Monday, February 27, 2006

Tap dancing

The Lake District may have a reputation for rain but it's not living up to it this year. It's may be a blessing for visitors but it's a worry for farmers, kayakers and the water companies.

I can only think of two ways I can do my bit to help improve the situation, one involves a hip shake movement in which the waist and ass is twisted loosely and quickly, the other involves water butts, hippos, and tapmagic. Now the washingqueen has hips better suited to the former so I have been concentrating my efforts on more practical matters of water conservation.

Today I have not been rain dancing but tap dancing, installing little adaptors from tapmagic that convert a standard tap to a spray tap, restricting the flow by as much as 50% at low flow volumes so stopping little boys from wasting so much water when they brush their teeth, wash their hands or just leave the tap running to empty the hot water tank.

These things were great; just a few quid each, a minute to install and instant water savings. My action men helped with the installation and loved the result... taps that made water like showers. I thought the washingqueen would flip when she discovered I'd restricted the water flow but no! She loved the soft little showery flow. What a result. It almost had me shaking my hips and twisting my ass to find a change welcomed by the planet, the boys and the washingqueen.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Action man meets bag lady

I came across an article in The Independent about how to make money from recycling; another piece trying to encourage green behaviour by stressing the economic benefits. It was a good piece, full of useful ideas for ways to reduce, recycle or reuse (the recyclists' mantra) and save or make money while you're at it. I was busy with other things when I found the article, so skim read it, thought 'hey that's a good idea' several times and made a mental note to look into some of the ideas later.

But then my two boys came to find me, wanting to play, all dressed up in their Action Man costumes. "What can we do Dad?" they chorused, confronting me in combat suits emblazoned with a bright orange ACTION logo. "We've been saving the planet from Dr X and Gangrene but now he's dead."

I wondered for a moment what to do with two unemployed action men with a thirst for saving planets. Then it struck me; bag counting. According to the Independent quoting Recyle More, the average UK citizen uses 134 plastic bags each year. It's another small area where we could cut down; another one where we know we should and for some reason haven't. Don't get me wrong, we're not as evil as Gangrene - we don't collect them and throw them away, but we could do a lot more to reduce and reuse them rather than insulating the utility room and lining the kitchen bin.

As a first step I asked my action men to do a bag audit. "Boys, Dr Gangrene may be dead but he's littered our house with evil plastic bag creatures. I need your help. Your mission? To search high and low; locate them, collect them and count them. Then we will work out how to stop his evil work." It was a good mission. Achieved in just under an hour. Final count: 105 bags.

I guess that means we don't really need any more; we just need to reuse the ones we've got. I think I'll send my action men to tackle washingqueen over our household bag acquisition policy. Watch out for the next exciting installment and find out what happens when action man confronts the bag lady.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Awareness - a vital first step

The washingqueen's lack of awareness of our monthly spend on fuel is telling but not surprising. She probably thinks that by now I monitor every kilowatt hour and cubitt of gas consumed in our household and I have to admit I'd probably be up for it if the technology were available to do it quickly and easily. Truth is the only thing I was aware of before beginning this experiment was the amount of our monthly direct debit to our energy suppliers. And sadly this is a pretty crude measure of how much energy we consume and tells us nothing about where we use it, how we could be more efficient or how much CO2 we emit as a result of our consumption.

I think lack of awareness is a really important part of the climate change problem. It's so easy to live your life blissfully unaware of the links between your daily actions and CO2 emissions, and the connections between that and the global climate change problem. It is much easier to think of it as someone else's problem and to leave them to fix it too. Becoming aware of and accepting the fact that you are part of the problem has to be the first step in taking responsibility for your emissions and making changes to reduce them.

