Disconnect the gas!

One woman’s experience of getting the gas disconnected #GasFree.

In April 2021, I moved into a very normal house. Gas central heating, double glazing and stripey lawns. I was 63, and on my own. I planned to “eco-up” the house.


With energy prices rising and a new £5k government grant announced, more of us are starting to think about shifting to renewables or getting a heat pump – than ever before. In this blog from self-described “little old lady” and local resident Ro Rodgers, you can hear how she “eco-ed” up her house, with solar panels and a heat pump, and finally disconnected the gas! 


Smaller Lifestyle Changes too

I was downsizing, and fortunately that gave me some spare cash.  So, there have been some big-ticket investments aimed at getting the gas disconnected and installing solar panels and the heat pump, BUT ALSO many much smaller lifestyle changes like…

  • turning things off
  • getting up with the sun
  • buying very little other than food
  • never driving anywhere that I can walk

Big-Ticket items like getting the gas disconnected

This blog is about the big-ticket items and, oh my goodness, did I pick the right time to do this given what has happened with gas prices!  Before I moved in, I started to investigate solar panels and heat pumps. I was working out how I could eventually disconnect the gas and go gas-free! Much of my information came from the St Albans Sustainability Festival in 2021, but of course Google helped too!

Getting Solar Panels Fitted

The panels were easy. I got a really good quote via Solar Streets – which they did from Google Maps and a few photos I took within the house. I am lucky to have a large south facing roof now, but on my previous house I had panels on that were east and west facing. The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity. The solar panels came with an app so I could see how they were doing from my laptop.

“The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity”

The only issue I encountered was with my electricity supplier. because you need to have a 2nd Generation Smart ter if you want to get paid. I had a first-generation meter, and my supplier would not even put anyone on the waiting list for a 2nd generation meter if they had a 1st gen. This caused quite a delay to me getting paid because I had to swap energy suppliers and then go on their waiting list. 

Moral of the story

If you are thinking of getting solar panels, swap to Octopus and get a 2nd gen meter before you do anything else. [*This is a personal opinion of the author and not that of Sustainable St Albans! Ed]

Getting the Heat Pump Installed and Getting the Gas Disconnected

Disconnect the gas – and get the heat pump installed!

The heat pump followed. I had an air source heat pump installed… (there wasn’t room for a ground-source heat pump).  

It was more difficult finding a supplier because there weren’t so many options – but again the answer came from #SustFest.  I got a quote from Better Planet, who I originally spoke to at the sustainability market. 

The first thing everyone asks me is: “does it work and did you have the floors ripped up?”

Yes – the heat pump absolutely does work, and it uses the existing radiators.

So then the gas boiler was taken out and a unit was fitted outside, and that was the sum total of all the disruption. Now my heat pump unit is fitted on the outside wall of my house – but it could be anywhere outside – as long as it is away from a neighbour’s wall.

Getting used to the heat pump

I have found the heat pump more difficult to get used to than the panels. This is mainly because of the app that mine came with as it is one of those apps that decides for me what I want and doesn’t really want to let me decide for myself! It was more complicated than it should have been to get my set-up right. However, I now have a set-up that works, warms the house and the hot water beautifully, and does not munch its way through enormous amounts of electricity. 

£5k grants to get your boiler replaced

I now get quarterly payments from the government for having the heat pump, through the Renewable Heat Incentive, but I had to wait until I had lived in the house for 6 months to claim it. (The RHI no longer exists, but there is now a £5000 boiler replacement grant.)

“Once the pump was installed, I had the gas to the house disconnected.”

This proved to be remarkably easy with the supplier but a nightmare with the gas fitters. I had a real struggle getting gas fitters to understand that I no longer wanted gas in the house.

” The guy who eventually came removed my gas hob as requested but didn’t cap the gas to the house as he couldn’t believe that is what I wanted. We got there in the end.”

Final step was to get my induction hob fitted. I have to say, I love that!

