With energy being one of the biggest issues of the day, doing your own energy survey can be a great way to involve all the family in doing something that’s both positive for the planet, and helpful to the household budget. Professional audits will, of course, be more comprehensive than anything the average DIY approach is likely to achieve – but that’s not really the point. While doing your own won’t be as accurate, there’s nothing quite like examining your own lifestyle and energy usage to see for yourself where savings could be made, and waste cut out. Best of all, even the littlest of eco-friendly youngsters can help and with a little imagination, it can end up being a really fun activity for everyone.
The first thing to do is decide what you’re going to survey. A lot of this depends on your type of home and how safely accessible parts of it are; there’s no point in trying to include loft insulation, for instance, if little legs can’t climb the ladder! It may call for a bit of diplomacy at times, but if you can steer your kids away from the impractical and towards the achievable, yet still leave them thinking that it was their idea all along, you’re onto a winner (and quite possibly a job at the United Nations!).
Building A Picture
One useful approach to get things rolling is to try to build a snapshot of how you as a household currently use energy. This is often a good round-the-table activity, allowing everyone to contribute their ideas and then letting you settle on a few general headings to cover it all such as:
- Gas, Oil or Solid Fuel
- Energy Saving Appliances
- Car Usage
With older children, it can be appropriate to relate this to the financial cost and/or carbon contribution of each, which then opens up the possibility of a whole range of further educational activities if you wish.
Starting to Survey
Without the professional’s array of tools and computer models, you’ll need to make up some kind of scoring system for your survey, but it doesn’t have to be particularly complicated. Something simple – three points for good, two points for average and one point for bad – will do perfectly to decide if you think your boiler is up to scratch or the doors and windows are too draughty.
It’s sometimes quite enlightening to ask everyone to do this part of the survey individually, perhaps giving everyone a printed sheet to fill in with their observations – possibly with a column to note where they think improvements could be made. Usually there’s a good bit of consensus, but at times some surprising differences of opinion can appear when it comes to comparing notes, which can be interesting to explore and discuss – provided it doesn’t provoke too much in the way of sibling rivalry!
If you want to take the whole idea further, then there are a number of things that you could do. An energy monitor, for instance, can really start to make it clear just how much electricity individual appliances are using, while a range of online calculators can help you examine how much you could shave off your usual bills if you made particular changes or improvements to your home.
Thermal imaging has recently become an increasingly common tool to show where heat is being lost and in many parts of the country, they can be hired – although the rental isn’t cheap. If you have an old 35mm camera, however, there is a way you can get similar results, if you can find some infra-red film. With luck, a little phoning around your local photographic shops might just unearth a roll or two, but if not, there are suppliers to be found on the internet. Take a few photographs of your house, especially after dark, and you might be surprised what you see. With the rise of digital photography, this kind of film isn’t as common as it once was, and you may have to send it away to have it developed, but if you can find some, it’s well worth experimenting – and it certainly makes for a pretty impressive visual record.
Follow On Activities
The potential opportunities for follow on activities are enormous – from keeping energy diaries and doing routine monthly audits to rolling the whole thing out to a full-blown playgroup, school or community project.
Even if you decide that it’s definitely a one-time event, the fact that you have done your survey can only help to make everyone aware of just how and where you are using energy, and that is the first step towards saving it. With the economic and environmental costs mounting year by year, that alone has to be a lesson worth learning!