Don’t preheat the oven, and 24 other ways to save the planet from home


1. Let there be more efficient light
Lighting accounts for more than 10 per cent of most people’s electricity bills and that cost could be reduced by as much as 80 per cent by switching from halogen light bulbs to energy efficient LEDs. In simple terms, the saving per bulb replaced could be around €7 a year. Add to that the fact that LED bulbs last around 10 times as long – 20,000 hours – as the halogen equivalent and it’s a real no brainer both environmentally and financially. And if you want to make even more savings, put your lights on timers to ensure they are only on when needed.

2. Think before you dry
Tumble driers drink electricity at the same time as removing moisture from your clothes. Typical machines use about 3,000 watts of electricity and even the most energy efficient cost about 30 cent per wash to run. Older and less efficient models can cost more than twice that. The best way to save electricity, of course, is to put the clothes on the line outside. You can always hang them up on a clothes drier indoors as well, if you have the space and the patience. If you must use the drier, for time or other reasons, make sure you clean out the filter after each use and don’t run the machine until the clothes are bone dry – allow the slightly damp clothes to dry out using the residual heat in the machine at the end of the cycle.

3. You don’t have to preheat the oven

While this may be essential for baking, which is more akin to chemistry than cookery, it is quite unnecessary for most roasts Photograph: filadendron
While this may be essential for baking, which is more akin to chemistry than cookery, it is quite unnecessary for most roasts Photograph: filadendron

Just about every recipe for baking or roasting starts with “preheat oven to…”. While this may be essential for baking, which is more akin to chemistry than cookery, it is quite unnecessary for most roasts. Indeed, many chefs will tell you that putting a joint into a cold oven is best as it heats up more gently as a result. Because the meat is going to be in there for so long – well over an hour usually – it is not necessary to add to the cooking time so the energy saving can be significant. Also, try not to open the oven door during cooking – it lets out a massive amount of heat.

4. Plastic-free bathroom? It’s possible
From toothpaste tubes to shampoo bottles, our bathrooms are heaving with plastic and only about 30% of it can be recycled here. The good news is that achieving a plastic-free bathroom routine is easier than you think. Bamboo toothbrushes, silk floss, safety razors, menstrual cups, solid shampoo, conditioner and body bars are all options.

5. Avoid food waste
Every day in Ireland, we go through the equivalent of €3 million in food waste – this statistic alone should be enough to make you rethink how much food you buy when doing your weekly shopping. Revive leftovers, bring yesterday’s dinner to work for lunch, repurpose food scraps into jams and sauces, and stretch your budget by meal planning.

6. Use DIY cleaning products
If you have kids, you certainly spend a lot of time wiping dirt off countertops, tables, chairs and whatnot... Avoid toxins at home and avoid sending toxic water down the drain with this easy recipe for multipurpose cleaner. In a spray bottle, combine 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar with 1 cup water, and add 10 to 20 drops of tea tree, lavender, lemon or eucalyptus essential oil. Shake well before using and voilà – cheap as chips and clean.

7. Use your loofah
Did you know that a natural loofah can be used as a dishwashing sponge too? Simply cut a loofah into smaller pieces for easier handling and to make them last longer. And the best of all, at the end of its life you can compost it.

8. Make the bath a treat
Taking a shower typically uses just 20 per cent of the energy required to heat a bath full of water but make it quick. If you spend any more than six minutes under the shower head, you are likely to use a bathful of water or more. A quick shower should literally be that if you want to save money and be kind to the environment.

9. Insulate
Insulating your home cuts your heating bills and reduces your carbon footprint. Starting at the top, attic insulation can cost up to €400 but can produce savings of €100 a year or more. External wall insulation comes in a lot more expensive at €20,000 or more with potential savings of up to €500 a year in a previously poorly insulated house. This may not seem like much of a return but it is a fairly essential requirement if you want to avail of energy saving heat pump technology. And then there is your immersion – putting a lagging jacket on an uninsulated cylinder generates instant savings with a €15 jacket paying for itself in about three months.

