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How to green your flat on the cheap

George Wigmore

17th June, 2010

Small, inexpensive changes can add up to big savings when it comes to greening a rental property

With 31 per cent of properties in the UK being rented, it's not always easy to make fundamental changes to green your property unless you have an incredibly keen landlord. There are, however lots of small changes you can make which can add up to make a big difference and save you money on energy bills in the process.

Windows and doors

A lot of heat is lost through draughty, single-glazed windows and poorly fitting doors. Many rental properties do not have double-glazing. But by fitting heavy, floor length (thermal-lined) curtains to most rooms (or at least the ones you spend the most time in), will not only help keep in the heat during cold winter nights, but can also be taken to your next property. If you're feeling keen, you can also install a curtain rail above any outside doors to stop through-draughts.

Put cling film over your draughty single-glazed windows - this is really easy and only costs about £1.50. All you need is some cling film, sellotape, scissors and a hairdryer (to remove any crinkles once the clingfilm has been sellotaped down).

For door draught-proofing you can make your own draught excluders, which not only saves money by recycling old bits and pieces, but also keeps your property warmer. To make your draught excluder, take an old pair of tights, and either stuff them with newspaper, plastic carrier bags, or old duvets. Then use elastic bands to close the ends.

Alternatively, you can make a fancy draught excluder by following The Guardian's guide, here.

Cost: £50-£100

Curtains are expensive but they last for ages.

Cling-filming windows and making draught excluders costs next to nothing and can make significant savings all for about £5.

Heating and Hot Water

Invest in thermals, get a warm duvet, and turn down that thermostat. If you have a programmer or a timer, set it to only come on when needed (and when you're at home), as even turning down your thermostat by 1.5C can reduce your bills by as much as 10 per cent.

Also, ask your landlord if s/he would be willing to fit individual valves to each radiator (and radiator bleeders if he's feeling generous). It's pointless to have radiators going full blast in rooms you rarely use.

Increasing radiator efficiency is also an easy way to warm up your house, and reduce your bills. Improved efficiency can be achieved in a number of different ways. The easiest, is to place foil behind radiators to increase their efficiency. So much heat is lost into walls that by taping foil wrapped polystyrene tiles behind your radiator you will greatly increase their efficiency and heat convection. Alternatively, you can buy a radiator booster, which uses small, but powerful fans to distribute heat more efficiently.

Cost: £1- £50

Foil and polystyrene and pretty cheap, especially as polystyrene can be picked up for free from skips and other places.

Lighting

Changing all bulbs for energy saving ones is one of the easiest ways to save money, and green your property. The best options are either CFLs, or LED bulbs.

Read the Ecologist's guide to next generation light bulbs here.

Cost: £1- £50

CFLs are cheap and widely available now, and you may have already been sent some by your electricity company for free. Disposal is more tricky.  LED bulbs are more expensive, but do last longer, don't contain mercury like CFLs and the money saved by fitting these should mean that they pay for themselves.

Standby (also known as phantom loads)

Fit a standby killer (such as a Byebye Standby and Standby Buster), or directly turn off and remove appliances at the wall. The British Government's 2006 Energy Review found that in 2004 appliances on standby consumed 8 per cent of all residential electricity.

Cost: Free - £100

Standby killers can be expensive, but removing plugs from wall sockets is free and achieves the same thing.

Appliances 

Before buying a new appliance, first consider whether you actually need it, as the cost of manufacturing the new product in terms of CO2 emissions, and use of toxic chemicals may outweigh the benefits. Nevertheless, buying electrical goods with energy saving features may make a real difference, so look out for Energy Star logos, EU Energy Labels (from A to G) and also Energy Saving Trust Recommended stickers on certain products. Also, before purchasing a new appliance, have a look at Greenpeace's ‘Guide to Greener Electronics', which ranks the 18 biggest manufacturers according to a range of environmental criteria, including toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.

If buying a new computer, consider going for a laptop instead of a desktop, as the energy usage will be much lower.

Also, join your local Freecycle network, or buy second-hand from Gumtree/Craigslist.

Sign up to a green electricity provider

Many companies now offer eco-tariffs, whereby certain percentages of your electricity supplied comes from green energy sources. Most also price match, so it won't cost you any more money.

To find the best tariff depending on your usage, and area, visit www.greenelectricity.org

If you switch to Ecotricity there's an added plus -  a free two year digital subscription to the Ecologist (worth £40).

Get an energy monitor

Having a visual representation of how much electricity (and money) you are using can make a real difference, as previous studies have shown that energy monitors/smart meters encourage homeowners to cut their energy use by 3-15 per cent, by raising awareness of their energy use.

The government plans to issue every household in Britain with one by 2020 but, instead of waiting, why not get one now and start saving. Depending on the model, you can also export the information onto your computer for closer analysis. Some electricity companies issue energy monitors for free with certain tariffs.

Cost: £100+ (but free in some cases)

This won't save you money on its own, but if used constructively, it can result in behaviour change which will mean the monitor pays for itself in a couple of years.

Water

By fitting an aerator to any taps and shower heads in your bathroom and kitchen, you can use up to 60 per cent less water, saving on your heating and water bills.

You can also convert your toilet into a low flush loo by using a either a Save-A-Flush bag, which can be ordered for free from your water company, or by filling up a plastic bottle with sand, pebbles and water, and then placing it in the cistern. Such water displacement devices, as long as they're placed far away from any working parts, can save over a litre of water for each flush.

Cost: Free - £50

Incredibly easy way to save money and reduce the amount of water you use.

Cleaning

Wash your laundry at 30C or 40C, use eco friendly washing powder (click here for information ) and use your tumble drier as little as possible - either let clothes dry naturally indoors or in the sun.

Use eco cleaning products to clean your flat. You can also easily make your own cleaning supplies from common household items such as vinegar/lemon juice and baking soda.

Maximise your recycling

If your council doesn't collect plastics or food waste, why not start campaigning? You can find out where your local recycling points are by visiting your local council website.

If your council doesn't collect food waste you could either get an indoor wormery, or providing you have a garden, compost it yourself. See Recycle Now's article on home composting here.

You can also aim to reduce the amount of packaging you bring home. Find local farmer's markets, or local fruit and veg shops, and buy fresh produce from there.

For information on recycling, visit Recycle Now's website here.

Grow your own

Growing your own food not only reduces the amount of packaging you bring into your home, but also reduces food miles. Allotments are perfect for those who can get them, but in London the waiting lists are huge.

Most flats don't have gardens, but that doesn't mean you can't grow your own. Instead, grow some food on whatever space you have, or go wild food foraging with a book. Window boxes, hang-baskets, and even plant pots on windowsills provide a great way to grow your own.

What to look out for when looking for a flat/rented house

EPCs

Since October 2008 all properties need an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when they are either bought, sold, built or being rented, so when searching for a new flat be on the look out for its energy performance certificate.

Information for Landlords

LESA

Landlords who make energy saving improvements to their properties are eligible for tax reduction. This can be done by claiming the Landlord Energy Saving Allowance (LESA). Make your landlord aware, as you both may be able to save money. For more information, click here.

 

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