How to reduce your heating bills

And create a cleaner atmosphere into the bargain. By Mary Wilson
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The cold snap is a timely reminder of the importance of efficient heating and insulation to save on heating bills. Since July this year all new homes have to be energy rated. The National Energy Foundation launched the National Homes Energy Rating system (NHER) four years ago and this can give an owner or new purchaser some idea of what their fuel bills should be.

For an older home, you will also be able to find from their charts how much you could save in fuel bills if you improved your rating by one or two points. Anyone can have their home rated and NHER assessors charge from pounds 50 to pounds 130, depending on the size of the house and how far they have to travel.

This further emphasis on energy efficiency in our new housing stock is intended not only to reduce heating bills, but also an attempt to cut down the amount of carbon dioxide released in the atmosphere.

In 1992 the UK signed a United Nations convention on climate change committing developed countries to reduce emissions to 1990 levels (600 million tonnes a year) by the year 2000.

Although this has now been achieved because coal fired gas stations have been replaced by gas fired stations, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from homes accounts for around a third of the total, so there is room for even more improvement.

The energy used by the average home creates 7.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year and by taking some very simple steps home-owners can reduce this output by one-fifth to a half.

The national effect of an average grading improvement of just one out of 10 would cut total carbon dioxide emissions by 24 million tonnes a year.

The New Homes Marketing Board has just issued figures based on six properties, three new and three old, in separate locations around the UK, and these show very clearly that the age of a house has an important influence on carbon dioxide emissions.

A modern home produces about half the amount of carbon dioxide to a similarly sized old house and is very much cheaper to run.

In Huddersfield, a new four-bedroomed detached house had an NHER rating of 9.2 out of 10. The owners' first quarterly gas bill was 25 per cent less than the same period a year earlier when they lived in a smaller 1930s three bedroom semi, which had an energy rating of 5.5. The new house produces 5.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year compared with 8.7 tonnes produced by the older house.

A four-bedroom house near Nottingham was rated at 8.5, costing pounds 650 a year to heat. A similar 1930s housc costs pounds 1,450 a year to heat and was ratled 3.4. The carbon dioxide emissions were 6.9 tonnes for the new house compared with 17.7 tonnes for the older home.

The third comparison was a four-bedroom semi-detached house in Surrey, rated 9. This costs pounds 630 in heating bills. A similarly sized Edwardian house cost pounds 1,500 to heat and was rated at 4. lt produced 17.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide compared with 5.8 tonnes in the new house.

Dr Eva Chapman, co-director of National Energy Services, says that next year they are hoping to target the public to encourage them to have their homes rated so they can see how improvements can be made. "New houses have to be built to a better standard now," she says, "but owners of older properties can save on their fuel bills too, as well as reducing carbon dioxide emissions".

Lagging your hot water tank saves pounds 10-pounds 15 a year, using energy-saving light bulbs could save you up to pounds 50 during the bulb's life and by turning down your thermostat by 1 per cent can cut up to 10 per cent off your fuel bills.

Fitting thermostatic radiator valves saves between pounds 10 to pounds 20 a year and draught-proofing windows and doors saves pounds 10-pounds 20. For more effective and more expensive methods of saving energy you could have your loft insulated, saving up to pounds 70 per year, put in plastic secondary glazing, which cuts your bills by up to pounds 25, and if you fitted an energy-efficient gas condensing boiler you could save up to pounds 130.

Heat exhange systems, which extract hot stale air from kitchens and bathrooms and convert it into cool clean air are also very effective and also good for your health, especially for asthmatics.

If you live in a house with a rating between 3 and 5, which is the average energy rating for an old house in the UK, by improving the insulation, putting in double glazing and installing a more efficient heating system you could improve the rating to 6. The improvements would cost about pounds 10,000 but would bring your bills down by around pounds 1 000 a year.

Other sources of information on saving energy can be obtained from the network of local Energy Advice Centres, which were set up in 1993 by the Environment Secretary, John Gummer. There are currently 32 centres around the country, managed by the National Energy Foundation.

The Foundation says that last year as a result of over 57,000 clients asking for advice, energy saving measures were installed saving pounds 2m off fuel bills and preventing over 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Their information pack suggests that an average household should be able to cut at least pounds 100 a year off their fuel bills.

The pack includes a list of the most effective measures and the expected time taken for them to pay for themselves as a result of reduced energy bills.

Its tips include turning your heating down by one degree Celsius, keeping the lid on saucepans when cooking, using your heating for one hour less a day, insulating hot water pipes and, as an alternative to double glazing, taping polythene or cling-film across the window frames.

These may not be very radical steps, but every little helps.

National Home Energy Rating Scheme, National Energy Services, Rockingham Drive, Linford Wood, Milton Keynes, MK14 6EG, 01908 672787.

Contact your local Energy Advice Centre by telephoning 0800 512012.

New Homes Marketing Board, 01 71 580 5588

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