You don’t have to keep chickens to guest-blog for us – but it helps…

by Piper Terrett

When you’re switching off your electric gadgets at night, have you ever wondered how much energy they guzzle and how much of your cash they’re frittering away?

When I became the Energy Saving Trust’s Green Voice of Great Britain last year, Tim Shand from the Essex Advice Centre installed an electricity monitor in my home. “Checking it will become addictive,” he warned me. I smiled politely and nodded. He’s a lovely guy, I thought, but he’s obviously an energy geek. The monitor would be useful but I’d hardly be staring at it all day, would I? How wrong I was!

It sounds daft but, as you’ll know if you own one, once you get an energy monitor, you find yourself watching it like a hawk. We’re always nagged that a kettle uses lots of electricity, for example – but the first time you make a cuppa and watch the display numbers jump off the chart, it actually sinks in. What’s more, you can adjust the mode on your monitor to see exactly how much money you are spending on electricity each hour, which is pretty sobering stuff.

You quickly find out that there are many items that like nothing better than gorging themselves on electricity. Once, when the monitor numbers bounced, I couldn’t work out what was causing it. I wandered around the house turning appliances off before realising that my other half was taking a shower. It’s obvious really, but heating water guzzles an incredible amount of power.

It’s one thing being told this – it’s another when you’re able to watch your monitor and see the pounds disappearing from your bank account. Suddenly it’s not just about being gentler on the planet – it’s about throwing your money away. Hands up who wants to do that these days? Soon, even if you don’t have a beard or own a pair of brown sandals, you find yourself boiling only what you need for one cup of tea, or having shorter showers, to save cash and energy.

And what about when your old TV or fridge breaks down, and you have to fork out for a new one? We’re all on the lookout for a good deal these days. But as well as getting a cheap price, it’s sensible to consider how much energy your new gadget will use. There’s little point in buying something that’s more expensive to have in your house than your old one.

Older appliances – like that Stone Age computer your mum still uses, or the spare room telly – can be less energy efficient, but some modern gadgets are actually more expensive to run. I was shocked to hear that many plasma screen TVs are terrible energy guzzlers. Nicknamed the ‘4 x 4 of the lounge’, some of the worst offenders use up to four times as much electricity as old-fashioned cathode ray tube tellies. The bigger the plasma screen, the more energy it uses.

Fortunately, this is where the Energy Saving Trust can help out. Its ‘Energy Saving Trust Recommended’ product tag celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year. On its web page you can see the energy-saving and low-energy gadgets it endorses, with the information you need to make an informed decision. Not just any product gets a recommendation; the items and their manufacturers have to comply with a long list of stringent rules and requirements. Recommended products range from low energy light bulbs, washing machines and electronic goods to double glazing and insulation.

When you think about how many electrical items fill our homes these days, from laptops and game consoles to coffee makers and curling tongs, it makes financial sense to buy energy-saving appliances. Knowing what I’ve learned this year just from watching the monitor kindly installed by my wise (and not remotely geeky) friend Tim, I will be checking the energy-saving credentials of all my future purchases from now on.

Happy Birthday Energy Saving Trust Recommended!

Have you become more aware of your energy use since the economic downturn hit? How have you cut down? Leave a comment and let us know.