Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Climate change is here - how do we adapt?

Like a lot of people I've been suffering in the hot weather recently as has my work (low productivity) and my partner (due to my grumpiness). June has been a record breaking scorcher for many people. In East Anglia the temperature is several degrees above average and we have had only 12% of the normal rain fall [1]. July so far has been at least as bad. Climate change is going to bring more of this and other weather extremes. We are not suffering as much as other parts of the world but we do not escape entirely. So what can we do?

[By the way I am organising a workshop on this topic: Adapting our homes for Climate Change on 15th October. This will be one of five events to go with this year's OpenEcoHomes house tours. If you have tips to share or would like some advice please put this in your diary.]

The problem weather we need to cope with includes heavy rain and floods as well as heatwaves and drought. As with energy efficiency, there are a whole range of measures we can take from very low cost (e.g. more ice cube trays in the freezer) to higher cost (blinds or solar control film for windows) and requiring little or lots of advance planning (planting trees, politely requesting that potholes in the road should be fixed). Here are some ideas. I am sure you will have lots more.

I work from home and my office at the top of the house gets very warm, even though we have Velux windows with external shades. I could give in and get an air conditioner but I'd rather not.

  • Buy more ice cube trays for cold drinks
  • Get some solar reflective film for some windows which are bad for solar gain. (I was on the phone about this yesterday and, not surprisingly, there is high demand right now.) In most cases I would recommend blinds but these windows have very awkward shapes.
  • In extremis - move my office to a cooler part of the house.
  • To minimise the need for watering the garden:
    • Grow fewer plants in tubs. It is too late now though - I need to remember this in April/May.
    • Get some wool compost as it is very good for water holding. I haven't tried it yet but my neighbour recommends it.
  • Plant more trees for shade and for the cooling effect of transpiration.
The water butts gave out a few weeks ago. This is partly because we ignored the problem of why the front one has not been filling up when it rains. It turns out this was due to blocked gutters which we have now arranged to get fixed.
Apart from the lawn, the plants suffering most seem to be the tree peony (pictured) and the japanese anemones. Mahonia is fine and so is dogwood. Also most of the herbs are OK including the sage, although the thyme is not very happy, which surprised me.
  • We already have dual flush loos - but still we don't flush if it isn't strictly needed and one of us is likely to be using it again shortly.
  • We have found a way to siphon the bath water into the water butt (see below). This makes me feel OK about having a bath at the weekend - a luxury I am loth to give up. I was a bit worried about the soapy water getting smelly, but in practice the water has not lasted long enough for odours to develop.
  • We could get a washing up bowl so that we can tip the water onto the garden after use. Also the same bowl can be used to bathe hot feet in cooling water without filling a bath.
  • We can minimise the need for watering by planting with drought tolerant plants (see picture).
Some water companies are better than others at fixing leaks to reduce wastage. You can compare water companies on the Discover Water website. Anglian Water is very good and Cambridge is a lot better than average, but there is still scope for improvement.

Heavy rain
The house is warm and dry and it took a while for me to think of some impacts but actually there are quite serious ones.
  • The sloping front garden suffers soil erosion - I could plant more ground cover to reduce this.
  • Cycling is horrid in the rain. However there are things that can be done:
    • Get a cycling hat with a peak to protect your eyes from the rain.
    • Report potholes in the road to get them fixed - in the rain they look like puddles and unless you know the area well you don't know which ones to avoid.
    • Campaign for separate cycle paths because when it rains the traffic gets much worse.

We personally do not have a problem with flooding, but if you do there are some steps you can take to minimise the damage including:
  • Store your valuables on upper floors or at least above likely flood levels.
  • Make sure your electric wiring is above likely flood level (this also means less bending down to access sockets).
  • For suspended floors, get flood defence covers for your air bricks.

How we siphon bathwater into the water butt.

The best way to do this depends on your circumstances. This method works for us. We have a long hose with Hozelock ™ attachments - one to connect to the outside tap and on the other end there is one to control the flow and spray. It turns out that a wine bottle stopper is a good fit for the tap end.

  1. Attach the hose to the outside tap as normal and run the water until it starts coming out the other end. Close off the spray end.
  2. Turn the tap off, detach the hose from the tap and very quickly close it off using a wine bottle stopper. (You can expect to get a little wet but not nearly as much on the second attempt as the first.)
  3. Keep this end as high as you can to minimise splatter as you bring it round to below the bathroom window.
  4. Attach this end to a cord which your partner has dangled through the bathroom window. Your partner then pulls the cord to bring the end up.
  5. Partner puts the tap end in the bath while you put the spray end in the butt. We open both ends and hey presto the water flows.
  6. In the bathroom, put a weight on the tap end so that you don't have to hold it down by hand while the bath empties. We use a brick wrapped in some plastic bags to protect the bath from the rough surface.

NB. It would be easier if we could fill the hose from the bathroom tap. Hozelock has a device for connecting to most mixer taps but unfortunately our taps are too wide for this. I gather one can also do something with a pump to get the siphon going but the only Hozelock pump I can find costs £90 and I am not sure it is suitable.

Your situation will be a bit different and you may have different concerns but I expect there are lots of things you can do about them. It is worth putting a bit of thinking and planning into strategies for adaptation. Next time we have a drought I will be better prepared and when asked what I want for Christmas I will request a cycling hat.

[1] Record breaking June (Met Office) July 2018


  1. A friend has reminded me it is a bad idea to use your bath water to water plants if you have a water softener because it makes the water slightly salty. Over time you will probably poison your plants! Usually the kitchen tap is not softened (for your drinking water) in which case it is OK to use washing up water.

  2. You could possibly use something like or to prime the siphon from the path. (Doesn't take Hoselock fittings directly; you would have to put a short length of hose directly on then a fitting on that.)

  3. Hi Nicola. This is a great way of showing how humans can adapt through extreme weather changes. While climate change is alarming, we still have to do our part to find ways for life to continue and do our best in saving the environment. In our country where there are only 2 types of weather, alternative energy sources like solar and hydro energy are being used to make the most out of what we have. That is why we provide training on how to install a solar panel at home. We hope our efforts can encourage more houses to switch to alternative energy.


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