Every year, the UK’s healthcare sector spends £400 million on energy - but much of this is wasted.
For care homes in particular, it can be all-too-easy to lose track of energy consumption, but this can lead to unnecessarily high bills.
If you think this may be the case with your care home(s), then you’ve come to the right place. Read on, and discover how to reduce energy costs, by identifying key consumption areas, and devising and implementing a strategy that will help you to cut down on usage, resulting in an efficient use of resources.
Before you can begin to look at the ways in which you can make more of an efficient use of resources, you need to understand the following:
How much energy your care home consumes
How that energy is consumed
The best way to identify these two points is through an energy audit. Walk around the building and take notes of what you see - are the lights turned off in empty rooms? Are all unused appliances turned off at the walls? Is the heating set to low or turned off in empty rooms?
If you suspect that you may have a water leak, then you may find it beneficial to carry out an overnight survey.
To do this, you’ll need to be able to access your water meter. For 12 hours, you can cut off the water supply at various points including taps, showers and toilets, so you can not only monitor your consumption, but you can see if the water is still being used during this time. If it is, then it means you have a leak.
Once you’ve conducted this audit and discovered where your inefficiencies lie, you can begin to rectify them, so you can cut down your costs.
An average guide for heating a home is 21°C, but for care home residents - especially ones who are frail and have limited mobility - this may not be warm enough. However, you need to ensure that rooms aren’t uncomfortably hot, so you need to strike a balance.
We’d recommend you do this in the following ways.
The older the boiler, the more inefficient it is. Many care homes boilers are fuelled by heating oil or natural gas, which doesn’t help with efficiencies either.
If you have one of these boilers, we’d recommend you upgrade it. It may be a large cost to begin with, but in the long-term you will save money as your care home becomes more energy efficient. In fact, studies have shown that switching to a condensing gas or natural gas boiler equates to efficiencies of between 92-95%.
As an alternative, you could look into wood-fuelled heating systems. Otherwise known as biomass systems, they burn wood pellets, logs and chips in order to power central heating, or warm an individual room. Compared to an old electrical heating system, a biomass system could save you up to £960.
To ensure you reach the optimum temperature, why not install thermostatic radiator valves, to keep the heat comfortable for both residents and staff?
An uninsulated home can lose up to 60% of its heat: 35% through the walls, and 25% through the roof.
It’s crucial to check your care home to see if the building is well insulated - otherwise you could be wasting hundreds of pounds every year on heat that your residents never get to feel the benefit of.
Cavity wall insulation can result in a 6% reduction of energy consumption, and loft insulation a 12% reduction. For the cavity wall insulation, you’ll need to get a professional to do the work, but disruption should only be minor.
Check around your care home to see where draughts are - the main culprits tend to be under doors and windows, loft hatches, and pipework that leads to outside. From draught excluders to foam sealant, there are lots of cost-effective ways you can get rid of the drafts, to help you become more efficient.
As a 24 hour facility, care homes understandably use lighting a lot - but you may not be using it to its optimum advantage.
Studies have shown that just 15 minutes of exposure to natural light can trigger endorphins; so for residents who may not be mobile and can’t get out, having natural daylight flooding through your care home is really important.
But that’s not the only benefit of daylight: it can help to cut your energy usage costs. By keeping your curtains open, and cleaning your windows and skylights regularly, you are minimising the need to use artificial light, which would cost you more.
We all know that if we leave an empty room, we should switch the lights off - but do you? Do your staff? Do your residents?
You may wish to install light detectors in your care home, which will automatically turn lights on or off if someone enters or leaves a room, helping to reduce your energy usage by up to 30%.
Take the time to review your lights to check you are using energy efficient lightbulbs, as these can reduce costs by up to 50%. The government recommends opting for halogen incandescents, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which all have longer lifespan and use less energy that traditional incandescent bulbs. For outdoor lights, LEDs are best, with a lifespan of up to 30,000 hours.
When it comes to disposing of lightbulbs and lamps, be aware that a lot of them will need to be disposed of as Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE), and not sent to landfill.
When it comes to improving your care home’s resource efficiency, make sure to consider your electrical appliances.
