Thursday, 26 November 2015

Paris Climate Summit: What's it all about?

From 30th November to 11th December 2015, representatives from over 160 countries will gather in France's capital to discuss one of the most serious issues facing our planet today: climate change. The summit has been widely covered in the press over the last few months, but what exactly is it and why is it so important?

As well as the major impact is already having on the environment, climate change also has serious implications for national and global security, poverty eradication and economic prosperity. Given the size of the problem, a global agreement is the only way we can realistically be successful in reducing global emissions.

Who will be attending?

Around 130 world leaders including the Prime Minister, environmental ministers and Government officials will attend the meeting in Paris, along with representatives from civil society and business. Leading the UK delegation will be Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

What are we hoping for from the deal?

One of the UK and EU's priorities in Paris will be attaining ambitious commitments from all parties, as well as a way of reviewing mitigation plans every 5 years in order to stay on track for reaching their 2 degree goal. Also sought from the meeting are a new set of rules so it's clear what is required from each party and it's also easy to see when a country has broken the rules. Finally, delegates will discuss the issue of climate finance to help the poorest and most vulnerable countries do their bit for climate change.

What are other countries doing?

  • In Turkey, the G20 confirmed a collective agreement that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and that 2015 is a critical year requiring effective, strong and collective action on climate change and its effects.
  • In August, President Obama confirmed details of his plan to reduce emissions from power plants by 32% on 2005 levels by 2030.
  • China made a commitment to peak emissions around 2030 and to implement a nationwide emissions trading scheme in 2017.
Paris will certainly not be the end of the road in the battle against climate change, but it will undoubtedly mark a major milestone as countries put their plans into action from 2016 and beyond.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Remote-controlled robots, lasers and solar-powered cameras: the Environment Agency's fight against flooding

Parts of northern England have experienced severe flooding this week, with the Environment Agency issuing 72 flood warnings for locations across the UK. As part of its efforts to warn businesses to prepare themselves for extreme weather, the Environment Agency has also unveiled a range of James Bond-style gadgets that it will be using to combat potential flooding this winter.

Mr Nosey, the remote-controlled robot

The Environment's Agency's flood-fighting armoury includes lasers, solar-powered cameras and incident command vehicles but it's real secret weapon is a remote-controlled robot called Mr Nosey! Designed to find the causes of flooding that people can't reach such as blocked tunnels and underground culverts, Mr Nosey allows Environment Agency staff to assess blockages via a camera on its nose. Weighing 66lbs to prevent it from being swept away, the robot is also small enough to fit into spaces as small as 6cm in diameter.

Lasers and solar-powered cameras

As part of their quest to fight the floods, the Environment Agency will also be using lasers to map and scan the English landscape from above, collecting data to be used for flood modelling and to track changing coastal habits and solar-powered cameras to monitor water levels in at-risk areas. These cameras are linked to Twitter so that residents who have opted into the service receive Tweet-alerts in the event that water levels rise significantly.

On the water

Another robot, the "Robomower" is a remote-controlled grass cutter that will be deployed to keep grass and bushes on sheep grass flood banks under control and will work closely with the Environment Agency's weed cutting boat to maintain the flow of rivers and prevent blockages that cause flooding. Also on the water, tiny ARC (Acoustic Remote Controlled) boats use tiny ultrasound pulses to gather information about how much water is flowing in rivers - data which is then used to keep an eye on river levels and predict when flooding is likely to occur. These specialised boats can be used on areas of a river that it can be hazardous to reach otherwise, such as under bridges or in fast flowing currents.

The Thames Barrier

Finally, the Thames Barrier near Woolwich plays an essential role in prevention against flooding in the capital, protecting around £200 billion of assets in London including 500,000 properties, the City's financial and business centre and 1.25 million people living and working within London. When raised into a position of defence across the Thames, the Barrier's 10 steel gates stand as high as a five-storey building and as wide as the opening of the Tower Bridge.

It's great to know that the Environment Agency are prepared with a full range of high-tech devices to help predict and prevent floods occurring in the UK. To find out whether there's a flood risk in your area you can visit the Agency's website at

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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Problem prevention - simple pipework maintenance for your home

It's reassuring to know that in the event of a drainage disaster or similar emergency, there's a network of quality engineers standing by to come out and fix your plumbing problems. However, while some household pipework issues are unavoidable, there are a number of things you can do to maintain your household systems and prevent breakdowns occurring in the first place, saving yourself valuable time and money.

In the kitchen

Prevent blocked drains
  • Blocked drains are probably one of the most common kitchen plumbing problems, however, there are a few of things you can do to prevent them occurring.
  • Once a week pour a full kettle of boiling water slowly down the drain to help dislodge any build up.
  • Rinsing plughole stoppers will also help by removing any dirt or grease that could end up down the sink.
  • Build ups of grease and fat in pipes trap pieces of food, leading to bothersome blockages or leaks. Prevent this occurring by pouring grease and fat from cooking into jars instead and then throwing it in the bin.

