The life & times of an HVAC Engineer

{September 23, 2011}   What’s-a matter you Hey!

I went to a seminar about anaerobic digestion recently, it was very interesting hearing about how we could be using our waste to generate electricity. It’s certainly something we should be considering to improve the sustainability of many engineering projects. Did you know that you can use the solid output of the digester to make tiles that grass will grow on to make a green roof? I really enjoyed the evening, it was absolutely fascinating. What I particularly enjoyed however, were two things that the scientist who was giving the presentation said:

“Engineers are great, you go to them with a problem and they solve it for you”


“I was working on a project with WSP, and they were all so positive.”

I loved those moments, I loved the little bit of an insight they gave into how the outside world views us, both engineers generally and WSP specifically. The best bit of all is that he’s right, WSP guys & gals are really positive, upbeat folk, at least when we’re speaking to the client or other ‘outsiders’, and it’s also true that engineers solve all sorts of problems and make loads of people’s lives better. I’m sad to say though, we’re not always brilliant at solving our own problems, or those of our team/department/company. Our outstanding professional pride means we’re so focussed on providing the client with a first class service, on solving every niggling little problem on the project, and on making the world a better place that we sometimes forget to make our own little niche in the world a better place.

So in the spirit of ‘physician heal thyself’ I give you, the happy flowchart:

The incredible Maya Angelou, poet, author & civil rights activist once said “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain”. It’s an approach we often take on projects, that’s how we as engineers have gained the mantle of being able to solve any problem, and why we as WSP are known for being positive and high quality – because if it’s not right, we make it right. It’s just what we do.

But for all that incredible problem solving ability, for all the pleasure we take in problem solving, and for all the drive we have to get things right, we don’t do that for ourselves. There’s no reason for that, though. Engineering gives you amazing skills at problem solving, and although we’ve been trained to apply that to buildings, structures & technology the logical thinking and creativity can often be applied just as well to things closer to home. Why not give it a try? Grab that flowchart, listen to Maya, and go engineer a solution that will make you happy…


{September 5, 2011}   Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

I spent most of the bank holiday weekend dressed up as a wolf. And I was working. For WSP CEL. This, I assure you, is not my usual work wear. However, I was still engineering. No really, I was!

You see over the bank holiday weekend Coventry Airbase hosted the 2011 Imagineering Fair. I love the Imagineering Fair, it’s all about getting kids excited about engineering. All sorts of different companies turn up, so as a professional engineer you get to meet a whole load of engineers that you would otherwise never see. The companies then put on activities for the kids to get hands on with engineering problems. I love that part for two different reasons

– one, because seeing the kids’ faces when they build something successful is massively rewarding and is definitely worth working through the weekend for
– and two, because kids are so much more imaginative than we adults are. All our training, all that education we have – it’s brilliant because it teaches you efficient solutions to standard problems and it teaches you the maths & theory & material properties you need to know to be able to calculate whether your answer will work. But, the other thing it does is make you forget to imagine, forget that trial & error is ok, forget that weird & wonderful untried solutions can sometimes be even better than answers that have been developed & refined over decades. I think that’s very worth being reminded of on a regular basis. Perhaps we should get kids into the office sometimes.

But that’s an aside. Why was I dressed as a wolf? I was in fact the big bad wolf. The WSP activity was constructing paper towers to keep the 3 little pigs out of the wolf’s reach. Of course the paper towers then also had to resist the wolf’s huff & puff…otherwise known as a desk fan.

The pigs had lots of adventures, and a fair few tumbles, but on the whole there were a lot of amazing solutions to the task. Over the weekend a large pig city rapidly built up around our stand. It really was something to behold – the sheer variety of different approaches. I certainly found it very inspiring, seeing all that imagination. One thing it’s reminded me of, and a learning I will take back to the office, is that there is never just one right answer.

As you may have read in my previous post about getting chartered, my goal for a very long time was to be a chartered engineer. The problem, however, with achieving goals is that you either need to have another goal lined up before you manage it, or you end up feeling a bit lost after the initial elation. It didn’t even occur to me to think about ‘what next’ before I got chartered…so I fell off a bit of a cliff in terms of knowing what I want from life. So since then I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of my career.

