I'm always on the lookout for new ways to give our home a green makeover so I found this article interesting. I hope you will too !
By James Strawbridge, eco-campaigner, TV presenter and author
1. Energy efficient windows
Heating bills can cost a fortune and fuel prices are only going to increase. One very effective way to reduce your bills and make your house worth more is to replace your old windows with more efficient rated windows. Start by replacing ones in rooms that you use the most and also make sure that you’ve done the basics first. Simple ways to prevent heat being wasted through old draughty windows is to put up thick curtains and remember to close them in the evening. Another tip is to place a radiator reflector behind your radiators. Radiators always seem to be located below a window and as we all know heat rises. To reduce this simply cut a piece of cardboard and line it with tinfoil. Hang this on the wall behind your radiator to push the heat out into the room instead of allowing it to escape up and out the window.
Energy efficient windows are a no-brainer! Look for the BFRC energy rating label – that looks just like the energy efficiency labels on all household appliances – and rates the window from ‘A’ (most efficient) to ‘C’. By making the switch to a well rated window you can save money and reduce your carbon footprint in the process. To find your nearest installer of energy efficient windows visit the website – http://www.bfrc.org/
2. Insulate your Loft
Insulation is another way to reduce the amount of heat escaping from your home. I’d recommend doing it yourself to save money but make sure that you instal at least 270mm thickness. There are lots of different sorts of insulation out there, but the bottom-line is any insulation is good insulation. The embodied energy in rockwool for example will still cancel itself out with energy savings in the first year! Sheep’s wool is a great option because it is a waste product that is being reused and ‘composite’ insulation (the thin stuff that looks like a space blanket) is a great high performance material for small spaces. Key tips when laying insulation are to make sure that you are wearing safety goggles, gloves and overalls. Plus, don’t forget to cover the loft hatch as well, otherwise you will be creating a chimney for all of the heat to escape through!
3. Energy Monitors
Working out how much electricity you currently use in your house is the best way to start reducing it. The best gadget out there is an energy monitor that displays how many KW/hrs (Kilo Watt Hours - that’s the unit your electricity bills are measured in) you use at any moment, how much CO2 you are producing, and how much money you are spending. These devices are now wireless and are easy to install yourself. By knowing how much electricity you use each day you can start switching off appliances more often. (They are available to buy at my online shop http://www.practicalselfsufficiency.co.uk/)
4. Green Electricity Tariff
One of the easiest changes to make in your home or business is to switch to a green electricity tariff. Go online and with the mighty power of your mouse you can seriously reduce your ecological footprint. I’d recommend signing up with either Ecotricity or Good Energy because they both offer competitive prices and supply energy from renewable sources such as wind turbines.
5. Solar PV
The most hi-tech of green technologies has to be solar power! If you are thinking of generating your own electricity then invest in a Solar PV system (also known as photovoltaics). This technology has improved dramatically recently so the panels are now more efficient than ever. In addition, it’s a good time to put them up as the government’s feed-in tariff is still available, which means you can be paid more for the electricity you generate than you buy it in for. As a result the ‘payback’ times have almost halved. Solar panels may require planning permission so check with your local council or solar installer. On listed buildings and conservation zones permission is harder to achieve but there’s always the option of putting them on a lean-to or even a garden shed. Solar PV tends to be a big financial investment but compared to a new car or a bathroom renovation there’s no competition. I like to think of it in terms of ‘future-proofing’ and improving the value of a building. Which house would you choose if you had a choice - one with solar panels on the roof and hardly any bills to pay for the next 25 years - or one with an trendy bathroom suite?
If your water usage is metered then you can cut usage in minutes every time you flush the loo by making a ‘Hippo’. Simply take a small plastic water bottle and cut the top off. Lift the lid of your cistern, flush the loo and place the cup-shaped bottle into the empty cistern so that it sits on the bottom. Put a small stone in it to keep it upright and replace the lid of the cistern. When the new system fills up it will use less water and you’ll be saving money!
7. Get Organised!
Recycling is something that we have all grown used to and now the decision to divide our waste is second nature. However, it is really worth making sure that it doesn’t become a chore. I think that it’s worth buying or making your own recycling bin system that has different sections for different sorts of waste. No-one likes having piles of rubbish near the back door and by organising it, it stops being a problem.
Composting is another eco-activity that is very popular. However, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people who still have an unsightly heap at the bottom of the garden. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this way of composting but it can be difficult to turn and hard work to maintain. Also, normal compost heaps can take up lots of precious space. The alternative way to compost your uncooked kitchen scraps is to get a wormery. They are compact, don’t smell, and can even be used as a planter for herbs and vegetables. The idea is to provide worms with a great environment to eat all your fruit and veg peelings, tea bags, egg cartons, dust from the vacuum-cleaner, and pretty much anything that hasn’t been cooked. They have also been designed to take up a fraction of the space. I would recommend a stackable model from Bubblehouse Worms because you can also plant in the top of it! http://www.bubblehouseworms.com/
If you have a decent sized garden then you’ve got to get a couple of hens. Your own free-range eggs are so much tastier than factory farmed ones. Plus, you can save a battery hen from a life where it spends all its time in a space the size of a piece of A4 paper. When you buy a rescue hen they will still be in a fairly poor condition but after a couple of weeks you’ll be getting fresh eggs and they will look healthier and discover their instincts. Watching their first dust-bath or scratching around outside will make you pleased to have chosen them. For more information go to the British Hen Welfare Trust http://www.bhwt.org.uk/
10. Build a cold frame
The problem with growing your own produce is the weather. Our winter’s are cold and our summers can be wet. One of the best ways I have found to grow herbs outside, whatever the weather, is under a cold frame. Build a rectangular wooden frame that stands a foot high and make the back edge higher than the front. Place an old window and hinge it so that it lifts up at the front for easy access. A cold frame like this reuses old materials and lets you extend your growing season considerably! Good luck and enjoy it!
‘Practical Self Sufficiency – The Complete Guide to Sustainable Living’ by James and Dick Strawbridge is available in all good book stores.
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