10. Go down a degree

You can reduce your heating bill by 10 per cent by lowering your room temperature by just one degree Photograph: Andrew Howe/ Getty Images
Turn the temperature right down for parties – each guest is the equivalent of a 100 watt heater. Photograph: Andrew Howe/ Getty Images

You can reduce your heating bill by 10 per cent by lowering your room temperature by just one degree. This doesn’t mean sitting at home shivering under piles of duvets and blankets. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) recommends a quite comfortable living room temperature of 20 degrees with halls and bedrooms slightly lower at 15 to 18 degrees. You can save even more energy and money by using radiator valves turn off the heating in rooms which are used less often. Oh, and turn the temperature right down for parties – each guest is the equivalent of a 100 watt heater.

11. And that goes for washing too
Remember the days when we all washed our clothes at 60 degrees or higher? It took us a while to get used to the fact that we can get the same results at 40 degrees at a lower cost. Well, guess what? You can get pretty damn good results at 30 or even 20 degrees and save lots more money into the bargain. UK consumer watchdog Which carried out a few tests some years ago which found that washing at 30 degrees produced similar results to 40 – apart from a stubborn olive oil stain – and reduced running costs by 46 per cent while turning the dial down to 20 resulted in savings of 66 per cent with pretty much the same results.

12. Go solar
The proportion of renewables on the Irish electricity system has risen from about zero to almost 40 per cent over the past two decades and that is set to rise to 70 per cent by 2030 under the government’s Climate Action Plan. Smart meters in our homes will soon make it possible for consumers to choose to use only renewable power for certain applications such as charging electric vehicle batteries. But we can go green before that if we choose. We can install solar panels on our roofs and small wind turbines on the sides or our houses or in our gardens. Not only will these lower our dependence on electricity from fossil fuel sources but it will also be possible in the near future to sell excess power generated domestically back to the grid.

13. Banish voltage vampires
Not many people have heard of it but voltage vampires are undead and well and sucking power out of just about everyone’s home. A voltage vampire is an appliance that consumes electricity even when it’s not being used. DVD players, sound systems, TVs, microwaves and any device with a digital display are all vampires. Battery chargers also fall into this deadly category. You might think that when a battery is full, they will stop consuming electricity but the transformer in the charging unit is constantly using small amounts of power. Switch off of unplug all these devices, don’t just put them on standby. Plugging several devices into a multi-socket extension lead allows you to unplug them all at the same time.

14. Turn off your PC
It is estimated that a typical desktop computer that is on for eight hours a day uses almost 600 kWh and emits 175 kg of CO2 per year. Even when you are not using it and the PC is in sleep mode it is still consuming one third of that amount. Leaving your computer on all the time would add another 400 kWh to its annual electricity consumption and almost 120 kg to its CO2 emissions. So, switch it off when you’re not using it – it’ll also protect you from cyberattack when you’re away from your desk.

15. Get an electric lawnmower
Research carried out on behalf of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency some years ago found that a four horsepower petrol lawnmower caused the same amount of pollution in one hour than a car would being driven for 93 miles. More recently, the US Environmental Protection Agency reported that running an average petrol mower for one hour produces 11 times more air pollution than an average new car would for the same amount of time. Worse still, typical usage of a petrol mower over a year creates the same amount of greenhouse gas as driving a car for more than 2,050 miles. But you don’t have to go back to the old lung-busting push mowers if you don’t want to. Electric mowers emit 5,000 times less carbon monoxide and 3,300 times less hydrocarbons compared to gas mowers. And if you really want to be kind to the environment you can create a pollinator friendly garden by only mowing part of it.

16. Save water
Leaving the tap on when you are brushing your teeth or shaving can use up to six litres of water a minute. Shorten your showers too - an average one uses 10 litres of water per minute. Don’t run your washing machine or dishwasher until you have a full load and, in summer, don’t run the tap for ages waiting for it to get cold; keep a jug of water in the fridge instead. Do like your granny did and put a basin in your sink – when you rinse or wash food you can collect the water and use it on the plants instead.

17. Save rainwater outdoors

Keep the hose coiled and get a water butt to collect rainwater instead. Make sure to use a watering can with a rose head too. Photograph: Dorin S/Getty Images
Keep the hose coiled and get a water butt to collect rainwater instead. Make sure to use a watering can with a rose head too. Photograph: Dorin S/Getty Images

A hose uses more water in one hour than the average family does in a day, so keep it coiled. Get a water butt to collect rainwater instead. Use it to water the garden and make sure to use a watering can with a rose head, it uses less water and doesn’t batter the begonias either. Keep the hose locked up when it comes to washing the car and get a bucket and sponge instead. Forget the automatic car wash altogether, an average one can use up to 132 litres of water. To boost your elbow grease, attach a pressure washer to your rainwater butt and do it yourself instead.