I had been working in building services, but due to the type of work we currently have in the business there was no immediate opportunity to move into a lead/senior role, and no new challenges on the horizon. Thankfully I’m a part of a company who recognizes my need for challenge, development and change and now I’m on secondment in project engineering in the chemical side of the business.

But, like some of the students who have just received their A-Level results, or many of the 2011 graduates, I now have the combined puzzles of ‘what do I want to do next?’ and ‘how am I supposed to figure that out?’. It’s an age old question that people ponder over time and time again through out their lives, and it’s one that certainly doesn’t have a correct answer!

For me, unlike the students picking degree courses & so on, the question is not much about what the content of my work is, or the technical subject, but what do I find rewarding about it? I know I enjoy engineering, particularly building services and particularly the process industry. I’m also enjoying a lot of what I’m doing as a project engineer, which is what makes it so hard to pick between them and to come up with some long term career goals. For me the rewards are overcoming a challenge (I love problem solving), making the world a better place (which is why I like pharmaceuticals & talking in schools) and being recognised for what I’m doing (who doesn’t appreciate a pat on the back after all).

The former two can find satisfaction in many different roles and at my level & age recognition is relatively simple. There are lots of managers I report to, or folk who are keeping an eye on what I’m doing & they can give me a pat on the back, or a thank-you/well done & that means something to me. There are also still visible promotions in reach. There are also lots of award schemes out there for people at my level. But an interesting dilemma is how do you balance out the desire to progress upwards within the company/industry with the need for recognition? The higher up you are, the less managers you have, and then the less people there are to tell you that you’ve done a good job. Again, there is no simple answer, other than that as you go up the ladder, you increasingly need to recognise your own achievements and set your own standards & goals…and there were we are back at goals again.

So when considering your future career, what will you want from it? To be a technical expert? A senior manager? To earn lots of money? To have freedom over your time & how you do your work? To have lots of interesting challenges? Do you want recognition? Will you become an entrepreneur? Is family your highest priority? Or do you really want to make the world a better place & serve society? It’s certainly worth considering as whatever it is that makes you tick, satisfying that will make you a lot happier than having picked the right academic topic to focus your career on. Perhaps that’s what school career advisors ought to be focusing on rather than which subjects to pick.

I’m happy with the subjects I picked, and I’m happy with the career I have right now, but I do need to get myself some new goals. Fortunately all the thinking I’ve been doing lately has at least allowed me to pin down what it is that I really love, and that is engagement. I really enjoy getting people excited about engineering, getting clients on board with the idea of using sustainable solutions, getting team members interested in the project work and their own career development, getting teams to be part of a positive health & safety culture and getting the company to buy into people development. All of which are about getting people & teams engaged in something, and it makes me smile. I guess many of those things can be done no matter what role I end up in, lead building services engineer, project manager or whatever else. But it would be interesting to know what roles people think would be ideal for me & my love of getting people ‘engaged’ – although if anyone says matchmaker I will not be impressed!

{August 1, 2011}   Everybodys talking at me

I’ve never been the most girly of girls, for years I’ve lived in fear of the ‘hair styling’ aisle in Boots. Every time I go to the hairdresser they seem to do something incredible with my hair, and when I ask what I need to do to recreate that look at home they say strange things to me like ‘GHD curls’ or ‘use some product’. ‘Product’?! What ‘product’?! What does it mean? But asking what ‘product’ merely gets you a brand name, not that you realise that till you’re standing in the middle of the dreaded Hair Styling Aisle, staring at a thousand little bottles wondering whether you need mousse, gel, spray, tonic, or balm, and whether you want ‘strong hold’, ‘natural feel’ or ‘flexibility’. And what if I want to let my hair dry naturally, will the lotions & potions whose instructions say ‘and then blow dry hair as usual’ work if I don’t use a hairdryer? It’s at this point that I inevitably exit Boots with no ‘product’ and a confused look on my face. I don’t understand the difference between all the offerings, I have no idea what my hair needs and even if I did I wouldn’t know how to apply it. I give in, another boring pony tail it is.

