Energy saving tips for students

Student accommodation has come a long way in recent years – the purpose built – en-suite, well equipped, serviced flats that many first year students experience is very different from the cold, damp rooms I remember.  No worries about energy bills or how many showers you can take, it’s usually all included in the rent.  So it can come of something as shock when students move on to house sharing, and realise that you have pay for electricity, gas and even water!  Some canny landlords include an ‘extra’ cost for utility bills – requiring payment even during the long holidays.  Beware of this, one student told me his house of 8 were all asked to pay £11 per week for utility bills – paying the landlord £4576, they did the bills themselves, paid £25 per month and saved £2,000.

However, there are many students living in damp, poorly insulated houses – and all too aware of the cost of energy.  I’ve heard stories of students, like older people, not daring to put the heating on because of the cost.  With many students wanting to grab the best houses for next year it’s worth reminding them to look at the heating system, and look for any energy guzzling appliances and to think about the energy bills with any property.  In the meantime, GreenChoices have put together some tips for students on saving energy, saving money and staying warm!

  1. Check out the energy performance of any property and likely bills before you sign anything. The less you have to pay for heating the more you can spend going out!
  2. Get that boiler working right – make sure the landlord has it serviced and that it is running correctly before you move in – it’s a legal requirement! Get familiar with how the heating system works.
  3. Don’t be tempted to save on the gas by plugging in an electric heater. You’ll be clicking up the kilowatts and the £’s, not to mention the CO2 emissions.
  4. Boring …  but do as your parents say and put on an extra jumper before turning up the thermostat.
  5. Cook in bulk or together – saves on washing up as well!
  6. If you have a tumble dryer– check the filter is clear, and water container (if a condenser model) emptied. Don’t overload and keep use to a minimum. See how much one costs to run at Sust-it
  7. Stop draughts – Pull the curtains – and ask your landlord for thermal linings (worth a try) or pick up some heavy retro curtains from the charity shop.
  8. Defrost the freezer – it will be easier to open as a result!
  9. Turn things off! Chargers, lights, straighteners, TV’s – it all adds up.
  10. Wash your clothes at a low temperature and go easy on the detergent. Share your loads so you always do a full wash.

Fancy a conservation holiday in Scotland?

If lying by the pool in the sun doesn’t float your boat, then how about an eco-holiday with a difference? Fancy doing something active and at the same time help restore some of Scotland’s wilderness?

You can do just that with Trees for Life as they restore about 1,000 square miles of Caledonian Forest, in the Highlands to the west of Loch Ness and Inverness back to wilderness. Trees for Life is running Conservation Weeks at eight locations in the Highlands between mid-March and November. In addition, to mark the Year of Natural Scotland, Trees for Life is introducing new Wildlife Weeks for conservation volunteers who also want to spend extra time learning about and observing the Caledonian Forest’s outstanding wildlife. The specially-designed Wildlife Weeks include day trips to the Isle of Skye to see white-tailed eagles, the third largest eagle in the world; to Aigas Field Centre at Beauly, Inverness-shire to see the beavers living on the loch; and the opportunity to feed wild boar at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Estate in Glen Moriston to the west of Loch Ness.

The work can be physically demanding, so volunteers need a reasonable level of fitness, but the Conservation Weeks suit all abilities and anyone over 18 years old can take part. There is no upper age limit. “We have pledged to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration within the next five years. Every volunteer who takes part in our Conservation Weeks will be helping to achieve something very special,” said Alan Watson Featherstone.

You might want to combine the trip with a week in a Scottish log cabin or cosy cottage, the EcoHolidayShop has lots to choose from with green credentials.

BBC Wildlife Magazine has voted Trees for Life’s Conservation Weeks as one of the Top 10 Conservation Holidays in the World, a green choice of a holiday for sure.  For more details, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 0845 458 3505.

