This month, Davinder Raju takes a closer look at heating and alternative, more eco-friendly ways to power a dental practice.

With the wholesale cost of natural methane gas continuing to rise, the UK, a net gas importer, is currently in a state of crisis.

We are particularly vulnerable to gas price rises. Unfortunately, more than 40% of our grid electricity comes from gas-fired powered stations.

So now, with what feels like daily increasing gas and electricity prices, energy efficiency is more critical than ever. We need to find ways to reduce our energy consumption.

And, by increasing efficiency and reducing energy consumption, you will increase practice profitability. And also benefit the planet by reducing our carbon emissions.

Eco-friendly dental practice

Carbon emissions associated with NHS dental services in England in 2014-2015 accounted for approximately 15% (electricity: 7.7% and gas: 7.6%) of the total greenhouse gas emissions of this sector.

That’s why when we wanted to set up an eco-friendly dental practice in 2017, we looked at ways we could reduce energy losses and how we could potentially generate our own power.

Luckily, we were based in the sunniest county in the UK – Sussex. And because the commercial building we located and wanted to convert to a dental practice has a flat roof, we could install 34 solar panels.

We also implemented as many energy-saving measures as possible.

Now, as not everyone is ‘lucky’ enough to have a flat roof (after buying a home with a leaking flat roof, I broke a promise to myself to never to go near one again!), nor live in beautiful Sussex, here are a few things that you can do help reduce your environmental impact and save some money at the same time too.

Reduce heat loss

  • Ensure your boiler is energy efficient and regularly serviced for maximum efficiency

  • Insulate your loft space

  • Install double or secondary glazing

  • Consider insulating your walls

  • Draught-proof all windows and doors

  • Insulate your hot water cylinder

  • Optimise heating by controlling on a zonal and time basis

  • Fit thermostatic valves to each radiator

  • Bleed your radiators regularly (at least before the cold spell).

Reduce energy loss/needs

  • Consider replacing your dental water distiller with an efficient reverse osmosis system

  • Ensure your computers and peripherals are switched off at the end of the day

  • Unplug phone chargers etc even when not in use as they still consume power

  • Replace all your regular light bulbs with LED bulbs

  • Consider PIR sensors for those less frequently occupied rooms

  • Consider replacing that ageing fridge (>10 yrs old) with a more energy-efficient successor *

  • Position your fridge away from the wall to keep it cooler, defrost it regularly and check the seals (you should always check the bulb turns off when the fridge door is closed)

  • And sometimes it’s the simple things like not boiling more water in a kettle than you need.

Undertaking these simple measures will reduce your energy bills and your carbon footprint from energy.

However, as an additional initiative to help reduce your environmental impact, you may want to consider offsetting your entire energy carbon footprint.

The Green Dentistry online platform has an inbuilt carbon emission calculator. It enables you to calculate your carbon footprint quickly. As well as choose an offset project to help you do your part in caring for the climate.

*Because fridges are permanently on, most of their life-cycle energy is expended in use. Replacing your fridge, especially if it is over ten years old, may save costs and carbon savings by buying new. Use a smart meter to calculate how much energy your current fridge consumes and compare it to a new energy-efficient model. Using a smart meter is a good idea. It can reveal what equipment consumes a lot of energy. It encourages team members to recognise energy as a precious resource that has environmental impacts. And so they, therefore, won’t leave things on standby and can identify inefficient appliances.

Consider generating your own energy.

So, if you, like us, are in a position to consider installing solar PV panels, generating your energy is a great way to reduce your dependence on the national grid. And, with energy prices rocketing, it potentially saves you money in the long term. Whilst also reducing your carbon footprint.

Solar PV technology has advanced in both technology and efficiency over recent years. Costs have fallen, making them more realisable.

Excess energy can also feed back into the grid. You will receive money from your energy provider or use it to heat water.

While methane gas is still the cheapest option for heating, at our practice, we opted instead to install energy-efficient infrared heaters. These are fuelled as much as possible by our solar PV panels.

They permit us more control over the rooms or even areas of rooms that we want to heat.

They look pretty slick, especially when fitted to the ceiling. And they are even available with mirror finishes (which we had fitted in our WCs).

Heat pumps

If you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint even more, and have a well-insulated and airtight building, then you might want to consider a heat pump.

They move heat from the outside (air or ground) into the inside of your building. Different types of heat pumps are available depending on where they extract their heat from and what they dissipate it to.

Three of the most common types of heat pumps include:

  • Air to water: may require larger radiators or large underfloor heating areas

  • Air to air: these will require ducting of air through the outbuilding. And an additional means of heating water

  • Ground source: these require outside space to place buried pipes. The system is more expensive to install than air-to-air and air-to-water types.

Low-hanging fruit

With the energy crisis as it is, you can’t act too soon on whatever you decide to do.

So, pick some low-hanging fruits from the list above to reduce your energy needs.

And then, after that, you could start thinking about harnessing some of the abundant power that our sun and mother nature provides by using fantastic technology that some very clever people work on to help us reduce our carbon footprints.