To be clear, I’m not talking about holidaying in a caravan – I’m talking about living in a caravan full-time, either on one site (as we did in Cambridge) or touring (as we are now). And I’m comparing our caravan life to our previous life – one car, commuting by bike or public transport, etc – not some mythical ‘typical’ life or the national average. I haven’t got an internet connection right now, so I can’t do the research to find that out anyway.
Where we started from
K and I are not super-green, but we try to make environmentally sound choices. All else being equal, we pick the greener option – but all else is rarely equal, so the environment has to face off against fair trade, convenient, cheaper, tastier and the rest of the ‘all else’.
Water – we use less now
In the house we had a dishwasher, showers every day, water on tap (literally) to wash up. Now, every drop of water we use in the van has to be carried to the van by us. And although refilling the water tank is not a big chore, it’s still a chore and we’d rather play Transport Tycoon or read a book or blog. So we’re careful when we wash up and are adept at washing up in a small amount of water.
We also shower less (sorry, strangers on the train) as there’s a choice between paying 50p for a shower in the shower block or hauling water for a wash in the van, so if we’re going to the pool or gym, for example, we’ll wait and shower there, rather than showering twice in one day.
Electricity - we use less now
We’ve gotten rid of most of our appliances – no TV, microwave, vacuum cleaner, washing machine, tumble drier. We still have the laptop – as evidenced by this post! – and a few other gadgets, like phones and our electric toothbrush. We haven’t switched the hot water heater on yet, and the water pump only uses a tiny amount. And as we’ve only got one room, we usually only need one light on at a time – having two on seems decadent!
The first site we stayed at was metered, so we had to buy top up cards, which made us very aware of how many pennies worth of electricity we used. We spent £15 in six weeks, and had to be frugal for the last few days as we were down to our last pound on the meter.
Gas – about the same, maybe more
It’s summer so we weren’t heating the house and we’re not heating the van. We still cook with gas, but as we only have two pans we can’t make terribly elaborate meals, so we’re probably using a little less on that front too. However, we’re no longer sharing our cooking with 3 other people, so per person we may be using the same or slightly more for cooking.
Petrol – we’re using more
Towing the van takes more petrol than not towing the van, obviously, but even while we were static we were using more petrol. We parked up at a lovely site where K could cycle to the station to go to work, but there wasn’t much else nearby. We drove to visit friends, to get groceries, to get to the library – all things we usually did by bike before.
Other travel – probably less
We’re taking public transport less, obviously, than when I was commuting to London, and we don’t expect to fly anywhere on holiday or to visit family in the next few months, but we’re still using buses and trains to get around the local area.
Waste – more per person
We’ve gone from living in a shared house, buying in bulk, cooking in bulk, to living in a van with limited storage space and only two people to cook for so we’ve got more packaging per person to throw away.
Household chemicals - about the same
While we’ve got less to clean, we no longer have access to mainline clean water and sewage pipes, so we’ve got more chemicals to deal with keeping things sanitary.
Personal consumption - less!
As we’ve got less space, we’re shopping less and we’re more likely to wear things out, repair things and use them up to the full as we won’t necessarily be able to replace them immediately and don’t have any spares.
Out-sourced consumption - lots more!
When we lived in the house, we had our own WiFi, used our own shower and toilet most of the time, our own landline phone. We had friends on-site so didn’t have to drive to meet them, and had people over rather than eating out at a restaurant.
Now, as our space and resources are limited (and with the upheaval of the move) we’ve been eating out more, showering at the gym or pool, using the WiFi at coffee shops and friend’s houses.
Borrowing or buying these extra resources makes it hard to figure out how much we’re using – we’ve refilled the 40L water tank twice, so used less than 120L of water at the van in 6 weeks, but that doesn’t count flushing the toilet in the toilet block, showers at the gym, or even drinking water, as we fill that up separately. Sometimes we even wash up at the site taps, so the 120L is a really woolly and useless number – if it doesn’t seem like much, it’s because it’s missing a lot of things.
Set-up costs – much less
The cost to the environment of building a caravan is much less than building a house. Of course, we were living in a hundred-year-old house and bought a fifteen-year-old caravan, but the point still stands. Sort of.
Greener over all
On balance, I think we’re having a lower impact on the environment – particularly when you factor in the alternative travel costs. Last week we visited Belgium and Luxembourg for the first time, and next week we’re going to to Lichtenstein and Italy – all without a single flight. We’d struggle to do that – and enjoy it – by train or with just a tent. For a one thing, K’s car is only little so once you’ve put the tent and sleeping bags in the boot, there really isn’t much room for yarn!