Why not explore Britain’s best cottage holiday destinations this summer

On a dull January day, nothing beats the blues like booking a cottage for a short break or summer holiday. The UK has some great holiday destinations and a wide range of self-catering options, many in our beautiful National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  And, although it’s early to think of a dip in the sea, how about considering the cleanliness of the beach and the water quality? A must if you have young children. You can search for Blue Flag beaches on Cottage World, as well a looking for properties in National Parks, holiday cottages that allow dogs, or are near a pub! There’s lots of choice, from a Grade II house in Pembrokeshire that sleeps 10, with it’s own hot tub to a cosy barn conversion in Exmoor for just 2.  

How to spot Ash dieback?

Out walking the dog this morning, I thought I would look for how many ash trees I could spot along my usual route and imagine the impact on the landscape if they fell prey to ash dieback fungal disease or Chalara fraxinea to give it it’s proper name. Ash dieback, has been found across Europe since it was first identified in 1992 after a large number of ash trees in Poland were reported to have died. If it takes hold in the UK, it could have a devastating impact on our countryside as ash is our third most common species of broadleaf tree, and provides an important habitat for flora and fauna.  It is quicker growing than oak. So over the short distance of my walk I spotted at least eight mature trees, and one that appeared dead, it looked as though it had been dead for some time, but how would I know if had ash dieback?  What do the symptoms of ash dieback look like?  Time to consult the Forestry Commission website. Helpfully they have a video showing the symptoms of Chalara fraxinea on young saplings, and a leaflet with photographs of the disease on mature trees, which I will consult in more detail.  The government have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to ban imports of ash trees, as the Horticultural Trade Association raised this as a serious issue in 2009.

The government have been criticized for not acting quickly enough to ban imports of ash trees, as the Horticultural Trade Association raised this as a serious issue in 2009.  This isn’t, of course, the only disease to threaten our native species Sudden Oak Death (Phytophthora ramorum) was first recorded in the UK in 2003, and Natural England have a list of over 30 plant diseases of pests that may require intervention in order to protect England’s biodiversity.  In September 2012 Natural England established a plant disease and pest prevention control scheme.  Let’s hope it isn’t too late.

How can you reduce your energy bills?

Now that the clocks have changed and the chances of a late Indian summer diminished, thoughts of staying warm and saving money come to mind. And whilst high energy prices rather than the worry of climate change may be the main motivator in reducing our energy bills, for some, reducing their ‘carbon footprint’ will be what it’s all about.  So, it won’t be saving money in order to afford flying to a ski resort in the Alps, it’s about looking at the bigger picture and reducing our overall impact. The complexities of how you can develop a thriving economy whilst reducing our carbon emissions are for those with bigger brains than mine, but it seems not Lord Heseltine’s: “No stone unturned in the pursuit of growth”  makes no mention of the need to create a greener economy – not even the words “green shoots” appear!

And it’s surprising how much energy we still waste, and at the same alarming that people are scared to use their heating because of cost. So what can you do to reduce your energy usage?  Nothing revolutionary to offer here, just some suggestions…..

Stop the heat escaping if you can –  free loft insulation is still available in many areas.

  • Check draughts around doors and windows and fit draught excluders
  • Turn off appliances and lights when not in use and don’t forget all those ‘phone and laptop chargers left plugged in.
  • Try to use appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines only when full.
  • Fit curtains with thermal linings.
  • I don’t want to say put on a cardy and some thick socks – but and the same time don’t be tempted by the “Hollyoaks” effect and expect to swan around in a bikini – TV studio’s are hot places!

Free range kids

The sign ‘Free range children’ on the entrance to Glewstone Court, country house hotel, has always made me smile, as does the sign ‘slow children’ – are they just not that bright!  Seriously though, it’s good to see the sustainable transport charity Sustran’s new campaign calling for measures to be taken to allow kids to play outside and move around their local area more safely, freely and independently. Specifically, they’re asking for the law to be changed to make 20 miles per hour the maximum speed limits in residential areas across the UK and for further investment in walking and cycling routes, particularly to school.

Thinking back to childhood, the memories that stick are riding your bike, visiting the park on your own and being out and about with friends.  Sustran claims that of today’s adults 70% experienced most of their adventures outdoors.

