HOME AND GARDEN

Boilers

People often wonder why their gas bills seem to sky-rocket as the years go by, often blaming their energy providers for higher and higher charges. While rate increases do play a factor, one of the main reasons is actually an inefficient boiler – if you have a better central heating boiler, it is likely to be more efficient and can be a lot cheaper to run than the crusty old thing that came with your house.

By having a more efficient boiler you will not only save yourself cash (yay!) but also reduce the amount of fuel required to heat your house.

Environmental campaigners are pretty much in agreement that gas condensing boilers are the way forward – at least in the short term before even more fuel-efficient boilers are brought into mass production. They operate at 90% efficiency, compared to only 70% for the standard non-condensing boilers (which are cheaper to buy).

What does a gas condensing boiler do, exactly? Well a gas condensing boiler includes something called a Heat Exchanger which retrieves the heat that would otherwise be siphoned off as water vapour – this reduces the emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

From an initial set-up cost point of view, admittedly gas condensing boilers require a substantial initial outlay of about double the price of a standard non-condensing boilers. However this is more than made up for by their efficiency, annual running costs and so calculated by the savings made on bills you’ll find that these gas-condensing boilers will likely pay for themselves within 5 years or so.

Price factors
A condensing gas boiler will easily pay back its cost in savings within a 7 year period when installed in a small house, and considering they have a 20 year lifespan this means you will save almost 2 times that initial price in the remaining period. Check out www.green-boilers.co.uk – there are some councils which offer a £70 grant to have one of these installed in your property. If you get in touch with British Gas, they have a scheme whereby these gas-condensing boilers are sold at a discount.

Cookers

The cooker is undoubtedly a major feature of our everyday lives. As we only buy one once in a while, we should make sure we make the right choice, especially now when we have more information at our fingertips so that we do not end up with a gas-guzzling behemoth that uses the entire energy requirement of Brunei to cook a pizza.

Energy efficiency of ovens and hobs can be improved – when choosing between gas and electric cookers we should seriously be considering the impact in terms of carbon emissions. Gas is commonly accepted to be preferable – however if you want to stick with electricity then switching to a 100% renewable electricity company will more than make up for the difference.

Oven-assisted fans help to reduce overall energy needs by reducing overall cooking time, and creates an even temperature throughout the oven.

If you have or want an electric hob, go for an ‘induction hob’ which uses less than half the energy used by standard coils, although they can be fairly expensive. The problem is, though, that you have to be using magnetic pans! So aluminium or glass pans are pretty much useless with these. A slightly cheaper alternative would be ceramic glass units with halogen elements that do not require the pan to be magnetic.

Efficiency:
Induction hobs – 82%
Ceramic hobs – 70%
Sealed hobs – 50%
Solid-disc elemnts – v.poor

Whatever the choice, make sure that there is good contact between pan and element for them to work efficiently.

Energy-saving devices

  1. The wind-up radio has been a great device for the developing world, allowing communications without the need for a constant supply of energy. Further wind-up devices have been invented, such as the wind-up torch, and perhaps more interesting to the general consumer is the wind-up mobile phone charger! Admittedly this does not yet allow for a full charge, but the charge it provides is perfect for those situations when you need to urgently contact someone and at £10 could be a life-saving device.
  2. Solar garden lights. There is no longer any excuse for having mains-fitted garden lights when these do the job perfectly. They come in all shapes and sizes to suit every budget and provide a gentle light that does not intrude – so your neighbours cannot complain about light pollution! They work by having a solar panel storing up a charge that powers the LED which itself requires very little power so can remain lit throughout the night – and most of them have an automatic light sensor so when it gets dark they turn on, when the sun comes up they turn off.
  3. Energy-saving lightbulbs. The usefulness of these cannot be overestimated – one day we will look back on our use of these incandescent lightbulbs in a mixture of horror and comical nostalgia, as a reminder of the period when our understanding of efficient energy management was akin to a child’s understanding of Pythagoras’ theorem.
  4. Small wind turbines. These provide another opportunity for energy generation in the home, providing you with an energy source that pays for itself several times over. The government is fully supportive of this scheme, offering grants for communities and householders to have these installed. If a turbine is to be installed at a new house being built then you can reclaim the VAT on the item (17.5%). If you are installing a turbine at your existing property then they will reduce VAT to 5%.
  5. Battery chargers for rechargeable batteries. Ideally you should be looking at buying Ni-Mh rechargeable batteries as Ni-Cad batteries once useless represent an environmental problem in and of themselves as they contain cadmium. Cadmium is one of six substances banned under the European Union’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances Directive banning carcinogenic substances in computers.
  6. SAVAplug – this is an ingenious little device which manages the power consumption needs of your fridge. When the thermostat on the fridge goes below a certain temperature it turns on a motor to pump refrigerant around the appliance. This motor runs unnecessarily on full power!! The SavaPlug limits this surge to match the fridge’s actual requirements thereby saving electricity. You know you’re saving electricity when the red light comes on.

