Lower your fuel bills and go green on the cheap

If green issues aren't incentive enough, you'll also save a fortune
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The Independent Online

The last seven days has been Energy Saving Week, run by the non-for-profit body the Energy Saving Trust, which is encouraging everyone in Britain to cut their energy demands by 20 per cent. In the process, they should save hundreds of pounds on home energy bills every year and, the trust argues, safeguard our way of life.

It isn't simply a question of altrusim. Unless we substantially reduce the amount of energy we use, and the carbon emissions from our households, by 2020, many of the things we take for granted - such as modern appliances and gadgets, two cars and frequent baths - might have to be outlawed by strict energy-saving legislation, a report commissioned by the trust suggests.

"If we do nothing to cut our energy consumption, we will be putting ourselves back to a back-to-basics type life," says Keith Marsh, the head of energy efficiency at the EST. "We want people to have their gadgets and home comforts, and we'll be able to continue having them if we all take a few energy-saving measures."

The EST's research suggests that while 20 per cent of Britons claim they want to be more environmentally friendly in the home, most fail to act on their good intentions, often because they wrongly believe there are too many barriers to going green.

In fact, there are plenty of easy and cheap - or even free - steps that will bring down your bills by reducing your energy consumption immediately.

Simply getting into good energy-efficient habits can be the first step towards making your home much more environmentally friendly.

Marsh estimates that as much as £40 could be taken off the typical annual energy bill by carrying out a range of exceptionally simple measures.

To make the savings: always closing your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows; never leave the fridge door open for a long time while you decide what to have for dinner; always turn off the lights when you leave a room; don't leave appliances on standby (this wastes a staggering £744m in electricity across the UK annually); remember not to leave appliances such as mobile phones on charge unnecessarily, and only boil as much water as you need instead of a full kettle.

In addition to all those completely free measures, turning your central heating down by just 1C could save the average household about £30 a year.

Then there some easy options that cost just a few pounds. For example, replacing six light bulbs with recommended energy-saving ones, which last up to 12 times longer than ordinary bulbs, can reduce lighting costs by up to £468 over the lifetime of the bulbs.

Don't be tempted by false economies. Each energy saving bulb costs about £3.50, which is more than a conventional product, but could knock £7 a bulb off your annual bill.

Similarly, if you're making improvements to your kitchen, or upgrading equipment elsewhere in the household, energy efficiency should be a key factor in the purchase.

New appliances with the energy-saving recommended logo will cut energy consumption and will also have lower running costs. Opting for an energy-efficient refrigerator, for example, could reduce your annual bill by about £35.

As winter approaches - and don't forget that the clocks go back tonight - you might also consider investing in some energy- and money-saving changes to your home.

A huge amount of the total heat lost from a typical property - about one-third, the EST reckons - is lost through the walls, but installing cavity-wall insulation can reduce an average home's heating bill by £120. If your home was built between the 1930s and the 1980s, it could well benefit from this type of work.

Don't forget the roof either. Laying 10 inches of insulation in your loft can save about one-quarter of the average home's energy use, or up to £170 every year. As with other measures, the money you shell out today should soon earn itself back and produce futher savings.

You don't have to do everything all at once. But replacing boilers that are more than 15 years old with new energy-efficient models could save about one-third of a typical home's annual heating bills, while simply buying your hot-water tank a 75mm insulating jacket costs only a few pounds and could save about £15 a year.

Stopping draughts and heat escaping by filling gaps under skirting boards with newspaper, beading or sealant can cost very little and also helps to bring down the bills.

"Getting adequate insulation in your home is extremely important," Marsh adds. "Even what might seem like big jobs, such as insulating your walls, will only take a few hours. Also, the energy companies are obliged by the Government to help homes save energy, so many offer good deals on insulation."

Energy companies, local authorities and the Government also offer grants to help certain types of consumer to meet the cost of energy-efficient measures. In addition, individuals might be entitled to help with the cost of installing energy-efficient domestic appliances or getting adequate insulation.

