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Small steps to reduce your carbon footprint

Simple changes can have a big impact in reducing your energy consumption

“Improving the energy efficiency of your home will reduce your carbon emissions, your energy bills and make your home more comfortable.” Photograph: iStock

“Improving the energy efficiency of your home will reduce your carbon emissions, your energy bills and make your home more comfortable.” Photograph: iStock


Concerned that your carbon footprint is more of a crater? You are probably right – while the ideal carbon footprint would be in the region of two-three tonnes per person per year, the average person in the EU emits about 11 tonnes each year.

Yet, the appetite is undoubtedly there for action against climate change, as was evidenced by the Green Party’s impressive showing in the local and European elections earlier this year. Policy and legislative change is one thing, but what small steps can people take inside their homes to reduce their carbon consumption?

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is working with the public, communities, businesses and Government to achieve Ireland’s clean energy transition. Tom Halpin, head of communications, says using less energy and using clean, renewable energy are key steps in tackling climate change.

At about 40 per cent, transport is the largest energy user in Ireland, making it the first port of call when it comes to curbing your carbon footprint, Halpin says.

“Believe it or not, private cars account for about one-fifth of all our energy use. Try to walk, cycle or use public transport where possible. If changing your car, why not consider an electric vehicle, which is much cheaper to run and less harmful to the environment?”

Peter Campbell, managing director of Energlaze, says there is a huge amount that homeowners can do to reduce their energy consumption and thus their carbon emissions.

“The big reductions in our emissions must come from the big systems, like agriculture, energy and transport,” he says.

“But on the domestic level, we can do a lot to reduce energy demand, as well as de-carbonising the production of energy, of course. I see the two as going hand-in-hand – reducing the energy needed to heat our homes, while greening energy production as well.”

At an individual level, people want to feel they are making a difference, however small, he says.

“People want to do something themselves to act responsibly towards the planet. Insulating your home to a high standard, changing your windows and doors, making sure the envelope of your house is nice and snug – all of these things can help.”

Indeed, about one-quarter of the energy used in Ireland is used in our homes – more than that consumed by industry. Curious about what is guzzling most energy in your house? By a country mile, it’s heating; home energy use is typically 61 per cent heating, 19 per cent hot water, with lighting, cooking and appliances accounting for 20 per cent.

“The biggest use of energy in any home is heating and this is the best place to start. A simple but big-impact action is to turn the thermostat down to 20°C in living areas,” Halpin says.

Adoption of renewable energy is even better, Campbell adds.

“If you can add some renewables too – maybe some solar panels – then you are doing even more. We see lots of interest in people saving energy, and many want to go even further and produce some of their own energy too,” he notes.

Cormac Mannion, head of energy services with Energia, agrees. Customers used to switch utility providers based on the best price available, but he says more and more are seeking a greener solution to home-energy needs.

“From our point of view, we are seeing far more conscientious and more environmentally conscious customers in the last couple of years. We see customers willing to change and willing to adapt their behaviour, for example, they are looking for green tariffs from suppliers, but Energia offers 100 per cent green electricity anyway, and that’s starting to really resonate with people.”

Home appliances

For those wanting to take an environmentally sound approach in the home, Mannion advises choosing home appliances based on their energy rating. “Some retailers will now compare how much energy an appliance will use over the course of a year, and therefore you can see that although one might be slightly more expensive, over its lifetime it will consume much less energy and thus be cheaper to run.”

But for those determined to make their home as energy-efficient as possible, they must be prepared for a hefty financial outlay, warns Mannion.

“To make a home extremely energy-efficient, it is generally very expensive. To bring it to an A energy rating, it can be an investment of anywhere between €50,000 and €100,000.”

Small changes, such as attic insulation and heating controls, can make a big difference, however, he says.

“We see people who leave their immersion on all day or just have one thermostat to control the house, with radiators on in every room when there may not be a huge need. A smart thermostat can help with that and will recognise the user’s patterns and adapt the temperature accordingly,” he explains.

“The capital investment on these things compared to the potential savings you would make, it’s a good return.”

According to Halpin, a moderate spend can reap significant financial – and environmental – rewards.

“It is up to you to decide how much work to do, depending on your budget and level of ambition. It is generally possible to achieve a B2 rating by doing wall and attic insulation and installing a heat pump. The cost will depend on a number of factors, including how efficient your house is at the outset,” he explains.

“Improving the energy efficiency of your home will reduce your carbon emissions, your energy bills and make your home more comfortable.”