We recently received our annual summary of the communal charges for the building. This includes our annual heating and water bill. We pay a monthly sum to the building managers, and at the end of the year they read the meters and send an invoice to settle the bill.
This year, we're due to get almost €1000 back.
It's a good feeling when you open that envelope. We were similarly delighted last year when our electricity supplier cut our monthly bill by two thirds because we were consuming less than they had expected.
Saving energy and water is good for the planet and good for the pocket. The annual heating and water bills have prompted me to think again about how much we use - partly because I'm genuinely surprised about how we've saved so much, and partly because I think we could probably do even better.
I've noticed recently that we've got into the habit of having only one light on in the flat. When we curl up on the sofa in the evenings, one uplighter is enough, and we don't even turn on the main light for the room. I'm not sure when we started doing this, really. I suspect my dad ("Were you born in a power station?") and my boyfriend ("Are you sleeping with the owner of Gazprom?") are finally getting through and I now turn lights off when I leave the room. And they're energy-efficient bulbs. Booya.
All the appliances we've bought have been energy (and in the case of the washing machine, water) efficient. I think the easiest trick is not to own as many. I've been reading tips on saving water and energy online, and am boggled by some of the tips. Get rid of the second fridge? Who are these people?
We don't own a dishwasher or tumble drier. Or a second fridge. I'm not giving up the washing machine, though. Don't even think it.
For heating, we use the fabulous insulating power of curtains, which insulate the room brilliantly. We have full-length wall to wall curtains on both external walls with two layers (blackout lining for the bedrooms, a separate net curtain for privacy for the living room. We also use 'passive solar' - I open the curtains for the east-facing window each morning and allow the sun to warm the room, and then close the curtains when I get back after work.
Since our curtains have gone up last spring, we have only turned on the heating three times - when we had visitors. We turned on the radiator in the spare room for a few hours each time - and were told the room was too hot. The rear wall has just had another few inches of insulation stuck on the back of it too, so I don't think we'll be turning the heating on at all this winter. Sometimes it gets a bit chilly but that makes it all the nicer to snuggle up under a blanket with a hot cocoa. My top tip if you're cold is to go for a run or walk outside - the apartment will feel lovely and warm when you get back.
While we have installed low-flow tap heads in the bathroom and reduced the water level in the toilet tank to reduce our water usage, there are plenty more savings to be made here. I never remember to turn the tap off while I brush my teeth, I enjoy long showers, I wash dishes with the tap running and I never think to re-use water from washing or cooking vegetables on the plants.
As a side note, I have seen analyses that suggest that dishwashers are more efficient in water usage than handwashing, but when you take into consideration the electricity used by the machine, and particularly the energy and resources tied up in its manufacture and disposal, I plump for handwashing. Plus that gives me more space in the kitchen.
There's some really good tips for those who are interested in saving energy and water over at the Energy Saving Trust.
How about you? Where do you save energy, and where do you want to do more?