Gas free living…

“I do not burn any fossil fuels”

So, now I am living in an all-electric house and generating a fair proportion of my own electricity even in the winter. I do not burn any fossil fuels. Now I have everything set up as I want, I hope to at least generate as much electricity as I use as an average across the year.

I’m moving on to eco-up the garden now!

Ro Rodgers


Links and resources:

Find our ‘Get some Solar’ resource page here, with all sorts of useful information.

To find installers:

Local Installers used by Ro:

Government £5k Boiler Upgrade Grantsee here for information


Solar Streets photos: installing solar panels. A Solar Streets spokesperson said:

“As electricity prices have surged even higher, (by at least 54% at the price cap increase from 1st April and likely more) the return on investment on solar panel systems is actually better than it has been since Solar Streets started 3 years ago.

The time it takes to break even has fallen -from around 11-12 years to 7-8 years – at current typical levels of pricing (based on Octopus Price of 38p/kWp versus their price 12 months ago of 16p/kWh). 

The headline price for the popular 10 panel system with a capacity of 3.7 kWp is now £4,810.  That system will save 0.75 tonnes of CO2 per year

Companion Planting – easier than you think!

Companion planting is the growing of different plant species close together, for expected benefits in productivity – and it’s easier than you think.

It is hardly surprising that companion planting can seem to be a rather mysterious art. Many books and articles throw around statements such as “carrots love onions!” with little explanation or evidence, and in fact the expected benefits of companion planting come in many different ways.


Our guest blog this month on Companion Planting is from Naomi Distill, a very knowledgeable gardener and the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of FoodSmiles St Albans and a past winner of Environmental Champion in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards.


Every garden is an eco-system – with more organisms than we know – affecting it…

Benefits of Companion Planting

  • Pest control 
    • using plants which repel pests by smell
    • using plants which attract predatory insects to eat pests
    • by trap-cropping (using alternative plants as decoys to attract pests away from the main crop)
    • by disrupting the odds of a pest successfully landing on its desired host plant 
  • Increased pollination (using plants that attract extra pollinators)
  • Maximising use of space or time (e.g. catch-cropping by planting fast-growing extra crop between a slower-growing main crop, or growing plants with different root depths together to make the most of root space)
  • Maximising efficiency by grouping plants with similar needs
  • Exploitation of another plant’s physical properties (e.g. one that shades, supports or protects another, or one that provides groundcover to reduce weeds and evaporation)
  • Effects from chemical secretions released into the soil by roots
  • Adding nutrition to the garden (i.e. nitrogen-fixing plants or those with very deep roots can accumulate nutrition and make it available to other plants).

Companion planting is an inexact science

Though beginners often get started with companion planting using a long list of ‘rules’ that simply pair plants together – or forbid pairing them – these rules fail to take into account the complex relationships found in a garden, and can make veg-plot planning feel like doing an impossible jigsaw! But companion planting is an extremely inexact science.

Every garden is an ecosystem, with more organisms than we know affecting it: feeding from it, fighting for survival in it, and putting inputs into it. Soil life below the surface is even more complex, and the unique mineral make-up of your soil has its effects too, and then there’s the microclimate of your garden to consider. No two plots are the same – and no two years are the same.

Learning the Hard Way: Mistakes and Myths

The first year this trial of companion planting worked a dream; not an aphid in sight and the lettuces seemed better than ever. The second year however, there were soon aphids all over the lettuce – and the coriander too! Its repellent power could obviously not be relied upon.

As I looked round the allotment at all the other plants nearby, I quickly realised there were, of course, other factors in play when you tried companion planting. Perhaps something else nearby attracted the aphids? Or a shortage of other food plants elsewhere brought them? Maybe those lettuces were particularly attractive? Could there have been higher numbers of the pest this year? The possibilities were endless.

“Little did I know that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove!’

Horseradish and Potatoes – yes or no?

