Should you get solar? Is it really worth switching to energy-saving bulbs? They're just two of the questions I tried to answer last week in an article for the Indy's nice little green living supplement on Wednesday. It's not in their online archives, so I've reprinted the best eco upgrades for your home after the click-through. [photo: TaranRampersad]
1 Build your own solar power station
Don't be put off by the fact that David Cameron did it first: by generating your own electricity, you could end up with the national grid paying you. The most effective form of DIY energy is solar photovoltaics, better known as solar panels. Traditionally, you needed to contact a specialist installer to find out more, but now - if you live near Fulham, Croydon or West Thurrock - you can just pop in to your local Currys. A typical £9,000 installation should slash an average 3-bed family's bill in half, keeping two tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year. Apply for a grant too, and you could get £3,000 cashback.
How much? From £7,000
2 Switch to energy-saving bulbs
If everyone in the world switched to energy-saving bulbs, we'd cut the world's electricity bill by one tenth. At home, you're simply paying over the odds for a technology more than a century old if you still have hugely inefficient incandescent bulbs burning away day and night. Sadly, ubiquitous IKEA halogen spots aren't much better. Compact Fluorescents, by comparison, produce similar illumination for a sixth of the energy: a 60W 'normal' bulb can be replaced by a 10W version. To cut that by half again, invest in next gen LEDs, which are expensive but save incredible amounts in the long-term. Low power also means low heat which, in turn, means you can buy beautiful light shades such as Ecocentric's Coron one.
How much? CFL triple pack from £3
LED spotlights from £23
Ecocentric Coron £50
3. Insulate with this newspaper
With the evenings drawing in, attention suddenly returns to the TV schedule, DVD collections and the state of the sofa. It's also a pertinent time to insulate your house and stop expensive gas-powered heating escaping through lofts, walls and windows. Windows are best handled by double-glazing or better-fitting sashes, walls should be left to your gas/electricity provider - see est.org.uk for details - but loft insulation's incredibly easy to fit yourself. Two top eco options include Second Nature's Thermafleece made from wool and Excel Fibre's Warmcel, produced from recycled newspaper. Both require a fraction of the energy to make fibre glass in the first place, plus they're just as efficient and don't make your hands and eyes itch.
How much? Varies according to region, loft area and supplier
4. Hunt energy hogs
Tracking down the energy hungry appliances that are ratcheting up your 'leccie bills is laborious work, but it's getting easier. CAT's Powermeter, for example, works by sitting between any device and a mains plug and displaying on-screen how many watts that Sky box, Habitat lamp or twenty year old washing machine's using. A more expensive option is the Electrisave, which clips next to your mains meter and wirelessly beams your consumption to a display in your living room - with a read-out that tells you how much you're paying in real-time. In the future, intelligent systems from people like More Associates could even let you publish the stats on a blog.
How much? Powermeter £29
5 Buy recycled furniture
Buying recycled home furniture and materials has a double kick-back - in addition to getting stuff with character and history, less energy is wasted than making something brand new. For small homewares, Recycle Now's site has a huge guide; for bigger items, Eight Inch offers dazzling kitchen worktops made from 85 per cent bottlebank glass, Reel Furniture makes chairs, shelves and more from warehouse palletes, cable reels and other old wood, while Richard Taylor re-jigs hat stands in funky modern colours. If it's reclaimed floorboards, beautiful old fireplaces and the like that you're after, there's only one place to go: Salvo's comprehensive directory.
How much? Eight Inch price varies
Reel Furniture Reclaimed Rocker chair £395
Richard Taylor Hat-Stand £190
6 Get a hippo, save water
In case you missed it, this summer the south east suffered the sort of drought more familiar in Spain than Sussex. If that's not enough to make you feel all Churchillian and in the mood to do your bit, look at water-saving as a purely finanical equation: once you've got a meter you could start saving serious money. Interflush, for example, reckons its DIY contraption for the average loo could save you £1,000 over ten years. It works by allowing you to flush the amount of water you need each time, rather than the entire cistern. Even simpler is the Hippo, which simply sits in your cistern, meaning less water gets flushed each time. A brick does the job, too.
How much? Interflush £20
7 Paint organic
Home, oddly enough, usually exposes us to a stronger chemical cocktail than when we're travelling or at work. One of the main culprits is modern paint, which is often filled with potentially harmful chemicals such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Organic or eco paints, on the other hand, are usually a pleasure to use - most come off brushes with warm water instead of white spirit - and let your walls 'breathe' due to their microporous nature. The only catch is that you'll pay more for the privilege of a chemical-free home: up to four times more than standard paint. Good brands include Earth Born, Auro, Ecos, Nutshell and Green Paints.
How much? Price varies by quantity and brand
8 Switch to eco electricity
If installing solar panels and wind turbines sounds a step too far, switching your electricity to a green tariff is a good compromise,shouldn't cost you a penny and can be done in ten minutes. Good Energy and Ecotricity are the two best known providers and, unlike competitors, both invest in building renewables - Ecotricity directly and Good via its parent company. Most of the major names such as Npower offer green tariffs as well, meaning you can hold on to dual fuel discounts if saving money's your priority. Rather than trawling the web, visit uswitch.com to compare deals.
How much? Free to switch
9 Chill out with a new fridge
What's on in your home day and night, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? You guessed it: the humble fridge-freezer. For most people, a refrigerator's the single biggest user of electricity and thus the most significant polluter in the house. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to find one that's more efficient, as the Energy Saving Trust lists and rates the best models to save you cash and look after the planet. Technical advances mean a new category - A++ - was created for the latest greatest ones, while German brands Bosch and Miele garner extra greenie points for build quality and longevity.
How much? Bosch Exxcel KGN34X60GB (A-rated) £350
Miele KFN8452SD (A-rated) £500
10 Get worms
Composting is a strange, dark art that can go horribly wrong if you end up with one too many camomile tea bag, too little sawdust or too much garden waste. A wormery such as the Wiggly Wigglers Can-o-Worms, however, is virtually fool-proof and actually less yucky than a compost bin, which can attract flies if stuff isn't breaking down quickly enough. Worms are also usually happy with meat scraps, which you can't chuck in a composter. As well as providing your garden with free, natural fertiliser, you'll be keeping some of the UK's estimated 2.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gas-making organic matter out of landfill.
How much? Wiggly Wigglers Can-on-Worms £60
Written by Adam Vaughan, originally published in The Independent newspaper on Wedsnesday 27th September 2006.