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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
Don't stand the heat
Bright ideas from Magazine readers

There must be a national effort to bring about a "green revolution", said the government this week. But what simple things can we all do to save the Earth?

Green Light is a series of bright ideas from Magazine readers to help save the world
Everyone could help save the planet by making just a few changes in our household energy use. So the Magazine's inviting you to tell us how you think we could all be greener and more energy efficient at home, and that includes saving water - and we'll publish one a day.

Intelligent use of heat

A number of different ideas converge here, but the main inspiration comes from Rob Thompson of Ottawa, Canada.

    For many countries in the Northern Hemisphere, we have freezing temperatures for a good part of the year. It would be a relatively simple thing to adapt fridges so they are connected to the outside and use a simple fan to suck in cold air to keep food cold, and even frozen. Instead fridges are constantly running in winter trying to keep food cold in our heated homes.

It's an idea that might have more application in Canada than in the UK, but the principle seems interesting. Instead of spending lots of power heating air up or cooling it down, why not use existing sources of hot or cold air?

Another suggestion was to make better use of the heat coming out of the back of fridges - if the heat could be transferred to cold water, this now lukewarm water would need less energy to be heated fully for central heating, baths or showers.

Ian Turner of Potton, UK, says he has connected the outlet of his tumble dryer into a pipe that goes into his greenhouse. "The warm air heats the greenhouse, reducing the amount the heater comes on," he says. Before anyone jumps on him for using a tumble dryer in the first place, it's the principle we're interested in.

And there's an even more radical solution proposed by reader Jeremy Mason of Atlanta, Georgia: "Stop using ice in soft drinks. Even in winter people use ice and in fast food places the cups are typically filled before they pour the drink. The marketers would also have to adjust the portion sizes but I'm sure they can figure that all out. "

Expert verdict

Martin Wright, the editor in chief of Green Futures magazine, says cool-air-from-outside is not only a good idea, it has past form.

"It's called a larder and everyone used to have one. Everyone had a room that was well-insulated and insect-proof which worked extremely well to keep food cool. It's a wonderful innovation that we should return to.

"As for ice in drinks, its only purpose is decorative - and to help bar owners make more money, as they don't have to put as much drink in if a glass is filled with ice. Ice in drinks came about because people in the days of the Raj wanted to sit on the veranda with a cold gin and tonic. Today we don't need ice because the tonic would be kept in the fridge."

It's all part of the current obsession with keeping things cooler - or warmer - than need be, whether it's under-insulating and over-heating our homes or freezing ice for drinks that are already cool. And it's a pattern we need to break, he says.

How Green Light works

Send us your ideas - whether they are technology innovations, new or improved gadgets or simply tips on energy-saving behaviour - to the Magazine using the form below. If possible include drawings explaining how your gadget or idea might work. Send these to, please making sure that the subject line is GREEN LIGHT.

Your comments

This idea is broadly similary to the fridge that takes cold air in from outside, but could the idea of the ice-house be revived in countries that have cold winters and hot summers (e.g. parts of North America). The ice house would be underground, well insulated and filled in winter by a specialist company. In spring and summer, cold air from the ice-house could supplement air conditioning (a big energy user). It's probably off the wall but I would be interested in peoples views.
G Keenan, Dublin, Ireland

For most people who can have Economy 7 electricity it is much cheaper to heat hot water over night than it is to let the oil or gas central heating do the job. It is also good for the nation as the electricity is not needed at night as it is expensive to 'wind down' generators, so using it well at night is good for every one.
iain baverstock, Northants

I have a question regarding solar panels that I have always wanted to ask a clever boffin. If, say the government, decided to offer everyone in the UK solar panels for their roofs, and the power of those panels could be fed back into the national grid when not used. How many panels would it take to sustain the whole country?
Paul, Worcester

A lot of the ideas above related to utilising heated or cooled water to reduce energy expenditure. Why not exapnd this idea, to allow all items that heat or cool items to work collaboratively to reduce energy consumption. By a standard input / output connection (one type for air, another for water), all of these items could then be connected to a house piping system, which could then also connect ot other heating / cooling devices. Therefore the kettle would connect to the hot water point, which would take in warm water, and when the kettle is cooling down the excess heat would go back into the hot water system. The fridge could connect to both the hot and cold water systems, taking in cool water, and expelling warm water, which could then be piped into the kettle. Your house heating system could also be connected, but perhaps to both the hot / cold sytems (both air and water), then your heating could use warmer water from the outset, and use hot air from the exhaust of your tumble dryer to warm the water more. When you have a system that is designed to work in synergy you can realise much greater efficency.
darren wheeler, stoke-on-trent, uk

It's a bit boring listening to people say we should conserve energy. We can put wind farms up to try help the situation but there are complaints because they don't look attractive. The quicker we get rid of fossil fuels the quicker we can more funding into greener and more efficient power systems. Knowledge is power not understanding. Until we all figure that out lets keep handing our money over.
Stuart Townsend, Cardiff, South Glamorgan

I've always wondered if there was any pipe work/connections that could be fitted on outside drainage pipes from washing machines/dishwashers,etc to water gardens. Obviously guttering, or pipes would have to be laid by pathways with holes staggered to allow the water out. It seems such a waste of water going down the drains, when most families do at least 1 load of washing each day. (It would save having to empty caught rainwater from butts), and perhaps stop hose pipe bans.

Alastairs idea is not a good one. Water thats gone through the central heating system is not designed for drinking water. Some older type systems contain Led and other such substances. Do a google search for more information!
Chris Nevill, Bath

Why not use rainwater to flush the toilet? Mount a water butt just below the eaves at the back of the house so that the gutters run into it. Then use push-fit plumbing to hook it up to your toilet cistern. As long as the butt was higher than the cistern you wouldn't need a pump, and the ballcock valve in the cistern would control the flow. The only problem might be if you don't get enough rain, but you could always put a stop valve on your mains supply to the cistern - and turn it back on again if you run out of rainwater.
Craig Nixon, Bury

Great ideas from everyone! I think just a little research on people's behaviours and some smart design could change our lives. A thermometer is a good idea to prevent us from boiling the water, what about an indicator on it that tells which temperature gives the best taste for each kind of drink?
Cenker Oden, Istanbul, Turkey

At our country energy specially electricity crisis is a regualr problem for us. So,at our home, we usually try to switch off the refrigerator at the evening. Because, thats the time when electricity demand is the highest and we don't ever use the iron at evening either. The food does not perish if it is turned off for couple of hours and we get to save some electricity. The same story goes for using iron. These are simple home tricks for saving energy.
Naureen, Dhaka, Bangladesh

There are hundreds of thousands of very highly intelligent and extremely motivated people who will gladly work on high quality ideas for priority issues at relatively low salaries. Use them. The most effective measure is to subsidise creativity internationally, for example in Asia, Africa and South America, to help solve problems.
Thomas Smits, The Hague

Why do people insist on having the heating on in the kitchen when they are baking and cooking? This is a waste as the oven/cooker is acting as a heater for the whole room. All kitchen radiators should be timed to go off during cooking hours.
Jim Hughes, Douglas, Isle of Man

Our schools have many computers in this day and age. Over 100 in most secondary schools. These computers are always left switched on or on standby. Yes ! At night and even through the weekends and holidays. This consumes a huge amount of energy. Why do they do it? Well, I was told it was because switching them on and off too often damages the hard disc drives. Hhmmmm. I wonder?
Antonia-bradley, Exeter

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