But even having made such a commitment, actually making changes seems to require finer and finer levels of awareness, and it's all a bit of a minefield. Getting a grip on your emissions seems to require a PhD in carbon. If you look at your household energy usage you need to appreciate how using a kilowatt hour of electricity can cause greater emissions damage (0.45kg C02) than using a kilowatt hour of gas (0.19kg CO2) - that is unless you are using electricity from a guaranteed renewable source. If you want to go travelling you have to assess the different emissions consequences of travelling by car, bus, train or plane. And if you want to improve the energy efficiency of your home your faced with figuring out whether it's better to install double glazing, insulate the loft or get a more efficient boiler.

We're very used to making judgments on price but it's a bit of an uphill struggle to easily factor carbon emissions calculations into your everyday living without some kind of carbon currency or easy to understand way of rating emissions. Maybe it will be like decimilisation or the introduction of the euro, once we've learnt the ropes it will become second nature but in the meantime I'm pondering the idea of developing carbon emissions stickers for appliances around the house... you know green for low (use as much as you like); amber for caution (this appliance will increase your emissions); and red for danger (turn this on and the planet dies). I wonder if that would help the washingqueen? She's going to be away for a few days so perhaps me and the boys could knock up a scheme for when she comes back. Or should that be if she comes back.

Loo hoggers and non flushers

Carbonlite tells me he's bought some loo hoggers, to cut down on the amount of water being lost in flushing. Well in my view he could be wasting his money. The kids never bother to flush. Perhaps the new initiative is for guests. Perhaps we should put up a sign in the toilet and let them know how much water they are saving us.

The cost of a cheese toastie

The electricity bill came in the other day. Apparently it does this every month. I don't do finances so it went straight in the large pile of official looking mail with carbonlite's name on. In his new role as global head of house environment, he read it and wept. "Do you know how much electricity we use in this house?" he asked. "Not really" I said breezily, munching cheese on toast, healthily burnt around the edges. "Well, do you want to know?" he countered. "Not really," I replied, sinking my teeth into creamy toasted cheddar. "How much do we spend a month on our gas and electricity bills?" he suddenly cried out of nowhere. "Tell me that? How much? Do you even know?" "Well....I don't know for sure...but I reckon..." I had to put down my toast. I realised I hadn't a clue. Five pounds? fifty pounds? Five hundred pounds? I made a calculated guess. "...I reckon about fifty quid?"

"Forty pounds! Forty pounds a month! We HAVE to do something about that." He went off to check the light switches had been turned off in the boys bedrooms. And I sat there looking at my toast, which now sagged in the middle under the weight of congealed cheese. The truth was I felt rather ashamed. Why don't I know how much our bills cost? Have I been so disconnected from reality and cushioned by suburban life that I'm competely unaware of how much we spend on basic things? I vowed to get more involved in the finances and behind the scenes running of the house in future. Of course, I still pile up the boring mail for carbonlite to open, well he's got to have something to do around the house.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Feeling flush

It's hard to keep the momentum going on this ever reducing emissions efficiency drive. One of the problems is that the 'real world' seems to interfere. You know that world where you have to go to work and get the kids to school and do the weekly shop and pay the bills and tidy the house and before you know it the week is over and you haven't given a passing thought to reducing your emissions or saving the planet. Well I guess most people have weeks like that; some poor souls probably have lives like that.

Anyway that was last week, the week in which the only thing I managed to do to move our family eco project on was to make the now weekly note of our gas and electricity consumption. Oh and try and draw a graph of our emerging consumption pattern. I know it's pretty early to see any kind of trend but I was at least hoping that the controversial introduction of a few energy efficient lightbulbs might have made the tiniest of dents in our figures or shown up on my graph. But sadly not. In fact the only trend my graph shows so far is a pattern of pretty much unvarying consumption, a horizontal line creeping slowly across the page week by week. If my little graph were on a heart rate monitor, the prognosis would be extremely bleak.

But I still believe we are alive and able to change things. We just need to get around to it, make time for it, make it a priority. And this is a new week, so what better time to start. Except that it is half term and the kids are demanding a lot of attention.

