With fuel prices constantly on the rise, more and more families and businesses are thinking about ways they can conserve energy. Improving your energy efficiency isn't just good for your wallet, either -- it's good for the environment, cutting down on harmful carbon emissions. Making just a few small changes to household or office habits can lead to big savings in energy usage.
Most modern electronic devices, such as televisions or DVD players, don't really turn off when you press the power switch on the remote control. They enter "standby" mode, running at a reduced level so that they can be switched on again quickly. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average British household spends £35 per year powering these devices when they're not in use. Switching them off manually, or even at the wall, will cut down on this wasted electricity.
Replace old lightbulbs
Traditional incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient. Compact fluorescent bulbs are longer lasting and use less electricity, making them the superior choice. Although these bulbs are more expensive individually, the reduction in energy costs and replacement costs makes them the superior alternative.
Use natural light
Energy-efficient light bulbs are a huge improvement on earlier models, but they're no match for natural light. Many households and businesses keep their lights on even during the brightest hours of the day. By working or spending time in areas of the building with good natural light -- or spending time outdoors -- you can reduce the need for artificial lighting.
Improve your insulation
Heating and cooling are among the major causes of high energy bills, both for homes and businesses. Inadequate insulation wastes energy and money. Although the cost of installing insulation can be high, a new insulated loft or ceiling will pay for itself in two to four years but last several decades, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
Ceilings, walls and lofts aren't the only parts of the home where heat escapes. Windows are a major source of heat loss as well. Installing modern draught-proof windows can help to eliminate wasted energy here.
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Manage heat wisely
Improving insulation and replacing windows are big projects, but there are many smaller things you can do to cut down on wasted energy for heating. Turning your thermostat down as little as 1C can make a huge difference on your heating bill -- up to 10% a year. Plug other small sources of heat loss as well, such as fitting brush seals or springs to your letterbox opening.
Buy energy-efficient appliances
While electronics like televisions and computers can be switched off when they're not in use, some appliances, notably refrigerators, need to stay on at all times. For this reason, it's very important to choose the most energy-efficient models when purchasing. Look for the EU energy label, which rates the efficiency of appliances with a colour-coded scale. Look for appliances with an A+ or A++ rating.
Hot water use
Heating water is another major source of energy consumption. Even small changes to water habits can lead to big long-term savings. Making sure only to wash clothes when there is enough laundry to give the washing machine a full load can cut down on hot water expenses. Even a small problem like a dripping bathroom tap can waste over 5,000 litres of water a year.
Changing how you use hot water isn't the only way to save on water heating costs. The heater itself can be a source of waste. Make sure that it isn't heating your water hotter than 60 C -- this is more than enough for household purposes. Increasing the temperature any more raises bills without any benefit. If your water heater is giving off a lot of heat, it's worth insulating it further to cut down on heat loss.
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Simple changes to your home or business can result in big reductions to your energy bills and to your carbon footprint. For the ambitious environmentalists, larger projects can save even more. For instance, solar water heating systems can be installed on the roofs of most buildings. These use the sun's rays to heat water, which is then piped to a storage tank. Solar panels can also help to defray the cost of a building's electricity.