18. Use green paint
That smell of fresh paint is actually the scent of freshly released volatile organic compounds – unstable chemicals that give off gasses which are seriously not good for you. They can lead to headache or nausea, and possibly much worse. VOCs from paint emissions also contribute to global warming as part of the greenhouse effect. The problem persists long after the paint has dried too, as it continues to release VOCs as it cures. Totally VOC natural alternatives are available, so whatever colour you choose, choose green.

19. Check your architect and builder’s ecocredentials
Talking about green building won’t feel like talking to a brick wall if you start the project with the right team. Ask architects and builders about their green credentials up front. Do some homework first by checking out the Irish Green Building Council website. It has a list of architects, builders and trades-people members including microenterprises for residential projects. For a new build, consider going the full monty and aiming for a certified Passive House. If it’s a retrofit, aim for EnerPHit certification, a quality approved energy refit with Passive House components.

20. Save paper

Paper has massive environmental impact at every stage of its journey. Photograph: Claudio Arnese/Getty Images
Paper has massive environmental impact at every stage of its journey. Photograph: Claudio Arnese/Getty Images

Between the trees felled, the energy used and the water required to pulp it, not to mention the bleaches and chemicals required make it, paper has massive environmental impact at every stage of its journey. When it’s done, it rots and releases methane. That’s before you even start to think about printing inks. If you do have to print yourself at home, do all your proof reading and corrections first and use both sides of the page. Better still, keep it online and email your documents instead.

21. Cut down on supermarket plastic
Bring your own reusable bags and consider bringing your own reusable containers too. Opt for loose goods over bagged ones. Be alert to hidden plastics too. Sometimes containers that look like card are actually lined with plastics or foils to make them waterproof, such as frozen food containers and juice cartons.

Ditch plastic egg containers in favour of traditional cardboard ones, the type you can use to grow seedlings. It’s a packaging material that is at the bottom of the paper product food chain, because it will have already been recycled a number of times. Don’t recycle any egg carton if an egg has cracked in it, because the food residue is a contaminant. Use crushed eggshells to feed your tomato plants and avoid extra large eggs: it’s cruel to hens.

Look out for a shops that sell foods in bulk and invite you to fill your own containers, such as the just-opened The Source Bulk Foods in Rathmines which has over 450 ingredients and products that can be dispensed into customers’ own bags or containers.

22. Recycle your batteries
It’s one of life’s immutable laws that for every one working battery you need at least six dead ones will be found. But batteries need to be disposed of carefully and not sent to landfill, because they actually constitute hazardous waste. Don’t just let them lie, recycle them. Under EU regulations retail outlets that sell batteries are obliged to take back old batteries of a similar type – even if you didn’t buy them there.

23. Reuse the news
Journalists have always known today’s blood sweat and tears is tomorrow’s chipwrapper and that’s just fine with us. The more ways you can find to recycle newsprint and magazines the better. There are loads of options, including making your own solid fuel briquettes. You can get handy self balers at hardware stores or online and simply soak and dry the pulped newsprint into a cost effective paper fire log. Shredded newsprint also makes great animal bedding. ASH Animal Rescue in Wicklow seeks out donations of old newspapers, and says its puppies aren’t fussy what the masthead says, though obviously The Irish Times is always word pawfect.

24. Recycle plastics correctly
Less than a third of plastic waste in Europe is recycled; the rest goes to incineration and landfill. Half of that collected for recycling is exported outside the EU. China’s recent ban on plastic waste imports makes it increasingly urgent to find other solutions but not all plastics are recyclable or even reusable. To find out which you are dealing with, turn the container upside and look for a triangle with a number in it, ranging from 1 to 7 – or, in words, polyethylene terephthalate to polycarbonate. Check with your local recycling centre or waste contractor to see which they take and dispose of accordingly.

25. Stay home
Flights are cheap, and often on sale at this time of year but cutting down on your own airmiles in 2020 could be the best thing you do this year for the environment.

With additional contributions from Pat Kane, the founder of Reuzi, an online guide to sustainable living