Anyone can search the Energy Saving Trust's grants database to see what's on offer, and grants are available to people in all sorts of circumstances; they are not restricted to the elderly or those on a low income or benefits.

Your eligibility for assistance will depend on a number of factors, including where in the country you live, the measures you are interested in implementing, your energy supplier, whether you own your own home, whether you are aged over 60, and whether you are in receipt of certain State benefits. Any grant, however, will cut the cost of making home improvements that will save money in the long term.

For the more serious, committing to larger-scale measures to make the most of renewable energy, such as installing solar panels or putting up your own wind turbine, can save hundreds of pounds over the long term, as well avoiding tonnes of carbon dioxide output every year.

For instance, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, which convert sunlight into electricity, could over a year provide a household with 30 to 50 per cent of its entire electricity needs.

Solar PV is suitable for both urban and rural environments - it doesn't need brilliant sunshine to operate - and a system to supply a proportion of energy for an average home can cost as little as £4,000.

Wind turbines are best erected high up, on a mast or tower. The ideal location would be a smooth hilltop with a flat, clear exposure, free from obstructions such as large trees, houses or other buildings.

However, small-scale wind turbines can be suitable for urban areas, and one able to supply energy to a typical UK home costs between £4,000 and about £20,000.

As with smaller home improvements, there are grants available for both solar panels and personal wind turbines, but costly building projects are not the only way to exploit renewable energy sources.

For example, simply pegging out your washing to dry in the sun when weather permits harnesses renewable solar energy, and could save hundreds of pounds in the long term.

Anyone interested in reducing their energy consumption and bills by measures big and small can contact the EST for free guidance and advice. It publishes a range of leaflets.

Go to the EST's website www.est.org.uk/my home, answer some simple questions about your home and you can request a free, impartial report telling you how you can save up to £250 a year on your household energy bills.

Alternatively, you can contact your local Energy Efficiency Advice Centre (call the freephone number 0800 915 7722) for free advice on making your home more energy-efficient. It also offers details on home improvement grants available in your area.

Andrew Finnis: 'We cut CO2 and saved cash'

Andrew Finnis, 58, an electrical engineer, has always had an interest in how electricity is made - as well as wasted - which culminated three years ago in him fitting photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to the roof of his house.

This year, he and his wife Wendy consolidated their commitment to energy saving by installing a wind turbine in a field near their home near Dover, Kent.

The couple received a grant of £15,000 to install solar power-generating technology at a total cost of £28,000, and a grant of £5,000 to put towards the cost of the turbine, which was £20,000 in total.

The combined effort means the Finnises now take three-quarters of their total energy requirements from the wind and sun, saving about £600 a year. However, Andrew says saving money was not the couple's prime motivation in making the improvements.

"Reducing the amount of carbon dioxide for which we are responsible is more important to me than saving money."

Andrew believes that anyone can make some small changes that will save both energy and cash. "Just buying low-energy light bulbs can make a difference - you don't have to go as far as we have," he says.

Top ten tips for energy efficiency and reducing your bills

Make sure your home is properly insulated - install double-glazed windows and eliminate drafts where possible.
Always avoid leaving appliances on standby - turn them off completely.
Close your curtains at dusk in order to stop heat escaping through the windows.
Turn off your lights when you leave a room.
Don't fill the kettle to the brim - only boil what you really need.
Make sure your cylinder thermostat is never above 60°C/140°F.
If your boiler is 15 years or older, replace it as soon as you can afford to do so.
Have solar panels installed on your house. Current UK government initiatives pay up to 50 per cent of the cost of installation.
Buy energy saving light bulbs - they are slightly more expensive but last up to 12 times longer than inefficient counterparts.
When buying new electrical appliances always look for the distinctive orange and blue Energy Efficiency Recommended logo.

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