Where I Live
Reducing our energy use does not only lower carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, it also cleans up the air we breathe and helps to protect wildlife. Irish homes have one of the largest carbon footprints in Europe. How we heat our homes is one of the key sources of these emissions, particularly when we have fossil fuel (oil and gas) boilers or coal and peat fires.
Whether you own your home or not, certain measures can help to reduce your carbon emissions and energy bills. Minimising our impact also requires less water use and encouraging biodiversity in our outdoor spaces. The following points will discuss this. We also look at neighbourhoods and how we can strengthen communities and become better neighbours.
Consider the recommendations below in order to learn more.
Insulate Your Home Efficiently
Insulating your home requires some investment but will mean cheaper fuel bills and lower carbon emissions. You can also reduce heat loss in other ways. The following measures will have maximum impact for the least cost:
- Insulate your attic with at least 40 cm of insulation.
- Ensure your hot water cylinder is fully insulated (buy a lagging jacket from your local hardware store).
- Use your boiler rather than the immersion heater to heat your water if it is on a separate zone to the radiators. This is more energy efficient.
- If you are good with your hands, make a draft excluder for a leaky door or heavy curtains to trap heat.
- Wear another layer of clothing rather than turning up the heat.
If you own your home and have the means, see what grants are available from SEAI for insulating your walls, installing heating controls for your boiler or installing a heat pump or other renewable technologies. Look into low cost loans for home energy upgrades.
True Cost of Electrical Appliances
When buying a new appliance, ask yourself whether you really need it. The true cost of a new product goes beyond its price tag. Consider the (often polluting) materials used in its manufacture, transportation and disposal, with often minimal or no repair possibilities or scope for re-use or recycling.
Technologies do not improve as dramatically as we are often led to believe, so consider the vast range of appliances available on the second hand market. For example, a flat screen TV can be made ‘smart’ by attaching a very low cost casting device.
Turn off lights and appliances when they are not needed. This includes electrical goods on ‘standby mode’, or phones that are fully charged. When replacing a bulb, choose LED. They are more expensive to buy but will last longer and will save energy. Avoid unnecessary lighting, such as picture lighting or feature lighting in gardens. Air dry your clothes rather than using a tumble dryer as it is highly energy intensive. Check out further energy saving measures here.
Water may appear to be an endless resource, especially in rainy Ireland. However, it requires vast resources to bring it from its source to your tap, so it should be treated as a precious commodity. Here are several ways to consciously conserve:
- Choose a shower over a bath to save water. Shower every second or third day rather than every day. Use a water-saving spray nozzle to save many litres of water.
- Install a water filter in your kitchen (either stand alone or plumbed in), so you never need to buy a plastic bottle of water again!
- Install a bidet spray beside your toilet, which is more hygienic than using toilet paper and will greatly reduce your consumption of paper and ease pressure on our waste water infrastructure.
- Save ‘grey water’ from washing up and running the taps for watering plants. Most plants do not mind soapy water, especially if you use ecological soaps and washing up liquids.
- Install a water butt on the end of a rainwater downpipe to harvest large quantities of water for the garden or for car washing.
Discover many more ways to save water here.
The key to sustainable living is to generate as little waste as possible. Here are some ways to achieve this:
- Grow your own fruit and veg if you have the space.
- Shop local and from zero waste shops which provide refills that are becoming increasingly common.
- Cook with raw ingredients rather than buying pre-prepared food. This is cheaper, healthier and reduces the amount of packaging to be disposed of in a landfill.
- Save leftovers by freezing, eating them for lunch the next day or incorporating them into your next recipe.
- Compost any organic waste and use it in the garden.
- Find out how household waste is dealt with in your area. You can usually recycle glass, tins, cans, cardboard, paper and rigid plastics. Some local centres accept soft plastic/film but this is usually exported and is very difficult to recycle, which is why it’s best avoided in the first place.
