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Can small changes help save the environment?

Plug socket on wall of grass

Latest stats suggest we don’t have a clue about how to save energy and that we’re choosing the wrong ways to be green. But surely that old cliché – every little helps if we all do our bit – stands true?

So an American survey has found that people don’t have a clue about energy saving. When asked what was the most effective thing you could do to save energy, the most popular answer was turning out the lights.

Unfortunately, while this is good practice, it doesn’t actually save that much energy.

And it’s not just Americans who’ve been focusing on the little changes. A recent report from Mintel, found that while 74% of Brits turn off lights when they leave a room, much fewer had tried more effective ways of saving energy. These include turning down thermostats or making use of the eco settings on appliances.

But is it any wonder people are confused? We’re constantly bombarded with tips for reducing our carbon footprint, but actual savings vary massively. And the savings often depend on many factors, so it can be tricky to work out which will have the biggest impact.

Small changes = small savings?

Finding out that little changes don’t make a big difference can be disheartening. My flatmate has been turning off our TV and Virgin box at the plug, religiously, every night for the last year, convinced that she is helping cut our energy bills.

And yet when we tried an energy monitor out recently, we discovered this made no perceptible difference to our electricity usage. Needless to say, she wasn’t impressed.

But not all small changes are pointless – some do make a difference. It doesn’t take much effort to turn your thermostat down by one degree, but the Energy Saving Trust estimates that doing this could cut your heating bills by up to 10% and save you around £55 a year. That’s got to be good for the environment too.

What can you do to make a difference?

An energy monitor can help to identify possible savings in the home. If, like me, you spend half an hour running around the house turning things on and off, you’ll soon see which actions actually make a difference.

And one of the cleverest ways to save energy long-term, is to choose energy efficient appliances when we buy new ones. This won’t just save energy, but money too – running costs for fridge freezers vary from £13 to £92 a year!

But what about the actions that don’t seem to make a difference – like turning off lights? Well, even if these actions alone don’t save a massive amount of energy, if everyone does them, the cumulative effect does become significant.

So while it’s important to put these actions in perspective, I don’t think we should give up on them completely. Despite the energy monitor’s evidence, I admire my flatmate for keeping up her ritual…


What matters most about energy saving in this spendthrift country is to get into the mentality of not wasting. This applies not just to energy using appliances round the house but also to food – peelings can go into the compost bin as can some cooked food but better still EAT all the food you cooked. Rubbish which includes waste food collected by a local council ought to go to biogenerators to produce energy.


I have three dogs – they eat any food I don’t including bones. No waste. Cooking by microwave fast and efficient – Changed all light bulbs to 11 watt a saving of 545% – Though increased 2 to 18w as the 11w are too dim to read easily.

Do have 2 Grade A fridge freezers – hot water only on for two – one hour sessions and hot water tank heavily lagged – The Central Heating is set to give around 60 degrees in winter – only at times when I’m home – If is really cold outside – I wear a sweater – (It is also a slimming aid)

I even have Infra-red switches on the stairs so the dogs can see if they want to move around the house.

The only time I use a lot of energy is with my power tools – but they are only on when I’m using them.

I don’t think this country is spendthrift.

All windows and doors double glazed – attic lined with 6″ fibre glass insulation.

If you usually keep lights on – and now you switch any off that are not being used – Of course you are saving energy – and it helps.


If you believe a microwave is efficient, you are wrong. They are VERY inefficient. But they are convenient.

Heat a can of beans in a microwave and compare it to heating in the correct sized saucepan on a matching sized gas ring and the difference will shock you.


I don’t waste any food; can’t understand how people manage to chuck out a third of what they buy (or how they can afford to)!

But I think low energy bulbs are terrible. They don’t give as much light as they are supposed to and take so long to warm up that I tend to leave the lights on in a room if I am going in and out; rather than wait in the gloom for the **** bulb to warm up again! This is rather counter-productive!


The Phillips 18 watt bulbs are fine – they are fast switch on (instantaneous) and bright – though not as bright as the so called 100w incandescent bulbs they are supposed to be equivalent to.- nearer to 60 watt – and adequate – whereas the 11 watt ones that are usually sold are no good at all except for general lighting. But I couldn’t get them in the normal shops or supermarkets – I bought them on Ebay quite cheap. as a box of 12..


