Energy Diet

One could think that, because we live in a Mediterranean country, we don’t need to use heaters in the winter. Wrong.

Despite the fact that Portuguese winter is relatively warm (compared to northern Europe) and that it never snows in Lisbon, temperatures can fall below zero in the coldest months, from December to February, and it can get so cold indoors as it is outdoors. Reason: Portuguese homes are not equipped with heating systems and the windows and doors are very poorly insulated.

Some houses and apartments are equipped with wood-burning stoves and the most modern ones with a central heating system, but the great majority of people use oil-filled radiators, electric or halogen heaters. So do we. But without a good insulation, the heat generated from any heating system will simply disappear outside. And that is the problem with our home.

Our old-style windows are beautiful but very poorly insulated. One can feel the breeze rushing from them and in those cold and rainy winter days that is far from pleasant. This winter we had to buy two new oil-filled radiators. Reason: We brought home a newborn by Christmas that needed to feel warm and cozy. It was a desperate situation. The apartment was so cold and humid that we had to leave at least one radiator on 24 hours a day. Our electricity bill was three times higher than usual. Our carbon footprint was… Well, we tried to talk our landlady into changing the windows, since insulating those with tape wouldn’t solve the problem. She agreed in changing only the nursery’s window. That would solve the problem for the baby, if we locked her in the room…

In the meantime, winter is over and summer will soon resemble Dante’s Hell with no divine comedy. A poor insulated home not only lets heating escape during winter, but also lets it push its way in during summer. Last year we bought a tower electric fan, but this year we have to find a more ecological way of cooling down. Will wearing no pajamas and using cold towels do the trick??

So, I tallied our monthly bills for electricity, water and natural gas, what presented to be an extremely difficult task, since most of the readings were based on estimated values. Our last electricity bill, though, presented a real reading and accounted for 89,72 kg monthly carbon emissions. I did a little research and concluded that last year national monthly average was 93,39 kgCO2 per household, so… we are below the average! That is hard to believe, considering the home theater system and all kind of cooking gadgets and high-end electronic devices that unexpectedly appear at our place…
Nonetheless, we will track these values over the next eight weeks and try to reduce even more our carbon emissions by:

– Turning out the lights when we’re not in the room;
– Programming the washing machine/dishwasher to run only during off peak hours;
– Washing our laundry in cold water instead of hot and only fully loaded;
– Turning off the laptops properly during nighttime;
– Connecting the devices to a power cut-off plug socket and switched them off at night;
– Replacing the light bulbs with CFLs or LEDs;
– Lowering the temperature of the water heater.

What worries us the most is the fuel consumption, but there is actually nothing we can do about it. My maternity leave is almost over and I’ll have to drive 60 kilometers (37 miles) to work soon. I have to pick up the baby from kindergarten until 5.30 pm or they will charge me extra, so taking public transportation is not an option. Before the pregnancy we drove an old Clio that was always in the garage, so we switched to a more secure car, but also more consuming.

Currently we consume around 70 liters (18 gallons) per week, which number will triple when I get back to work. In Portugal, fuel is now at around 1.6 Euro (US $2.26) per liter (.26 gallons), so we might be bankrupt in two or three months… Let’s replace our light bulbs before that!


  1. Christina Nunez
    May 31, 2011, 10:43 pm

    Monia, this is reminding me of the first time I visited Italy in winter and was astonished to find myself freezing while indoors the entire time! Also, I sympathize with your woes as a renter. Time and again, landlords do the bare minimum when they could be great agents of change.

  2. Monia
    June 3, 2011, 7:03 pm

    That´s the problem with southern Europe, just because we only have two months wintertime, dooesn’t mean we need to freeze, does it? Thanks for your support! Best.

  3. Afonso
    June 6, 2011, 7:17 am

    olá Monia, no inverno eu uso sempre uma camisola de lã em casa e nunca ligo o aquecedor. Podem tentar fazer isto depois de vossa filha ter 4 ou 5 anos. cumprimentos.

  4. Monia
    June 9, 2011, 3:28 am

    Afonso, obrigada pela opinião. Sim, faremos isso quando a Inês for mais velha. Abraço

  5. Chad Lipton
    June 10, 2011, 1:14 pm

    Melhor de preocuparse das janelas e as portas e de ver se o sotao tem isolacao. E possivel de verificar na sua casa? As janelas e as portas vao sempre faltar este capacidade de reter o calor.