conscious living in november (or frugal friday – on a saturday)

As usual, I’m late joining Robyn in Frugal Friday this week. And I want to tie it in with my conscious living post for November, which I’m only just writing, even though it’s December (really?? goodness!), so I hope you’ll excuse my higgledy-piggledy timings and bear with me.

This month I want to talk about energy. A while ago I changed our energy supplier, and opted for a green tariff which included both gas and electricity. We currently pay £110 a month for both, and they’d like to increase our direct debit to £147 a month to cover the predicted £110 shortfall over the next twelve months (no, that doesn’t add up at all and I’ll be refusing!)

I’ve been avoiding thinking about this, because I find the whole thing confusing and baffling (and I’m not that interested in thinking about bills in general), but it’s about time I faced it head on. Will you join me?

A green tariff or not?

Renewable energy is generated using sources that can be easily and quickly replenished, which means using sunlight, the wind, the waves, and biomass (natural materials, like wood, being burned or turned into gas). It doesn’t include coal or oil (which take many millions of years to replenish), and there is a huge debate, which I won’t go into here, about whether to include nuclear power (personally, I don’t).

Green energy tariffs are now widely available, and while they usually cost more than a ‘normal’ tariff, the difference isn’t always that great. The terminology can be confusing though, and they’re not all as green as they seem.

The UK government has a target of generating 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. As part of this, it has set up the Renewables Obligation, which requires all energy suppliers to generate a certain percentage (which changes each year, and keeps increasing) of their energy from renewable sources, or pay a penalty. Companies who don’t generate enough can buy Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) from other companies who generate more.

What this means is that a company can sell you a 100% renewable electricity tariff, and actually not generate any more of its energy from renewable sources than it is legally obliged to. I decided that, if I’m going to be paying extra for a green tariff, I want the company to be doing more than just meeting its legal obligation.

(Confused yet? There’s a comprehensive free Ethical Consumer guide here, but it’s rather wordy and technical).

There is a suggestion that we’d never be able to produce all our energy from renewable sources, and people sometimes use this as an argument not to use it at all. I confess I have no idea whether this is true, and instead say for now, trust your instincts and do what you personally feel is right. For me, that’s erring on the side of caution and using as much renewable energy as possible, because it’s renewable. I suggest you make up your own mind.

What price to pay?

According to our suppliers, in the last 12 months we’ve used 3228kWh of electricity, which cost £376.77, and 23863kWh of gas, which cost £841.86. Adding the standing charges, that means our annual cost for both gas and electricity was around £1500. That’s for two of us in a three bedroom, end terrace house. According to this Which guide, our electricity consumption is average, and our gas use is right up in the high bracket.

I’d quite like to reduce this amount, but I’d also like to stick with a green tariff. So I have two options: switch to another supplier, or reduce how much we use.

Changing supplier

Many of the main energy comparison sites offer an option to choose green energy, but there are a couple that allow you to compare only green tariffs. I tried Green Energy Switch and Green Helpline. Green Energy Switch gave me 67 options, with savings of up to £300 (although this was only one company – the rest were all under £150). Green Helpline gave me 11 options, ranging from saving £78 to an increase of £150, and tells me which options meet the Green Energy Supply Certification Scheme requirements (I think this means the suppliers actually do what they say they will).

Now, I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed by too much choice. One of the main reasons I chose our current supplier was because they only had four tariffs to choose from (although I’ve just noticed they don’t meet the Certification Scheme – I’ll have to investigate). While I love the Money Saving Expert website, and often follow its advice, I don’t enjoy trawling price comparison websites at all, and would happily spend a little more if it meant I didn’t have to switch.

That means, if we’re to reduce our bills, we need to think about using less energy. Which is actually no bad thing anyway, if we’re thinking about living more consciously.

Electricity

Our electricity use is ‘average’, but there is plenty we could do to cut it. Rhonda at Down to Earth suggested a few things just the other day. What do we have that uses electricity? The usual fridge, freezer, washing machine, of course, and plenty of smaller things (toaster, hair dryer, tv). We have an electric shower, and I have a small electric heater up in the attic for the days I work at home. We don’t tend to use the main ceiling lights, but instead have lots of lamps – they mostly have energy saving bulbs in, but there are many of them, and it’s not easy to turn them all off when leaving a room. I confess we often leave the tv on standby too – an easy thing to change.

We’re lucky enough to be able to borrow an energy owl for free from our local library. This monitors electricity consumption, and you can work out how much each appliance costs to run. We’ve done this before, but not for a while. I’ll pick one up this week and have another go.

Gas

We use a lot of gas – more than the average for the size of our house it seems. We have gas central heating, and a gas cooker (we also use this for heating the kettle – and we drink a lot of tea). Our boiler is old, and not very efficient, but it works, and I’m reluctant to replace something that isn’t broken. However, we can’t set it to only heat the water, which means in the summer, to get hot water, we have to put the central heating on – just for an hour, and not every day, but it’s still rather daft. It also doesn’t have a timer, so we have to switch it on and off manually – which means it’s cold when we get up in the morning, but once the heating is on, it’s fairly easy to leave it on all day without thinking.

