The cost of heating and lighting our homes is higher than it has ever been and with recent increases announced by the bulk of the "big six" suppliers this is only set to rise and rise. The average annual dual-fuel bill, covering gas and electricity, stands at £1,315 per household, according to energy regulator Ofgem, but that is probably now an underestimate. Fortunately, though, there are many things that you can do to bring those bills down by several hundred pounds.
Switch to a cheaper tariff
Many people are stuck on the most-expensive tariff, despite potential savings of £140 a year – the average amount saved by people using the Which? Switch service – and the opportunity to lock in no price hikes for up to four years.
Speak to your current supplier first to find out whether they can move you onto a cheaper tariff. You could also save up to 6 per cent if you pay your bills by monthly direct debit. Otherwise, use a comparison site to help you get a better deal, looking out for online tariffs as these are typically the cheapest option. Even if you rent rather than own your home, you are entitled to change supplier at any time. Suppliers are responsible for managing the switch and your existing supplier must continue to provide your energy until it takes place. But be warned that for now the whole process can take up to eight weeks.
Tackle any draughts
Draught-proofing is one of the cheapest and most-efficient ways to save energy. Seal draughts coming from gaps around windows and doors, skirting boards, loft hatches, keyholes and letter boxes. You can also buy a chimney balloon which is inflated in your fireplace to stop cold air coming in. Full DIY draught-proofing costs around £100 for materials but saves up to £55 a year so it won't take long to pay for itself.
Upgrade your boiler
A new boiler certainly isn't cheap (you can expect to pay around £2,300) but they do account for more than half of what you spend in the year on energy bills, so if yours is getting on for 15 years old it's probably time for an upgrade. Replacing an old gas boiler with an A-rated condensing boiler could save you as much as £310 a year.
At the very least, make sure your boiler is as efficient as it can be by making sure it has an annual service and safety check. If you live in an older house with a poorly insulated hot-water tank, wrap it up in a cylinder jacket to reduce heat loss by 70 per cent.
Install a room thermostat to use your heating controls more effectively. You can pick when you want the heating to come on, restricted to the areas where it's needed and at the right temperature. Smart meters also help you take control, and although there are no direct savings, the display shows your latest energy usage and costs, giving you a much-clearer idea of how to lower your bills.
Insulate your roof and walls
One third of the heat you are paying for disappears through the roof, so get the loft insulated (costing roughly £300) and save yourself up to £180 per year if your loft has nothing in place, or top up your existing insulation from 100mm to 270mm to save around £25.
Cavity-wall insulation also keeps the warmth in and can help reduce condensation. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) says cavity insulation typically costs £450 to £500 to install but can save an average, three-bedroom home up to £140 a year on its bills. If you're on a low income and receive benefits such as child tax credit and pension credit, you may be eligible for free home insulation from one of the energy firms or your local council.
Fit an eco-showerhead
Some water companies are giving water-efficient shower heads away for free and installing one could save a family of four around £75 a year on gas for water heating, as well as a further £90 on water bills if they have a water meter.
Double glaze your windows
Double glazing is expensive to install but you'll cut heat loss by an impressive 50 per cent, saving around £170 a year on bills if you replace all single-glazed windows with B-rated double glazing. It should last for at least 20 years and not only will your home be warmer, but you can turn down the heating to save a few more quid, and you'll drown out some of the outside noise too.
Switch to a wood-burning stove
Switching from gas heating to wood-fuelled heating would save you around £100 a year.
The installation costs can be steep – EST says an individual pellet stove will cost around £4,300 including installation, while a new log stove will cost half this, including a new flue or chimney lining – and you'll have to factor in the cost of the wood pellets, chips or logs. If your home is heated electrically, you could save huge sums by switching to a wood-fuelled system. The initial outlay is between £7,000 and £13,000 including installation, but you could save £580 per year and you can also apply for a £2,000 grant under the renewable heat premium payment scheme.
Invest in renewable technology
While electricity costs are going up, the cost of solar panels is going down, so it could be a great time to invest in solar photovoltaics and benefit from savings as well as income from the Government's feed-in tariffs which pay you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it. A typical 4kWP panel could generate and save you £785 per year (knocking £143 off your electricity bill).
It may also be worth exploring other technologies such as solar -thermal panels and air-source heat pumps, as there are financial rewards available through the Government's renewable heat incentive.
Five-minute bill fix
Turn the thermostat down by at least 1ºC to reduce annual bills by up to 10 per cent
Save £50-£90 a year by turning off lights, appliances and chargers when you're not using them
Switch to energy-saving bulbs, and buy LED spotlights to replace halogens
Save more than £55 a year by being careful how you use your kitchen appliances; wash your laundry at 30°C, use a bowl to wash up and don't fill your kettle right up
Use the sun's light and warmth during the day but close your curtains at dusk to keep the heat in
Keep the heat circulating by moving large furniture away from radiators and buy reflective insulating wrap to go behind them
Save baths for a treat because showers use a third of the energy