About eight years ago I started the process of reducing my carbon footprint. This included looking at my home energy usage, travel and consumption of goods in general. As we live in a 1928 bungalow some of this was difficult. Over five years I managed to reduce our Gas usage by 30% and our Electricity usage by 40%. We also moved to an energy supplier buying all its electricity from renewables. I also reduced my petrol car carbon footprint by 30%, before switching to an electric vehicle which means I no longer use any petrol.
Here is how we achieved this.
I started with lighting. This is not normally a major user of power in a house, but we had five rooms with multiple MR16 halogen ceiling lights and four external 400w halogen spotlights.
The lighting turned out to be the most complicated part of our carbon reduction project. If you have pendant light fittings and lots of plug-in lights then you are not going to have these issues!
The MR16 lamps in the hall were replaced with GU10 LED bulbs. This required the removal of the 12V transformers from each unit and I had to use especially short GU10 bubs so the clips would hold them into the existing fittings.
The three MR16 bulbs in the bathroom were replaced with Philips MR16 LEDs. I found that the three were not always coming on when I pressed the switch and it was random which ones would come on. The system in the house was built so that 240v was supplied to each light with a power supply (known as a driver) feeding 12v to each lamp separately. These were high quality properly regulated drivers so they could definitely drive an LED replacement. The problem was that they required 6.5 watts of draw in order to start correctly. My lamps were 6w. The drivers were rated at 70w each so I removed two from the bathroom and fed 12v from the remaining one to the two other lamps. This fixed the problem.
I then replaced the MR16 lamps in the Kitchen ceiling with LED’s and encountered the same problem. I have never actually fixed this because the loft is now insulated and I can’t get at them easily. When it’s cold sometimes you have to switch them on and off to get them all to light.
This left two rooms with halogen MR14 lamps, but we don’t generally use those lights so I decided to leave it and deal with it later.
Before I could insulate the loft I had to fireproof all of the downlighters as they were going to be under the insulation. I did some of the dirty side of the electrical work, but the electrical work was done by an electrician.
The four external 400w halogen security lights were replaced with high-quality 25w LEDs. This was a very easy swap.
All of the BC and ES lamps in the house have been replaced with LED. I am using LED “filament” bubs as they send light in the same direction as a conventional bulb. Mos LED bulbs have plastic bottoms and only send light in one direction. In spite of my electrician saying they wouldn’t last five minutes, I have only had one failure in five years.
The house already had cavity wall insulation. A previous electrician had removed all of the loft insulation and thrown it into the corners of the loft when he was doing work on the renovation of the house in 2003. That’s why the house was so cold. The old insulation wasn’t good enough anyway so I phoned an insulation contractor. To cut a long story short, none of them would do it. The grants had all ended and they were all chasing contracts for multiple homes with housing associations and local authorities. In the end, I had to employ an independent building contractor to do it. He removed all the old insulation and put in the regulation two layers. This had an immediate effect and the heating had to get turned down or we would have roasted.
Our house still had the 1928 wooden sash windows. We did have good quality secondary glazing, but the windows really needed to be replaced. I used a local double glazing firm. They removed the sash boxes and fitted double glazed windows for £1500. The windows are made by Consort, who supply a lot of new build houses. Bear this in mind, that was £1,500 for fitting five windows, some of them large. We did not replace the back windows as they were part of a 1950’s extension we were already planning to replace.
During the window work, it became apparent that the cavity wall insulation was very poor. I have not looked at this as the insulation on the side of the house that faces the prevailing wind was quite damp. This is a common problem with cavity wall insulation and it’s why some people are having it removed. The best option is solid wall external insulation and this is something we are seriously considering in the future.
Our existing heating had a bimetallic thermostat which had a huge lag between switching on and off. This meant the heating was working harder than it needed to and the temperature was not very constant. British Gas was running an offer on their Hive system so I got that fitted and it has made the heating far more controllable. I can also log in and see how it is being used. At the same time, I properly adjusted all the radiator thermostats to get each room at the correct level.
What we have not done yet is replace the boiler with a modern condensing one. This could reduce gas usage by a further 20%, but we are waiting to see if an air to water heat pump might be a better option when the boiler needs replacing.
New House Extension
This was built after we had made our 30/40% energy reduction and was not done to save energy. When we demolished the old 1950s extension and built a new one across the back of the house it really improved the thermal efficiency of the house. This was only built this year, but already our gas usage looks lower. The new extension is built to modern insulation standards and it has impacted the whole house. We won’t know till after the winter how much this has reduced our gas usage.
We had an old separate fridge and freezer. I replaced these with an AAA rated fridge freezer. I did this at the same time as I bought an electric car, and in spite of driving 500 miles a month, our electricity bills didn’t go up. I suspect the old appliances were very wasteful.
We replaced our TV’s with more energy-efficient LED ones, but only when they needed to be replaced.
At the time I started trying to reduce our carbon footprint I was driving a Mini. By efficient driving, I was able to get 55 miles per gallon, but I was able to reduce my mileage by 30% by pre-planning journeys and doing more than one thing on one trip. I also started walking for shorter journeys. I was already going to work on the bus.
We continued with foreign travel, but not to the same extent and eventually, Covid-19 stopped all of that.
My Mini was ten years old but was involved in an accident that caused it to be written off, so in 2020 I bought a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. This means I am no longer using any fossil fuels to power my car.
Consumption of Goods
We no longer routinely upgrade “tech”. We tend to buy very up to date stuff and keep it longer. For example, we just replaced an iPhone 7 with an iPhone 13.
Anything we stop using either goes for reuse, or recycling if it is beyond repair.
Some of our “tech” is bought refurbished if we can get what we need that way.
This project has taken seven years and it has cost some money, but not as much as you might think. The insulation cost £700 to do. The electric car costs me £300 a month, and the charging point was mainly covered by government grants. Maintaining the Mini was costing me about £200 per month, and I was spending £70 on petrol. As I don’t pay road tax I am paying about the same per month for a car. The lighting work came to about £500 as I did a lot of the dirty work in the loft and the electrician just did the final wiring up. It was the security floodlights that made up the bulk of this cost as cheap ones tend to fail quickly. The double glazing was £1500. The rest of the work has been done when things needed to be replaced.
Solid wall insulation would make a huge difference to the house, but it is a lot of money and might not be worth the financial sacrifice. Changing the boiler is much easier, and cheaper, so it is next on the list. Moving to an air source heat pump would leave us with only a gas hob, which I would change to electric and get the gas supply cut off. That will mean stopping paying for gas servicing and maintenance. My wife has a diesel car that is due for replacement and we will either consolidate to one larger electric car or buy a second one.
My advice to anyone wanting to reduce their carbon footprint is to only take on a bit at a time. Make a list and start with one thing. I started with the lighting as our lighting system used a lot of power. Insulation, of any kind, will reduce your energy use so it should be a high priority. Don’t replace appliances until they really need to be replaced as the environmental impact of switching can be quite high.