Another memorable lesson of trying out companion planting was realising how foolish it had been to plant horseradish throughout my potato patch. I had read that horseradish repels potato-munching eelworms and wireworms. Little did I know then that horseradish plants are thugs, with deep roots, and very hard to remove! How anyone can make that pairing work is a mystery to me!

Onions with carrots? Sage with brassica?

Two pairings often quoted in companion planting books are onions with carrots (to repel carrot fly), and sage with brassicas (to repel white butterflies). However, in truth it seems that you need far more of the repellent plant than the intended crop in order for the rules to work well. Companion planting here means several rows of onions per row of carrots, and many sage plants per brassica plant. It might just work out if you don’t eat very many carrots, but who can use that much sage?

Green Beans and nitrogen

Another common companion planting suggestion is that beans should be grown close to crops that would benefit from the extra nitrogen fixed by their roots, however this is not supported by science (see this article, or this). Though the bean roots may gather nitrogen early on in life, most of it is used by the plant for the formation of flowers, pods and seeds, and only a negligible amount remains or goes into the soil.

Cabbages with calendula

An Easier Method: Companion Planting- the four rules

So I’d like to propose a different approach to companion planting, focusing on biodiversity and natural design. This method means including as many useful plants in the garden as possible, in any layout. Our Incredible Edible gardens use this approach and I have used it in my allotment and garden for years, and there are only four rules:

1. Right plant, right place

Plant the sun-loving crops in the sunny spot, the shade-tolerant ones in the shade, the damp-loving ones in the wet corner. Keep the tall ones out of the worst of the wind, if possible. Under the trees in the Incredible Edible gardens we have adopted a forest gardening approach. We choose low-maintenance edibles that happily grow under trees in the wild.

2. Mix things up

Minimise traditional rows, and interplant with abandon! Add flowers and herbs to your veg patch and veggies to your flowerbeds. When a pest settles on a new plant, don’t let it find a whole tasty row all laid out and waiting! Make it harder for them. This intermingling approach makes crop rotation much less important, which is a help in any small plot where rotation can be tricky.

3. Common sense first!

Let common sense and your own observations rule. Use trial and error to find what works best in your own garden and your own microclimate. Think logically about the relationships between your plants, and the physical shade and shelter they provide. If you’re not sure how big a plant will get or how long it will live, look it up! But don’t overthink it. With gardening you always get another chance next year.

4. Maximise plant diversity

Employ plenty of great all-round companion plants to increase diversity: those listed below will enrich your garden, whatever plant you grow them next to. The more biodiverse your garden is, the more easily it will find a healthy natural balance. It will give you better crops, with fewer problems. Animal diversity helps too, so keep your garden free of pesticides, and welcome wildlife by providing plenty of habitat.

Eight best companion plants to use in your garden

Eight Best Companion Plants To Use In Your Garden

Edible Alliums

Garlic, chives and onions repel a variety of pests – including the four legged kind. They also attract pollinators with their flowers. Their roots accumulate antifungal sulphur in the topsoil which can benefit nearby plants. They are a great companion for virtually anything!

Calendula (pot marigold)

This is a brilliant plant for a veg plot, as it attracts a wide variety of insects including aphid-munching hoverflies. It is edible and medicinal, flowers from early till late and often overwinters (cut back the dead bits and it’ll often reshoot from near the ground). It is always happy among veggies and easily self-seeds to save you a job next year.

French marigold

Another powerhouse in the garden; repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, and releasing secretions in the soil which keep nasty nematodes away.

Nasturtiums

As well as attracting pollinators, these are an excellent ‘trap’ crop, attracting blackfly and cabbage butterflies to lay their eggs away from your main crops. Once they’re infested though, don’t let the pests breed in your garden! It’s better to dispose of the infested parts right away.

