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."
Switching your current account? Pick one that reflects the way you run your finances
Buyers beware of new-build home headaches
Simon Read: 'BT Sport wants us to be couch potatoes on charges'
The most expensive cities in the world 2015
Payday lender Cash Genie forced to repay £20m to ripped-off customers
- 1 Kate Winslet thanked 'particularly horrible' girl who bullied her at school after Titanic success
- 2 Australia to impose 24-hour curfew on all cats to protect endangered species
- 3 Black and ethnic minority people twice as likely to be hit by Tory cuts than white people, report finds
- 4 Walter Palmer: Cecil the lion killer revealed to be American dentist
- 5 What TripAdvisor users think of 16 of the world's most popular landmarks
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
iJobs Money & Business
£45 - £55k DOE: Guru Careers: A Financial Controller is required to join a suc...
£12500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...
£22500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound and outbound calls with...
£18000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Insurance Bro...
Day In a Page
With five bedrooms, this spacious home offers beautiful gardens and modern interiors - set within the popular market town of Bingley.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This first-floor flat comes with two bedrooms, an impressive open-plan reception room and two lovely roof terraces.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Moored at Taggs Island and reached via a pretty garden, this two-bedroom houseboat has a vaulted reception room and skylit garden studio - currently a beauty salon.
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
A contemporary house spread over three storeys, this three-bedroom detached home has large sliding doors that open out to the River Quaggy.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
This former village bakery, dating back to the 17th century, is now a three-bedroom detached home just a few miles from the East Sussex coast.
On the picturesque Isle of Man, this four-bedroom character home has a ground-floor shop that's currently run as a newsagents and a flat that would make an ideal holiday let.
In a new collection of flats, this first-floor two-bedroom apartment offers ample entertaining space and a prime view of Furze Green from a private balcony.
This three-bedroom stone-built cottage currently trades as the village store with a restaurant in the annexe and family accommodation on the upper floors.
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Close to the market town of Eye, this four-bedroom detached home offers a double-height living room which takes the place of the original, 19th-century, chapel nave.
Dating back to the 19th century, this four-bedroom home needs modernising. Spanning three storeys, the red-brick house has a fireplace, a small terrace and a cellar.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.