Over time, old electrical appliances will need to be replaced. When that time does come, make sure you check the energy rating of new appliances before you invest in them. Everything from washing machines to fridges, freezers, ovens, kettles and toasters will have their energy ratings displayed on their packages. The confusing thing is, is that ratings can mean different things - so make sure you read this article before trying to decipher individual energy ratings.
Another common sense tip, is to turn off electrical appliances when they’re not in use, instead of leaving them on standby. Do the same for computers and printers too - or at the very least, set them on eco mode.
Want to know how to reduce water consumption? Once you’ve ascertained that you don’t have any leaks, your energy audit should have given you some actionable points to carry out, to minimise your water waste.
Low flow equipment restricts the amount of water that is flowing to the outlet from the pipe; and aeration equipment mixes water with air, to maintain water pressure at a reduced volume, decreasing usage without disruption. Both of these are great ways to cut down on your water usage, without residents or staff really realising anything is different.
You could look into the possibility of installing eco flush toilets, to minimise water usage by 50% - low flush toilets typically use three litres of water for every flush, whereas traditional toilets use six.
Low flow equipment and fixing leaks can help to reduce your water usage, but ultimately, efficiency lies with the user, at the point of consuming the water.
All of these tips are common sense, but they can really help you to become more efficient. Encourage residents to turn the tap off when they’re brushing their teeth, and ensure kitchen staff are filling the sink with hot water to clean dishes, as opposed to leaving the tap to run for long periods of time.
These quick wins don’t take much effort, but you will really start to see a difference in your energy bills as you become more efficient with your resources.
We’ve touched briefly on how certain lamps are WEEE waste, but it’s important to be mindful of all waste.
Before you throw something in the bin, think: reduce, re-use recycle.
It goes without saying that you should be removing the likes of paper, plastics, metal, wood and food from general waste, so you can recycle them properly. But for care homes, it can be more difficult - especially with visitors bringing in newspapers, magazines, and food with excess packaging.
The first thing you can do to help encourage recycling is by actually having several recycling bins in obvious areas, and having clear signage to encourage visitors, residents and employees to use them.
When it comes to sourcing your own food and materials, look for a provider who is committed to sustainability, so you know you won’t be receiving excess packaging that will ultimately be binned.
The other ways to try and cut down waste is avoid printing out too many documents - but if you do need to, print them double-sided. Additionally, if you have broken furniture, see if they can be repaired before you bin them.
If your care home is in Scotland and you want to dispose of furniture or equipment that’s in good condition, then call the re-use line. You can contact a re-use organisation in your area to let them know you have something that needs getting rid of, and they’ll collect it so that someone else can use it in the future.
Having a list of actionable tasks that can reduce your inefficiencies is great, but it’s only the first step. This list won’t help you with anything unless everyone in your care home is on-board: including your staff, residents and visitors.
Having a committee dedicated to energy consumption is great, but you should also elect a champion, who will oversee everyone’s usage, and get people committed.
Once you have this list, create a strategy that outlines everyone’s roles and responsibilities. From there, you can hold staff training. Some people may need to attend a general overview, whereas some roles - such as kitchen staff - may need further in-depth training.
To get everyone on-board initially, introduce an incentive - for example, if you manage to cut down consumption costs by 10% over the first six months, you could pay for a team night out. Alternatively, individual good behaviour could be rewarded with a bottle of wine or gift vouchers.
By having a strategy on your website, you can inform new starters as they join to make them committed to being efficient from day one.
Also, speak to residents - let them know what you’re trying to do and the benefits of them, to get them on-board with being more sensible with their water and energy usage.
Being able to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and the reduction of energy consumption can also help with your CSR, and marketing or PR efforts in the future - but that’s a whole other discussion to be had!
The 24-hour nature of care homes means that the demand for energy is constant. Think of the lighting, heating, TV and laundry equipment used, and you soon start to see how quickly energy usage adds up.
However, there will always be ways you can cut your usage, to make you more efficient.
We’re not saying it’s going to be easy to implement this. But, by conducting an audit of your current energy usage, and looking at the ways you can cut down your costs; you can then start to speak to staff and residents, to get them on-board with the more efficient use of resources.