Flowering herbs: mint, oregano, marjoram, thyme, dill, fennel, lovage, lavender, hyssop, camomile

Herbs are a worthy addition to your garden for their culinary benefits alone. But they also attract a huge variety of insects, many repel pestilence, and some (especially camomile and parsley) are said to improve the health and flavour of nearby plants in more subtle ways through the soil too. Note that lovage and fennel are larger plants than most here. Give each a good space to itself and note that they can get very tall. In fact, their height will attract insects from even further afield!

Comfrey or stinging nettles

Though you’ll want to give these a corner of the garden to themselves (there is no digging comfrey out once it’s in!) they can provide a really useful service in the garden by bringing extra nutrition up from the depths of the soil with their deep roots. Harvest this nutrition by cutting the leaves a few times a year and adding them to your compost heap, or scattering them on veg beds and leaving them to decompose. You can also leave them rotting in water to make a (smelly!) concentrated liquid plant feed. Comfrey attracts bees too, and stinging nettles are an important food plant for certain butterflies.

Clover

Experiments showed that growing clover under brassicas consistently reduced the success of cabbage moths looking for a host plant, thus bringing a protective effect. What’s more, the clover offers bee-attracting flowers, and anytime it gets too much you can dig areas of it into the soil (preferably in spring before flowering) for a nitrogen-boosting effect.

Nectar-rich annual flowers (e.g. sunflowers, borage, cosmos, cornflowers, zinnias, scabious, echium)

A few favourite annual flowers such as these will fill gaps in the garden and spread insect-attracting colour anywhere; your local pollinators and predators will thank you! Many will self-seed too (stop deadheading by late October to allow this) and give you a new round of flowers for free next year.

So put the rulebooks away, focus on increasing the diversity in your garden, and always let common sense rule!


Local Food Gardening Events: find out more

Come and grow with us! Volunteer at the Incredible Edible gardens on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Email Incredible Edible here to join the mailing list or find out more about Incredible Edible St Albans

See more about FoodSmiles here

Find out about Sustainable St Albans Open Food Garden summer programme

If you live in Sopwell ward, you can try some food gardening at the Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden

SustFest22 Gardening Events

During SustFest22 (15-31 May) there are loads of gardening events to look out for.  

The programme comes out on 14th April, on social media and the Sustainable St Albans website. Here are just a few events, to whet your appetite! 

  • Grow Community Sopwell Community Garden Open Day including Seed & Seedling Swap, 15th May, 10:30am-12:30pm
  • ‘Adopt a plant for your pollinators’ at Greenwood URC, May 17th and 19th,    2:30-3:30pm
  • Visit the CDAH Community Garden on Hixberry Lane, 19th May, drop in 10:30-2pm
  • ‘How to grow Asians herbs and spices’ with HAWA, also 19th May, 12-2pm, at the CDA community garden on Hixberry Lane
  • ‘Gods Green House’ plant sale and eco garden tour, at St Paul’s Church Blandford Road, 21 May, 10:30-12:30pm
  • ‘Come and Grow’ at Incredible Edibles, Russell Avenue, 22nd May 1-4pm
  • ‘How we built an eco garden for next to nothing’, at Marshalswick Baptist Free Church, 24th May, 2-3pm
  • FoodSmiles open day, Hammonds End Farm, 25th May, 1:30-4pm
  • Grand Opening of the George Street Canteen Wildlife Garden, 29 May, 11-3pm

Look after local trees, and they will look after you!

St Albans has numerous special places – in the parks or little walkways, overhung with native trees, or sentinels in our own roads. They provide familiarity and comfort.  Read on to find ways to look after local trees.


This blog, from founder members of Trees of St Albans and local tree wardens Anthony Helm and Amanda Yorwerth, celebrates the beauty, and vulnerability, of the trees which surround us, and how you can help. 


Celebrate trees!

Looking after trees is as much about care for ourselves - this blog celebrates trees and explores simple ways that you can help your local landscape.

We have grown up with them.

They act as touchstones: we want to explore more.

Woods; in fiction and in real life, are highy evocative places.


