At first it may seem like you can’t do anything to make your period home more efficient without damaging its character. But with a little thought anything is possible, says Alex Woodcraft.
You don’t want to be shoving a load of solar panels onto your beautiful thatched roof or covering up your Tudor walls with external insulation. There are, however, plenty of other options.
The most basic change you can make is draughtproofing. I worked on a four bedroom detached house in Hertfordshire and managed to reduce the energy bills significantly. I started by working around each room, checking the edges of the windows, doors and skirting boards for gaps. I sealed each gap with a combination of builders caulk and expanding foam for the bigger gaps. I also installed heavy curtains on the front door and draught stripped doors and windows.
Another big source of draughts is floorboards and on a project on a Georgian house in Stockwell I found a perfect solution. After testing a couple of different methods, I found that Draughtex floorboard seal works really well. You roll the sealant into the gaps in your floorboards with a special tool and it hides completely in the shadows. It is also completely flexible so doesn’t come out when your floorboards move a bit.
On a larger scale, the big problem with older houses is the lack of insulation, but again with a little thought you can add insulation to your home without affecting the appearance. Usually, the outside of the house has features that you want to keep but you can consider ways to improve the inside. I have seen a few different ways to do this.
A project that I am very proud of was for a wooden house built with cedar tiles on a timber frame. I was wary of using artificial insulation because of worries about condensation. The house was built with all natural materials and has its own way of ventilating that I didn’t want to interfere with. With this in mind, I decided to use wood fibre insulation in the cavities combined with a lime plaster to retain the breathable properties of the house.
First, I stripped out the laths and added wood fibre batts to the cavities. Then I covered these with more robust wood fibre boards. Finally, retaining the traditional materials used to build the house, I replastered with lime. The lime plaster is quite expensive to install as it is more complicated than normal plaster, but the breathable qualities are a real advantage in combatting condensation and on some listed buildings it may be a requirement for carrying out the work.
At the September Open House weekend, I went to see a Georgian house in Maida Vale which had insulation installed all over the house, yet still looked unchanged from when it was built. The front of the house had been insulated inside to preserve the front aspect of the house; all you could see was slightly bigger windowsills in the living room.
At the rear, they had insulated externally and then rendered in white so it looked exactly the same as before. Finally, they had insulated the flat roof and then put decking over it to make a roof terrace. So the house continued to look like all the others in the terrace but was far more comfortable and had lower energy bills.
You can also have some fun with your house, perhaps by creating a green roof on a flat area with sufficient strength or diverting down pipes to create a rain garden.
If you like gadgets, there is some really good smart technology appearing at the moment. I got myself an Owl heating control earlier in the year. It replaced my wall thermostat and gives me complete control of my heating from any PC or a smartphone so I can fine tune it to my requirements and turn the heating off and on remotely.
The next step on from this is a system like Lightwave which remotely controls all the lights and sockets in your house. This mean you can turn off all the lights from your bed or power everything down when you leave the house.
Alex Woodcraft is a green retrofitter working in London. He helps people improve their homes to be more energy and water efficient with style and in harmony with the natural environment. If you want his assistance, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more information at www.ecoalex.com.
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.
New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.
Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.
Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”
The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.
Zero net emissions by 2050
Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.
Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.
She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.
Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”
A worldwide shift to renewable energy
Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.
Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.
Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.
Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.
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