Our house is 110 years old. We have double glazing, but there are gaps and cracks around windows, under doors, and in the roof. It’s not what you’d call toasty. And because I work at home several days a week, and Peter often works in the evening, when I’m at home, there’s usually one of us here all day, most days. We wrap up, but we also have the heating on a lot. While I don’t mind wearing woolly socks and a jumper, I refuse to wear gloves and a fleecy hat in the house. So we need to find ways to keep the warmth in.

We have thick, rubble filled walls, which means we can’t have cavity wall insulation. Our attic is a room, so while there is some insulation in the roof I believe, we can’t put thick rolls of lagging down like we could if it was an unused loft space. However, there are things we can do. We have a velvet curtain over the back door, but not the front door. We have thick velvet curtains in the living room and the kitchen – but often leave them open. The bathroom doesn’t have curtains at all, and the bedroom only has a thin blind. There are no curtains in the attic either, and a draft blows from under the eaves.

Thinking about the future

My first job is to ring the current supplier and tell them I don’t want to increase my direct debit – my plan is to use less energy next year than we have this year. Then I’ll get an energy owl, and start finding curtains to keep the warmth in. I’m not going to start timing my showers, but I could get straight in instead of wandering about for five minutes first.

Writing all this has made me realise (a) how confusing things are, and (b) how we’ve slipped into habits that are rather wasteful, and potentially cost us quite a lot of money. But after all, this is what the conscious living quest was all about, so hooray for turning to face another area of life and seeing what changes we can make.

What about you? Do you use more or less energy than the average? Do you have a green tariff? Do you pay too much for your energy? What could you do to reduce what you use?

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5 Responses to conscious living in november (or frugal friday – on a saturday)

  1. Cassandra says:

    I was really interested in that post of Rhonda’s, and also some of the comments left as well. Although we are in Australia also, each state does things differently, so we have a different energy set-up than she does, so not everything suggested works for us.

    DH is in IT, so we are a power hungry family. We have our own server for pity’s sake!! However we have made several changes recently to bring our power bill down, as our winter bill was out of control! We are now turning tv/dvd/gaming consoles off at the wall when we have finished using them. A small change, but I am sure it’s making a difference!

    Another secret power drain is things like computers. Some towers, depending on the model, draw as much as 200w or more when they are on. We swapped teen DS1, who is the most on the computer, over to DH’s iMac, and we think that this is making a huge difference in the daily usage as well. Something that I don’t remember seeing any one mention actually. Even using a PC more efficiently and turning it off when you are finished is a good idea.

    We recently got a solar panel system installed on the house, I am just about to blog our 1st months energy results. Because we are now so energy conscious, we have gotten our daily kw usage from our last bill, which was over 20kwh, down to around 15kwh. We are lucky that we designed/insulated the house well when we built and haven’t needed heating or cooling for a couple of months now. That’s a huge power drain whenever it’s turned on.

    I think your assessment of where you need to tackle next is spot on. I look forward to seeing how you bring those figures down in the future!

    • Thanks Cassandra! Really interesting what you say about the computer – we’ve just got the one, but that’s on pretty much all day every day, and my laptop tends to never get switched off. We have a lot of electric musical equipment here – looking forward to testing some of that with the owl meter.

      Haven’t read the comments on Rhonda’s post yet, I’m going to do that today. Interesting that you say things work differently in different parts of Australia. I’ve never really considered solar panels – always wrote them off as too expensive, but I will investigate. Look forward to reading what you’ve got to say about it! We’re ‘fortunate’ that we don’t need any kind of cooling system over here at least!

  2. Have you ever thought about making a flask of tea to take “to work” with you? The fact that you work at home probably means you are boiling the kettle more to make tea. If you pretend you are actually going to work ie leaving the house, you could make a flask of tea in the morning that will last most of your working day. If you get 3 cups of tea from the flask then that’s 2 less kettle boilings.
    Also how about draught excluders? If you make them from old trouser legs then you are upcycling at the same time.
    Good luck cutting your energy bills

  3. We live in a relatively new house so should be well insulated however as with all mass build doors are badly fitting. I do close all the curtains as soon as it starts to get dark and decided that I wouldn’t have curtains, that when closed, covered the radiators. We have used insulation at the back of all the radiators on outside walls. We also have a curtain against the integral garage door and we use draught excluders.

    A tip on draught excluders, in you sew three lengths of tape about a third of the way up from the bottom at the back, long enough to go under the door and use some sort of retainer, we used wooden balls with holes both ends. Once the draught excluder has the tape sown on, put the excluder in position with the tape underneath. Thread the tape through the wooden (or whatever you choose) and tie a secure knot. That way when you open and close the door the excluder moves with the door.

  4. Gill says:

    My gas consumption is higher than yours, and for the same sort of reasons. Old house, boiler has to be on heating setting to heat hot water. But I am REALLY bad at switching things off – and the reason for that is partly lifestyle, and partly bone idleness. I hate having to reset clocks every time I switch something back on, or have to walk into a dark room to find the light, then to walk back out bumping my shins on things as I’ve switched the light off. And the Christmas tree lights are now on, and will stay on all day!

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