The loss of tree canopy matters

Sadly, many trees are under threat, and some might not be enjoyed by those who will succeed us.  The reasons are varied.  

Some, like cherry trees, were planted long ago and have come to the end of their natural life; others are succumbing to disease, like ash dieback, or pests.

  • Vehicles are in many places destroying the soil through which trees breath, move and feed
  • More are being lost because of building developments or the possibility of legal actions
  • Others are felled under the accusation of being ‘overgrown’ or ‘casting shade’

Trees offer ‘silent benefits’

All this matters not just because trees are beautiful.  More importantly they provide a myriad of unseen services: shelter from winds; cooling from increasingly harsh heat waves; filtration of harmful airborne particles; baffling sound from noisy roads; rejuvenation of soil; amelioration from devastating flooding; habitats for many species.  

If all this were not sufficient, trees absorb carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas) – and provide oxygen – without which humans would suffocate.

Old trees need protection
To look after local trees, as a matter of the greatest priority, we must maintain and rebuild our local tree canopy. 

“The loss of a significant mature lime or 150-year-old plane tree in a city road will have an immediate aesthetic impact but also a serious, unfelt ecological impact.”

One mature tree is worth thousands of new plantings.

A major focus for everyone in St Albans District wanting to look after trees must be to work a lot harder to retain these silent friends; we should stand up and speak for our trees, with neighbours and our political representatives, at all levels.

New trees should be planted 

We have to renew as well, and pre-pandemic proposals gave the prospect that thousands of trees would be planted in the District.  Now organisations, families and many individuals look after local trees by actively planting, or are planning to plant, trees over the next year or so.  

The Queen’s Green Canopy initiative, and other projects aim at tackling climate change and improving the environment.  

St Albans District Council, Herts County Council, the Parishes, and many others, e.g. schools, are involved, with local people, especially children, keen to assist, in the significant plantings of very young trees.  Councillors, from their own budgets, are also planting single trees on highway verges and in green spaces.  And we are seeing that sustainability is inspiring the planting of community orchards in small pockets of land for local food.

If you are part of a group which manages pockets of land – a school, a church, a parish council – then why not plant a tree (or more!) as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy?

Despite all the above, there is a net loss of tree canopy in urban areas and each of us can do our own bit.  

We can all do our bit to look after trees! – planting in the garden


Those with gardens can:

  • Find a space for a fruit tree
  • Replace a fence with a hedge of native plants (especially at front of properties)
  • Gardening is about possibilities and change; nowadays the options for species selection are vast. See the RHS guides to trees, hedges, and flowering hedges.

We can also spend more time looking around our immediate locality; seeing which trees are damaged or diseased or need releasing from a choking tree-tie.  In the dryer months new trees will need watering.  Pop out and water the young trees near your house, or on your regular dog walk. 

We can all do our bit! – caring for street trees

We, as individuals, can do the detailed monitoring and undertake the small actions that councils can’t. 

Report major issues here – www.stalbans.gov.uk/trees-contact-us-or-report-problem.

Care for trees, and you care for yourself

It can create a spring in your step. But you already knew this….

Looking after our own patch (our borrowed landscape) is a pleasure.  It is not difficult or time consuming and can be built into normal activities.  It allows us to form our own connection with nature; release tensions; make us physically stronger and build creativity.  

Get more involved

To follow up and support local trees, why not become an SADC Tree Warden, join a Wilderhood Watch Group (wilderhoodwatch.org) and sign up to Trees of St Albans on Facebook?


SustFest22 – If you are in a local group and planning an action to support trees – why not do it as part of the 2022 St Albans Sustainability Festival? See more here.

What is ‘Passive’ about a Passive House?

Building and living in a Passive House -Why did we build a Passive House?

Approaching retirement, we lived in a lovely village far from the support services we might need as we age.  So, I searched, and found, a house for sale in an appropriate location and asked my husband to view it.  He went to the wrong house!  But he arrived home excited about demolishing it to build one to our own design.  Serendipity?


