How to cut heating bills and stay warm

Changing energy supplier may help a bit but insulation is still the best way to save money, says Nick Clayton

This month sees a huge rise in the cost of energy for millions of UK consumers. British Gas has increased the cost of gas by 12.4 per cent and the price of electricity by 9.4 per cent. And this is just the beginning of a long-term increase in the cost of fuel.

This month sees a huge rise in the cost of energy for millions of UK consumers. British Gas has increased the cost of gas by 12.4 per cent and the price of electricity by 9.4 per cent. And this is just the beginning of a long-term increase in the cost of fuel.

While some of the current rise can be put down to war and political instability, the underlying reasons run much deeper. For decades, thanks to North Sea oil and gas, Britain has been a net exporter of energy. Now those stocks are becoming depleted and the country now has to import the majority of its fuel and pay the world market price for it.

If there is some good news, it is that almost every household in the country can carry out simple measures that will more than offset the percentage rises in their bills. As we reluctantly switch on our central heating for the winter, there really is no time like the present to make those improvements. The current government estimate is that every home wastes about £200-worth of energy a year. In comparison, those British Gas increases will add about £70 annually to the bills of its 6.2 million electricity and 18.4 million gas consumers.

"Our message to British Gas customers is to shop around and get yourself a better deal," said the industry regulator, Ofgem, when the increases were first announced. The process of changing supplier is now relatively straightforward.

The best place to start is on the internet where there is a number of comparison websites ( see panel) that automate the process of shopping around for the cheapest supplier. Ideally, you should have bills going back over a year in order to best estimate your potential savings. Once a new supplier has been identified, most of the procedures required to change can generally be carried out online. A family of four could save up to almost £200 a year on their bills.

Moving to a new energy supplier is, however, likely to be just a short-term economy. All gas and electricity companies face rising wholesale prices and it is just a matter of time before they are passed on to their customers. The real savings in home-energy costs require some cash outlay; on the other hand, they generally pay for themselves within two or three years at most. And they often attract grant aid as well. They could also add value to your property.

Top of the list is cavity-wall insulation which, for some reason, is regarded as somehow old-fashioned. In fact, it remains an extremely good way of saving money. It is not suitable for all properties, but if you live in a house that was built between the 1930s and 1980s, it can save about a quarter of your fuel bill. For an average family, that represents a reduction of about £100 a year. As it costs about £300, cavity-wall insulation should pay for itself in about three years.

The way it works is that insulating material is put into the cavity between the inner and outer wall of the house, which is otherwise responsible for about a third of heat loss. It is a clean and simple process that takes about three hours. Make sure it is carried out by a Cavity Wall Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA) installer. Grants may be available.

The other main area for heat loss is through the roof. Loft insulation can save another average £100 a year and as it only costs about £200, the payback period is even quicker, about two years. Actually, it is not that difficult a job and you can probably do it yourself and save even more. If you already have loft insulation make sure it is at least 250mm thick as anything less is not fully efficient.

An even quicker, if less spectacular, return on investment can be made from fitting an insulating jacket to your hot water tank. Make sure it is at least 76mm thick. It will only cost a few pounds, but it should save an average of £15 a year.

Another DIY job that can cut heating costs is floor insulation. For a cost of about £100 it will save up to £30 a year. At the same time it is worth fitting draught excluders round doors, letterboxes and anywhere else that lets the wind in and the heat out.

About 20 per cent of heat is lost through a house's windows. Double glazing obviously makes sense, but choosing which sort can be quite complicated. On purely cost grounds, secondary glazing often makes most sense. It is relatively simple to fit for anybody who is fairly competent at DIY and its insulation qualities are little worse than full double glazing. The main downside is that it generally makes windows more difficult to open.

If the windows in a house need to be replaced anyway, it makes sense to have double glazing fitted. As with any job of this type you should ensure that you get three quotes and also that the material chosen fits in with your neighbourhood. Incidentally, people who do not have double glazing, perhaps because they live in a conservation area where its use is not allowed, can prevent a substantial amount of heat loss simply by ensuring that their curtains are closed at dusk.

That is one of a number of measures that can be taken to cut bills without making physical changes to a home. Turning down the heating by just one degree centigrade, for instance, can reduce bills by up to 10 per cent. Wearing more clothes indoors will definitely keep you warmer, although you do not have to go as far as following former Tory minister Edwina Currie's advice and wear thermals and a woolly hat in bed.

