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How to stay warm this winter: energy saving ways to heat our homes and buildings

As the temperatures drop, it’s time to start getting cosy at home and warming up our schools and work spaces. But heating up buildings is expensive financially and in terms of the amount of energy that gets used. Swapping the supplied energy to come from cleaner, renewable sources, is one way to reduce the impact it has on the environment, but there are other things we can do that can have an even bigger impact.

1. Insulate ourselves

Or in other words, pop on a jumper! We’re not talking about leaving the heating off and wearing everything you own to keep warm, but switching heating down a couple of degrees and popping on a jumper and warm socks when you’re at home can make a big difference.

Woman wearing grey Fjallraven jumper and white knitted hat.
Choose something warm (and sustainable or second-hand if you can!) and snuggly, and you’ll stay cosy at home. Jumper from Fjallraven.

2. Insulate our buildings better

Imagine how much energy it takes to heat a house, or even a school. Then imagine most of that heat drifting off into the air around it. That’s what happens when buildings aren’t insulated sufficiently.

In fact, with a thermal imaging camera you can sometimes see it!

Photo of a house with someone holding a thermal imaging camera up to it
Image from

One way to stop this happening is to insulate the building. Think of it a bit like adding layers of clothing, but to a building. The insulation makes it more difficult for warm air to escape. Insulation can take many forms, like foam paneling, or reflective layers that reflect heat back into a space, and they reduce the amount of heat that is lost from a building.

When a building is well insulated, not only does it stay warmer, but because it doesn’t loose heat as quickly it needs less heat, and therefore less energy, to keep nice and warm.

3. Eliminate drafts

Have you ever felt a chilly breeze across your bare feet when you’re at home? Or a cold waft of air on your hands while you’re sat in school? Drafts are where there’s gaps around doors or windows where air can get in or out. And since we heat buildings by heating the air in them, if all that warm air is escaping, or if cold air keeps coming in, then that will take more heat and – again – more energy to fix.

Photo of a white door with a home made draught excluder at its based
A draught excluder like this home-made one can help reduce energy loss. Image by Sally Cameron.

New windows and doors help, though of course can be expensive, but there are other things you can do. Try to keep most of the doors closed in a space, and get a draft excluder (or make your own) to sit at the bottom of the door and cover any gap there where heat could escape. Thicker curtains can help insulate windows too.

If you want to get crafty and make your own draught excluder, there’s a great how-to guide on The Guardian website.

4. Get ground-source or air-source heat pumps

Did you know you could get heat from the ground and use it to warm your house or school? And they are becoming increasingly popular – this article in Positive News says they could be one of the most effective ways of reducing emissions.

Looped coils of a ground source heat pump in a trench, ready to be buried
These coils from a very large ground source heat pump will be buried in the ground, and capture warmth from the surrounding soil to heat a building. Image by Mark Johnson.

These devices extract heat from the ground, which is often warmer and more insulated that it might seem on the surface, or air, in the case of air-source heat pumps, although they are less efficient than ground-source pumps. It then uses this heat to warm water for radiators and therefore heating. They do require a little energy to run, but considerably less than a gas or electric-powered boiler.

Read more about ground source heat pumps on Wikipedia

5. Be smart about radiators

Radiators come on in every room in the house when you turn the heating on, but by controlling how much they come on for, you can reduce the overall amount of energy that’s used. So for example if there’s room you don’t really need to go in often or heat, turn the setting down so the radiator isn’t heating space that isn’t being used.

6. Get a smart thermostat

New thermostats are amazing. They allow you to monitor the temperature in your home or school from an app on your phone, which means you can control your heating from it too. So for example if you’re out for the day, you can stop the heating coming on while no-one is at home, but switch it on just before you arrive home so it’s nice and cosy for you. Having greater control means you can use your heating more efficiently, and therefore save energy.

A woman turns the dial on a wall-mounted Hive smart thermostat device
Smart Thermostats, like this one from Hive, allow you to remotely control your heating or operate it efficiently

7. Future innovations

Ground- and air-source heat pumps are they only way of taking heat from one place and using it to heat buildings elsewhere. One innovative new approach that’s being researched is using heat from places that generate too much, and instead of wasting that, using it as a resource.

For example, buildings which house loads of machinery or computer servers generate a lot of heat. But heat isn’t good for how they run, so often these buildings have cooling systems in place, which of course takes energy to run. But what if we could take all that heat energy that isn’t wanted and use it to provide energy to heat places we did want warmed up? That would save energy twice: less energy needed to warm surrounding buildings, and less energy needed to cool the computers or machinery – win win!

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