Sunday, 29 May 2011

A change is brewing

Last week, our Bosch kettle died.  We bought it in March 2009, 26 months ago, with a 24 month warranty.  I stripped it down but could not get close enough to the sealed electronics to to find the fault.  It just blows the 13A fuse in the plug every time we switch it on.  I called Bosch customer service, to find out what could be done.  They told me to send it back to their workshop, with a cheque for £9, and they would investigate the fault and let me know what needed to be done to repair the kettle.  I might just do that, to see if we can keep this  otherwise high quality appliance in service rather than having to recycle it.  However, I can't imagine that many people would be prepared to throw good money after bad to prolong the life of stuff that has become essentially disposable.

In the meantime, we need a kettle.  Making tea and coffee with a saucepan is all very well on the odd occasion, such as a power cut, but we're all used to brewing up a hot drink in a matter of minutes.  I have been trying to track down an old-fashioned kettle with a heat exchanger skirt, for use on our gas hob.  My Grandma used to have a Simplex kettle like this and I found the company's website but there has been no response so far from their Contact Form.

I'm fairly clear, however, that the rest of the family won't tolerate life without an electric kettle that switches itself off when it comes to the boil.  I have long been fascinated with the Eco Kettle, which combines an onboard water reservoir with a clearly-calibrated boiling chamber, designed to make it consummately easy to boil only the amount of water that you need.  I decided to get one from Ecotopia, because they offered the best price and the fastest service, and I was pleasantly surprised to take delivery of a chrome Eco Kettle 2 the following day.

Having lived with the new gadget for a couple of days, I am happy with almost all aspects of its performance.  It's very quiet because it uses a less powerful element than most ordinary kettles.  This makes no appreciable difference to boiling times for one or two cups but must take slightly longer than a regular kettle to boil a teapotful, I suppose.  It's certainly heavy because it's carrying a full tank of water even when you're just boiling one cup.  However, the weight is not a problem for my family and the Eco Kettle is very well balanced and pours cleanly.  It also lives up to its promise, making it truly effortless to boil just the amount you need.

The one thing that makes no sense is that the kettle is terribly slow to switch off, once the water has boiled.  The power stays on for more than 10 seconds after the water can be seen and heard to be boiling vigorously.  When boiling a full charge of water, the EcoKettle moves around violently and seems ready to jump off its base.  It hasn't actually spilled any boiling water yet but it seems likely that this aspect of the design needs to be refined, so that the Eco Kettle doesn't waste electricity raising steam while the boil detector makes up its mind to turn the power off.  More importantly, any possibility of scalding from spitting liquid or even a spilt kettle is a serious safety issue.  I'll share my concern with the manufacturer and report back any response that they offer.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Simple Energy Saving at home

I was very pleased that Julian Worricker read out my email in full on Radio 4's "You & Yours" programme today.  You can Listen Again on iPlayer here, until Monday 16 May - around 46 minutes in.  Here's what I sent into the programme:

"It's worth all the effort to insulate, switch off and replace inefficient bulbs and appliances.  I have managed to cut my family's home electricity use in half, and our gas consumption by a third, since 2006.  The cost of insulation, light bulbs and an A+ refrigerator were quickly paid back and my energy bills are a third lower now than they were in 2006."

Of course, I couldn't provide the evidence behind this on the programme, so I will do this here.  I was also struck by Julian's response: he said, "That's very positive from his point of view but we don't all have the time to do that".  Accepting this viewpoint, the challenge is to make it so easy for people to use energy wisely in their homes that they find it only natural to cut waste and save money on their bills.

In 2006, our home used 30,400 kWh of energy: 21,200 units of gas and 9,200 of electricity.  This cost almost £1500.  Since then I have invested in great tranches of loft insulation, all shapes and sizes of energy-saving light bulbs, a condensing boiler, a solar thermal panel (the boiler has been off for weeks now), an efficient larder fridge and the 8 watt Fit-PC computer (strictly a net-top) that I am writing this blog on now.  We have also pulled together as a family to change our behaviour, switching everything off at the mains when not needed, keeping the thermostat down low in the winter and generally striving to avoid wasting energy.

2010 was an unusual year, starting and ending with prolonged spells of extreme cold.  As a result, our 2010 energy use was greater than expected.  However, 2011 has been unseasonably warm so far and our energy consumption since January has been 20% lower than the same period last year.  In the past 12 months, we have used a total of 17,200 kWh at home: 12,800 units of gas and 4,400 kWh of electricity.  This graph shows our annual energy costs, for gas and electricity, over the past five years.  I've also included my estimate for 2011 and we are on track to spend just £1000 on home energy this year:

The point of all this data is to make clear the savings to be had by using energy wisely.  If my family's power consumption had remained at 2006 levels, we would now be paying over £1,700 a year for our gas and electricity.  On the news today, Centrica warned that forward gas prices for next winter are 25% higher than they were at this time last year.  This makes it apparent that everyone's energy bills will rise - unless they act to reduce their usage!  The investments needed are one-off costs but the payback comes ever after - in my case,  a saving of £60 a month on the cost of home energy.  The higher the price, the bigger the saving.  What's stopping you, Julian?