I’ve recently discovered that my lack of ability to speak Girl (perhaps they should do GCSEs in this alongside French & German) extends further than the salon. My Mother has loaned me The Complete Guide to Sewing so I can take up making my own clothes. I figured that with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering I ought to be able to follow a pattern and technical instructions in order to use a machine to create something. How very wrong I was, though I have now successfully made myself a skirt there were nightly phone calls & many trips to one another’s houses so Mum could explain to me the meanings of words like ‘selvage’, ‘crosswise’ & ‘plackett’. These are not words that are in common use, so what does that make them? Are they technical language, jargon or just nonsense?

Dilbert does jargon

As an engineer I use a lot of technical language, particularly when I’m speaking to my engineering colleagues, and I’m by no means the only one who does. In fact it’s really quite hard for me to even know which of the words in my vocabulary are ‘jargon’ because they’re so familiar to me and because they’re well accepted and understood by my peers. A few to pick out would be ‘get it cadded up’ (i.e. get the designer to draw up a sketch using the Computer Aided Design software), ‘P&ID’ (i.e. a process & instrumentation diagram, a line drawing of the process, accurate in terms of connections & direction but not in terms of routing or size – much like London Underground tube maps) and even my own job title ‘Building Services Engineer’ (i.e. an engineer who designs air conditioning systems and piped services like water, steam & compressed air).

You don’t have to be an engineer to use specialised words and language though – we almost all use jargon, often without even realising we’re doing it, like the sewing book authors and hairdressers. Sometimes it’s not vocation/discipline specific, sometimes it’s generational (innit, emo, LOL) or regional (batch, roll, bun, cob, bap, breadcake, barm cake). So essentially, in one way or another we all use some slang or jargon. What effect does it have on the people arround us though? It all depends on your audience really, use technical language in the appropriate context, like around colleagues who have a similar background and training to you, and you’ll probably impress and/or manage to clearly communicate very precise pieces of information. Use it around people who don’t have the same technical background though and you’re more likely to alienate people, you may confuse them or make them feel like you’re trying to show off about your knowledge. What you certainly wont do is communicate clearly. The same goes for slang & colloquialisms. Tell your Gran that her cooking is ‘wicked’, and she may not take it as a compliment. Tell your interviewer that you’re ‘down with that’ and you may not get the job. Equally by using the same slang as your peers you and they will feel like you belong, it’s almost a means of bonding.

So both slang and technical language have their purposes…just try and save them for the right places. If technical language is a necessity, such as in a specific book or work place then maybe consider developing or including a glossary, it can really help your audience to understand you, and make newcomers feel like part of the team. Unless of course you prefer leaving people with a certain sense of je ne sais quoi

There are many mis-conceptions when it comes to engineers. People think we’re perpetually covered in grease & armpit deep in machinery. Or that we’re clad in white coats, carrying clip boards and peering over halfmoon glasses with our silvery hair. Last but not least, many people seem to think that engineers are lone geeks sitting in dark back rooms, speaking to no-one for days on end.

Now ok, there are a fair few grey hairs to be spotted in most engineering offices, and my mother claims she knows I’m an engineer because I’m always mucky…so perhaps I shouldn’t argue too much with the first two descriptions. The last, however, is another matter. Engineers, whilst they don’t tend to be renowned for having the greatest social skills or ’emotional intelligence’, are not the sad lonely folk we’re often painted to be. Engineers are cogs in a machine – they need all the other cogs to be able to produce anything of any use.

We are always working alongside other engineers; as a building services engineer I need the electrical engineer to provide a power supply for my air handling units, I need the control & instrumentation engineer to monitor and control the air conditions passing through it. I need the civil engineer to build a strong enough floor for me to put all my equipment on and the process engineer to tell me if there is anything hazardous or explosive in the air I’m extracting. I need the mechanical engineer to route, and support, pipes for heating & cooling and of course I need an architect to design the building layout. And that’s before you get to all the people I work with on the client’s team or along the supply chain.

When you take all of this, and the support of more experienced engineers from your own department, into account, being an engineer is certainly not a lonely job. Instead I often end up feeling like part of the family. Of course families can be very caring & sharing, and they can also be very argumentative, but whatever their temprement on a given day, I’m always glad to be a part of them.