I have been minature fluorescent bulbs ever since they have been available for two reasons: (1) I seldome have to change bulbs, and (2) they use so little energy I can happily leave them on all evening in the hall, loung and kitchen. Yes it will save some electricity over conventional bulbs (but any heat loss has to be made up by the central heating system!), but for me the main benefit is convenience and a well lit house.

My only problem is that I cannot easily get energy saving bulbs equivalent to 150 watt or higher for a very large room.

The only place where individuals can make significant energy savings is in house insulation and in car use. I don’t think we should be reducing our quality of life for a few KWh per year.



Oddly enough I have just e-mailed Which? only today suggesting that a Which? report should be commissioned to look at the REAL savings to be made by choosing eco-settings, so-called energy saving appliances, etc.

This comes after several huge disappointments recently including:

Buying a very expensive Washer that was Energy Saving Trust recommended, only to find that it used 4 times more electricity than my previous, ancient (20+ year old) model. After battling with the EST they wrote to me to say that they knew that ALL new washers use more energy than old ones, and they never claim otherwise (they don’t if you read carefully) – they simply state which models use the energy EFFICIENTLY, which is quite a different matter.

My neighbours replacing a SEDBUK G rated boiler with a SEDBUK A rated model and finding that their gas bill almost doubled – again after battling with suppliers and Trading Standards they were eventually advised that the SEDBUK rating refers to how EFFICIENTLY the appliance burns the gas, not to how much gas it actually uses. Again, a bitter disappointment and apparently harming the environment more than their old model.

Hearing on BBC Radio 4’s “Money Box” programme last January that flat screen TV’s – widely promoted as “environmentally friendly” actually use almost exactly 100% more energy for the identical screen size than an old Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) set.

Switching to CFL low energy light bulbs only to find that a) they are nothing like equivalent brightness to old bulbs and b) you get fined for putting them in the dustbin and have to pay to take them to the tip because of the obnoxious metals and gasses that are in them, which our council assert do more harm to the environment than generating the extra energy to use old type bulbs.

As other contributors have said above, we receive hopelessly conflicting and confusing messages: how on earth are we supposed to actually make a difference when no one agrees on the real answers and we find that the real “saving” is actually an INCREASE many times (Washer, TV and Boiler to name but 3 examples I have proof of)?

There is a major need for legally required clarity so that end-users stand a chance.

I do feel that not wasting things is the most effective thing we can all do, and it’s also the easiest to get facts about: keeping old appliances until they are utterly unusable, buying clothes that last and not changing them for the sake of fashion and not throwing out good food are three ways that I think it’s fairly safe to say will help our pockets and the environment.


Thanks for your input – I had never thought to even question whether the newer machines actually used MORE electricity – I automatically assumed they used LESS.

Mind you it is easy enough to check – simply look for the wattage rating.

That certainly is interesting.

I wonder what our on line Which? contributors will say about this?

pickle says:
22 August 2010

In the matter of lighting, I have used LED lamps in my kitchen with one halogen over the sink. Ptrevious wattage was 280 watts, present wattage about 70. Unfortunately LED bulbs are only obtainable in G10 fitting and are rather expensive. I would like to see manufacturers develop LEDs in bayonet, screw and small screw fittings which then would fit most lampholders.


In my kitchen I decided to go with one central long 80 watt fluorescent rather than down-lighters because of the huge saving in electricity. almost shadowless light and long lasting lamps – haven’t changed it for over eight years..

I once equipped a large dental clinic/hospital with incandescent down lighters in the ceilings (because they looked better) something like 400 of them – My recommendation had been recessed .fluorescents because they lasted longer.

However the cost of running the down lighters was horrendous – and they used to ‘blow’ very regularly. Eventually it was decided to replace the down lighters – The resultant fluorescents were much brighter and used almost a quarter of the electricity.


Check out ebay. It’s possible to get LED’s with all kinds of fittings, and you can also buy adaptors.
Be careful though some come direct from China or Hong Kong, and some (but not all) don’t last. I’d suggest paying just a little more and getting then from a UK source. Mostly still made in China but at least you’ve a chance of a refund if they’re no good.


