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SUSTAINABILITY Keep energy costs down at Christmas

Outdoor Living
Saving energy and resources at Christmas


In the home
Andy Wilson


THIS article might also have been called ‘Preserving Sanity at Christmas’, for it and energy use are closely connected. Christmas is a religious festival as we know, but in recent years it has also become a festival of consumption - some of it pretty mindless - including the consumption of energy.
I refer only partly to the municipal-scale illuminations - garishly flashing away from early December till the New Year -  adorning certain homesteads. Other energy use relates to the energy used within the home to keep the household warm and comfortable, the energy used to run appliances, the energy used to do all the running around associated with Christmas, the shopping trips to the North or to large shopping malls on the edge of Dublin, and finally the energy used to produce all those Christmas goods, and dispose of them and all their fancy wrapping, when they have outlived their usefulness.
You only have to look at the piles of waste materials awaiting collection outside every home when the bin lorries start coming round in the New Year to realise that Christmas these days has become a pretty unsustainable affair.
So what to do about it?  Well the first thing is to keep it simple. Neither having a good time nor celebrating the religious aspects of Christmas necessarily requires the spending of money (or energy).
This fact is a particularly good thing to explain to other members of the household, especially if money is tight. Also, it helps to explain that by being careful in some ways can mean more money to spend on really nice things, so yes it does help to turn off lights, turn off appliances such as televisions and computers when not in use, waiting for a full load before running washing machines, and manually turning on the Christmas lights for a few hours each evening (or use a timer) instead of having them on all day and night. Probably about one half of all household electricity use is needless: things being on when they don’t really need to be.
Other energy savings can be made by drawing curtains as soon as it gets dark, keeping doors closed in the warmest rooms of the house (to keep the heat where it is needed), and (if the home seems excessively warm sometimes) turning down the temperature setting on the heating system by a degree or two. Just wear an extra layer. On the other hand, be careful to find the balance between frugality and comfort. I’m a great believer in stockpiling fuel, so that supplies are there when the weather takes a nasty turn, as it did last week. Get supplies of turf, coal, wood or oil in now.
A significant amount of household energy goes in vehicle use, and especially at Christmas time with all those extra shopping trips and family visits. So rationalise travel. Ask yourself, is your journey really necessary? Hopefully by now, Christmas should be starting to become a much simpler affair, and a lot less stressful too.
My final comment is on waste. It takes energy to make things, even though it’s not part of your own personal fuel bill. It takes resources too, some of them scarce ones that one day will no longer be there.
Wrapping and packaging makes up a large part of the resource-usage associated with the manufacture and distribution of the goods we buy. Much of this goes into landfill, and even the stuff that is supposed to be recycled often  ends up on an open refuse dump in some developing country, being hand sorted by barefooted children.
So this year, as part of your own personal campaign to reduce costs and reduce energy, why not aim to reduce waste too?  Be careful what you buy, because once you’ve bought it, it becomes your responsibility. Happy Christmas.

Andy Wilson
will be back in the New Year with further articles on energy use in the home. He can be contacted at 087 6714075 or at andy@sustainability.ie.