First published December 2020
December can be a great month: Christmas, time off work, delicious food, friends and family. But it also means being cold… and here in the UK, we can expect to be cold for another three to four months after the festive fun is done.
Keeping our houses warm by turning up the gas central heating alone can feel tempting, but this method of guarding against the cold is not good for the planet.
Did you know that 14% of our greenhouse gasses here in the UK come from our homes? This is a similar figure to the emissions produced by cars, which we all know are bad environmental news.
Photo by Georg Eierman on Unsplash
As such, unless we rethink home heating, we won’t meet the climate change targets that we need to achieve in the next few years. Think tank Policy Connect says that more than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 to meet UK climate goals.
It has been recommended that no new homes are connected to gas by 2025 , but of course many of us live in older homes which have gas boilers and so would need expensive retrofitting to get rid of the gas connection. Plus it’s never a good idea to throw out old items or tools which are working well to replace them with new bits and bobs, even if the new things are ‘eco’ - that wastes embodied energy, and is also bad for the environment.
So what can we do to make our homes warmer? Here are four solutions you might be able to try in your home.
You need to ensure that your home is well insulated in order to reap the benefits of any greener sources of heat you decide to use. Insulate your loft and use draft excluders or thick curtains over draughty doors and windows.
One friend of mine uses blankets as curtains, which seals the heat inside her house beautifully. Not only does efficient insulation make our houses warmer in the winter, it can keep heat out in summer.
One Home list eight simple measures you can take to insulate your home which include installing loft insulation which is at least 27cm thick, investing in a smart thermostat to set the temperature you want your rooms to be, and either getting double glazing or temporary secondary glazing film.
2. CHEESE survey
If you live in Bristol or the surrounding areas, you might want to invest in a Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts (CHEESE) survey. One of their experts will come to your house and use thermal-imaging to identify where your home is losing heat. They will also suggest solutions to keep the heat inside. The surveys start at £100 and are free for people in poor housing conditions or who are living in fuel poverty.
Our committee member Tim had one of these scans. He says:
“I live in a 1930s terraced house. When we first moved in 10 years ago - having come from a draughty, high ceilinged Victorian semi in Scotland – I thought it was going to be warm and draught-free. This was the first place we’d had with double glazing throughout!
"I gradually realised that this was not quite the case. The house was colder than I expected at the front with the prevailing west wind; plenty of draughts were coming through skirting boards and the like. So when I heard about the CHEESE thermal video energy surveys I decided to go for one, partly because I was just curious what it was about. It didn't take long to do the survey despite the need to set up a fan and screen at one front door to create a pressure differential - to activate draughts I think. The tour round the house with an expert surveyor yielded a number of simple little draught proofing DIY jobs I had missed. The thermal imaging of the house and the resultant DVD record was an interesting souvenir as well.”
3. Green homes grant (NB: Unfortunately, this grant was discontinued in 2021)
If you’re a home owner, you can apply for up to £5,000 from the government to insulate your house. You will use this money to make at least one ‘primary’ improvement to your home (such as insulating solid or cavity walls or investing in an air source heat pump) as well as helping to cover the cost of ‘secondary’ measures such as double glazing or heating controls. You can read more about the scheme here.
My partner and I have qualified for this grant and are going to use the money to clad the outside of our incredibly cold, single-skin 1930s house.
We’re currently waiting for a slot to free up so that the work can be done, and I personally can’t wait to be able to stop typing these blogs while wearing scarves, gloves and my electric blanket!
Photo by Mark Adriane on Unsplash
4. 100% renewable energy
One thing we can all do is switch who supplies our energy. Over the past decade or so, many seemingly eco-power companies such as Ecotricity and Bulb have popped up. These companies appear to be better than companies like NPower, who are not trying to appeal to eco-warriors.
However, did you know that energy companies will tend to buy whatever energy is cheapest at the time? During summer, this is often renewable energy.
Energy companies whose client base don't care where their energy comes from will then sell certificates known as REGOs to companies whose clients DO care - but those 'caring' companies use the certificates to hide the fact that they are, at times, not using renewable energy.
Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash
There are only three companies in the UK who offer 100% genuinely renewable electricity and trying their best to do similarly with gas (which is harder). These are Good Energy, Green Energy UK and the Co-Op. Previously, Bristol Energy was on this list, but they have been bought out by Together Energy, who do use REGOs; although they tell me they are trying to move away from them.
If you are with a ‘green’ energy provider and don’t feel sure about whether they are using REGOs or not (companies don’t boast about this, unsurprisingly), get in touch to ask them. If they do, perhaps consider moving to one of the genuinely renewable providers - or at least letting your providers know that you would prefer it if they stopped this greenwashing practice,
Do you have any tips for how to heat your house without harming the planet? If so, comment below and let us know.
Did you know: Some 85% of British households use fossil-fuel based natural gas to heat their homes?