A wise man once said there are no such things as male pastimes – only obsessions. Middle-aged men often come in for a lot of flack for heartily embracing their hobbies, be it golf, fishing, or cycling (the latter even has its own acronym: Mamil, or Middle Aged Man in Lycra).
But recently a new iteration of male obsessive has arisen, birthed by the energy crisis – standing tall above his Lycra-clad predecessors atop a mountain of draught excluders. His energy wastage has been trimmed, and his smart meter is his guiding light. He is the Mambi (Middle Aged Man Buying Insulation).
Research by UK housebuilder Redrow found Britons spend an average of 37 minutes a week speaking about reducing their energy bills. A quarter of those admitted to discussing energy for an hour or more on average, so perhaps it is no surprise that energy-saving has become a central characteristic for men of the 2020s.
For some, the energy crisis has been something to buy your way out of. With enough solar panels, overnight EV tariffs and, naturally, a heat pump, you can drive down your energy bill simply by using less gas. The investments can stretch into the tens of thousands; for many who went all in it has paid off.
But for others, the best way to drive down energy bills has been to rely on good old-fashioned draught-proofing and careful monitoring of electricity usage. Rowan Troy, a security consultant from Kent, manages his energy usage through Loop, a smart meter app, which alerted him to the many “vampire appliances” syphoning off power simply by being on standby.
“We’ve got plug busters we can wirelessly control and ones on timers, so they are only on for part of the day,” Troy explains. “We went round the house and put plug busters in where we could and always turn things off at the plug when they’re not being used – it saved us about £1,700 a year.”
Troy, 38, had no choice but to go down the energy-efficiency route as his house is unsuited to solar panels. He is currently paying a fixed rate for his energy bills, but this year his deal will expire and his costs will soar.
“We’re looking at an air source heat pump as we use an oil boiler right now, as oil is cheaper than gas,” Troy says. Naturally, his doorways are lined with draught excluders, but Troy has also added sensors to his lights.
“It just changes your attitude,” he explains. “Electricity costs a lot of money now and you need to do as much as you can with reasonable expenditure.”
Much has been made of Generation Z’s unfamiliarity with the humble draught excluder. But according to the Energy Savings Trust, most households are unaware of the money they could save by adopting simple draught-excluding measures. Professional draught-proofing will typically cost around £225 for a standard semi-detached house in England, Scotland or Wales, the charity estimates.
Cheaper DIY actions, such as sealing gaps around the edge of wooden floors or using sealant bought from a DIY store, typically cost around £18. Draught-proofing strips for windows can also be bought at most DIY stores and cost around £1.50 per metre.
Paul Malone, from Wirral, said he noticed the heat was “leaking out of the doors” while getting his daughters ready for the school run. Despite working from home, Malone, 47, only puts the heating on for roughly an hour in the mornings while his daughters are in the house, and again once they get home.
To stay warm, Malone fought off the cold with draught excluders and Snoodies (a type of hooded blanket). “I feel fine,” he says.
Malone’s smart meter, which he looks at every day, helps him and his family keep an eye on his usage, but he admits he is the “most into it of the family”. His daughters, he says, are too young to grasp the nuances of energy efficiency, leaving it up to Malone to patrol rooms the family doesn't use and turn off radiators.
Ramping up his home’s insulation has had a two-fold benefit, Malone argues. Rather than put saved money towards expensive home renovations that may pay off later, as some households have done, he is watching and waiting to see if cheaper technology becomes available later down the line.
“I feel like heat pumps are like Betamax at the moment,” he says. “You want to make it worthwhile if you spend the money. So we’re watching to see what happens – and if it makes sense.”