The fact that engineering teams have to work so closely together means that team bonding is an important point to consider as a project or business stream manager. So every now & then the ‘family’ all come together and head out for a meal….and a few drinks, and following the drinks…a few anecdotes. Which means that alongside all our drawings, calculations & specifications there’s a lot of banter, and a lot of grinning at the rememberence of stories that might not have been told without the help of a pint. When those stories include revelations about someone’s saturday night cross-dressing habit, comparisons between team members & the cast of baywatch, and the discovery of someones marvellous singing voice through the medium of “I’m a lumberjack & I’m ok…”, it’s little wonder that the engineering office is so filled with laughter now & then.

For the last 10 weeks, every Tuesday we’ve had a sixth form student visiting the office for work experience. I’ve very much taken her under my wing, and have found her things to do, arranged meetings & work shadowing with various different departments, helped her improve her CV, and talked to her about what she wants to do after her A-levels.
Initially she came to us through the IChemE as she wanted to do a degree and either be a Chemical Engineer or a Teacher.

10 weeks on and she’s now far more aware of the massive amount of different options that are available within engineering. That means that in many ways we’ve actually made her decision more difficult, but at least she’s more likely to make a decision that is right for her.

As a learner who enjoys real life context & getting stuck into the world of work, as one of several siblings, and as one of the first cohort to be subject to the £9000 university fees, one of the decisions she’s now looking at is whether going straight into uni after her A-levels is actually the best option. With such large costs for university, and with enjoying work based learning it may not be, so we’ve spent alot of time discussing the pros and cons of apprenticeships vs degrees. It has been a learning curve for me too, since I did a degree and never even considered qualifying in any other way. With that in mind, before I get into the pros & cons that we ending up discussing, here are a few disclaimers:

1) There is no wrong choice. Both apprenticeships amnd degrees are superb qualifications but as with many things in life you will only get as much out of them as you are willing to put in.

2) I am by no means the fount of all knowledge when it comes to qualifications and career paths, there are some brilliant resources on the internet though and these are a few I would recommend:
The UK government’s apprenticeship website
Cogent’s careers website
The ECITB’s careers website
Magasine & report articles such as page 10 in here

3) Apprenticeships and full time degrees straight out of school are not the only options. You might also want to consider a Year in Industry, or an Engineering Training Programme; National Grid offer a particularly good one. Some other large engineering companies offer similar things.

So, those resources & disclaimers aside, what conclusions did we come to? What are the advantages of each? Well in my opinion:

Degrees (done full time straight from A-levels): Generally a faster means of getting into engineering management, with a higher starting salary, pretty much the only way to get into engineering academia & research, particularly good if you like academic classroom learning, reading & reseach. Some companies hold degree qualified engineers in much higher regard than those with apprenticeships. It’s also much easier/quicker to become a chartered engineer, especially if you do a Masters degree.
But it’s expensive, you start learning later, your knowledge is less directly related to what you will be doing in your career and you will have to prove your practical knowledge to colleagues who have a greater respect for apprenticeships

Apprenticeships:You start younger, and you earn while you learn (albeit not very much initially), after doing an apprenticeship with a company many of them will sponsor you through a degree part time so you can get into most of the same job roles as any other graduate (though generally a few years later) , many companies have more respect for engineers with the practical background that an apprenticeship gives and you wont have student debt. Particularly good if you prefer contextual/hands on learning. However, you may have to prove your more academic skills to degree qualified colleagues, and some companies hold degrees in higher regard.

I think if I had my time again I’d still want to end up degree qualified, but I think I’d also like to have gained a bit more practical knowledge…so perhaps I would have done a year in industry or one of the engineering training programmes. Equally though, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve achieved & how I’ve gotten to where I am, so perhaps doing a degree straight out of uni was the best option for me after all.

When I chose to do a degree in engineering I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do with it, but what I hoped was that it would get me behind the scenes of the engineering feats and factories that fascinated me. I wanted to travel, see new places – especially places that the general public don’t get to see, and get an understanding of ‘how stuff works’.

Well, if that was the definition of what I wanted out of my career then last week certainly hit the nail on the head. In my new role as a Project Engineer I travelled down to Dorset to visit some of the BP sites that my company is working on.

