumn draws to a close and winter sets in it’s time for feeling warm and cosy.  But many of us have one eye on the heating bills and the other on the environment.  Can we satisfy all these concerns, keep warm while reducing our carbon footprints, save money and improve our quality of life?  At Carbon Savvy we have gathered together numerous ways to make it doable.

Of a 15 tonnes carbon footprint (the national average), keeping warm typically makes up around one fifth of our energy use and our CO2 emissions, so it’s a great area to be saving CO2.  The easiest step to take is also the biggest win:  Switching your electricity provider to a renewable energy company, can save 1 tonne of CO2 per person per year, and even more if your heating is powered by electricity.

Low-hanging Fruit

If you want to enjoy the benefits of a really cosy home, then consider insulation.  The amount of heat lost from the 5 principle areas is as follows: Lofts 10%  Glass 20%  Drafts 30%  Walls 25%  Floors 15%  (Please note, these proportions are for an old, uninsulated property, so if your home has cavity wall insulation, double glazing, or was built in the last 10 years, these stats will not apply.)

To feel noticeably warmer the best places to get started are: Loft insulation, sloping ceiling insulation, draft proofing, and secondary or double glazing.  The investment is usually upwards of a few thousand pounds, depending on the size of your house, but the return is excellent, generally 7-12% which beats most other investments available today.  

Dreaming of… the Duvet effect 

If a person were in bed with a thin blanket and then used an electric blanket or a constant stream of hot water bottles all night, we would tell them to stop being crazy, and get themselves a decent duvet!  Everyone knows that you can be warm as toast in the British winter with a good duvet on your bed, and even keep the window open. 

But in our homes we have a thin blanket over the house, and then use electric “blankets” and a steady stream of hot water bottles in the form of hot water radiators while the heat floods out through walls, windows and roofs.  What we really need is a duvet over the whole house, and insulation does that job.  With 1ft of insulation on all surfaces of the house, combined with draft proofing and double glazing, your home would need no heat whatsoever unless external temperatures went below freezing.  The passive house is a Scandanavian standard for efficiency, which is being used in some homes in the UK today.  Passive homes require no heating.  It is said that if you are feeling cold in a passive house all you need do is invite a couple of friends round for tea, as a person’s body heat is equivalent to 100 watts, or alternatively get a dog!

So after the most obvious insulation measures mentioned above, there are deep retrofit solutions for walls and floors.  For this it is essential to get a qualified architect or retrofit co-ordinator who understands the type of home you own, as if it’s done badly it can cause damage especially to older properties.  If done well (it is important to use moisture permeable materials for old properties) then these solutions are compatible with every type of property and very effective, and although the return on your investment will take longer than the low hanging fruit, there will certainly be a good return over time, as well as keeping you warm.


A Load of Hot Air

Today’s average home is 18 degrees compared to just 12 degrees in 1970, but is this just a load of hot air?  Heating the air around us is the most expensive way to keep warm.  Take for example switching on the air-heater in an electric car – it reduces the range by up to 20% (so it uses a lot of energy)!  In contrast, switching on the heated seats has no effect on the range at all (so it uses a fraction of the energy) yet keeps you delightfully warm.  We went off exploring down this avenue and found some fascinating facts!

Easy Wins of Carbon Saving

Some people like to make one or two big changes to cut their carbon footprint, and others like to make lots of small, incremental changes which add up over the year. If you are in the second category, here are some of the things you can do:  

  • Reduce your heating needs by dressing warmly but comfortably.
  • Wear thermals as much as possible over the winter. 
  • Lightweight scarves for indoors (eg silk), old fashioned wrist and ankle warmers are surprisingly effective and feel light and pleasant.  
  • Sitting at your desk with a hot water bottle under your feet has an incredible effect on keeping you warm and costs a fraction of an electric room heater or the central heating.  
  • Electric blankets, seats, and foot warmers are all extremely efficient at keeping you warm, compared to heating the air in the whole room. They cost 50 times less than a room heater and 200 times less than central heating, and the CO2 saving is correspondingly high.
  • Turning down the heating by 1 or 2 degrees saves a huge amount of energy and many people believe that living in a cooler temperature is better for your health, it can also make you feel more fresh and wide awake.  (This is not appropriate for the elderly or vulnerable.)
  • Put a sign on the electric kettle so that everyone in the house only fills it as much as necessary to make tea.  If you work from home making a flask of tea for the whole morning is more energy efficient.  
  • When cooking with the oven prepare various dishes in order to use it more efficiently.  For example, a casserole with an apple crumble.  
  • Keep one or two rooms warmer than the others in the house, and reduce the temperature in less-used and spare rooms.


Quality of Life

How we feel at home is a big part of our quality of life; so what do we need to feel good?  Most people would like a warm home with low costs that makes them feel happy and at ease. Insulating your home avoids significant heat loss.  Slightly cooler air is better for your health.  Lower temperatures are associated with a more physically active life, so include a walk or cycle ride within your daily journeys, after which a cooler home feels pleasant.

In order to enjoy the low carbon lifestyle, pick a couple of things that feel easy and fun to you right off so you can experience the positive benefits.  And if you are following the Carbon Savvy program, only aim to save 5% in the first year, don’t go overboard, but take it step by step.


Useful Links:

Green Home grant scheme – (UK wide)

The Future Economy Network – Advice on Energy saving and carbon reductions (South West)

Mitchell & Dickinson –  Comprehensive insulation and secondary glazing for period properties  (Southern England)

361 Energy – Advice on low cost energy saving solutions (in N. Devon)