May rolls around and it’s time to write an update on the challenge, a council-run competition that we’re taking part in. My first challenge for month two was a personal one – getting my wife Lou more involved. The obsession with saving energy was mostly mine at first, as I religiously took meter readings, measured the wattage of our household appliances, and went around the house switching off the lights that Lou had turned on. So the arrival of the April diary was an opportunity to share the challenge. We’ve tackled it together these last few weeks, and when Lou confessed to some friends on a recent night out that the water butt was the most exciting thing in her life right now, I took that as a good sign.
Speaking of which, we’ve paid more attention to our water usage this month, checking the water meter, using the shower timer and the water-saving showerhead. The tap aerators were less succesful, a milimetre too wide to fit according to the instructions, and no amount of improvising with various configurations of washers could make it work. The biggest improvement was the aforementioned water butt, which we inherited when my parents moved house last year. It’s been languishing on the patio all winter, but the Green Up challenge and an unusually dry April inspired me to get on and fit it up. A good weekend of rain filled it to the top and we’re now using it to water the vegetable patch. Climate change is likely to give us drier summers in Luton in the future, so it seems sensible to put some work into rainwater harvesting now. I’m planning to fit a water butt at the front of the house as well, and fit guttering around the shed.
The new challenge for April was transport, and filling in a week’s journeys was quite enlightening. I was most struck by my commute – the office is 35 miles away, a round trip of 70 miles. Even taking the train and walking to the station at either end, that’s hardly sustainable. And of course was rather wasted on me, unless I got up at midnight for an 8 hour hike down the A1081. I don’t drive as it is, so I couldn’t really walk any more than I already do, but I did count my steps and clocked up 37,130. I have resolved to get a bike.
Lou found the transport challenge difficult too. Because she works freelance and in various locations, she has no regular route to work and has to get to places all around the region for her reporting. On Walk to Work Week she was at a radio station out on Bedford industrial estate, which is almost impossible to get to by public transport. There was one bus out to the estate in the morning, but somewhat inexplicably, no bus back again in the evening. The only alternative would be a four mile walk back to Bedford station. Lou was pretty determined to work it out, and even got as far as borrowing a bike for that four miles. When the bike turned out to be too big for her she had to concede defeat and take the car, but it was not for lack of trying. The following week she was at the BBC in Luton and walked there, so it was bad timing really.
Traveling sustainably is an ongoing project. I try to shop nearby, blessed as we are with a local grocer and butcher, so we take the car to the supermarket about once every six weeks and load up on heavy things like tins. Shopping online would cut out that journey. Lou needs a car for work, and will do for the foreseeable future. She also travels outside the range of an electric car on some days. Our best bet is probably to get the most fuel efficient model we can afford when it’s time to replace the aging Vauxhall Corsa. And living a mile or so from the airport, the quiet sky over Luton during the volcanic ash episode was a bit of a reminder about flying. We’d already decided that we were going to try and cut out flying, but that renewed our commitment. Our last couple of holidays have been by train, and there are lots more places to try out before we exhaust the list of Eurostar destinations.
We’ve continued to work at our energy usage as well, although I seem to have run out of options for cutting electricity use and hit a plateau. Gas consumption has fallen further, if you discount the cold snap at the beginning of the month. I did use our thermostatic radiator controls though, which I’d forgotten about. I turned down the radiators in the rooms we weren’t using, to avoid heating space unnecessarily. I also discovered that I could use the sun to warm the house on sunny days. We have a lean-to at the back and an enclosed porch at the front. Both of them are sun traps, and even if it’s cold outside, sunshine warms them up considerably. Opening all the doors at the back of the house in the morning warms the kitchen and dining room, and opening the front door in the evening sends warm air up the stairs. By relocating around the house a little, I haven’t had the heating on at all on the days I’ve been working from home.
Like last month, I’ve really valued the challenge of thinking through the way we live, being more aware of what we’re using, and taking responsibility.