Still, my eldest boy moved things on today when he came across a little green book on my desk. "What is The Little Book of Living Green?" he asked picking it up and thumbing through it. "Is it to help save the planet?" he continued without pausing for my response. He knows how to make a father feel guilty. He stopped at the page about waterhogs and read it to me out loud, a feat which in itself amazed me as he has only just learnt to read. But it was when he finished he impressed me most. "That sounds a good idea," he said, "shall we get one?" How could I refuse such a call to action?

It took no more than five minutes to look up our water supplier on the internet, find out about their free 'Save a Flush' offer and order the three waterhogs we need to make our toilets a little more efficient. Apparently flushing toilets accounts for about 35% of household water usage; toilets fitted pre-2000 use somewhere between 7.5 and 9 litres per flush and a Save a Flush or waterhog (a device you fit in your cistern to reduce the amount of water it holds) can help reduce this to closer to 6 litres, as is the 21st century way. Now if you have five people in a house and they go a modest four times a day each, then a Save a Flush which saves a litre a time will could save as much as 20 litres of water per day, assuming they remember to flush. Load 10 large bottles of mineral water into your shopping trolley next time you're at the supermarket and you'll appreciate that's a lot of water to flush away, especially in these times of drought.

I must say I'm quite looking forward to the arrival of our waterhogs. But it's not so much the prospect of saving the water that I'm anticipating (although that's got to be a good thing) but I'm looking forward to the smile on my boy's face when the parcel arrives addressed to him and the simple pleasure of doing a little something together to reduce our family footprint.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Small changes, big reactions

The washingqueen came back from a night on the town last Friday all fired up about energy efficiency. She was out with a large and lively group of friends celebrating a fourtieth birthday when somehow, between prawn crackers, noodles and chow mein, the subject of energy efficient lightbulbs came up. Perhaps someone bought one of the celebrants a compact flourescent birthday present. Anyway as the wine flowed and the candles burned, the conversation got quite heated and two camps emerged around the banquet table - those for and those against.

It's hard to believe that lightbulbs could be the source of such heat (well, apart from the incandescent variety) but if my reporters account is to be believed then the lightbulb revolution could be to blame for sowing the seeds of discontent in many a marriage. Based on her observations that evening, the washingqueen holds an emerging hypothesis that men love energy efficient lightbulbs more than they love their wives. For that night the men (without exception) argued the case for cool flourescent efficiency while the women protested heatedly about the injustice of men stripping out soft warm incandescent lighting without consultation or compensation.

Now this is no scientific survey, and may or may not be representative of male and female values, behaviour or attitudes to environmental issues, but it certainly rings a little true in our household. To me a light is a light is a light and the more efficient the better. OK, soft warm lights are nice for creating mood but I can live without them. But I'm not sure the washingqueen sees it that way and it sounds like the same may be true for many of her homeloving sisters.

I wonder how many men around the world have innocently changed a lightbulb, doing their bit for the cause, striking a very small blow against climate change, and inadvertently started a war at home. Perhaps the battle to prevent climate change involves struggle at many more levels than I realised; between sacrifice and comfort, efficiency and personal freedom, logic and emotion, and man and wife.

Monday, February 13, 2006


A thief has ransacked our house, stealing all the light. I kid you not. I arrived home from picking up the kids from school last week and snapped on the light in the hall. No response. Dodgy bulb. I ransacked the kitchen cupboard for a new one. All gone! Where was our massive emergency supply of Asda price Screw in bulbs? I padded back out to the hall where strangely the bulb was now glowing brightly. This repeated itself at bedtime when my son turned on his light for a story. Hardly anything at all, just a smidgeon of orangey yellow straining through the shade. My three year old began to cry. "I told you to eat up your carrots," I lectured, unable to resist turning an energy crisis into an educational moment. After painfully stepping on a bit of lego on the way to the centre of the room, I inspected further. There was a bulb, and it was undoubtedly on, but it was one of those energy saving ones and it was saving extra energy by being only sixty watts strong. Carbonlite became the main suspect. I cornered him by mobile phone on a train and shouted loud enough for the whole carriage to hear.
"You've stolen all the light," you miserable b*****d scrooge."
Even through the phone his grin lit up the living room. "Just cutting the carbs, to protect the environment for our children."
"I'll cut off more than your carbs and you'll never see the children again if you don't hand over the bulbs." But even as I spoke, I knew it was futile. The bulbs would be long gone, probably enjoying a recycling orgy at our local landfill site. I slammed down the phone and decided to substitute caffeine for anger. But as I scanned the rack of kitchen spotlights to check he hadn't pulled a fast one there, I realised one was missing. A quick check revealed he'd done the same with the halogen decorative lights in the living room and the mirror light in the bathroom; no doubt he intends to scour the capital for energy saving replacements.

