How we were able to reduce our household energy consumption by over 30%

With the increase in energy prices in Europe, we have quickly realised that a change had to be made. We made the challenge a successful and even fun family mission

But before we start, a disclaimer:
This was a family exercise. We enjoyed the challenge. 
There’s no need to make any money collection 😃
I’m saying it because someone approached one of my friends and suggested this to help us go through the winter.
We’re fine. We experimented and succeeded, and that’s why I share it with you.

 

I’m revealing something I’ve probably never talked about in public: one of the reasons I love living in Europe is that my home is always warm in winter.

I remember the freezing mornings of my Israeli childhood when leaving the warm bed in the morning was a real nightmare.
I remember with a shudder the freezing moment when my foot stepped on the frozen tiles of the bathroom floor.
I remember the spiral heater, which may be heating the small area around it, but not the whole room. Even the mere sound of the pull on the white on-and-off rope and the sound of its click-click evokes memories in me that I’d love to forget.

I love my home warm, so it is possible even in winter to walk in a thin shirt. That you don’t have to turn on an electric boiler and wait for hot water to be ready for barely one shower, because we always have hot water coming through the pipes. There’s nothing like a steamy bathroom in winter, and what you have under your clothes doesn’t freeze.
That’s how our home was in Paris in my childhood, the apartment we lived in in London, and that’s how it was in our home here in the Netherlands until very recently: in winter it’s warm and cozy here.
Period.

There is no choice – but to fasten the belt

But the energy crisis that broke out in the Netherlands, like in many other countries in Europe and areas around the world, has reached our doorstep. About three months ago, we received a notice from the energy company that the prices of electricity and gas would increase in our home by 348% (!) compared to last year, and the estimate was 875 euros per month. However you look at it, it’s crazy, and it doesn’t make any sense to pay this amount of money every month in a very average Dutch house.

After the initial shock and until the Dutch government entered the picture and made it a little easier on its citizens with some kind of price restrictions, we realised that there was no choice but to tighten the belt dramatically. We knew we had to do something very differently. I knew that the only way to create change was to put the members of our family through a structured process of coaching for change. In such a process several components make it effective and bring results. This is what I’m going to unfold and share with you in the next few paragraphs. While reading, I invite you to think and see if you can do a similar process in your home, on the subject of energy, or in any other situation where you encounter common challenges for all members of the household.

Here’s what we did

We’ve divided the task into stages:

Raising the problem to the surface

First the adults (which is my husband and myself) talked amongst ourselves. We knew we had a month of getting organised until the price change will come into effect, and we defined it in advance as the month of adaptation. The next day, we took the children for a chat and explained the situation to them. Since they are already old enough, and have heard and seen the articles in the local children’s TV programmes, we showed them the numbers. We asked them what they understood and how they felt (it is very important to include emotion in a coaching process). We all understood that we were afraid of the alarming prices, but we reassured and said that if we worked together, we would be able to find as good as possible solutions.

Set the desired target

It wasn’t easy to talk about actual numbers, we didn’t know how much our consumption and expenses could be lowered. That’s why we set ourselves a family goal to see the graphs in the power and gas consumption control panel which we are lucky to have installed a few years back, go down. How much down? We didn’t know, but we decided that the efforts would show us results, which we would test on a daily and weekly basis.

 

Brainstorming

We asked the children to come up with ideas on how to save electricity and gas. We defined and clarified that these are new behaviors for all of us, and therefore we must pay more attention to them. I can tell you that most of the ideas I will present here below, came from the children, which they researched and investigated themselves. We made a real celebration out of it: The little ones talked to SIRI. Our older one entered the websites and watched Instagram Reels and TikTok videos. The adults continued to follow every Facebook thread or article about the topic. Over the next few days we sat down at every dinner and came up with more and more ideas.