Whilst I was there, in my high-vis orange fire retardant boiler suit, I felt like a little kid visiting Disneyland. Everything looked so exciting, from the Princesses Castle (aka the drilling rig), to the rollercoasters (all the massive lengths of pipework) and the even Animal Kingdom Park (otherwise known as the Site of Special Scientific Interest that is Furzey Island).

I loved the isolated beauty of Goathorn Peninsula, and I was really impressed by how discretely BP have hidden their wellsites amongst the landscape, having as little environmental impact as possible. It was great fun to be driven around the lovely little forest lanes to discover well sites. Once we were safely checked into them, having given up our mobile phones, cameras, cigarette lighters and anything else that could possibly act as a source of ignition, it was amazing to walk around the network of pipes each wider than my shoulders, it was also great to get up close to the big ‘nodding donkeys’ – i.e. beam pumps.

Less beautiful, but equally important and very striking was the oil terminal at Hamble. The tanks there, where they pump all the crude oil before sending it away to be refined, are absolutely immense. I mean truly enormous. The diameter of just one of these is about the same as the length of an Olympic swimming pool! In addition to this they are about twice the height of a double decker bus!

By far my favourite place of last week though was Furzey Island, anywhere you have to get on a boat to get to has to be exciting surely? I found it really quite incredible to be able to look in one direction and see a manor house, big old trees, lots of little birds and a red squirrel:

And then to turn around 180 degrees and see some of the biggest machinery I have ever seen in my life. Well you don’t get that kind of experience many times in your life. On the island one of the current projects is to re-drill and refurbish one of the existing wells to turn it into a water injection pipe. BP maintains the pressure in the oil reservoirs by replacing the oil they’ve removed with water. To enable them to do that there is currently a drilling rig on site, it looks sort of like a smaller version of the Blackpool/Eiffel/Tokyo Tower – tall with lots of structural steel! Never mind the size and height of the tower though, the amount of associated equipment it needs is stunning, especially given the size of it – just one of the tanks was probably big enough to fit my old flat in.

Yet – apart from the temporary drilling rig – unless you were looking directly at it you wouldn’t know it was there. BP have done a sterling job of creating bunds to protect the surrounding environment, keeping all of the tanks and pipework below the level of the trees, keeping machinery quiet and painting everything ‘Van Dyke Brown’. So that made it all the more of an exciting insight into this essential corner of oil drilling and production.

Yes, all of these things need to be treated with a lot of care and respect because the flammable nature of oil and gas means that you need to pay attention to the safety measures to keep things safe. But to me that just makes it all the more awesome…and I mean that in the true sense of the word, it all fills me with awe.

I feel very lucky to have my job right now, and very glad that I worked so hard to get to it!

Life has been a little busy of late, I’ve moved house, changed job role (I’m currently on a secondment as a ‘Project Engineer’ on some BP projects) and had a few other things on my mind. I hadn’t realised quite how long I’d been away from the blogging though until a colleague from another office commented on how they were missing my blog. So, this one is for you Stuart.

One of the challenges on my previous project was to ensure that no air could pass from room A to room B or vice versa. Not especially difficult you might think, considering there was a wall between the rooms without any doors or windows in. What there was though was a large hole in the wall between these rooms for a conveyor belt to pass through. This was made into even more of an interesting challenge given that the objects on the conveyor belt were very lightweight, meaning that they could easily be sucked up if you had very low pressure air.

Here’s a little sketch to explain:

Don't let the air move between A & B

To make sure that no air could ever go from room B to room A we just made sure that room B was at a lower air pressure. You can see this on the sketch above, room A is at 15 Pascals and room B is at 0 Pascals.

But how do you make sure that air isn’t going from room A to room B? Especially now that you have higher pressure in room A…this means that the air is pushing to get into room A. Normally you would deal with this by having a small airlock room between the two, but here we have a conveyor belt that is constantly running so you can’t do that. What we did instead was to install an extract duct within the wall so air was being pulled into the duct from both rooms, like this:

Use an extract duct to capture air in the opening

It’s a simple idea, but one that is difficult to get right. If suction airflow is too small then you will still have air flowing between the two rooms, if it is too high then you will suck all of the lightweight items on the conveyor belt into your duct. And of course it’s not just about the speed and volume of the airflow, it’s also about the shape of the opening and what airflow patterns that makes – much like the aerodynamics of a formula one car. And, much like the aerodynamics of a formula one car we had to model our designs using ‘Computational Fluid Dynamics’ (or CFD).

