Four ways to reduce your household energy use – Proven by research

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A particularly cold September gave us a taste of the winter to come. The cold will bite harder for the 13% of households in England already on fuel. As the energy crisis intensifies, this is expected to increase further.

European leaders therefore rushed to implement measures to protect households. The UK Energy Price Guarantee caps the unit price of electricity and gas at 34p and 10p respectively. While this will ease some concerns about rising energy bills, many households will still not heat their homes in the coming months.

So here are four ways research shows households can reduce their energy use in time for winter – and save money in the process.

1. Air dry the clothes

Washing and drying clothes accounts for around 12% of household electricity use in the UK.

Hand washing is often recommended as an energy-saving alternative to washing in a washing machine.

Washing clothes by hand in a bucket

Hand washing is often touted as an energy-saving alternative to washing in a washing machine. Image credit: aromaso/Shutterstock.com

However, modern washing machines are extremely efficient, typically using 0.5 kilowatt hours for a 9kg wash. This is significantly less than the average 0.82 kilowatt hours used in hand washing. Even inefficient washing machines tend to use less energy than hand washing, as much less hot water is required.

Conversely, by limiting the use of the dryer, greater reductions in energy use can be achieved. Dryers use a lot of energy, with a single cycle using up to 4.5 kilowatt hours. This will cost £1.50 per cycle at the price cap.

By air drying clothes, I calculated that the average household could save over £130 a year.

2. Use less hot water

Facing critical gas shortages, the German city of Hanover turned off hot water in the bathrooms of all public buildings earlier this year.

While energy saving measures this serious are unlikely, hot water production in the UK is a significant consumer of energy, accounting for around a quarter of domestic energy use. There are a number of ways households can reduce their hot water use.

One way is to reduce the time you spend in the shower. A nine-minute high-pressure shower uses about 4.3 kilowatt-hours of gas. At the price cap, this will cost households 44p per shower. By reducing shower time to six minutes, households can save 15p on heating water for each shower.

If you have a hot water tank, making sure it is well insulated can also provide cost savings. This will keep the water warmer for longer and reduce heating costs.

Another approach is to install a low-flow shower head. This limits the flow of water while maintaining the feel of a high-pressure shower. At lower flow rates, a shower will use less hot water. For households taking an average of two nine-minute showers a day, this could save over £100 a year.

However, a low flow shower head will only work well in areas where the water pressure is already quite high. Reducing the flow of an already low pressure shower will turn the shower into a dribble.

3. Make better use of heating

As the energy crisis intensifies, it is important to ensure that heating is not wasted. Research shows that energy use could be reduced by up to 30% by reducing heating when passengers are asleep or away.

This can be done by manually dialing the thermostat or turning off the heating completely. For those who habitually forget to turn down the heating, a smart thermostat could prove to be a useful investment. These can be controlled remotely via your mobile or automatically via presence sensors and allow the heating to be reduced when the house is empty.

face adjustment radiator valve

Homes with heating controls use much less energy than homes without. Image credit: Robert Bodnar T/Shutterstock.com

Energy is also wasted by heating unused rooms. Thermostatic radiator valves are a way to control the temperature in different spaces. They regulate the flow of hot water through the radiators and can be programmed to set the temperature for each room.

Thermostatic radiator valves can offer significant energy savings. One study found that they result in 10%-18% less energy use compared to homes without heating control. However, it is important that doors between rooms remain closed to avoid wasting energy.

4. Maximize insulation

Although we can make better use of heating, Britain’s homes are extremely energy inefficient. Its housing stock is one of the least insulated in Europe.

Maximizing insulation is one way to reduce energy use. Secondary glazing in the form of window shutters can halve the amount of heat lost through a single pane of glass. I calculated that this could save the average UK home over £50 a year in heating costs.

But window blinds don’t always represent an immediate energy-saving strategy. Shutter installation can be expensive and if installed on the outside of a building may require planning permission.

Closing the blinds or curtains at night and during cold periods represents a cheaper way of keeping warm. Research shows that blinds can reduce the amount of heat lost through windows by up to 38%.

Changes in habits and small investments can significantly reduce energy consumption. If widely implemented, they can alleviate the energy crisis. While the Energy Price Guarantee will provide temporary relief to many, investment in energy efficiency measures such as insulation must be prioritized to reduce our energy burden in the long term.The conversation

Aurore Julien, Lecturer in Environment, Energy and Resources, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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