I sat down to write this posting and anger turned to guilt. Carbonlite is doing his best to conserve energy, the planet is in desperate need of saving, and all the cute polar bears will end up in Tring museum unless we all do our individual bit. But then I found I couldn't see my desk. I am William sodding Shakespeare, trying to create timeless masterpieces by candlight. As I type I realise three things; although so close to Valentines Day this posting is no love sonnet; I definitely should have eaten more carrots; and when carbonlite comes in with his stepladder, I'm going to punch his lights out.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ban the bulb

A box marked fragile arrived in the post this morning. The kids were quick to open it up. 'Oh what are these?' they asked, pulling out six energy saving light bulbs, kindly sent by the man who did our WarmFront assessment. 'New lightbulbs to help us save the planet,' I explained. My eldest boy looked at me a little bemused before scolding me, 'If you want to save the planet you need to turn the lights off Dad.' He's right of course. Turning the lights off will make a bigger difference, but since we're not ready to live in the dark just yet I decided to install the bulbs anyway.

I've never really given bulbs a great deal of thought, except when they blow and I spend hours staring at dozens of different types, fittings and ratings in the hardware store, trying to work out exactly which one I need, and cursing myself for not remembering to bring the blown bulb with me. For some reason our house seems to have been fitted with one of every conceivable type of light fitting which makes bulb shopping a treacherous affair. You could characterise my relationship with bulbs as being occassional and frustrating; until today I considered them as little more than benign utilitarian servants to be changed with an oven glove.

Now that's quite a different view to Dr Matt Prescott of Ban the Bulb who in a recent column for BBC News proposed making incandescent bulbs illegal, on the grounds that these evil bulbs are highly inefficient and given their wide usage, taken together on a global scale, are responsible for millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions. Apparently if everyone in the US replaced just three incandescent bulbs with three energy saving ones, it could reduce emissions by 23million tonnes and put 23 coal fired power stations out of business.

Well I don't think we're going to put anyone out of business by adding six energy saving light bulbs to the three I've had burning dimly for the last six years, but every little counts. And it makes me want to take a closer look at all our light bulbs and see whether energy efficient alternatives can be fitted, and if not whether I can change the fittings so we can rid ourselves of more of our evil incandescent luminaires.

My carbon calculator tells me that just changing these six bulbs will reduce my emissions by 0.35kg CO2 per day or 125kg CO2 per year while shaving about £30 off by power bill. Now that's what I call a win-win. In fact it's enough to make me go climb a chair and scorch my fingers removing those incandescent devils once and for all.

What's more, if that simple action lops 125kg off our household annual CO2 emissions, and last weeks calculations about reduction targets were correct, then we could achieve five months of emissions savings in one evening. Now that's the kind of news the washingqueen will welcome. It might even be enough to persuade her to burn her fingers for me.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Ever reducing emissions

Right, so here's the score, at least according to Mayer Hillman, whose book 'How we can save the planet' is a shocking primer on the science, policy debates and current calls to action surrounding climate change.

Apparently, if we are to stablise carbon emissions at what's currently thought to be the maximum safe limit (that's 450ppm atmospheric concentration), a level recently articulated by the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change conference, and we aim to reduce emissions so that our emissions converge upon those of the developing world by 2030, a timeline proposed by Hillman, then in the UK, individual carbon emissions need to fall from 10.4tCO2 average in 2005 to 2.1tCO2 average by 2050. OK? Got that?