This blog about building and living in a Passive House, is written by Linda Shall, a volunteer with Sustainable St Albans. Linda lives in Harpenden with her husband and cats! Linda is also giving an online talk about her experience of the Passive House on 23 June – requires booking.


I recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science and learned that running a Passive House emits much less carbon dioxide than conventional ones.  We investigated this environmental sustainability claim…demolished the ‘wrong’ house…and built one of the earliest Passive Houses in Harpenden.  We moved in a whisper before Lockdown One! So, what is passive about a Passive House?

What is ‘passive’ about a Passive House?

A Passive House is one that becomes and remains warm enough for human comfort all year round, without using an ‘active’ space heating system that is likely powered by fossil fuel.  We have NO boiler, NO radiators. 

In essence, a Passive House captures the energy in sunLIGHT (not heat) entering through its windows, converts it to heat for circulation around the building; along with heat emitted by human and animal bodies, domestic appliances, computer equipment, hot water, cooked food etc…

What are the essential basics of a Passive House?

Passivhaus certified

They are –

  • insulate, insulate, insulate!
  • draught-free construction
  • high-performance windows and doors
  • mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

There are no prescribed building products to achieve Passive House standards.  Consequently, all Passive Houses do not look the same and are not built using the same materials. 

What matters is that the detailed performance requirements in the Passive House Planning Package are fulfilled to achieve the mandatory comfort, health and energy standards for certification by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany.  A straw house could be a certified Passive House if it meets the standards!


ONLINE TALK Building and living in a Passivehaus – One Harpenden resident’s real life experience

Thursday 23 June 8-9pm. ONLINE PLEASE REGISTER IN ADVANCE.

In this one-hour online meeting, you will hear from Harpenden resident Linda about her experience of building a new house to Passivehaus standards. Time for Q&A at the end.


Insulate, insulate, insulate!

For buidling and living in a Passive House, insulating the outside walls, roof space and beneath the ground floor is essential basic #1 for a reason.  Often, Passive House outside walls are 450-500mm thick compared to new conventional cavity wall thicknesses of 250-300mm.  Ours comprise several empty and filled cavities, waterproof membrane and myriad insulating materials, to prevent inside heat and outside cold from moving through the walls. 

Our house sits atop an underground c300mm thick polystyrene raft to prevent heat leaching into the ground.  ‘Whoa!  Plastic?’ But I contend this is where plastic is the best material, and lasting around 200 years is hardly ‘single-use’… 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the:

  • absence of warm/cold air leaking outside/inside the house
  • reduction in outside traffic noise penetration through thicker walls?

Draught-free construction for a Passive House

We applaud the heroic properties of ‘line of airtightness’ tape used throughout the house.  It hermetically seals joints between any two materials.  It is so much more than duct tape that dries out, cracks and bubbles over time.           

Other draught prevention solutions include no metal cold ‘bridges’ through outside walls eg nails, screws, brackets, ties, mesh etc.  Borrow Sustainable St Albans’ Thermal Imaging Camera to find them! 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • permanent absence of draughts
  • constantly warm temperature everywhere?

Passive House high-performance windows and doors

Passive House High performance windows

We are enthralled by the properties of Passive House windows and doors.  Although not a prescribed product, they help achieve Passive House standards more easily.   

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • high G-value triple-glazing that captures and keeps more solar energy than standard window glass
  • fine-tuneable hinge/locking systems to pull windows and frames closer together?

BUT… We do acknowledge the challenges presented by keyholes and cat-flaps!

Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery – MVHR

Passive House Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

In a conventionally-built house, internal air turns over between 6-15 times PER HOUR which means that it needs to be warmed 6-15 times PER HOUR for comfortable living.  Because of our superior insulation plus draught-free construction plus high-performance windows and doors our internal air naturally turns over only ONCE EVERY 3 HOURS. 

