December can be a great month: Christmas, time off work, delicious food, friends and family. But it also means being cold… and here in the UK, we can expect to be cold for another three to four months after the festive fun is done.
Keeping our houses warm by turning up the gas central heating alone can feel tempting, but this method of guarding against the cold is not good for the planet. Did you know that 14% of our greenhouse gasses here in the UK come from our homes? Surprisingly, this is a similar figure to the emissions produced by cars.
It has been recommended that no new homes are connected to gas by 2025, but of course many of us live in older homes which have gas boilers and so would need expensive retrofitting to get rid of the gas connection. Plus it’s never a good idea to throw out old items or tools which are working well to replace them with new bits and bobs, even if the new things are ‘eco’.
So what can we do to make our homes warmer? Here are four solutions you might be able to try in your home.
You need to ensure that your home is well insulated to reap the benefits of any greener sources of heat you decide to use. Insulate your loft and use excluders or thick curtains over draughty doors and windows. One friend of mine uses blankets as curtains, which helps to seal the heat inside her house beautifully. Not only does efficient insulation make our houses warmer in the winter, it can keep heat out during summer.
One Home list eight simple measures you can take to insulate your home. These include installing loft insulation of at least 27cm, investing in a smart thermostat to set the temperature of your rooms, and investing in some double glazing. If you can't afford double glazing or don't own your home, temporary secondary glazing film can also be effective. One of our members covered her windows with cling film and has found that be good at keeping the cold out.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash
2. Booking a CHEESE survey
If you live in Bristol or the surrounding areas, you might want to invest in a Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts (CHEESE) survey. After your booking, one of their experts will come to your house and use thermal-imaging to identify where its losing heat. They will also suggest solutions to keep the heat inside. The surveys start at £100 but are free for people in poor housing conditions or who are living in fuel poverty.
Our committee member Tim had one of these scans at his home. He says:
“I live in a 1930s terraced house. When we first moved in 10 years ago - having come from a draughty, high ceilinged Victorian semi in Scotland – I thought it was going to be warm and draught-free. This was the first place we’d had with double glazing throughout!
"I gradually realised that this was not quite the case. The house was colder than I expected at the front with the prevailing west wind; plenty of draughts were coming through skirting boards and the like. So when I heard about the CHEESE thermal video energy surveys I decided to go for one, partly because I was just curious what it was about. It didn't take long to do the survey despite the need to set up a fan and screen at one front door to create a pressure differential - to activate draughts I think. The tour round the house with an expert surveyor yielded a number of simple little draught proofing DIY jobs I had missed. The thermal imaging of the house and the resultant DVD record was an interesting souvenir as well.”
3. Green homes grant
If you’re a home owner, you can apply for up to £5,000 from the government to make at least one ‘primary’ improvement to your home (such as insulating solid or cavity walls or investing in an air source heat pump) and help cover the cost of ‘secondary’ measures such as double glazing. You can read more about the scheme here.
My partner and I have qualified for this grant and are going to use the money to clad the outside of our incredibly cold 1930s house. We’re currently waiting for a slot to free up so that the work can be done. I can’t wait to be able to stop typing these blogs while wearing scarves, gloves and my electric blanket!
4. 100% renewable energy
One thing we can all do is switch who supplies our energy. Over the past decade or so, many seemingly eco-power companies such as Ecotricity and Bulb have popped up. These companies appear to be better than companies like NPower, who are not trying to appeal to eco-warriors.
However, did you know that energy companies will tend to buy whatever energy is cheapest at the time? During summer, this is often renewable energy.
Energy companies who have bought cheap renewable energy, but whose clients don't care where their energy comes from, will then sell certificates known as REGOs to companies whose clients DO care. Those 'caring' companies use the certificates to hide the fact that they are, at times, not using renewable energy.
Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash
There are only three companies in the UK who offer 100% genuinely renewable electricity and are trying their best to do similarly with gas (which is harder). These are Good Energy, Green Energy UK and the Co-Op. Previously, Bristol Energy was on this list, but they have been bought out by Together Energy, who do use REGOs; although they tell me they are trying to move away from them.
If you are with a ‘green’ energy provider and don’t feel sure about whether they are using REGOs or not (companies don’t boast about this, unsurprisingly), get in touch to ask them. If they do, perhaps consider moving to one of the genuinely renewable providers - or at least letting your providers know that you would prefer it if they stopped this greenwashing practice.
Did you know: Some 85% of British households use fossil-fuel based natural gas to heat their homes?
Do you have any tips for how to heat your house without harming the planet? If so, comment below and let us know.