Fridges and Freezers

Things to look for when buying any electrical product will always include energy efficiency, the materials involved in production/operation of the item and also the behaviour of the manufacturing companies with regards to who they trade with, where they produce their products and if they are seen to be supporting onerous regimes.

Thankfully for energy saving concerns it is now compulsory for energy labelling on all fridges and freezers, branding models with a letter following the product name with an A, B or C. An ‘A’ model is twice as energy efficient as a ‘C’ model, and a ‘B’ is in between. Then there is also the ‘Energy Plus’ rating which designates a model that is even more energy efficient than the ‘A’ model and apparently use as little as half the electricity of the average appliance currently available for purchase.

Try to steer away from HCFC or HFC coolant-powered fridges – these are known to have high global warming potential and the mere act of their production results in toxic waste. Look for the R600a hydrocarbon coolant which has a lower global warming potential, is non-toxic and cools in a more efficient manner than the rest.

Fridges and freezers should always be disposed of correctly – do not just take them to a tip and dump them! Some manufacturers and retailers are willing to take back old models and may offer a part exchange service so it may well be worth ringing them first.

Guide to good use of your fridge or freezer

  • Keep your freezer out of the sun, away from heat sources and generally in a cool place so it won’t have to work hard to keep food cold.
  • Try not to leave the door open beyond the time you’re actually accessing it.
  • For optimum efficiency keep your fridge at most ¾ full.
  • Remember to regularly defrost your appliance.
  • The temperature is key – no more than 5 degrees, however the colder you set it the more energy it will consume.

Household cleaning products

With more and more cleaning products claiming to be exclusively formulated for this that and the other, it is important to realise that the cleaning requirements of the two areas is not that different – perhaps with the only exception being the work top of a kitchen which is used to prepare food. Other than that, sinks, floors and other surfaces are fairly similar, so generic products which can do both jobs easily should be looked out for rather than wasting money on two.

Bleach use should be restricted to only the most necessary cases. Increasing quantities of bleach are flushed or drained into sewers from domestic premises – more so than from the factories making them. All forms of bleach act by sterilising organic matter, with an antibacterial action that actually causes problems later on down the line by preventing natural bacteria from breaking down sewage.

Go for concentrated cleaners which contain less water – this will save on packaging, allow you to dilute the product yourself and the reduction in packaging will mean less landfill sites full of empty plastic containers!

Traditional cleaning products which have fallen by the wayside should be remembered – they may not sound scientific or ‘modern’ but they have been shown to be highly effective for hundreds of years. Just because a product is marketed more efficiently than something which has been around since the dinosaurs does not make it better:

