How to insulate yourself from rising energy costs
It's the coldest winter for a decade, but you needn't lose your cool over heating your home with these money-saving tips. Kate Hughes reports
Saturday 10 January 2009
Take your pick of the statistics: it was the coldest New Year since the mid-1990s, the coldest start to the winter since 1976, and 2008 was the coldest year this millennium. While we wait for the thaw we're cranking up the heating, but energy prices are still sky high, with the average annual household bill almost £1,300.
The good news is that costs are coming down. The wholesale gas price is now down by 44 per cent from the nauseating highs of 2008, and wholesale energy prices are down 42 per cent, according to energy price comparison site TheEnergyShop.com. Already this year, energy providers have started to respond to falling costs, and it has never been a better time to switch. Scottish Power this week announced a 10 per cent cut in its fixed-rate deal, now making it just £50 more expensive than the cheapest energy deal – the British Gas online WebSaver1 tariff, which comes in at around £1,058.80 a year for a typical family household.
"This year should bring some much needed price drops, and prices could be slashed by as much as 20 per cent around March," says Scott Byrom, utilities manager for Moneysupermarket.com. "This year will see bill payers proactively looking for ways to reduce household expenses – savings of up to £325 a year are still up for grabs for those who have never swapped energy supplier before. Keep abreast of the deals on the market and ensure that you are on the best tariff for your usage, region and circumstances."
Meanwhile, providing accurate meter readings rather than accepting your provider's estimates will mean you only pay for what you use. Moneysupermarket.com recently found that bill payers are in credit on their energy bills to the tune of an average of £79 each year thanks to discrepancies between their usage and billing calculations.
Efficiency is key
But the most consistent savings come from energy efficiency. Turning your thermostat down by 1C could cut your heating bills by up to 10 per cent, according to the not-for-profit organisation Home Heat Helpline. And replacing just one old light bulb with a new energy-saving one could reduce the cost of lighting your home by as much as £78 over the lifetime of the bulb.
"The easiest and cheapest thing to do is to make sure the heating controls fitted in your home are correctly set," adds Harriet Kingaby of the Energy Saving Trust. "Heating controls vary in their complexity, cost about £200 to install and can pay for themselves in two years. And a hot water cylinder jacket, pipework insulation and draught proofing are nice, low-cost DIY measures that will improve the energy performance of your home."
Making small changes like turning off lights you don't need, using your washing machine's cool or half-load functions, moving any furniture away from radiators, and only boiling as much water in a kettle as you need also add up. Plus, a new generation of gadgets has sprung up to help reduce everyday usage.
Small-scale solar charging units like the FreeLoader cost about £25 to £30, and can provide enough juice to power a digital camera, iPod or mobile – no electricity required. Remote-controlled standby plugs are also available, from around £15, which allow you to turn your appliances, lamps and TV off from one button. And IntelliPlugs or IntelliPanels can automatically switch off equipment such as your laptop, PC or TV when it's not in use. Expect to pay between £15 and £40.
And it's not just electricity usage that can be cut. The Zenex GasSaver ( www.zenexenergy.com) costs a breathtaking £595 but claims to cut your fuel bill by 40 per cent, by recycling heat from the exhaust gas which is normally lost.
Energy monitors aim to cut down your energy bills by making you painfully aware of just how much it is costing you. Wattson, for example, at www.diykyoto.com/uk, claims to save you up to 25 per cent of your energy bills. It will set you back between £90 and £330, depending on the model you choose. Its display shows in pounds exactly how much you are spending a year based on current usage, glowing blue with low usage and red when every light in the house is on. But if your budget won't stretch that far, you can pick up the new Owl energy monitor for about £30. This also displays your energy usage in pounds, as well as other information like historical energy use in terms of KWh and CO2 emissions.
Cash from the attic
Be a little more ambitious with your energy saving projects and you'll really see the savings. A third of warmth lost in your home is through the walls, the Home Heat Helpline calculates, so insulating them is the best way to save energy. Installing cavity wall insulation can cut hundreds of pounds from your annual bill, and laying your loft with 25cm thick insulation can save you a quarter on heating costs.