The ‘how’ is just as important as the ‘what’

Just before I share with you as many of the things we have done, it is important for me to note another very significant detail: We decided together on our approach to saving energy, and the way in which we would like to act. This stage is as fundamental as any technical decision. The approach which we decide (in advance) to take, makes it easier for us to stick to the chosen path, and choosing our ‘being’, allows us the deep connection to action. In other words: deciding who we are in the process is crucial. As a family we chose a positive attitude, with the most humour as we could pack into the situation, and believing that we can make a difference. We also chose to be curious, open and playful: if we’re already in such an doomed situation, then at least we will enjoy. As you will see we tried everything from everything. Some of the ideas seemed like a joke to us at first, but we told ourselves that we were trying anything, even if it sounds crazy. We took everything with humor, knowing that one day this all palaver will hopefully become just a family joke and a story to tell in years to come.

And one more important thing: we kept emphasising that this was a teamwork. That it is us as a cohesive family-unit in the face of the problem. It encouraged everybody, and mostly prevented any eye rolls when we repeatedly asked them to turn off lights. Opportunities for verbal punching between the children were almost completely avoided (since they are normal siblings and like to show each other that s/he are wrong). We were delighted to hear the little one thanking his older sister when she asked him whether to turn off the light that remained on in his room instead of scolding him by shouting “The light in your room is on again!”.

We have emphasised two more things which were important for us, and had to do with our values (connecting one’s actions to their personal values is a very powerful tool):

1. The protection of the environment, and therefore energy saving completely corresponds with this.

2. The strong message that whatever problem we ever have, we can overcome it if we believe in it, work for change and work together as a family.

 

The list of ideas

Most of the ideas you’ll read here we have tried, and
they became part of our routine, the others we tried and survived to talk about.

You are welcome to try and of course add more and more from your experience.

 

Saving electricity

  • We’ve turned off every device at home that was on Stand By mode while it’s not
    in use (like the TV, printer, or the electric toothbrushes).
  • We went to buy the lowest LED bulbs for any lighting fixture in the house. We
    replaced the old energy-saving light bulbs we bought over a decade ago and
    even got more light and faster (we know that the old fixings are not ideal
    for LED bulbs, but it’ll do for now).
  • We replaced the habit of turning on the light in the bathroom for the whole
    night with a simple and cheap night lamp for the hallway, again, LED.
  • We lowered the temperature of the electric water heater we have under the
    kitchen sink so that it would not heat the water to a very hot point as it
    was before, but just hot. That’s enough (but no less than 60
    ºC, to avoid bacterial growth).
  • I’m not joking with you, but my partner, who is a ‘lark’ who gets up at 4:00 A.M., sat down by candlelight in the kitchen and made himself a cup of tea that he heated the water in the microwave because he read that it was cheaper to boil a single glass of water there than in the kettle. We laughed at him for going back to the Middle Ages, but as a historian, he liked the idea very much.
  • You might laugh, but for the sake of the experiment, we started brushing our
    teeth and going to the toilet at night by moonlight or by street lighting.
    We also tried the morning showers like that and laughed a lot.
  • We moved a standing light we had in the living room so that it’s close to our dining table, and we turn it on at times of the day when it’s enough to have just one light bulb on, instead of the six bulbs of the lighting fixture above the table.
  • Continuing with the previous section, the joke at home was for years that I, as an Israeli, needed a projector over my plate because otherwise “I don’t
    see my food”, compared to the Scottish man I live with who can eat in
    the dark. That’s why I was flexible and declared that I was making the
    effort to eat without the dining table looking like a football stadium.
  • We did more laundry at night when the rate was low, and hung it as much as
    possible outside. I used to be lazy and the socks and other little details
    I’ve always put it in the dryer, even in the summer. So I had to put an end
    to this laziness: we hung everything.
  • We bought a folding laundry rack for the inside of the house, on which we hang
    the clothes. It takes longer for them to dry, but you get used to it.
  • We operated the dishwasher as much as possible at night and with an
    economical plan  (Eco).
  • We started calculating the operation of the oven for baking with more
    attention. For example, when the oven bakes homemade bread that I make, I
    also add a tray of vegetables or even eggs to make hard (boiled) eggs (put
    a few eggs in an oven-proof dish and put it in the oven: 20 minutes is
    enough for medium eggs. 30 minutes for large ones, but not more or they’ll
    dry. Remember who taught you this brilliant trick).
  • We started looking at the cup marks in the kettle and not just filling
    according to what we felt was about right. If you accidentally fill more
    than you need, and after asking everyone if they want a cup of tea, pour
    what’s left into a thermos. You get boiling water that stays very hot for
    many hours afterward and is used for the next hot drink or cooking
    and shortens the boiling again.
  • I, who am a night bird who loves working at night (I’m even writing these
    lines at night, as a matter of fact), started using LED lighting that is
    connected to the computer and turn off the electric light bulb in the
    room.

