The alternative is no energy

Imagine if your doors and windows were perfect, so perfect that they allowed no heat through them. Then imagine if your walls and roof were equally perfect.

On the day you moved into your house you could turn on the heat and once it had heated your house to your desired comfort level… would never have to heat your house again.

Sounds a bit fanciful? It is but not by much. Buildings which perform with almost no energy input are being built in Ireland. They are called passive buildings. They use the latest insulating walls, roofs and windows to keep heat in. They use the sun to provide much of their hot water and space heating.

Of course, some heating must be applied but total heating costs can be lower than €200 a year.

So it can be done. Which means that Ireland’s building standards used over the past 10-15 years have left us needlessly with huge heating bills, high energy dependency and a yeti-sized carbon footprint.

Many people would like to make a personal contribution to the fight against pollution and global warming. There has been a massive uptake of the Government’s Greener Homes schemes which encourages people to use more environmentally-friendly fuels.

But is this the right approach? Ideally, before we replace polluting and costly energy sources we should try and not use the energy in the first place.

The British Tory leader David Cameron is planning to have a wind turbine installed on his roof. B&Q here in Dublin have been selling small wind turbines for around €2,500. Many people want use wood pellet fired systems which are carbon neutral. Does any of this make sense?

Not much. If you are going to invest money into saving the world and saving money in the long run then the best investment you can make is to stop wasting the energy you are already using. 

Firstly get yourself €100 from the ATM, nip round to your DIY store and buy yourself some low energy bulbs. Typical payback is one winter and the bulbs use about a quarter of the electricity of ordinary bulbs.

Secondly, insulate your attic. You can’t have enough. If you have less than eight inches of insulation then add another eight inches. Payback is around three to four years and a far warmer house for you to live in. 

The Sustainable Energy Ireland website gives a rundown of the small projects that you can invest in that will pay you back in a few years while all the time reducing your energy usage and improving living comfort.

Larger projects would include replacing your windows with triple glazing. That will be a bigger investment with a longer payback depending on the age and quality of your present windows.

If I was to recommend any energy generating apparatus it would be a solar water heater for your roof (if you have a south-facing roof), although I think they’re a bit pricey.

Small wind turbines won’t work in most urban areas. You’ll end up dissappointed, out of pocket, probably annoying your neighbours and with a lower opinion of the green movement. You will soon be able to buy your electricity from wind energy companies and that is a far better choice. 

Much like the waste problem, the best solution is not to find alternatives but to try and avoid the problem.