- Compostable alternatives are becoming more popular to reduce plastic packaging. However, there is a lot of confusion as to what exactly qualifies as compostable and where it should go. For example, if compostable cups are put in the wrong bin (general waste) they will produce climate damaging methane gas in landfill. If you do opt for compostables, make sure you dispose of them in an organic waste bin for industrial composting.
- When getting takeaway, provide your own container. Many vendors will cater for this and those who don’t will be encouraged if you ask. Despite what you might think, takeaway cups are not recyclable in Ireland and many other countries. This means that we generally dispose of over 22,000 single use cups each hour through incineration or landfill.
Eco Cleaning Products
Natural cleaners are the low cost and non-toxic products to help you clean your home. Here are some useful tips:
- Use bicarbonate of soda to clean sinks, taps and toilets.
- Use cheap white vinegar instead of dishwasher rinse for the same results.
- Make rags for dusting and cleaning from old towels and cotton clothing instead of buying new.
- Use warm water with a mild soap for cleaning tiles and wooden floors instead of branded cleaning products.
- Avoid household air fresheners which are chemically questionable. Instead, keep your home well ventilated. You can also use incense sticks or essential oils.
- If buying eco-products, choose a brand that offers refills to minimise waste.
Follow some further cleaning advice here.
Let Your Garden Grow
If you are fortunate enough to have an outdoor space, use it to its full potential and let it grow wild. Plant vegetation that supports bees and other insects. Leave gaps in walls and fences for wildlife Preserve hedgerows and choose timber fences over masonry walls. Avoid the use of pesticides and artificial fertilisers.
Make the Most of your Space
Some aspects of living are easier to control than others, but sharing with other people, and thereby using the same resources, is more sustainable than living alone. If you are an owner, there are tax incentives available for homeowners who wish to let a room. You can even share your home with a refugee.
Think Before you Renovate
If thinking about carrying our construction work on your home, consider extending as a last resort. Issues with dark or cramped rooms can often be dealt with by reorganising the layout and shape of spaces with minimal or no requirement for an extension. Focus on the proportion and scale of a space rather than its size. This approach will save you thousands of euros and greatly reduce your environmental impact.
If hiring an architect, challenge them with this brief and ask them to consider the embodied carbon in the materials they specify. Opt for timber construction over concrete and steel. Timber is carbon negative as trees store carbon. When possible, use natural building products that are non-toxic and more breathable and therefore safer for you and the environment.
Refrain from Building New
If building a new home, bear in mind that the most sustainable building is the one that already exists. The materials and energy used in construction of a building can amount to 50% of the total carbon footprint of a building. This is known as embodied energy. This creates a strong argument for converting or retrofitting an existing building and only building new if absolutely necessary.
If building from scratch, consider the distance to amenities. Avoid places where you will be dependent on a car for all transport. Use the Home Performance Index as a useful guide to the cost, wellbeing and environmental impact of a new house.
Engage with Your Neighbours
Vibrant neighbourhoods are safer and happier places to be. It can take time and effort to build relations with your neighbours, but it is worth it. Here’s how to contribute to your community:
- Join the local residents’ association if one exists. If it doesn’t, consider setting one up. All you need is a small group of enthusiastic people and a simple way to communicate, such as a Whatsapp group.
- Join a local community group to meet others in your area, such as Tidy Towns, a parent’s group or a book club.
Here are some resources to take your local community to the next level of engagement:
- Browse the Irish Architecture Foundation’s Reimagine website and apply for help to improve public spaces in your local community.
- Streets typically make up the largest percentage of our public space. They are too frequently used exclusively for the movement and storage of vehicles. However,our streets have the potential to be so much more. Covid mobility plans have allowed people to dine outdoors in the roadway, opened up streets for walking, and made space for expression and protest. In short, they have shown that streets are places in their own right, not just conduits to somewhere else.
- Engage with your local public representatives and council and lobby to make your ideas happen. Compare notes with other community groups or campaign together.
- Find further inspiration and ideas here.
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