 Contrast this with today’s children. Top of their list is also playing on their bikes and exploring new and unfamiliar places. But only 29% are experiencing adventures outdoors, often closely supervised by adults. It’s little wonder childhood obesity is growing.

 To get some ideas to help kids become more free range, and to add your voice to the Free Range Kids pledge, visit www.sustrans.org.uk/freerangekids

Heat pumps prove a big draw at eco open homes event

Taking in part in the recent eco-open homes event which coincided with the nationwide Heritage Open Days proved again to be a worthwhile experience, with lots of interest in our ground source heat pump.

Ground Source Heat Pumps

I must admit, opening our house up to strangers, is not something we really look forward to, but it’s a big incentive to tidy up and it is good to discuss the pro’s and con’s of energy efficiency measures with others; whether it’s about saving money and reducing energy bills or about saving the planet. There was some interest in the wind turbines, and in the way the house was built and designed re-using materials, maximising solar gain and minimising heat loss, but the heat pumps – both ground source and air source certainly seemed to be an area of growing interest. We installed our heat pump seven years ago as part of our new-build eco-house. It involved sinking 160 metres of pipe in two loops 1 metre down out into the field. The actual heat pump bit sits in the utility room, looks a bit like a fridge freezer and works like a fridge in reverse! It provides all the hot water and heating; underfloor downstairs and radiators upstairs. The questions most people asked apart from How does the heat pump work? Were – How efficient is it? Well, we know that for every one unit of electricity put in we get about 4 units out and that it performs well – but we can only go on our experience of running a heat pump to service a house built with high insulation values, so investing in insulation measures has to be a starting point for most homeowners. Another frequently asked question was, how noisy are heat pumps? I know some people have had noise issues with air-source heat pumps, but our ground source is fairly quiet running and no more intrusive than your average central heating boiler. There is obviously some debate about how green heat pumps actually are given that they still rely on carbon producing electricity to run on (even if they are using it more efficiently). One solution is to install PV solar panels to generate some of the electricity then they are a greener alternative to oil.

And heat pumps were given a further boost today when the Government published proposals for the long term support for householders who install renewable heating systems such as heat pumps, biomass boilers and solar thermal in their homes. The consultation which ends 7 December 2012, proposes that the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) for householders, would be managed by Ofgem, is aimed at any householder seeking to replace their current heating with renewable heating kit or householders who have installed any such technology since 15 July 2009, (shame we were before this!). The plan is that householders will get paid for the heat expected to be produced by their installed technology. The Government have also published consultations on expanding the RHI scheme to commercial, industrial and community customers and also on the Air to Water Heat Pumps and Energy from waste.

See http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/news/pn12_106/pn12_106.aspx for further details

Hoe, hoe, hoe it’s magic! The joy of a japanese razor hoe.

Oh the joy of weeding!  As fast as you get rid of them 5 foot high thistles appear from nowhere and all the rain has meant that the garden seems to be turning into a jungle, with giant fox gloves, poppies and holly hocks (yet to flower).  At least we are not having to water anything and the apple trees are enjoying the extra moisture.

Our soil takes a lot of the pleasure out of gardening – it’s heavy clay and whilst it’s very fertile and great to work with when ‘improved’ it is usually either baked solid or clumped together in an impenetrable mass.  I usually sigh enviously on Gardener’s World as Monty Don, effortlessly turns over the soil.  However, a wonderful little razor hoe from the Worm that Turned is turning me into the gardening equivalent of Edward Scissorhands – it feels just like an extension of my arm as I joyfully slice through the weeds and chop through the clay soil with ease.  I can’t say I relish the task of weeding – it’s relentless – but at least with this little tool I’m more enthusiastic about attacking it.