Doing this modelling allows us to see what the patterns of the airflows around our design will be, as well as how fast they will be. Usually the results are displayed using colours to indicate direction, pressure, speed or temperature depending on what you’re trying to find out. As it turned out, it was a very good job we did do the modelling, because the first design gave us this result:

The direction of the arrow shows the direction the air is flowing in, and the colour shows you how fast it is. So the red arrows going straight across the middle of the picture from left to right show air flows going straight through the opening at nearly 10 metres per second! This obviously isn’t what we were trying to achieve. We tweaked the design of the opening, and the volume of the air being extracted, and ran the model again. The final version shows flows like these:

Final airflows - x cross section view

Final airflows - y cross section view














So now we can see that the design should work. The arrows/airflows come into the opening from the sides and upwards into the extract duct as we want them to. Though of course a model is only as good as the information you put into it, so we need to make sure that the construction, installation and commissioning makes the reality as close to the modelled design as possible.

With thanks to Richard Ozaki at Mentor Graphics for the modelling and the images

{April 4, 2011}   Gimme gimme good water

Starting last week, and carrying on for the next few months the Science Council’s careers website, future morph (which, incidentally is a brilliant resource for anyone considering a career in science/engineering but wants a bit more inspiration about what sort of jobs they could actually do), is running science Q&A forums. You can read & join in here. If you’re with the Orange mobile network you can also join in via your iPhone using the ‘Do Something Good’ app.

There have been some fantastic, intriguing, and occasionally slightly worrying questions, here are a few examples:

If we drink the water that has been running through the mountains for millions of years, why do manufacturers then stick a sell by date on it?
How far away are we from exploring the deepest of the worlds oceans?
With fresh water resources becoming more scarce, what can be done to make desalination plants more sustainable e.g. using renewable energy?
How much water would you need to put out a fire the size of the moon?

And last but not least (and I’m very thankful that this question isn’t in my area of expertise):

How much water can you get into a human being before he explodes?

I’ve been really enjoying putting my knowledge to use in answering questions from enquiring minds of all ages, the majority of the people asking them are 14-19 though, so hopefully these are the first tendrils of interest that will grow into fully fledged careers in science & engineering. Certainly my favourite questions relate to being more environmentally friendly which, as the first theme is ‘Water’, there have been a fair few of. Those questions & answers are well worth a read for anyone who wants to help reduce water wastage or for anyone who pays metered water bills! So, in the interests of saving the planet or reducing your bills, here are a few water saving tips gleaned from my Future Morph answers:

An appealing way of saving water

Showers & Baths:
A ‘traditional’ shower rose uses up to 20 litres of water per minute so could be using 200 litres for a 10 minute shower…making it about equal with the amount used for a bath. You can save water by using a modern shower head, these generally use around 12 litres of water per minute. Saving in a 10 minute shower = 80 litres of water + 18p
Using ‘water widgets’ to reduce the water flow or choosing a water efficient shower head can reduce this down as low as 6 litres of water per minute so you’d only be using 60 litres of water in 10 minutes. Saving = 140 litres of water + 32p
Of course spending less time in the shower would also save water, as would sharing a bath:

Toilets: Traditional toilets use about 13 litres of water per flush but modern water saving ones can use as little as 6 litres. Saving: 7 litres + 1.6p
You can reduce the water used by traditional toilets by filling an old drinks bottle with water putting the cap on & then putting it in the cistern. The water saved per flush will be the same volume as the volume of the drinks bottle. Saving: 2 litres + 0.05p

Sinks: A standard tap uses around 0.15 litres per second where as a tap with a spray head/aerator uses around 0.03 litres per second. So by fitting spray inserts you could be reducing the water use by around 80%. Saving: 7 litres + 1.6p per minute

Gardens & Cars: Watering the average garden with a hosepipe takes 540 litres of water. By using a watering can instead or by at least fitting a nozzle with a trigger you can significantly reduce this…often down to as little as 50-100 litres. Saving: 465 litres + £1.06
Washing the car with a hosepipe also uses 400-500 litres of water, instead you can use a few buckets of water and reduce the need for water down to around 32 litres. Saving: 418 litres + 96p
Also recycled or ‘grey’ water can be used for these jobs, which reduces your water demand even further. Saving: 500 litres + £1.15

Recycling Water: It’s very easy to direct gutters into a water butt and use some of the 85,000 litres of water that falls on the average UK roof each year. This water can be used for flushing toilets, watering the garden and cleaning the car without any need for treatment. You can also use the water from your bath, shower & sink to flush toilets or wash the car. This can give you a saving of several 1000 litres of water per year, which could certainly save you a few quid!