Well if you have, you're following better than me. Putting aside awkward questions about whether we're talking individual emissions or household emissions, whether you count kids or not, what you include in calculating any of the above and whether emissions I produce in the course of my work count as personal or household or not at all, the one thing that is clear is that the necessary trend is sharply downwards, for ever and a day.

Striking a straight line on a piece of graph paper, and following Hillmans proposed trajectory, I reckon to do our bit, if we were good global citizens with average emissions, we would need to reduce our contribution to the problem from 10.1tCO2 at the start of 2006 to 9.8t by the time we next say Happy New Year, although quite how happy the washingqueen would be if we did that remains to be seen.

The bottom line is we need to shed 300kg of emissions per year, which doesn't sound so hard. That's only 25kg per month. Just 25 bags of sugar or a trade size bag of builders sand. Each and every month. For the next 25 years, until our emissions converge with those of the developing world, about the time I'm due to retire. Then, post retirement, things seem to get a little easier; according to Hillman, post 2030 convergence we can ease off and shed just a further 50kg a year for the next 20 years until by the time I'm 86 my emissions will hopefully be just 20% of what they should be today. Now there's a retirement to look forward to.

It all boils down to something like a 3% per year reduction in emissions, if you start from the UK average. And this happens to be the same amount that the environmental pressure groups are lobbying the UK government to commit to as an annual emissions reduction target. So, if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me.

There's just one small thing niggles me though, the fact in our household we seem to be starting from above average emissions, so perhaps we need to be aiming a little higher, to trim a little more? I feel a meeting with the washingqueen coming on to negotiate targets. If you thought the Kyoto negotiations sounded tricky, watch this space.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Under a purple cloud

The washingqueen comes at this whole experiment from a different (and welcome) perspective. It's clear, even at this early stage, that there is plenty of potential for us to hold quite different views on just how and how far to reduce our consumption. In some ways I'm sure this reflects the polarities that exist in many families, communities and even amongst nation states when they discuss how real and serious the threat of global warming is, how far we need to go to tackle it, how far we are willing to go, what exactly we should do and when we should do it.

In a household like ours, with three young children, there's no denying the washing needs to be done, meals need cooking, people need to keep warm and the car is a very practical and convenient way to get around. So I think I understand washingqueen's concerns about taking the whole thing too far. But we've not started yet and for the moment I think we need to feel our way with small steps, so she need not worry about an imminent return to handwashing, a ban on tumble drying or the prohibition of hot meals.

But I'm not one for just tinkering at the edges. If we are to commit to carbon rationing, and in a way that requires us to reduce our emissions month on month, then sooner or later, once the low hanging fruit has been harvested, we may have to look at more radical measures.

Advocates for compulsory personal carbon rationing argue it's the only fair way to get people to take responsibility for their own emissions and the only viable way to get the majority of people to actually take action to reduce their personal energy consumption. Hands have to be forced. And I see their point. I mean we're educated people and we think of ourselves as quite green and environmentally aware. We recycle our cans, papers and bottles; we try to limit our car usage and use public transport where we can; we ride bikes, walk to school, turn off lights and wear clothes twice (well I do anyway), but even given all that, it's a shock to find our carbon emissions are above average. If CO2 emissions were visible, our house would be sitting under an embarrassingly large purple cloud while our car would disappear in haze of purple pollution.

The proponents of carbon rationing argue there's only one global solution to emissions that stands the slightest chance of global acceptance, and that's one based upon principles of equity, that everyone has the same right to emit. The argument goes that over time, we need to establish a world order in which all citizens of the planet have the same entitlement to emit carbon, and all nations will have the right to make emissions on the basis of their population. And all in a system in which the level of emissions is scientifically determined to be low enough to head off the prospect of catastrophic climate change. And all this needs to be done like now. Pronto. Like yesterday is not too soon to begin.

The proposed path to emissions equanimity? Contraction and convergence. Best look it up as I'm not sure I can explain it yet. In the washingqueen's terms it means decades of Weightwatchers for us in the West while the developing world can carry on eating cakes and biscuits.