Consequently, we mechanically ventilate our house to keep the air fresh, dry and warm.  MVHR technology transfers 95% of the heat in stale, damp air extracted from bathrooms and kitchens and transfers it to fresh, filtered incoming air for circulation around the house by a low 35w/hr fan (saving ten times the amount of energy it uses). 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions of constantly fresh air that is warmed passively by sunlight and heat emitted during the normal running of the fridge, freezer, TV, hairdryer, computer, shower, humans and pets etc. 

So – does building and living in a Passive House live up to billing?

Ours does!  Building and living in a Passive House has set new sustainable standards for us. We have no draughty room corners, windows or doors; we set our preferred temperature per room – bedrooms cooler than living rooms; incoming air is filtered against air-borne pollutants; we suffer much less noise penetration from road and air traffic.

We prevent overheating in summer by shading windows using an array of external blinds, louvres, an awning and hit-and-miss cladding over smaller windows.

Of course in winter, heat is not created from sunlight inside the house when window blinds are closed, nor is it emitted from most domestic equipment when we are away from the building.  Consequently, when returning after a few days’ absence it takes the air a few hours to reach our preferred temperature.  It would take less time if our household comprised more people, as we resumed operating heat-emitting equipment around the house.  Because we could, during the build we installed a small air-pump for occasional use, which we have used a few times on these occasions.  We also installed under-floor heating for emergency use in the lounge, which we have NEVER used!   

Finally…the building cost of a Passive House

Yes, the capital cost per m2 is higher than for a conventional house.  Recent estimates state c7% depending…. this concentrated our minds on how many rooms we actually need.  We had 14 rooms, now we have 10; overall square meterage is down 18%.  We compensated for the extra capital cost by building a smaller house more suited to our lifestyle needs.

But we have slashed our carbon dioxide emissions by an extent we didn’t think possible. 

Pick one step. Learn about it. Do it (with our help).

Momentum towards the COP26 climate talks is building. It’s in the papers, on the news, on social media. Yet that focus shouldn’t only be on Glasgow; it needs action at all levels. We can also turn the spotlight on ourselves and ask “What action will I take during COP26? How will I raise my voice?”. Well, here’s an easy place to start. Simply pick one of the 16 climate actions below that interests you. Get inspired by our blog, get informed by our resources page, and then commit to take that step with Count Us In. Do one thing more, during COP26, and be part of a movement of change.


Over 16 weeks, we have run our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We have had a guest blog each week since July during the countdown to the UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps. The blogs are backed-up by detailed resources pages, to help you get started.

In this wrap-up, we lay out all the 16 blogs and resources pages in one place.

Our call to action is for you to pick one climate action below, let us help you get informed, and then take that step with Count Us In.


As a small, local environmental charity, Sustainable St Albans has always had some key principles at its heart. We are ordinary people like you. We care about the amazing district of St Albans. By finding positive ways to act, we want to empower local people to take a step to live more sustainably.

16 blogs by extraordinary ordinary local people

Over the last 16 weeks, some truly extraordinary ordinary St Albans District people have told us their own inspirational stories, shared with us their passions and taken time to tell other residents like you their secrets to success. Each has taken one of the 16 Count Us In steps and shared their knowledge so that the rest of us can positively act to live more sustainably in one area of our lives.

“St Albans District people have told us their own inspirational stories.”

Meet our Count Us in bloggers

The great thing about the 16 Count Us In steps is that there is something for everyone. You just start with one step.

Food and Fashion

If you love your food, take inspiration from Becky about Eating More Plants, from Juliet about Eating More Seasonally or from Caroline about Reducing Food Waste. How about fashion? There’s Emily’s look at Wearing Clothes to Last. Plus, Philip’s Repair and Re-Use blog is also great on thinking about what we already have before we buy new.

Fly less, Drive Electric, Walk & Cycle More

Susheel gives practical ideas for those wondering about how to cut down on short journey car use with her Walk and Cycle More blog. For medium and long journeys, try Shaun’s Drive Electric blog. Planning a holiday? – read James’ idea for a plane-free holiday in Fly Less.