Wasting Water: Water companies estimate that around a third of all the water used in the UK is just run straight into the drain. This is done when you brush your teeth without turning off the tap, or wait for the water to run cold before you get a glass of water or wait for it to run hot before you wash your hands. Make sure you always turn the tap off when you don’t need it , for example when you’re brushing your teeth. Saving: 15 litres + 3p When you’re waiting for the water to run hot why not run it into a jug, then you can use this water to water the house plants. Rather than waiting for the water to run cold you could just keep a jug of water in the fridge. Also, make sure you fix leaking taps, these can waste up 26 litres of water per day! Saving: 26 litres + 6p

Ok, so a lot of these savings may not sound like a lot, but they’re each for doing one activity once. Think about how often you flush the loo, wash your hands, have a shower & brush your teeth. Add them all up and you could certainly afford to treat yourself to something with your savings by the end of the year, and as the costs of water go up it will become even more worthwhile!

[Savings calculated using water costs of £0.8/m3 & waste costs £1.49/m3, as it is only usually clean water that is metered I’ve made the same assumption as the water companies & that clean water into a house = waste water out of the house]

{March 28, 2011}   It’s not easy being green

Earth Hour 60 at the Eiffel Tower - Credit: © WWF / Nina Munn

Last weekend I took part in Earth Hour. We had a fantastic time throwing a ‘pot luck dinner’ where everybody brought a dish, and we ate dinner, drank and chatted all in the warm, flickering glow of candlelight. Now I give you, though we weren’t using the lights or the oven during Earth Hour we had used the oven to cook the food earlier in the day and paraffin candles are not exactly a ‘green’ alternative given the amount of carbon they release and given they’re made using oil. So we probably did little, if anything, to reduce our carbon emissions for the day, and it’s likely that no-one else did either. This is a topic that had gained a certain amount of bad press for Earth Hour, with bloggers like Ross McKitrick writing about why they’re not taking part in Earth Hour because it ‘demonises electricity’. I have to say though, that I really don’t think that’s the point of Earth Hour.

In fact, going without electricity for an hour or so, and thinking about all the places that cannot possibly do so (like airport runways or life support wards in hospitals) is a fantastic way of celebrating the importance of electricity. When you realise how vital electricity is to maintaining our quality of life then you realise why it’s so important to ensure our power sources are sustainable. I for one certainly don’t want us to run out! The purpose of Earth Hour is to make us all more aware of sustainability issues, and make our voices heard when it comes to telling global leaders that we want them to address environmental impact. With millions of people taking part each year it just goes to show how many people think that these topics are important.

Power is not the only important aspect of sustainability though, and last week also saw World Water Day take place, as designated by the UN. The purpose of World Water Day is to communicate the important of the clean water supplies that so many of us take for granted. So many people are still living without easy access to clean water and sanitation. Again, this is a topic that individuals need to care about before our governments will pay attention to them and assist those that need it. It’s still an important topic in our own homes as well with the increase in water metering and the financial & environmental costs of water treatment. Perhaps with a little thought as to those who have no clean water at all we’ll stop pouring so much of it down the drain and start thinking about recycling water or just using less of it.

Sainburys certainly seem to be thinking about that this week as they’ve taken World Water Day and Earth Hour to heart by handing out free Littlefoot Energy & Water Saving Packs. These contain flush bags to put in your toilet cistern to reduce the amount of water per flush. They also contain a widget to reduce water consumption by your shower thus saving both water and the energy used to heat it up and pump it. I’d love to see more companies helping their customers to think green, but hopefully most of us will be able to take the initiative and reduce our energy usage without that push.

et cetera
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