Open Spaces still vital

It’s good to see that the Open Spaces Society is still championing the cause of green spaces across England and Wales as it has done since 1865.  With changes to the planning system, it good to see that open spaces aren’t forgotten.  They have just announced the short-list of their first-ever Open Space Award. Four community based projects are in the running for the Award which will be announced at the Open Spaces Society AGM on 10th July. They have launched the accolade to celebrate the grass-roots work being done by many small groups to boost their open spaces for the enjoyment of local people.

The shortlisted entries are:

  • Royd Regeneration in Mytholmroyd, Calderdale:  for its work to refurbish the neglected Mytholmroyd Memorial Garden.
  • The Bishop’s Meadow Trust at Farnham in Surrey: where local people set up a charity to buy an under-threat local meadow and ensure it remained a community asset for generations to come.
  • Full Frontal in, Rochester, Kent: where neighbours united to improve the look of their streets with a community gardening project that began on their doorsteps.
  • Our Green Space Project in Cumbria: where five communities were helped to rejuvenate and protect their green space for the future.

All the projects have been been visited by judges from Open Spaces Society who will decide the winner based on the efforts by communities to enhance and safeguard their local open spaces and to ensure long-lasting benefits for the surrounding communities.

Chairman of Open Spaces Society’s trustees and a member of the judging panel Tim Crowther said: “As judges we were looking for projects which were strongly rooted in securing long term benefits for local communities; were the result of ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top-down’ activity; and of course promote the Open Spaces Society’s objectives.

“All the nominations showed evidence of these criteria to some degree. The schemes we have shortlisted are all very different and we, the judges, really enjoyed visiting the sites and meeting those inspired people who have driven the projects forward.

Mr Crowther added that the task of  deciding the shortlist was a tough one. “The entries we didn’t shortlist were providing real benefits for local communities. There’s a lot of good work going on around the country and we’ll be highlighting these projects and sharing their great stories on our website,” he added.

Vice-chair and fellow trustee Jean Macdonald, came up with the idea and hopes it will become an annual event.  As the default tends to be favouring  a ‘build our way out of recession at all costs” approach the role of champions for Open Spaces has never been more crucial.

Get recycling those plastic bottles

Some staggering news on the amount of plastic bottles used in the UK everyday has come from WRAP, the government funded organisation charged with improving resource efficiency and minimising waste.  15 million plastic bottles in the UK alone from soft drinks and olive oil to shampoo and bleach.

So WRAP are urging us, in all this warm (may not be on Sunday!) weather making us reach for a bottle of something cool and refreshing?  Whether at London’s sporting events, the local Jubilee celebration or watching the spectacles from home, to spare a thought for the humble plastic bottle…

The positive news is that just under half of all of the bottles used (but as many as three quarters of plastic milk bottles) end up making it through the recycling process. This is over 20 times more than we were managing in 2000, but advances in technology now mean that ALL sizes and shapes of bottle can be turned fences, bags, flooring, fleeces…or even more bottles! 

WRAP suggests that as we’re watching Euro 2012 or the Olympics from home this summer, consider this – if each of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle each year, we could power 71,000 plasma screen TVs from the energy saved.  They want us to get washing, squashing and recycling our plastic bottles today.  Better still avoid buying too many plastic bottles in first place;  try a bar of soap, and water from the tap.  

WRAP have provided the following gems of information:

Plastic Factoids

  1. The first plastic bottle was sold in 1947 – it celebrated its Diamond Jubilee five years before Queen Elizabeth!

  2. Any plastic bottle can be recycled now – just wash & squash them.

  3. The flag planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong in 1969 was made of Nylon.

  4. Plastic is the most used material in the world, and has been for 35 years.

  5. Recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves 1.5 tonnes of carbon emissions.

  6. It only takes 25 two-litre plastic bottles to make an adult-sized fleece.

  7. Recycling just one plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60W light bulb for six hours.

  8. We now recycle 20 times more plastic than we did back in 2000.

  9. Over 90% of our local authorities now offer collection facilities for plastic bottles, either from your kerbside or recycling centres.

  10. If all of us in the UK recycled just one extra plastic bottle every year, we could power over 71,000 plasma screen TVs infinitely using the energy saved.