Stopping heat escaping is one thing; creating that heat efficiently is another. Boilers do not attract the same quantity of advertising as appliances such as fridges, cookers and washing machines, but they are just as important and have been the subject of major technological advances in recent years.

Old boilers tend to be good at heating up the flue - which is not much use to anybody. High-efficiency gas- or oil-powered condensing boilers now recycle that heat and cut back on the waste. Replacing a 15-year-old boiler could cut fuel bills by up to a third. And condensing boilers are no larger, more expensive or difficult to fit than conventional ones.

Ask your registered installer (Corgi for gas-fired boilers, Oftec for oil-fired boilers) for one. There is an ever-increasing range available, from a variety of different manufacturers and at varying costs. It is also worth visiting the comprehensive online database at www.boilers.org.uk. Look for the boilers that carry the Energy Efficiency Recommended logo.

Improved controls for a central heating system, such as room thermostats and heat-control valves on radiators will set a householder back upwards of £125. In a larger house this could save up to £75 a year, but although the amounts in smaller properties are likely to be rather less, the controls should still pay for themselves in less than five years. There are other ways to cut fuel bills, such as solar power. At the moment these tend to give the environmentally conscious people who have them fitted, a warm glow inside rather than a substantial saving on their bills. A typical domestic solar-energy system, capable of supplying about one-third of a household's energy needs, costs about £10,000 to buy and install. There are, however, government grants covering up to 50 per cent of the cost. But it is still an expensive way to save energy even though maintenance costs are relatively low.

Solar water-heating systems are cheaper. The cost of installation is about £2,500 to £4,000 for one that will provide about half the hot water for a household over a year. It is possible to do it yourself for about £500 to £1,500, but fitting does require skill and time. Again, maintenance costs are low. Any system relying on the sun for power needs to face south or south-west and be mostly out of the shade. Generally, these systems are fitted on the roof. One important thing to note is that they often require planning permission. Check before you fit.

No one will have the time or money to carry out all the possible energy-saving measures in their home. But, unlike most investments, at least they do have a guaranteed return.

'I swapped an oil tank for solar panels'

When he retired two years ago, David Sowden moved with his wife from Leeds to the village of Crosby-on-Eden near Carlisle. "It's a detached ex-Ministry of Health house that was built for the local nurse in 1955," he explains.

He was in the process of totally revamping the house when he ran into difficulties. A previous occupant had removed a lintel, leaving an old boiler as a support. The builder who helped him out with that problem also told that he could get a grant for insulation.

"I got cavity wall insulation and the loft insulation brought up to spec. It cost me £146," he says.

"There's no mains gas in the village so I have to rely on an old oil tank for heating. As a result I was asked if I'd be interested in solar panels."

These would have cost around £1,100, but as this was a pilot project he ended up paying £650 for the panels, which help supply his hot water. "I filled up with oil last October," he says. "I checked it three or four days ago and I reckon I'm about 250 gallons up."

With domestic heating oil costing around 27p a litre that represents a saving of around £300 over almost a year from his total investment of £800.

WHERE TO GO TO SAVE ON ENERGY

One spin-off from government concern about global warming is the number of places giving impartial advice on energy saving. Although these focus on reducing CO2 emissions, they also offer ways of saving money.

* For people who would rather deal with somebody face-to-face there are 52 Energy Efficiency Advice centres around the UK. For details call 0800 512 012.

* The Government's Energy Saving Trust website is filled with useful tips. It even has an interactive grant finder to see if you can get help with insulation. www.saveenergy.co.uk

* The boiler efficiency database includes recommendations for size of boiler according to property. www.boilers.org.uk

* THe Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency provides independent 25-year guarantees for cavity wall insulation. www.ciga.co.uk

* The Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF) is the trade association for double glazing companies. www.ggf.org.uk

* Corgi is the national watchdog for gas safety. www.corgi-gas-safety.com

* Oil Fired Technicians Association is the trade body covering oil-fired central heating. www.oftec.co.uk

* There are a number of websites that will recommend gas and electricity suppliers on the basis of your energy consumption and where you live. www.switchandgive.com

www.theenergyshop.com

www.uswitch.com

www.saveonyourbills.co.uk

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

    Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

    £50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

    £13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

    Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own