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Save money with eco-friendly technology

Is it possible to save money and the planet at the same time?

All too often ‘going green’ seems to mean spending more.  Whether its choosing expensive organic fruit and vegetables or opting to buy a fully electric family car, the price difference between these and the less planet-friendly options can be eye watering.  Does this always have to be the case though, or is it possible to make responsible choices without breaking the bank, or even saving yourself a few pounds in the process? 

Fixed Magazine decided to investigate some green consumer choices that promise to make savings for you.

Money saving power

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that on average British households waste £30 per year on feeding electricity to devices and appliances that have not been turned off.  Stand-by mode for your TV, dishwasher and PC can be useful time saving ways of not having to physically switch on a socket or on/off switch, but is it worth £30?

If you stop to have a think about what idle devices and appliances are switched on right now in your home chances are you’re going to come up with a mobile phone charger or two, maybe a plugged in laptop, the dishwasher, and almost certainly the TV and perhaps even a games console.  These pieces of tech are using small amounts of energy if left in this state and this is pushing your electricity bill higher than it needs to be. 

The answer could lie in using a smart power strip or smart plug which simply attach to sit between your normal sockets and plugs, no wiring required.  These clever little gizmos can help to reduce ‘vampire’ or ‘phantom’ energy consumption in two ways.  Firstly some smart plugs come with in-built energy consumption monitoring, so when connected to an associated app on your phone or tablet you can track what energy is being used by whatever is plugged into it.  If you can see what power is being drained when you’re not even using the device or appliance, you’re more likely to take the time to switch it off at the socket.  Secondly they enable you to switch devices and appliances off remotely using an app.  The only drawback with this is that whilst the device will not be taking any power the smart plug will to maintain its connection to your wifi network and the app, but this consumption will be extremely low.  It is perhaps wiser to use smart plugs and strips in this way for devices and appliances which are difficult to switch off at the socket manually (perhaps the switch is behind a heavy piece of furniture) or which you can see drain significant amounts of power when in stand-by in which case you will see a reduction in power consumption even if the smart plug itself is using some.

Insulate your savings

Fixed Magazine has waxed lyrical before about the money-saving wonders of insulation and it’s so good we’re going to talk about it some more. 

We all know the old adage about wearing a hat to keep warm, well the same applies to your house.  In just the same way that we supposedly lose a lot of warmth through our heads, so do houses lose heat through the roof.  As much as 25 per cent in fact according to research from Uswitch.

Things to look out for when thinking about insulating your roof are whether you’re going to insulate the top side of the upstairs ceiling or the underside of the actual roof.  Both options offer pros and cons – for example insulating the actual roof allows you to keep using any attic space for storage, but it is more expensive.  Insulating the topside of the upstairs ceiling is perhaps an easier DIY job, but you are not supposed to store anything on top of insulation so the attic spaces then become less useful. 

Either way if you’re not sure whether your existing roof insulation is doing the best job it can, then go and take a look.  Pay attention to the depth of any insulation that is already there because recommended depths have increased massively in the last thirty years.  Equally, if you decide to have a go at insulating your roof yourself make sure you are up to speed with all the regulations and guidance on how to deal with things like electricity cables and water tanks. 

Wall insulation is equally important but it can be harder to identify whether your walls are already insulated or not. Generally speaking, according to USwitch, houses built after 2000 are likely to have wall insulation.  With houses pre-dating this you will need to check either by looking for tell-tale drill holes where the insulation will have been injected, or sometimes you can tell by looking at the top of the walls in the loft space where insulation material is likely to be visible.  If your house doesn’t have wall insulation then it is possible to do some types of insulation as DIY (internal wall insulation) but you may get a better finish by using a professional.  Use the National Insulation Association (NIA) to find an approved installer. 

Don’t forget to investigate grants that might be available to you to insulate your home.  It can be an expensive and disruptive process so any help with the cost is likely to be useful.  Check out Government information to see what is available and how you can apply.

A Tankless Task?

Estimates put water heating at ten per cent of your home energy costs.  Whilst most would agree hot water is a must it would be good to find ways to potentially reduce the cost.  You may have read that it will be illegal to install a gas or oil boiler in any home from 2025, but that doesn’t mean you have to replace your existing boiler before needed to meet this regulation.  However, if you are in the market for a new boiler you might want to consider a tankless water system.

Water tanks can be problematic in several ways.  For a start they are not always well insulated which means heat energy is lost more easily and your heating system has to work harder to maintain the temperature of the water.  Additionally many people have heard the myth about it being more energy and money efficient to have the water heater on constant, but actually this just means you are paying to maintain a massive tank of water which might only get used at certain times of the day.  Not a good use of your cash.

The first way to tackle this could be to review your water usage and alter your settings so that you’re not wasting energy (and therefore your hard earned cash) just to have a tank full of hot water.  The second might be to consider installing a tankless system.  Nowadays these are much better at coping with the demands of larger households, and they mean that you are only ever paying to heat water that you actually need when you need it.

Again, there are grants available for new boiler and heating systems, check out the Government site to see if you’re eligible.

Shining a light on cost cutting

There’s definitely a moment which hits some time in your late thirties or forties when you find yourself sounding like your parents saying things like ‘Why is this light on?  Who didn’t switch the light off?  Am I made of money so that we can have Blackpool Illuminations in the house every night?’

Lights left on for no reason, serving no purpose, are the scourge of households up and down the country, and it’s not just forgetful teenagers to blame.  Who hasn’t left the lights on either because they can’t get the switch because they’re carrying too much stuff, or because they simply walk out of the room and forget?

Like plugged in appliances and devices on stand-by, lights including low energy ones are using unnecessary electricity, and by switching them off you could be saving yourself a few pounds and doing your bit for the planet.  This is where light sensors come in.  Options include wired in versions which connect directly to your lights and trigger them to go on when there is movement within the set range.  These have been around for decades although most commonly used on outside security lights than inside.  More up to date technology in the form of Smart light sensors connect to any smart light fittings, such as Philips Hue, that you have in the house.  These don’t required the services, and therefore the cost, of an electrician to set up.  Brands from Philips Hue to Samsung SmartThings, and even Ikea has its own very affordable range, offer a range of sensors and lights for you to set up at home without needing a professional. 

Harvest the rain

If there’s one thing you can predict with the UK weather it’s that it is unpredictable, and more and more often it seems to involve either too much rain or too little rain.  Like wind and solar power new technology is making it increasingly easy for householders to make use of rain to reduce water costs and reduce their impact on natural resources.

Rainwater harvesting at its simplest can be achieved with a water butt and a bit of DIY to connect it to a convenient and productive gutter downpipe.  At its most complicated it can involve sophisticated equipment buried in the ground to collect and store rain and recycle it for use anywhere it could be most useful.  This doesn’t just have to mean outside in the garden to keep the plants and lawn happy during a dry spell, it can also be used inside for toilet flushing and laundry. Rainwater Harvesting is a UK based company which suggests collecting rain water and using it in these ways could save the average household a whopping 50 per cent on its annual water bills. It has a useful video on Youtube which explains the basics of how it all works as well as comprehensive information on all the equipment you’ll need to set up anything from the most basic to the most sophisticated system.

Technology for the future (including yours)

Innovation to create smarter homes which make our lives easier and more cost effective can be prohibitively expensive when it first hits the market.  But it’s worth keeping your eye out to keep up to date with what is available and to see when technology becomes more widely available and affordable.  Deciding to adopt some of these technologies into your life could save you money and save the planet.  That has to be worth it.


August 2021