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The Sunday Times - Be eco-friendly for less

During my final year at college I lived in a terraced townhouse in Dublin’s city centre with four other students. We chose it for its location — and cheap rent — the property belonged to an era where “energy upgrade” was more about shovelling extra coal on an open fire, than installing fancy solar panels. The sash windows while original and probably once a beautiful period feature were old and didn’t shut properly, allowing cold air into the house. In windy weather, there was an incessant rattle as the panes came close to falling out of their frames. Both outside doors had warped over the years, leaving gaps between them and the doorsteps. With no hot water, freezing temperatures and an absent landlord, we had no alternative but to suffer out the winter by wearing extra layers. It was not uncommon for us to huddle up in the evenings in our coats, hats and gloves. That winter of discontent served me well, however. When I bought my first home over four years ago, the importance of energy efficiency and making small but important “tweaks” to windows and doors was high on the agenda. However, with a massive mortgage, I Couldn’t contemplate a retrofit. Greener technology — geothermal, solar or wind energy — while known to cut energy bills,was far too expensive. Instead, I had to look for cheaper ways to keep warm without wasting energy. There are several ways to “winter-proof” your house on a budget many for less than €20 and save on bills.

 
Seal of approval
 If a house is draughty, you’ll know about it. To determine where the draught is coming from, hold some paper or a burning incense stick beside the suspected window or door. If the paper moves or the smoke flickers wildly, you have identified your draught. “For your windows, use simple weather stripping or sealants to seal frames,” says Ted Laverty of Onlinetradesmen. ie, an online directory of qualified trade professionals. “Unibond Weather Protect door and window sealant costs €13.95 and is available from DIY shops or handyhardware.ie. “For external doors, draught excluder strips and flaps will make a big difference and cost as little as €5.95. Attention should also be paid to letterboxes. Kwik- Grip Letterbox Draught Excluders can be bought for €6.95,” he says. A rolled towel placed at the bottom of the door is an effective and cheap temporary alternative to handle draughts.
 
 Belt up
 It should be common sense, but plenty of households have yet to fit a lagging jacket on their immersion heating system. Insulating your hot-water cylinder with an 80mm (3”) thick lagging jacket will save up to 30% on your water heating costs, according to the Electricity Supply Board (ESB). Insulating water pipes inside the hot press area is also recommended, while using the timer will also cut down on costs without compromising the supply of hot water.
“This will keep your water warmer for longer,” says Laverty. 
 
Blow out
The chimney balloon is fast becoming an effective eco-product in the home. The sausage-shaped balloon fits into the chimney and stops heat loss. It claims to save up to 30% on heating bills and rooms should feel instantly warmer. Closing the damper on the fireplace when it’s not in use should also help. A standard balloon costs about €30 from chimneyballoons.ie.
 
Get crafty
In winter, blinds and shutters will provide little defence against the cold. A cheap and easy way to insulate patio or balcony doors is to make curtains to fit. There are plenty of websites, including ehow.com, which show you how to sew and hang a quick door curtain without spending a fortune at the local dressmaker. Fabric can be picked up from charity shops or soft furnishings stores like Hickeys (hickeyfabrics.ie).
 
 
Shower power
Eco shower heads can make a significant difference to water and energy consumption for your power shower, but not electric showers. There are many different types, including the Nordic Eco Shower Head. Unlike traditional shower heads, the Nordic delivers water in large well-sized droplets, through repeated propulsion from the central chamber. Manufacturers claim that, like a normal shower, it will always deliver
six litres per minute, but without using as much energy. It costs €49.99 from Irish supplier Ecostore.ie.
 
The heat is  on
Radiator foil strips save energy by reflecting heat normally lost heating the wall behind a radiator. An estimated 70%of heat is lost in this way. “To get the most from your radiators, place a reflector
pad behind them,” says Laverty. “When a radiator is below a window, install a shelf above.” The Radiator Insulation pack, available from econatural.ie for €14.28, includes five half a metre sheets of radiator foil with 10 metres of self adhesive magnetic tape for installation
 
Accentuate the obvious
Compact Fluorescent (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs use up to 80% and 95% less electricity,
respectively, than traditional bulbs. They are a small change but can make a big difference. Larger DIY
stores can offer bargains on these bulbs, selling single bulbs for €1 or multipacks for €5. Another simple
solution is reducing the thermostat. Lowering the temperature means the system is on less, while switching it off completely while you sleep or are away will save a lot of money. Some appliances, such as televisions, use half the electricity on standby than when fully on.
 
Let the sun shine
It is easy to forget how powerful the winter sun can be and opening curtains and blinds every morning will pay off in the long term. On sunny winter days, rooms will warm up and, if properly treated for draughts, retain their warmth throughout the day.
 
BER not burr
The Building Energy Rating (BER) introduced in January last year has had its fair share of criticism. Nevertheless, it is compulsory when buying, selling or renting a house. In theory, the higher the rating, the less it will cost to heat and light your home. Some BERs can be carried out for €150, half the price of what qualified surveyors commanded last year. The certificate’s advice can be helpful too. A BER on my own home showed a B2 rating — I fell down on having some but not all CFL bulbs, something I have since corrected. I also learnt that the gas boiler in my home was quite low on energy usage and did not need to be replaced by a “greener” and more efficient one.
 
Quick fix
Finally, make a list of all the outstanding DIY jobs you’ve been putting off, from a dripping tap to clogged gutters. Dedicating one weekend to these odd jobs will pay off in the long run. Now that the leaves are falling, cleaning out gutters is a must. Water will run more freely and prevent the formation of ice dams, where water backs up, freezes and seeps back into the house. Don’t forget to insulate taps in the garden or garage, and wrap up any exposed pipes or plumbing. Locate the stop cock in your home (usually under the kitchen sink) and make sure you can turn it on or off. For a last minute money saving tip,shop around for more competitive electricity providers. By switching from ESB to Bord Gais and Airtricity, customers could save between 10 and 14%.

 

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