Blog: An environmentalist’s guide to a cleaner, greener home

A climate change researcher says many of us are missing opportunities to save energy in our homes. Credit: PA Images

A climate change researcher says many of us are missing opportunities to save energy in our homes.

John Grant, from Sheffield Hallam University, is on a mission to raise awareness about the small changes that can make a big difference.

Think about changing how you use your heating/boiler

Many people have no option but to heat their whole home all day every day. But if you go out to work, think about putting the heating on half an hour before you get out of bed and switch it off half and hour before you leave for work - I promise you’ll not notice the house getting cooler before you leave. Wait to put the heat on until you get home - by the time you take your coat off and make a cup of tea, your home should be warm. 

I have often heard people talk about it being more efficient to leave the heating on low all the time - this is rarely true. There are only two possible times this could be sound advice.

Firstly, when it’s very very cold outside (less than -10oC) when it’s this cold a very inefficient house might take so long to heat up. The only way to keep it warm is to leave the heating on all the time - but this WILL be expensive. 

Secondly, leaving the heating on is acceptable for very efficient homes (running costs less than £1 per day - yes this kind of house exists!). These houses leak so little heat, it's possible to keep them at a constant temperature and still keep the heating on (very low) all winter through.

Using LED lights, boiling less water and adding solar panels to our homes are just some of the things we're recommended to do. Credit: PA Images

Improve the efficiency of your home

Low-cost energy efficiency improvements:

  • For radiators on outside walls, stick some tinfoil on some card and place it on the wall behind the radiator.

  • Don’t heat the walls - heat your rooms.

  • Drafts are your enemy; from letterboxes, cat flaps, windows and doors, make sure there isn’t a draft coming through the opening when they are closed - draft excluders are relatively cheap and save a huge amount.

  • If you have rooms in your house that aren’t used regularly, think about fitting a Thermostatic Radiator Valve (TRV) instead of the standard twist controller on the radiator. These allow you to lower the temperature in specific rooms, but don’t use a TRV where you have your boiler thermostat otherwise it could confuse the whole heating system for the house.

  • Where possible fit LED lights, these are not only very energy efficient but also have a huge lifespan.

  • Don’t overfill your kettle and when it comes to ironing in the winter, think about turning the heating off when doing this chore (the iron puts loads of heat into your room).

  • Also drying clothes - although drying clothes in an electric dryer is one of the most energy intensive (expensive) things you can do in a home, if you do air dry your clothes indoors be prepared to heat your home a little more as this cools your house and also remember good ventilation is essential for a healthy home.

Medium Cost energy efficiency improvements:

  • The first thing you must do before you think about spending serious money is to have an energy survey of your property and make a Zero Carbon Plan for your home. This would outline the journey that your house will go through to reach the goal of being zero carbon.

  • The first and most cost-effective investment in your home is insulation - roof, walls and ideally under your floors. In order to reach a zero-carbon standard it may be necessary to externally clad your home with insulation, which can be very expensive but effective.

  • This should be followed by very good windows and doors - ideally triple glazed. Don’t fall for cheap windows, you’ll be the one paying the price in the long run.

  • While saving for triple glazed windows, use thick curtains - these are cheaper and as effective as double glazing.

Significant Changes to Your Home to Improve energy efficiency:

  • Build a large porch - ideally your home should have a room or porch large enough to take off wet/cold coats before entering the main lobby/living room.

  • Externally clad your walls and under your floors with insulation.

  • Once your home is very well insulated, talk to a heating engineer as to the best/cheapest/lowest carbon way to heat your home - there are a huge number of options.

  • To optimise the functionality of some heating systems, underfloor heating should be considered. For others if might be mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, or maybe both.

  • Once your home is as energy efficient as possible, then look at fitting some kind of renewable energy system (eg. Solar Panels). This strategy should be clearly set out in your Zero Carbon Home Plan

This advice isn’t complete, but a good start, homes and people are unique and as such the best advice for how to save energy and make your home healthy and carbon free is also unique.

John Grant's advice comes in the week that world leaders meet in Glasgow for the COP26 climate conference.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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