As far as I can make out, practically speaking here in the UK, carbon rationing would mean we'd need to reduce our personal emissions year on year from an average purple megacloud of 10.4tCO2 in 2005 to a small purple hotair balloon of 2.1tCO2 by 2050. That's an 80% reduction in 45 years. So with that in mind I'm going to go away and see if I can calculate what that would mean we'd need to achieve month on month, year on year. I feel the need for CarbonWatchers coming on strong.

Busting at the seams...

Collectively my local Weight Watchers group shed eleven stone this week. That's basically an entire woman. Each time I have a baby I return to weight watching, and lose the equivalent weight of a small child. It becomes a part of my life for a while, before I revert back to guzzling pizza. And this time of year the meeting is packed full of women (there are no men) with waistbands fit to burst, desperate to ditch the flesh.

Carbon counting and calorie counting have a lot in common. Both are last ditch attempts to solve problems brought about by overconsumption. In the case of the calorie counters fat is the evil by-product, destroying self esteem, eliminating sex lives and forcing people to wear baggy grey track suit pants. "A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips," - my favourite catchphrase as I tuck into a large vanilla slice. In my view visible hip flab is the main reason Weight Watchers has so many regular customers. You can see fat. In fact at a slimmers meeting it's hard to see around it if you're sitting at the back. Your friends see and comment on all that extra weight, your bingo wings wave back at you as you stand in the mirror and people avoid sitting next to you on aeroplanes. If you couldn't see fat, you'd stay in with a Chinese takeaway. Who'd bother heading out to a church hall that smelt of urine to hear a lecture on the slimming properties of kelp tablets if their lack of food control wasn't going to show on their thighs? And fat is getting so easy to fight these days now the large corporations have waded in. Every mouthful has a points value, often displayed on the front of the packet.

CO2 on the other hand is the invisible enemy. I can boil the kettle until it explodes; no one will know and few will care. Whereas if my carbon emissions resembled a trouserful of cellulite I'd be down to my local Carbon Watchers meeting like a shot. But it seems I'm not the only one to have had this thought. The guys at are on a mission to fat bust our carbon count by making carbon 'visible'. Check them out; if word spreads, perhaps next New Year there'll be a mass rush to cut the carbs, without everyone's breath stinking on an Atkins diet.

One foot in the washing basket...

At this point I should introduce myself. The washing queen. Never to be found without a magic basket full to the brim of dirty clothes. Ok that's an exaggeration, but I do seem to do a lot of washing, and tumble drying, and in between drink a lot of coffee, all potentially under threat in this new carbon conscious world. You see, I while I do value my environment, and my planet, and welcome energy saving devices, I also value my own time and energy and the last thing I want to be is permanently up my my elbows in washing while the machines stand unloved in the corner. Unlike carbonlite, I have to balance saving the environment with running a house and managing three young kids on a daily basis in a small village in the countryside. While he thinks up grand schemes, I'll be struggling to adapt to the small ones.

I have joined carbonlite's pledge to reduce our carbon footprint, but I haven't jumped in with both feet quite yet. While I'll do my best to help save the environment, I'm also keen to save my sanity, ensure the kids are comfortable...and still get the washing done in time for school.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Our big carbon footprints

It's quite the in-thing to work out the size of your carbon footprint. Apparently it's a great conversation starter at eco-dinner parties. I imagine it would be a complete conversation killer with many people I know. Anyway, there's a few places on the web you can get yourself measured up, like the nattily named carbonfootprint, or if that sounds a bit tame you could limber up for a carbon workout at the carbon gym (compliments of the Centre for Alternative Technology). Even big oil companies like BP are in on the act, following in the (carbon) footsteps of the green brigade, enlighteningly encouraging us to consume less of what they are selling.

