Don't get angry, get more energy smart

Gas and electricity charges are set to rise again, but you may be able to beat the energy companies at their own game, reports Chiara Cavaglieri

Energy bills are on the up and the "Big Six" companies continue to rake in the profits while stinging households with price hikes. Scottish & Southern Energy is planning a 9 per cent increase to both gas and electricity prices in October, and where one goes, the others are sure to follow.

With winter on its way, it's a perfect time to switch to a cheaper tariff. But don't miss out on a range of other ways you can slash your bills, improve your energy efficiency and reduce your carbon footprint.

1. Small changes

Energy-saving lightbulbs last up to 10 times longer than ordinary bulbs, saving you around £55 over their lifetime, but LED lights – more commonly seen on bicycles – are the next big thing.

They aren't cheap, costing upwards of £10 each, but with a lifetime of between 40,000 and 50,000 hours, they will pay for themselves several times over before they need replacing.

"Green living is about adding up lots of small things to make a big difference," says Jamie Wilding, the development manager at Homes by Skanska. "Sometimes these are lifestyle changes, like recycling more and using less water, but by improving how green your home is you can make these changes easier."

2. Efficient heating

Above all, bleed your radiators and make sure they aren't blocked by furniture. You can also fit radiator reflection products or ordinary kitchen foil behind the radiator which can reduce energy bills by up to 20 per cent.

Condensing gas boilers (combination or regular) are more efficient, saving up to a third on your bills because they condense and extract heat that would otherwise escape through the flue. The sticking point is that the initial outlay starts around £2,500, but there could be financial help available from the Warm Front Initiative. Regularly servicing an existing boiler will also help.

3. Keep the heat in

Don't waste all that expensive heat by failing to insulate your home. Start by draught-proofing (which will save you on average £55 a year) and then insulate your loft or attic – a quarter of your heat is lost through the roof and insulation will save you up to £175 a year, paying for itself in up to two years.

Cavity wall insulation is also worthwhile, saving you up to £135 a year, and there may be grants or special offers available through the government, local authorities and energy suppliers.

Double-glazing salespeople may have a bad reputation, but without double-glazed windows you could lose around 20 per cent of your heating energy. The payback may take a while, but the windows should last for at least 20 years. Pick windows with a thermal efficiency rating A-C, gaining the Energy Saving Trust (EST) seal of approval.

If you replaced all your single-glazed windows with B-rated double glazing you could save £165 a year.

4. Stay in control

Even with an old boiler, getting the controls right is vital if you want to avoid wasting energy and money. For a typical three-bedroom semi-detached home, installing a room thermostat could save you £70 and 280kg of CO2 a year, according to EST. A hot water tank insulation jacket knocks off another £40, and hot water tank thermostats are not far behind, saving you £30.

Turning the thermostat down just one degree saves around £55 and 230kg of CO2 a year.

5. Monitor your behaviour

Home energy monitors have digital displays so that you can keep an eye on your consumption in real time, making you far more likely to change wasteful habits by, for example, turning off lights and appliances when they're not in use. You can fit one easily with a clamp around the wires at your meter, and prices have come down considerably, starting from as little as £25.

Complete systems such as AlertMe go a step further by connecting to your broadband router and enabling you to remotely control appliances.

6. A greener kitchen

The kitchen is a big energy guzzler in any home but little things will make a difference, whether its keeping your freezer full (it costs more to run a half-empty freezer than a full one) or washing clothes at 30C. An A-plus rated fridge-freezer can cost a bit more but will save around £39 and 140kg of CO2 a year, says EST.

7. A greener roof

Solar panels are worth investigating to cut your bills and carbon emissions, although it is tricky to calculate the savings accurately and the roof needs to be south-facing. Research by uSwitch found that two-thirds of households with solar panels were cutting energy bills by nearly £1,000 a year. A typical two-panel solar system can cost upwards of £4,000.

8. Air source heat pumps

A bit more expensive, these extract heat from the outside air, even in cold climates, which is used to heat radiators and provide hot water. On the downside, they do use some electricity to run, cost between £6,000 and £10,000 to install and you will need planning permission. But they need little maintenance and could save you up to £380 a year compared with electric storage heating.

You may be able to get a one-off grant through the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme.

9. Water efficiency

There are various water-saving appliances on the market, but for a start you can collect rainwater in a water butt to use in the garden and for washing the car. You can also buy complete systems with pumps and filters, as well as greywater recycling systems that collect and treat wastewater from showers, baths and basins.

10. Furnish the green way

Even when you're fitting out your home you can find greener solutions. Buy furniture from "upcycling" companies to combat waste. Helpful resources include Reuseandrecycle.co.uk and Frn.org.uk (the Furniture Reuse Network). You can also buy direct from the likes of eBay, Gumtree and dedicated providers such as RubyRhino.co.uk.

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