  • White vinegar – So-called “white vinegar” (actually transparent in appearance), or sometimes referred to as spirit vinegar[3], can be made by oxidizing a distilled alcohol. Alternatively, it may be nothing more than a solution of acetic acid in water. Most commercial white vinegars are 5% acetic acid solutions, although some US states such as Virginia have laws prohibiting the sale of any product not made from acetous fermentation of alcohol as vinegar. They are made from grain (often maize) and water. White vinegar is typically stronger and sharper than other vinegars, and as such is used in pickling recipes. It is also used for cleaning purposes.
  • Baking soda  A paste from baking soda can be very effective when used in cleaning and scrubbing.A solution in warm water will remove the tarnish from silver when the silver is in contact with a piece of aluminum foil. With water, it cleans the impurities on contact lenses. Rinse completely before wearing contacts to avoid stinging residue. Cleans brushes and combs to prevent residues. Use to clean juice, wine, and coffee stains. Pouring 1 cup of baking soda down a drain and following with 1/2 gallon of vinegar will degrease the drain.
  • Salt
  • Lemon juice – Lemon juice is another natural substance that can be used to clean your home. Lemon juice can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon is a great substance to clean and shine brass and copper. Lemon juice can be mixed with vinegar and or baking soda to make cleaning pastes. Cut a lemon in half and sprinkle baking soda on the cut section. Use the lemon to scrub dishes, surfaces, and stains. Mix 1 cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice and you have a furniture polish for your hardwood furniture. My favourite use for the fruit is to put a whole lemon peel through the garbage disposal. It freshens the drain and the kitchen. Orange peels can be used with the same results. This is a great natural cleaning product.
  • Olive oil can be used for cleaning unvarnished wood.

Kettles

Kettle technology continues to improve, and for the better of the environment too. What does this mean? New varieties of kettles are being produced with hidden elements which means that if the kettle is heated without water inside, it won’t burn out!

On the subject of kettles it is worthwhile to comment upon the use of kettles. In Britain we tend to drink an average of 27 cups of tea and coffee each week. Studies have shown that if you were to boil 1.5 cups worth of water each time, instead of 3.5 cups, you would save enough electricity each week to run the television for 26 hours!

We now know that the problem with kettles and their impact on the energy efficiency of the home or workplace is not down to the technology involved but the people who use them – people have a tendency to overfill the kettle to boil more water than they actually need, and re-boil the water when it’s unnecessary to do so.

Kettle advice

  • If you’re after a new kettle, try to find one with a hidden/concealed element.
  • Get a kettle with a water gauge and only use enough water for your purposes – don’t fill it to the brim for a cup of coffee for one!
  • If you live in a hard water area, leave the kettle empty after each use and descale it once a month with a little vinegar.
  • If you use a gas-stove kettle, improve its efficiency by placing a ‘heat ring’ around the base.

Kitchen appliances

Once again we come to the topic of what to do with our electrical devices when they have reached the end of their usefulness – either by completely konking out or by our needs exceeding their abilities. When I was a student and moved in to a new flat at the beginning of a new year you’d be surprised at the amount of toasters, kettles, rice cookers, hi-fis, TVs and even microwaves left outside to be binned, with most of those not even broken, just discarded to make it easier for the previous tenants to move into their new abode.

First of all think about what you’re doing. If you’ve suddenly developed an appreciation for toasted sandwiches and don’t want to use your old 2-slice toaster anymore, rather than throwing it into the skip, spend a bit of time giving it a clean and donate it to charity! There are plenty of people out there who still find two slices of toast more than ample for their culinary needs. The same goes for a rice cooker – if you’re giving up on rice and becoming a noodles/potatoes only person, don’t just throw the cooker away or leave it outside to become rusty – instead, give it away!

Considering the types of material used in the manufacture of such devices, we should carefully consider whether it is worthwhile in buying something new or just sticking to our trusty devices even if they are looking a bit tatty. Steel, iron, plastics all require some form of mining and manufacture – by reducing the amount that get bought, you reduce the demand upon manufacturers and thereby slow the growth of the industry down. Just because X or Y has made a new kettle that plays La Marseillaise when it boils or a microwave that tells you when your food is done, doesn’t mean you have to buy it!

Paint

The production of paint is known to cause all sorts of environmental concerns – just 1 tonne of paint can result in 10 tonnes of chemical waste, a lot of it toxic. Volatile Organic Compounds, which occur in gloss paint more than in emulsion paint evaporate during use and can contribute to the formation of ground level ozone.

Switching to ‘natural paint’ is a sensible option, not only for the environment but also in protecting your own health. A 1989 WHO Cancer Agency study found that 40% of professional painters and decorators were 40% more likely to contract cancer than the rest of us, deeming painting and decorating to be a carcinogenic activity!

Natural paints have to be looked into further as there are some which claim to be natural but actually are just normal paints with added ‘natural’ ingredients, so may still include VOCs. The most common ingredients found in natural paints are linseed oil, lime, turpentine, d-limonene, natural earth and mineral pigments, chalk, casein and borax. Always check the labels of the product you are buying, and if you require further information you can contact the manufacturers who will be happy to enlighten you further.