Repaire Fair in St Albans

Home Energy

On the home front, energy use is top of the agenda. Don’t miss Judith’s blog about how she Insulated her Home – a Victorian end-of-terrace, no less. Ian has great advice about how to use less heating in Dial It Down. In a second blog, he gives easy steps to help you Switch Your Energy provider. Plus, Will tells his real life experience of having solar panels installed in Get Some Solar.

Money and Speaking Up

An area of our lives many of us have yet to tackle is Greening Our Money. Simon’s blog is eye-opening on that subject.

Finally, we must not forget the impact that we can all have by talking about climate action with other people. Each person we influence expands the ever-growing population of people who are making changes. Catherine’s blog about Talking to Friends introduces Climate Conversations as a framework. Dan encourages us to Speak up at Work. 18 year old Jess’s blog on Tell Your Politicians turns a daunting prospect into an achievable and necessary step.

“Each person we influence expands the ever-growing population of people who are making changes.”

And meet some people who have taken their first step

It’s great to be hearing from those have already been inspired by our #CountdowntoCOP campaign. Meet three people who have signed up to take a step on the special St Albans District Count Us In page.

Isobel is Eating More Plants

Fleetville resident, Isobel, says: “I pledged through ‘Count Us In‘ to reduce the number of meals I eat containing meat. I enjoyed being creative in the kitchen, using tofu and soya mince. I was pleased that I managed to convince the kids to try some new dishes, some of which they were impressed with. Meat-free meals will continue to be on the menu some nights, and when we do buy meat we will go for locally produced and high welfare standards.

Read Becky’s blog “Quick and Easy ways to Eat More Plants” so you can take the Eat More Plants step like Isobel.

 Banh Mi from Taste of Vietnam. Photo: Taste of Vietnam

Lizzie is Wearing Clothes to Last

Lizzie, also from St Albans says: “I pledged to buy only second hand clothes for two months. I often go to the charity shop but it’s a bit hit or miss. This time I decided to look on Facebook market place as I wanted a new warm jumper. I found one just round the corner from me and it’s become a new staple. I’ll definitely look there again in the future.

Read Emily’s blog “Easy Ways to Wear Clothes to Last” and pledge like Lizzie.

Linda is Driving Electric

Harpenden resident, Linda, says: “I pledged through Count Us In to try the step ‘Drive electric’.  We completed this step after a 2-month transition from running a diesel car each (blushes…), through sharing 1 car, to swapping that for an electric car.

The hardest part was overcoming range anxiety – after deciding which colour EV to buy, of course.  We tackled that by installing a charging point at home, powered by our own solar-generated electricity. We also found out where the neighbourhood ‘fast’ charging points are.

Looking back, the question to ourselves is – ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’

Read Shaun’s blog “The Road to My First EV: “Ill never own an electric car”” to help you take the Drive Electric pledge like Linda.

“Looking back, the question to ourselves is – “Why didn’t we do this sooner?”.

16 steps – just pick one

The 16 Count Us In steps are below. Pick one that interests you, read the blog, check out the resources and then click through to take that step on our own special St Albans District Count Us In page.

Remember when you register to tick to say you are part of the team “St Albans Climate Action Network”.

Which step will you pledge to take?

Talk to Friends

Read Catherine’s blog: 5 Good Reasons Not to Talk about Climate Change (and Why You Should Anyway)

Switch Your Energy

Cut Food Waste

Walk and Cycle More

Eat More Plants

Get Some Solar

Eat Seasonal

Drive Electric

Repair and Reuse

Dial It Down

Fly Less

Insulate Your Home

Wear Clothes to Last

Tell Your Politicians

Speak Up At Work

Green Your Money

We would like to express our heartfelt thanks to each of our bloggers for their fantastic and inspirational writing.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages.