This month’s column is a practical look at how following our ancestors’ advice can reduce the energy we use to heat buildings, in both home and business settings.

Heating buildings accounts for nearly a quarter of UK CO2 emissions, largely from heating private homes using gas boilers. Good insulation and more efficient heating is desperately needed but investment has been low and the majority of our housing stock falls well below good standards of insulation, draught-proofing and efficient heating. Not only does this waste energy on a huge scale, but comfortable living is hard to maintain, particularly for the elderly and poor. Even those of moderate income can struggle to keep warm. particularly in buildings where retrofit and remediation is so difficult and expensive, such as listed buildings.

Large offices have similar problems due to the cost of heating large spaces, particularly where there is repeated entrance and exit flushing cold air into the space and warm air out.

Fortunately, our ancestors had an answer to this problem, and we can take advantage of modern materials to do the same – “Heat the Person, Not the Space”. Rather than expend large amounts of energy heating the air in buildings, a much smaller amount of energy directed at the individuals can achieve the same feeling of comfort.

We can all save energy by not heating unused areas of the house, but even in the occupied areas, we can still save energy and therefore money in simple cost-effective ways.

1 – Dress appropriately. The addition of a sweater, socks and slippers insulate the body and maintain its heat at lower room temperatures. Traditionally a hot-water bottle would be used under the feet or in the lap. Modern equivalents, and particularly the rise in electrically heated wraps and warming bags, provide even more warmth and comfort at minimal cost.

2 – Reduce or eliminate draughts. You don’t need to replace doors and windows, just use draught-excluder tape, door (and window) ‘snakes’, and curtains across draughty front doors.  Secondary glazing can also be helpful and temporary (as in ‘removeable’) affordable solutions are available.

3 – Consider adding radiant heaters. Modern heating is mostly by convection. Radiators warm the air, which circulates by convection and transfers heat by conduction. Radiant heaters warm like the sun, by direct infra-red radiation to the body without wasting heat on the air. The old electric fire, with glowing red elements, is an example of a radiant heat source. Modern equivalents are much more efficient and are often flat panels, with no red glow at all. Since they don’t heat the air, but heat objects (including people) directly, they use much less energy than a conventional heater. Modern panels can be an adjunct to, or a replacement for, whole-house heating systems.

Reducing energy demand doesn’t have to mean uncomfortable living, and it not only helps our climate emissions but saves a lot of money, not to be sniffed at given the cost-of-living crisis and exorbitant energy prices.

Phil Shotton,

Ramsgate Society Lead on Environment and Climate Change