Now I'm not particularly interested in eco-dinner parties and haven't got any invites anyway, but it's obvious that if we're going to make month on month and year on year reductions in our carbon emissions we need to know both where we're starting from and where we're aiming for. We need to get a handle on our household carbon footprint, establish some sort of baseline and some targets. So, to the carbon calculators.

At first it seems straightforward, but by the time you've estimated your miles of rail, bus, air and car travel, factored in your gas, electricity, oil and other fuel consumption, declared whether your suppliers are green or not, worked out whether you can share any of your emissions with other people and confessed to any carbon offsets you've purchased to ease your conscience, it's pretty apparent that you can probably get any answer you want from your friendly footprint calculator. And since each calculator seems to estimate things in slightly different ways, you get a range of answers anyway.

After an hour of punching figures into the web, all I've managed to conclude is that our household footprint is somewhere between 7,011 and 10,283 kg CO2 based upon our car and household energy consumption. On top of that there are emissions from any rail, air and public transport we use which we need to account for, all of which will probably push the carbonometer up into the red. I'm sure with a little massaging I could adjust the readings, share the emissions with the kids and come up with a more respectable figure to disclose with pride over aperitifs, but that's not the point. I want to take a long hard and realistic look at our household emissions not play games with a carbon calculator.

I'm told the average UK footprint is about 10,500kg per year including travel. So I guess what all this means is we've got pretty big feet. Looks like we've got our work cut out to become more like Mr and Mrs Average. Now there's an aspiration.

Is that a warm front passing through?

The man from Warm Front came last week. Warm Front is a UK government funded scheme that offers free advice to eligible householders on how to make their homes more energy efficient. And if you're hard up there's even a chance they can help you get a grant to do things like cavity insulate walls, lag hot water tanks, put insulation in attics, improve your heating systems and put draughtproofing around doors and windows. Well no-one ever said saving the planet was going to be sexy.

Being energy efficient has to be the next best thing to reducing energy consumption. And since we've not begun to figure out exactly how to reduce our consumption, we may as well start with secondary action… trying to make what we do consume go a little further. Being efficient doesn't inspire me much though. It's not a mission that's going to get me out of bed in the morning. But maybe it's more efficient for me to stay in bed with the duvet on and the heating off. Now that sounds more appealing.

Anyway, I got up to meet the man from Warm Front who measured the volume of our house, searched for insulation in our loft, prodded our hot water tank, noted the make and model of our boiler, and finally offered to get someone in to do some draught proofing for us.

"This place is huge," he said logging the results of his survey into the government database on his laptop, "I bet it costs a fortune to heat." He was right there. "These old houses are tricky," he continued, "they don’t meet modern building regulation standards for insulation and it's very expensive to upgrade them. Right now, if your house was rated like a fridge it would probably be rated an E F or G." I shivered at the prospect.

"If you want to insulate these solid stone walls you'll need to do it on the inside, then dry line them and redecorate. It'll take about four inches off each wall and you'll need to reset all your doors and windows too." It didn't sound like much of an option.

"As for your loft, well it's nicely boarded and insulated but with just 50mm of rockwool compared to current new build requirements for 270mm. It's a massive job to lift the boards, remove the ceiling, batten it out to accommodate extra insulation and put it back together. Probably not worth it for the savings you'd make in your lifetime."

It was not all bad news though, apparently our hot water tank was lagged better than most and we were entitled to a free draught proofing service for our leaky doors and windows. Well I guess every little helps.

Before the man from Warm Front left I asked him for a little advice on other ways to become a more energy efficient household. "Make sure you don't leave your TV's on standby," he said unhelpfully. I explained we didn't have a TV. He paused for a moment, a little shocked by my revelation, then continued. "Do you really want to know what I think?" I nodded. "Well, if you're serious about efficiency you should move to a smaller, newer home…. in the future old properties like this will be condemned stock, energy inefficient, undesirable. But if moving is too much I'd just turn the heating off and buy everyone an extra jumper."

And so the Warm Front moved on and left me contemplating the arrival of a cold snap and the purchase of a family pack of woolly jumpers. Along with my duvet and a lie in such changes seem much more practical.