Sunday 3 March 2019

Alternatives: Energy Saving Options in Europe

It’s easy to imagine that homes in Europe operate in much the same way as homes in Canada, but that’s not the case.* From locking the door to three-pronged plugs, there are different ways of doing things. This certainly applies to energy saving options.

Heating the House
Winters are obviously warmer in Europe than on the Canadian Prairies, but many of the tactics used by Europeans to save energy when heating their homes could apply in Canada.

Many homeowners program their heating system to come on for a couple of hours in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening. They don’t heat their homes during the day when they are active or out of the house or at night. You can override the thermostat settings, but that requires thought and action as opposed to programming the heat to be on all the time automatically.

Some households supplement their household heating system with a wood stove. This is a mixed blessing, especially in cities, as wood stoves can be a major source of indoor and outdoor air pollution. There are ways of tackling this with more efficient stoves and improved fuel sources. 

Smaller homes or apartments that use electric heat sometimes save energy with a night storage heater. It looks very much like a normal radiator but operates differently. The electricity comes on for several hours during the night when electricity is much cheaper (about a third of the price) and is stored as heat in a large brick. The heat is then slowly released during the day. You can turn the heat up or down, but when the stored heat is used up, no more will be available until the following day.

Heat loss is kept to a minimum by hanging a heavy curtain in front of outside doors or closing the shutters on the windows at night. The shutters play a double role as they are closed in the summer to keep homes cool during the heat of the day.

Very few homes in Europe have a clothes drier and, if they do have one, they use it sparingly. Clothes are hung to dry on a clothes horse or outdoor clothesline or draped over radiators and stairwell banisters.

Some households only run the washing machine or dishwasher at night in order to take advantage of cheaper electricity rates.

Hot Water 
Many European homes have an immediate hot water supply – but not all. In some homes, you have to switch the hot water on before you have a shower or wash dishes, and you may have to wait a significant length of time before there is sufficient hot water to take a bath. It’s not as convenient as you have to plan in advance, but you save energy by not continually reheating the water stored in the tank.

Phantom Energy 
Many modern electronic devices draw energy even when they’re not in use – televisions, computers, chargers for telephones and tablets. You can avoid phantom energy by unplugging devices when not in use or by using a power bar which can be turned on and off. The British have an additional option as most socket outlets have a switch to turn power on or off at the source. They don’t always take advantage of this option, but it’s certainly more convenient than a power bar.

Lights in many apartment building hallways in Europe aren’t on 24/7. Instead, you turn them on when you enter a hallway or stairwell and they go off automatically a few seconds later, saving money as well as energy.

* Penny McKinlay has been housesitting in the United Kingdom and France for several months every winter for the past 5 years and has learned to adapt to different ways of operating a home.