 

Gas saving

  • We cook at home with gas, so we started to make more use of the pressure
    cooker that until now remained for weeks in the cupboard.
  • We’ve made a list of foods we like in a ‘dish in one pot’ style, to save on
    running flames.
  • We have put the temperature of the boiler down to 60ºC. You don’t need it any
    higher.
  • We lowered the house temperature to 19 degrees. It’s unpleasant (remember the beginning of the article?) but most time the temperature in the house
    is between 18-19
    ºC so it’s not too bad.
    We started wearing more layers, invested in restocking the stock of
    thermal socks for everyone and warming tank tops and fleeces. When guests
    arrive, we raise the temperature again to 21 so they don’t suffer.
  • At night we turned off the heating (well, not exactly: we’ve put it on 14 ºC, but it’s rarely getting as low as this in the
    house, so it’s effectively off).
  • We made sure everyone had a hot water bottle. Refilling a minute from the tap
    on the highest enough heat (by no means not from the kettle! The cheap
    plastic can explode and leave terrible burns). Put it a few minutes before
    getting into bed in the area of the legs and the bed will stay warm for
    the whole night.
  • We use the excellent duvets we have. Invest in duvets with a high TOG: 10 or
    even 15 TOG will do the job (tips you learn when you’re part of a Scottish
    family).
  • One of our daughters doesn’t like a duvet made of feathers. On her bed, my partner put two synthetic blankets and solved the problem.
  • Showers. It’s a painful topic: who doesn’t like long and hot showers, particularly in winter? Well, we cracked a short shower competition. Some members of the household managed to take a shower even for about 2 minutes. In general, we all agreed that most of the showers of the week would be
    limited to up to 4 minutes. It was a real game: we took time and even
    proposed a shower league (an idea that has not been realized but you are
    welcome to try).

 

We measured the results at the end of each day. We would
look at the control panel, give feedback, encourage, and believe in ourselves
when we were able to make an effort that was also evident in the results.

On days when we were less successful, we said that it’s
not so bad, that we learn, and that we’re human beings and there’s nothing
perfect. Again we sat, talked, and asked everyone to commit to just one small
talk or effort.

 

 

The Power of Family

Already in the first month, we saw a decline of about 25%
in energy consumption, even though we were still at the old low tariff. In the
second month, there was a similar decrease compared to the same month last
year. We celebrated the results: in the family WhatsApp group and in a
conversation in which we praised ourselves for the effort. Our young son made a
kind of ‘breaking news’ item on video as if we were the chosen family to have
an article about us on TV. It was incredibly funny and cute. In addition, we
asked and questioned what each person feels they can continue to do. The
children answered such nice things, and mostly said that even if it was
unpleasant, it was not so bad. Many things had already become part of their
routine.

This creates a change that is connected to the needs, is enjoyable, and brings results. Just like a good coaching process. I think the main success
of the process was in our learning as a family:

·        
★ working together

·        
★ the shared experience

·        
★ the proof that small and consistent actions can bring about great results

We realised that together we are capable of a lot.

We know that during the winter and the deep cold it will
be more challenging, but we are already practising and believe that what we
have done will continue to serve us, hopefully only until the terrible increase
in energy prices passes, or at least until the temperatures rise again.

I invite you to comment, to ask, and especially to offer
more and more suggestions to update our processes. I always like to learn from
others, so feel free to ask and I promise to respond.

 

Noa Brume
Founder of The International Coaching & Counselling Institute

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