Sustainable building

With the government promoting the building of new housing across the lands, we are at a point in our development where we can choose to embrace sustainable housing and sustainable building practices, or continue in the fashion we are used to and have to deal with the consequences in later generations.

The power lies with the consumer. If we demand our houses be built to a certain ecological standard, then they must achieve those standards. The housing market is a buyer’s market – they cannot force you to buy their product, so if you’re having a house built to your own specification, demand that it has full insulation, that its windows are place in order to maximise the natural light; demand that solar panels are built in to the roof. Currently people are resistant to solar panels because they do not fit into the general aesthetic of the neighbourhood – people are happy with the familiar. If we all had solar panels, they would be the norm! Whether something looks good or not is really not a valid excuse when what we’re talking about is so much bigger than easiness on the eyes.

We must also be demanding when it comes to the types of materials used in the building, taking into consideration the biodegradability of certain substances and what’s best for the future – that is, what’s best for when future generations have to deal with our creations.

For more information contact:

The Association for Environment Conscious Building
AECB PO Box 32
Llandysul
Carmarthenshire
SA44 5ZA

If you send them an SAE they can supply you with further information on green architecture and sustainable building, and sport one John Shore as a member – the man responsible for designing and building Brighton’s ‘Integrated Solar Dwelling’ in the 1970s, which was the first self-sufficient house to be built in Britain.

Washing machines

The power usage involved in operating a washing machine is very high in comparison with out household appliances and while manufacturers are, thankfully, improving the energy efficiency of new devices, we can also help by adjusting our usage of such machines.

For a start – you can use the eco-button which reduces the temperature; wash a full load of clothes/items; avoid pre-wash cycle by soaking the dirty clothes yourselves; try to wash at 40 degrees Celsius or below and turn the machine off when it’s finished.

With the spread of the internet, you have the information at your hands to make an informed choice about which washing machine to buy that suits your needs and meets environmental safety standards. The European Energy label by law must be displayed on all new washing machines. This rates machines based on their energy efficiency levels where A is the best and G is the worst. This also rates (via the same A to G score) washing performance, plus provides information relating to energy consumption per cycle and water consumption (measured in litres). The main rating to look out for is efficiency rating, and there are now many ‘AA’ rated machines available for purchase which goes to prove that you can marry good performance and eco-efficiency!

Reliability is a key issue when buying such machines due to the amount of moving parts and the motion involved in the process of washing. Buying a reliable machine will reduce repair costs and is a better environmental choice as it is likely to last longer thus eliminating the need to keep buying new machines.

Guide to good washing machine activity

  • Don’t be swayed by the big-is-best mentality currently doing the rounds. Buy a washing machine based on size relative to your needs.
  • Look out for the energy efficiency ratings mentioned above – accept nothing less than the A standard.
  • Choose a machine with a fast spin and an ‘eco’ setting that reduces energy consumption.

Washing-up liquid

Seeing a sink full of suds fighting the nasty bacteria/food stains that adorn our plates can be a gratifying sight, particularly as it means we don’t have to scrub away with a scouring pad to remove our pasta bake from the bottom of the pan. However, those suds don’t stop working as soon as they disappear down the plughole; the powerful chemicals which have been specially formulated to be gentle to your hands have not been programmed to shut off once they pass the u-bend. Like bleach, though to a less powerful extent, the chemicals in the washing up liquid solution remain active long after your need for them has passed.

In order to lessen this effect, we would suggest that you buy washing up liquids derived from vegetable sources which are eco-friendly and use ‘oleo’ surfactants as they biodegrade a lot quicker than the others.

While you might be swayed by the idea of an anti-bacterial washing up liquid that claims to kill E-coli, salmonella and campylobacter, you can actually prevent such bacteria landing on your worktops by proper cooking, good preparation and basic kitchen hygiene.

Use a water softener in a hard-water area which will reduce the amount of suds in the system. Another amazing tip is to save all your scraps of soap, place them in a jar and then add an amount of boiling water to mix them up and create your own washing-up liquid!