There’s an old joke that says you know you’ve grown up when you become obsessed with the thermostat. It’s true that many of us (usually the bill-payers) often wonder why the house has to be heated to sub-tropical levels in winter when everyone is lounging around in T-shirts, refusing the outdated notion of keeping warm by wearing jumpers or even staying in bed. For some reason, many teenagers are content to lounge away their summer weekends in bed, but as soon as it’s central heating season, they’re out of bed at the crack of dawn, cranking up the thermostat as if their young lives depended on it.
To complicate matters, the recent proliferation of electronic gadgets means that many homes just don’t seem to have enough plug sockets these days. That’s why various appliances are always being unplugged to make way for other, more important appliances. Hand-held gadgets seem to be the main offenders. So, it’s safe to assume that the frozen ready-meal left in the microwave to cook itself will still be frozen solid twenty minutes later because someone just had to charge their MP3 player.
It can be hair-raising to watch the meters on dark winter nights when everyone is at home. No longer do families cluster round the piano (or even the TV). Nowadays, everyone is in separate rooms (complete with the big light on) and every electronic gadget they own blaring away or charging. More often, the wires are simply charging an empty room and said gadgets lie neglected in bags – uncharged and ready to cause a major emergency five minutes before tomorrow’s school run.
It’s a wonder the national grid doesn’t collapse sometimes. But when the bill-payer has the temerity to point this out, they’re usually met with rolled eyes, requests to stop being boring and advice to shop around and find some cheap electricity rates. The situation isn’t helped by the many households that appear to have numerous invisible residents, otherwise why would so many TVs be left on in empty rooms? And if the TV happens to be a plasma screen, the yearly bill will cost almost as much as the licence fee. Even if the TV screen is actually off for a change, it’s almost certainly been left on standby so it can continue draining your bank balance. Yes, just leaving things on standby can add £80 a year to the energy bill.
According to Ofgem, a medium usage household uses around 3,300 electricity kilowatt hours and 16,500 gas kilowatt hours per year. Kilo what, do I hear you ask? Exactly. Kilowatt hour doesn’t mean much to most bill-payers and while ignorance may be bliss, it’s not going to lower anyone’s blood pressure when the next bill comes in. So, to give it some context, think of it this way: one kilowatt hour (or kWh for short) will buy different amounts of activity, depending on the device being used.
For example, you could spend one kilowatt hour on one dishwasher cycle. Or, you could get a whole four hours on a PC. But beware of watching catch-up TV on your desktop computer because you get almost twice as much time for your kilowatt hour on a television as you do on a PC. If you really want to run something for a long time, a kilowatt hour will pay for over two days of running your set-top box. But be careful, even if you put it on standby, it’s still using half as much energy as if it were being actively used.
So, at the risk of becoming even more unpopular among your nearest and dearest, it may be time to remind your fellow residents (especially those invisible ones) to turn things off when they leave the room.