Replacing your old boiler with a more efficient model will also knock significant amounts from your bill. These measures are not cheap initially, but will eventually pay for themselves. There are a range of grants and schemes to make your energy efficiency project more affordable, especially if yours is a low income household, or you are a pensioner or are disabled.
The Government can provide up to £2,700 for households on certain benefits – including income support, council tax, disability living allowance, housing benefit, jobseeker's allowance and pension credit – to improve their energy efficiency. The Warm Front grant (also known as Warm Homes, Warm Deal, or the Home Energy Efficiency Scheme) can mean having insulation installed in your home for free, or help towards a new boiler. There are also grants available to help you generate some of your own power – using solar or wind power, or other technologies such as wood burners. For more information visit www.energy savingstrust.org.uk/generate-your-own-energy.
For more information about grant eligibility, or if you are struggling with energy bills, you can turn to not-for-profit organisations like the Home Heat Helpline, on 0800 33 66 99 or www.homeheathelpline.org.uk, and the Energy Saving Trust, on 0800 512 012 or www.energysaving trust.org.uk. In addition, the Priority Service Register is a database of customers who are disabled, chronically sick or of pensionable age, maintained by the suppliers. Being on the register entitles you to receive certain benefits like free safety checks of your gas appliances every year, and advance notice of any planned interruptions to your electricity supply that could affect medical equipment. Contact your energy supplier for more details.
In addition to providing "social tariffs" for those experiencing extreme fuel poverty, the major energy providers are also obliged to achieve certain targets for home energy efficiency. This means that even if you don't qualify for a government grant you could still cut the cost of installing energy efficiency measures, and can accept such offers from any supplier regardless of your existing energy provider.
Selling property? You'll need an EPC...
For those of us selling or renting property, being clear about its energy efficiency is now a legal obligation in England and Wales. Failure to provide a new Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) as part of a Home Information Pack (HIP) as soon as the property goes on the market could land you with a £200 fine. Landlords do not have to provide an EPC for each tenant, but they are obliged to provide each new tenant with the latest copy of the certificate, or face a £200 fine, rising to as much as £5,000 if you're in Scotland.
You can only get an EPC through a qualified energy assessor operating under an accreditation scheme, and these are often employed by a company like an estate agent or an energy provider, although they could also be independent traders. The Department of Communities and Local Government's website at www.communities.gov.uk provides a full list of schemes. Depending on the size of your property, an EPC will set you back anything from £70 to over £150, but for property sellers this is usually included in the price of your HIP.
It may seem like just another extra cost, but having a home with a high energy efficiency rating can be a very positive bargaining tool when it comes to the sale itself. Potential buyers in these testing times are more likely to be convinced of the value of the property if it has top of the range insulation and a new boiler. Even negotiating a good deal for your rental property could be boosted by demonstrating that the tenant won't need to pay huge energy bills on top of the rent. For more information on EPCs go to www.direct.gov.uk/epc.
Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal
Weekly Money: Round-up of the personal finance stories you may have missed 19-23 January
Bargain Hunter: From The Outsider to 1984, catch a cut-price classic, read it in the rye
Donald MacInnes: My wasted hours in the retail deserts of Dixons-Carphone
Money Insider: Smart alternatives to the pensioner bond
- 1 Rowan Atkinson to sell £10 million McLaren 'supercar' he crashed into a tree and a lamppost
- 2 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 3 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
British Muslim leaders outraged after Eric Pickles says followers of Islam should 'prove their identity'
UK terror fears: My jihadist son returned from Syria mentally scarred – now he is being ignored
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
Billy Crystal: 'Stop shoving gay sex scenes in my face'
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
iJobs Money & Business
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...
£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£45000 - £47000 per annum + bonus + benefits: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / ...
£35000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...
Day In a Page
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A deceptively spacious, beautifully presented Georgian home with 3000sq ft of living space and five reception rooms
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village