Regarding my earlier comment and Richard’s response 2 posts up: I wish it was as easy as checking the Wattage of the appliances, but sadly this is not the case, at least not with washing machines: it is about the ridiculous length of the wash cycles on new washers (or so I was informed by the lady at EST): the wash cycles are incredibly long (apparently to ensure adequate cleaning using such tiny amounts of water) and this means that the motor and most especially the heater in the machine is in operation for many many times longer than in older machines which used much shorter wash times. Newer machines take in only cold water (Which? points out on the main site in an article about washing efficiently that this is NOT economical but manufacturers insist that it is) and then heat it up electrically, so you are on to a loser before the cycle even starts compared to older machines which took in hot water to start with. Then the wash times are longer so the water has to be re-heated during the wash to keep it at the set temperature. Even on a 40 degree wash this means that the machine can use more than an old fashioned one did for a 60 degree cycle. Then there is the power used to keep the motor turning the drum for the lengthened cycle time. In some modern machines the motor uses much less power than the motors in older machines, but these tend to be the most expensive models; cheaper models use the same old motors. So if you buy a super top of the range model with a really low energy motor, and always wash at 30, on a quick wash cycle, you might perhaps find that your new machine uses no more electricity than your old one, but if you have a cheaper machine, with a less efficient motor, and if you wash at 40 or 60 and / or use standard length cycles, it seems from my research that you will almost be guaranteed to use more electricity.
However, to put this into sharp focus for this particular discussion thread, it has taken be over 2 years of battling against manufacturers, retailers, the EST, Trading Standards and one Government Minister (pre election) to get these facts and I think most readers on here will agree that Joe Bloggs Mr. Average should not have to go through that rigmarole (and almost certainly 99% or Joe Bloggs won’t) just to get at the real hard facts. Most people will just buy a machine which they can afford, plug in a switch on and then wonder why their bills have gone up (or at best stayed the same) when the marketing suggested that they would save fuel and money.

The other “get out” that manufacturers in particular use is the A to G ratings: if you read these carefully manufacturers rarely rate in the same way as each other, an especially common trick with washing machines is to quote the energy / water consumption per kilo of washing, not for an actual cycle, and to quote it on a particular programme. If you then run the machine on a different programme you get a different consumption and if you run the machine with less load in you will again get a different value. In most cases that I have looked at the only way to find out which cycle is used to obtain the A to G rating s is to read the instruction book, which usually you can’t do until after you have bought the machine and got it home and unpacked it, by which time it’s a bit too late to change your mind. As an example the machine which I bought and was so disappointed with claimed A** (yes A double-star) electricity consumption but to get this you had to use a cycle called “Boiling Care” which was a 90 degree cottons cycle and you had to use it with a full 7Kg load and NO extra options such as quick wash or extra rinse, etc.

Which? says that most people now wash at 40 degrees: if you washed at 40 degrees in that particular model the energy consumption was very different indeed, doubtless partly because at 40 the machine took over an hour for the wash phase of the cycle, using so little water that you could hardly tell there was any in the drum, compared to just 21 minutes on the “boiling care” cycle with water up to the bottom of the door.

Compare that to a Miele model that I recently looked at in the shops: on that machine the A* rating was achieved on a 60 degree cottons cycle running with a full load, but on that machine a full load is only 5.5 Kg. I have no idea how long that takes nor how much water it uses, nor do I know how the Miele does on the 40 degree cycle, but you can already see that it is like comparing an apple with a banana: you simple cannot do it with the information which is made available to Joe Bloggs public.

Also, my example here refers to electrical appliances, which are relatively easy to monitor if you have a mind to, with an Energy Monitor. Other appliances, such as Gas Boilers, seem to fall into the same trap of the distinction between EFFICIENCY and SAVING but it is impossible for the general public to monitor fuel consumption of these (other than the crude comparison of bills from one quarter to the next).

Hopefully even my two posts and Richard’s in between will emphasise to all readers, especially Which? staff, the scale of this minefield and prompt some powerful calls for legally binding rules about explicitly stating consumption figures.

Whilst I am on ….. Pickle mentions LED lighting: you CAN get Bayonet Cap (BC) and Edison Screw (ES) LED bulbs, but they are not widely stocked yet (plenty of on line shops if you Google them though) and they are rather pricey. I have not yet seen Small Edison Screw (SES) ones. Also the ones available so far seem to be mainly coloured ones intended for things like festoon lighting, although white ones are available if you look carefully.

Hopefully these will become more widely available very soon as LED lighting is much much better than CFL in terms of ease (and environmental impact) of disposal when worn out and also in terms of size, which often means that CFL bulbs won’t physically fit inside light fittings.