Kiri and


How green is motorhome living?

August 21st, 2014 (by Steve)

11878 miles at just over 20 miles per gallon. That’s approximately 594 gallons of petrol. Or 2700 litres. We always knew that we’d get through a lot of fuel on our trip, but that’s A LOT of fuel. Around 35% of our budget for the trip ended up in the hands of big oil companies. That doesn’t sit particularly well with us, but it got us thinking about how green motorhome living is… and just to clarify, I’m not talking about painting a motorhome green:

Would we trade Bertha in for a motorhome like this? Absolutely!

So let’s start with the fuel, as that’s the most alarming headline. As a 24 year old vehicle, Bertha’s fuel efficiency and emissions aren’t the best. Using a carbon emission value of 8.91kg of carbon per gallon burned, on petrol alone we’ve possibly released around 5300kg of carbon over 8 months of travelling. In comparison with air travel over the same distance (0.277kg per passenger mile for 2 passengers), that would have been 6580kg and if we compare it with long distance rail travel (0.185kg per passenger mile for 2 passengers), that would have been 4394kg. Don’t get us wrong; it’s a lot of carbon, but suddenly motorhome travel isn’t looking as bad as first thought.

If we had chosen to do our travelling by train, we would have then had to think about accommodation on top of that (not physically “on top” obviously) and the heating and lighting carbon costs incurred there. As Bertha’s leisure batteries are hooked up to the alternator, some of the combusted petrol would have gone to recharging them, with the rest of the recharging being performed by our solar panel. We chose our electrical devices carefully in terms of consumption (for example “dumb” phones instead of smartphones and LED lighting throughout) and as we were using so little, we are confident we could survive off-grid indefinitely. So, aside from the one-time carbon cost of manufacturing the solar panel, our electricity usage was effectively zero carbon.

Re-sealing around the solar panel to ensure a watertight seal

As electric heaters use masses of power, we used our gas heater in low temperatures, as well as using gas for our water heater, our cooking (on the hob; we removed the oven to give us extra storage space) and our fridge (when parked up). We used approximately 140 litres of LPG in the trip (about £87 worth). Now I haven’t examined our domestic gas usage in terms of volume, but certainly in terms of cost you’d be talking about more than £87 worth of gas for 8 months. It’s hardly surprising that we used less gas than we would in a house, as it’s a much smaller space to heat. So from a gas-usage point of view, again, motorhome living is looking quite good.

Probably the one utility that we were most aware of in terms of usage though, was water. Unlike a house, you don’t have a pipe connecting you to the mains; the only water that you have in a motorhome is that which you carry and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Using figures from the Consumer Council for Water, a 2 person household with a low water usage (55 cubic metres per year) will get through about 150 litres per day. Bertha’s fresh water tank holds 40 litres. A full tank would last us at least 3 days of wild camping (unless we were hand-washing our clothes). So how did we reduce our water consumption?

  • When running the hot water, we caught it in a container until it got hot, then used that water later for cooking
  • We brushed our teeth from a cup so we weren’t running unnecessary water away
  • We didn’t use the shower in Bertha, instead washing ourselves from a bowl with about 2 litres of water
  • We didn’t wash ourselves as frequently as we would in “normal” life. Kiri and I had different ideas about when it was necessary to wash… to clarify, I’m the dirty one!
  • Flushing a chemical toilet only uses a cup full of water, as opposed to up to 13 litres with household toilets

Now I try not to have too many vices in life, but I love a good, hot shower, so it was a real luxury to arrive at a campsite and realise that we could have a shower or use a washing machine! So, motorhome living again is looking pretty good in terms of water usage.

Finally, we come to recycling. In the UK, we’re keen recyclers and try to put as little as possible in the bin. A couple of years ago we even experimented with giving up buying things in plastic for Lent. When travelling around, especially in different countries, things get a bit harder though. There’s no regular collection and different countries have different recycling facilities. Finding them was sometimes a bit of a challenge, so we couldn’t always recycle. One thing we did notice (and really like) was the “pfand” system (direct translation is “ransom”) in place in several countries. When you buy a bottle (plastic or glass), you pay an extra little deposit on it. Then when you’ve finished with it, you return it to the place you bought it from, and get your deposit returned. In the case of glass bottles at least, the bottles are re-used rather than recycled; probably a less energy-hungry process.

Overall, I think we’ve probably been living a greener lifestyle in the last 8 months than if we were living in a normal house. So is there anything that we can translate back into our lives in the UK? Maybe. I guess the main thing is that we’ve learned to be frugal with the resources we’ve had. However, there are some slightly more wacky ideas that we might try to follow up. As toilets are the biggest users of water, we might do some research into composting toilets. We also think that the idea of hooking up a solar panel to a 12V battery, then charging things from that might have some mileage. We’ll see!

3 Responses

Excellent blog. Very informative, enjoyed reading.

Welcome home guys! Nice article – I’d often wondered just how green we were being, and just stabbed a finger in the air thinking we were living in such a small space and consuming so little stuff we ***had*** to be greener than living in a house. Plus back home we’d likely have burned a fair bit of fuel anyway commuting. Liking your water saving tips – you defintely pipped us with some of them – nice work. Thanks for taking the time to write your blog – it’s been fab following along behind you. Cheers, bonne chance en Blighty, Jay

Thanks 🙂 It was only once we realised how bad our fuel consumption was that we started to “think green” about our life on the road. Obviously there are further considerations with green living in a motorhome; biofuel, extra insulation etc.

Jay, you’re thanking us for being able to follow us… but I think the thanks should be in the opposite direction, as you were pathfinders for us! Thank you!

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