Kitchen smells

  • If there's a bad smell lingering about your kitchen, try giving your sinkholes a good clean before calling out a plumber.
  • If this doesn't work, try pouring a small amount of bleach down the sink to clear the blockage, leaving it time to work before running the taps. (Remember to always read the label before using potentially dangerous substances such as bleach.)
In the bathroom

  • Be sure to check your taps frequently, making sure that water flows freely from the moment you turn on the tap. This is especially important in bathrooms that aren't used regularly.
  • Frozen pipes and obstructions are two plumbing issues that can be expensive if they go unnoticed, so if water doesn't flow freely be sure to call a Quality Plumber.
The shower
  • A great tip for keeping your shower in tip-top condition is to leave it in a bowl of vinegar overnight. In the morning, any flaking limestone deposits can be scrubbed off before reattaching the shower head and letting the water run to wash away any vinegar.
Flush unused pipes
  • This should be done thoroughly once a week by pouring water down the pipes.
  • If water is not flowing freely, you could find yourself with drainage difficulties.
Insulate exposed pipes
  • Any pipes on the outside of the house are at risk of freezing and bursting during the winter months, which could be dangerous if close to your electrical supply.
  • Click here to get our top tips on protecting your pipework from the cold when it gets chilly.

By following these simple steps around the kitchen and bathroom you could save yourself the money and hassle associated with a leak or blockage, so this weekend why not dedicate some time to preventing plumbing problems around your home?


Friday, 6 November 2015

Heating your home: fact or fiction?

With temperatures due to drop significantly over the next few months, it can be difficult to know how to best maximise home heating for top efficiency at the lowest cost. To help you keep warm this winter without breaking the bank, the Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors (APHC) have come up with a list of the top ten heating questions asked by customers.

John Thompson, Chief Executive of APHC, explains: “There is a lot of confusion surrounding how to get the most out of your heating system and when it’s cold saving money with the heating constantly on can be a challenge. By understanding how your individual system works and making use of timers and thermostats, householders should be able to balance warmth with cost efficiency.”

Fiction - It’s better to leave the heating on a constant low than set it to come on twice a day at a higher temperature.

Leaving the heating on constantly uses more energy than turning it on and off, even at low temperatures. Use a thermostat to regulate room temperature and concentrate on heating the rooms you use most. However, a short burst of heating at a high temperature is also not an efficient way of heating your home.

Fiction - Turn up the thermostat to heat the room more quickly.

Many people think they can speed up warming their house  by turning up the thermostat, but the heating won’t get to a warmer temperature any sooner. The thermostat controls the final temperature, not the speed at which the house heats up – so the end result will eventually be an overly-warm house.

Fact - Bleeding your radiators does make a difference.

A simple way to increase heating efficiency is to make sure radiators are working at their maximum capacity. Radiators containing trapped air are hot at the bottom but cold further up, so they're not giving off as much heat as they should. Bleeding them is easy - simply put a radiator key or small screwdriver into the bleed valve on the radiator and open the valve to let out the air.

Fiction - It’s more efficient to keep the water heater on all the time than heat from cold.

Hot water only needs to heat up as it is being used. Heating water continuously is unnecessary and a waste of energy. Combi boilers only heat water as it’s used so you won’t be able to keep the hot water on constant.

Fact - An old boiler does drain energy.

According to boiler manufacturer Worcester, a boiler of 15 years old or more may be wasting as much as 30 – 40p of every pound spent on heating our home and water. Updating your heating system to an A-rated condensing boiler or oil-fired model could make your system up to 90% efficient, so if your boiler is nearing the end of its life it could be worth investing in.

The Energy Savings Trust confirms that swapping an old G-rated, low efficiency boiler for an A-rated, high-efficiency model could save you around £490 a year on running costs (based on replacing the boiler and heating controls in a detached house that has gas central heating).

Fiction - There’s not much benefit in turning the thermostat down by only one degree.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, based on normal use this small change can reduce bills by 10%, although you’d have to have the heating on all day to see the full cost saving. But any reduction in energy consumption is good.

Fact - Drawing the curtains saves heat.

It's not only a mental trick of shutting out the cold, a study at the University of Salford proved that drawing your curtains at sundown can reduce heat loss by 15-17%, while drawing blinds reduces it by 13-14%.

Fiction – Turn off your heating to save money when you go on holiday.

To prevent frozen pipes, which can cause hundreds of pounds of damage, APHC recommends you leave some heating on, especially if it’s during winter.

Setting your thermostat so the heating comes on when the temperature falls below 5’c should be enough to prevent frozen pipes. If your thermostat doesn’t go down that far, setting the heating to come on for a few hours a night would also be a benefit as it can take a long time for pipes to freeze.

Fiction - Keep electric storage heaters on all the time.

Electric storage heaters are designed to charge up overnight using cheaper off-peak electricity and then gradually release the heat during the day. However, many storage heaters have in-built electric panels which can be used to ‘boost’ the heat if needed. Leaving the heater on with the incorrect settings could be using the panel heaters rather than the storage heater and cost far more.

Fiction – you need a special boiler to install underfloor heating.

Underfloor heating can be run off all the heat sources a normal radiator can, although some systems may be suited to different heat supplies such as heat pump systems. Underfloor heating can be 15-20% more efficient than radiator systems, as heat is concentrated in the bottom space of a room.

Now you know which commonly held heating beliefs are myths and which are must-dos, make you put the knowledge to good use to heat your home efficiently and cost effectively this winter.