Christmas is coming and there’s even more reason than usual to get excited about it - for many of us, it will be the first time we've seen our loved ones in months.
However, while Christmas can mean family, friends, food and all things festive, it can also mean waste, carbon and excess. Think of all those plastic cracker toys that get thrown in the bin, all the air-miles which go into shipping presents from overseas, or all the wrapping paper which can’t be recycled.
Getting green at Christmas might sound like it means forgoing all the fun, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some great ideas for local, greener gifts you can buy for mums, mates, nieces and nephews while still enjoying yourself and spoiling the people you love.
Beebombs are a great way to get some wild flowers which attract bees into your garden. I was given a beebomb by a friend of mine last year. I'm not particularly green-fingered, so I was unsure how well it would do, but I followed the instructions, scattered the pellets in a pot in my garden last year and it quickly bloomed. If I can have success with one of these, anyone can! They might make great stocking fillers or cracker replacements.
Gofarging.co.uk offer three hour walks in the Bristol and Bath area where you will be taught how to identify, pick and eat the various edible delights you pass. These tours have been described as ‘excellent’ by one of our members; I might get one for my partner, as we've enjoyed making soups and pesto from wild garlic we've foraged near our house. If so, I'll report back in a blog next year!
Avon Needs Trees is a registered charity whose aim is to buy and rewild land throughout Bristol and Avon. If you have any eco-warrior friends, they might appreciate donation card in their name. They also offer a foraging calendar with different recipes for each month.
Photo by Veronica Reverse on Unsplash
Food and kitchen gifts
Square Food is a community kitchen in Bristol which offers cookery classes for adults and children. Barny Haughton, who runs the school, was recently awarded an MBE for his work. BCR secretary Dorian Wainwright has done a cooking class with Square Food, and he says:
"My mum got the two of us cookery lessons at Square Food one year for Christmas. I'm a pretty rubbish cook, but I really enjoyed it. I learned some useful veg cutting techniques and how to truly appreciate tofu, plus my mum and I had a really enjoyable evening together!"
Sarah at Kitchen Titbits offers courses on meal planning, avoiding food waste and clever ideas about how to get kids to eat better, making this a great present for any families you know whose children find food tricky.
If you're after a drink, check out the offerings from Quoins, an organic vineyard near bath. They sell a selection of local wines and will deliver. The Bristol Beer Factory and Bristol Gin are two more local ways to get merry this festive season. I gave a friend of mine some Bristol Gin earlier this year and he loved it. I haven't tried Quoins wine yet, but I'm prepared to get tipsy in the name of fighting climate change!
Who doesn't love chocolate? Chocbox are some Bristol-based beauties who make vegan chocolate which looks delicious. You can buy their goodies online or at one of Bristol's zero waste shops. The dark-chocolate with festive berries looks particularly good to me.
As we discussed in a previous blog, switching from shower gel to soap is a great way to reduce your consumption of single-use plastics. There are several great Bristol-based soap makers selling great gifts. These include Margaret May Soaps, Wildgrove Felted soap and my favourites, Made in Fishponds. I bought MiF soaps for lots of my friends for Christmas last year. The Give Me Soap, Joanna is my personal recommendation (I like to pretend it's named after me), although lots of lovely new products have been added to their offerings this year.
Cards, gift wrap and decorations
Jezaya Mitchell of Sew Much More has some lovely reusable wrapping fabric and festive bunting for sale on her Etsy page - grab some before they sell out.
Don't Send Me a Card is a great organisation which allows you to send e-cards to your friends and family, the profits of which go to a charity of your choice; charities on offer include Avon Needs Trees. Save paper, support eco-charities AND make your mates smile - that has to be a winner.
For a more traditional approach, WH Smiths are selling recycable wrapping paper - or you could get creative and use old maps or newspapers. One of our members saved Christmas papers from 2019 to use as wrapping in 2020 - what a fab idea!
Second hand or home-made gifts
As with everything else you might be thinking about buying in the future, second hand is always better. If the charity shops open again before Christmas, check those out for unusual clothes, books and games. If not, there's always eBay, Facebook Marketplace or Freecycle - all great places for snapping up kids' toys, kitchen bits or gadgets which might otherwise be ending up in landfill. And all for bargain prices as well.
Another option is to make presents yourself. What skills do you have? Can you whip up a delicious jam, build a beautiful bookshelf, write a moving poem for a pal? I've given home-made presents in the past and people always appreciate them.
If you have any ideas for green gifts or home-made presents, put them in the comments below. We're always happy to hear from you. And have a very happy Christmas!