How to reduce your energy bills this winter
Chiara Cavaglieri looks at the quick fixes that can help keep a lid on soaring gas and electricity costs
Sunday 23 October 2011
With winter on its way, there is probably no bigger financial headache for millions of Britons than keeping a lid on energy bills.
Recent double-digit rises in the price of gas and electricity announced by most suppliers is probably just the beginning in what is likely to be a winter of discontent for households.
Against this backdrop, last week we had the Government's energy summit between ministers and the big six suppliers, which most observers agree achieved little. So it seems, as consumers, we're going to have to take matters into our own hands. But, with the first frosts already here, what are the easy wins for homeowners? And which energy-saving measures work best?
Cost £0, save up to £200 per year
You should switch to the cheapest possible tariff. Switching is usually straightforward, with online switching services such as which.co.uk/ switch. But Ofgem says that, last year, only 15 per cent of households switched gas supplier and only 17 per cent switched electricity supplier.
You could save as much as £200 per year, and now that most suppliers have already upped their prices it is the ideal time to switch. Typically, you will save the most money with a duel-fuel tariff (getting gas and electricity from the same supplier), paying by monthly direct debit and managing your account online.
"You have the right to refuse price increases as long as you contact your supplier within 20 days of receiving notification of the rise," says Laurence Saffer, managing director of brokers LSI Utility. "Tell your provider that you don't want to accept the rise and wish to leave, either by email or in writing. You then have 15 days to switch to a new provider, and will stay on your existing tariff until the switch goes through, which typically takes four to six weeks."
Cost from £0, save from £55 per year
Little changes can make a big difference. Just turning down the heat by 1C could cut heating bills by almost 10 per cent, or around £55 per year, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST). If you have any unused rooms in your home, turn the radiators down to the lowest setting. Fit tin foil behind radiators to reflect heat back and reduce heat loss. Curtains can be lined with a layer of heavy material to insulate the room at night.
Turning to lighting, a single efficient compact fluorescent bulb costs around £2.50 and saves you £3 per year, but because it lasts around 10 times longer than a standard bulb, it could save you £55 over its lifetime.
"There are some cost-effective 'quick wins'," says Simon Osborn, Which?'s energy policy expert, "like fitting draught excluders and turning your heating down."
Cost £0, save £23 per year
The Government has plans for every home to have a smart meter by 2020, with the roll out due in mid-2012, although some suppliers have already started installing them, free. A smart meter will tell your supplier about your energy use directly, rather than based on estimates, so you benefit from more accurate bills. Crucially, these meters have displays to show you how much energy you use in real time and give you the motivation to change habits and curtail waste, which the Government estimates will cut £23 off most gas and electricity bills.
Insulate your loft
Cost from £50, save up to £175 per year...Or your walls – cost from £100, save up to £135 per year
Without insulation you could be losing a quarter of your heat through the roof. But you can insulate your loft yourself from £50 to £350. It should last for at least 40 years, paying for itself within two years if you top up to the recommended 270mm mineral wool insulation. Similarly, cavity wall insulation will fill any gaps in your external walls and keep the warmth in. From an initial cost of £100 to £350, it will save you around £135, potentially paying for itself after just one year.
"In many areas you can get these measures heavily subsidised or even free," says Rosalyn Foreman, the data services manager of EST.
Cost £120, save £55 per year
Don't overlook the importance of draught-proofing your home – this is one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to save money. You can use draught excluder strips and expanding foam fillers to block gaps around any window frames, doors, loft hatches, pipework, skirting boards and floorboards to save around £55 a year. Do remember that areas such as kitchens and bathrooms still need good ventilation. DIY draught-proofing costs around £120 for materials, but you may prefer to get a professional in at double the price if you have an old home with single glazing. Use a registered installer who will have a 10-year guarantee on their work (nationalinsulationassociation.org.uk).
Upgrade your boiler
Cost £2,300, save £300 per year
You will have to dig deep for an efficient boiler but as boilers account for around 60 per cent of your annual energy bill the savings can be impressive with an A-rated high-efficiency condensing boiler. You can also cut heat loss by 70 per cent by giving your hot-water tank a cylinder jacket for only £15, to save you £40 over the year.
Cost from £3,300, save £165 per year
Costs vary widely for double glazing depending on the size, material and installer you choose, but if you replace all single-glazed windows with B-rated double glazing you could cut your energy bills by around £165 per year. You can expect the double glazing to last for at least 20 years so it should just about pay for itself. but you will also benefit from fewer draughts and cold spots so you will be able to turn down the heating and save extra money that way, as well as enjoy some peace from outside noise.
Cost £11,700, save £1,190 per year/ cost free, save £177 per year
Photovoltaics (PV) are expensive and will take some time to pay for themselves but as well as reducing your bill, you can also make money under the Government's Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) or by selling surplus electricity back to the grid if you produce more than you need. EST estimates suggest a typical system could earn you £1,060 from the Generation Tariff, £40 from exporting, and reduce your electricity bills by £90. And "rent a roof" schemes offer free installation in exchange for that company taking your FITs.
"Even solar panels and loft and cavity wall insulation can be free," says Mr Saffer, "You can get free solar panels which can cut your bills by £177 a year – a 14 per cent saving on the average dual fuel bill."
Chantal Brown, 29
Last winter, Chantal, from Stroud, Gloucestershire, decided to add more environmentally friendly insulation to her cottage roof in an attempt to keep her energy bills down. At a cost of just £300, Chantal says she will recoup the costs very soon from her £95-a-month energy bill.
"I have put draught tape around the windows and doors – the cottage is 250 years old and everything is a little crooked! I have double-lined curtains in most rooms and try to keep them shut to keep heat in to reduce bills," she says.
"I also run a dehumidifier to take moisture out of the air so the heating can be used less, as it obviously takes a lot less energy to heat a dry house than a damp one."
As well as tweaking her home, Chantal changed suppliers in the summer to a renewable energy company and is using switching websites to look at moving energy firm again now that prices have gone up so significantly.
She also has plans for other energy-saving measures in the future. "The double glazing on the conservatory roof is very old," she says, "so I will be obtaining quotes for reroofing, possibly with less glass, to keep the heat in."
But Chantal has no plans for solar-panels yet: "I would have to be planning to stay in the house for 12 years to see a payback. At this stage I'm thinking I will move, and there is no evidence to suggest it will increase my home's value."
Buyers beware of new-build home headaches
Are you ready for pensions reforms?
Dirty tricks in a divorce can cause some nasty surprises
Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal
Number of serially under-performing investment funds has increased by a fifth, survey reveals
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'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
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
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