It’s a lot easier to reduce electricity use than gas use. That’s something I’ve been mulling over during January and February as I try and reduce our overall carbon footprint. With electricity, the quick wins are better known – energy saving light bulbs, efficient appliances, only boiling what you need in the kettle and so on. And all of that will make little difference to your carbon footprint if you’re on a 100% renewable energy tariff anyway.
The bigger issue is heating, which for most of us in Britain is gas, used for both water and space heating. Here’s the breakdown, from a recent Climate Change Committee report on housing:
As a nation, 63% of household energy use goes to heating space. That’s because we have have shifted over the decades towards the comfort and convenience of central heating. The whole house is heated, even if the occupants are all in one room for the evening, watching television.
Part of heating Britain sustainably is going to be picking apart the idea of central heating. Not completely – nobody wants to go back to hearths and three-bar fires. But there are measures that that introduce more sophistication into the ‘one thermostat to rule them all’ default of older central heating systems. Thermostatic radiator controls allow users to turn individual radiators down or off. If you fit these, you can turn off the heating in a spare room and shut the door, for example.
That’s useful, but the way we use a house changes throughout the day, and most of us won’t be running around turning radiators on and off. That’s where smart heating controls can make a difference, creating heating zones that can be customised according to the time of day. We might warm the downstairs more during the day, and the upstairs more at night. For those with larger homes and rooms that aren’t used as much, that could make a big difference.
What are we doing ourselves? This year I’m trying to nudge our 1920s terraced house towards an A rating for efficiency, and over the last couple of months I’ve been thinking about heating. I’m creating a heating zone in the front room where we tend to be in the evening. I’ve just had it carpeted, somewhat reluctantly as I loved the wooden floor, to help keep prevent heat loss. I’ve re-hung some sliding doors to partition the front from the rest of the open-plan downstairs, and added thermal curtain linings.
I will at some point get smart heating controls, and there’s a bay window that would be much better with triple glazing. But that’s getting expensive, and I have to pay for external cladding first. There’s more wall than window, and it’s single brick. We’ll come to that later in the year.
Another possibility is infra-red heating, which warms the contents of a room rather than the air. I don’t have much experience of these, but they may work in a couple of places in our house to deliver heat in specific areas that we need it. Let me know if you’ve installed these at all, as I’d be interested to hear how they worked.
With better insulation, electric heat and smarter heat, we can reduce that big red slice of the household energy use, both for ourselves and collectively.