Top 10 ways to beat the winter fuel hike

Winter is coming - but you don't need to pay through the nose to keep the home fires burning.

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The Independent Online

Days and shorter and the spiders are bigger. It can only mean the time is coming when you turn to that old friend, the thermostat.  But among the deluge of products all promising to make your bills cheaper without scrimping on the creature comforts, where can you turn? 

There are so many innovative ways to save energy now, from smart thermostats that learn our preferences to efficient boilers that use a fraction of the power they used to. But all those investments require an upfront cost of hundreds or even thousands of pounds, which for many people simply isn’t affordable just now.

But there are many simple, cheap and free ways to save money on heating and power, and it makes sense to target those before spending more. Here are 10 ways you could take action now against a high winter bill – either by changing your habits or making a relatively cheap investment.

1.   Switch energy companies

Probably the easiest way to save money on heating is to simply switch to a cheaper provider and yet in the past we’ve proven remarkably reluctant to do so. Yet consumers finally seem to be wising up this easy way to save, with Ofgem recently publishing stats that show energy switching rose by 30 per cent in the first half of this year.

With the weather getting colder it’s important not to lose that momentum. Some of the smaller suppliers have already begun to increase prices and comparison sites have warned consumers to brace themselves for the larger energy firms to follow suit. However, there are potentially large savings to be made with just a few minutes spent looking at your bill and switching online.

Stephen Murray, energy spokesperson at MoneySuperMarket, says: “Switching from a standard to a fixed rate tariff remains the best way to save cash – fixed rate deals offer an average annual saving of around £359 per year.”

2.   Be smarter about heating

It’s not particularly helpful to suggest saving money on heating by using less heating. However, it’s undeniable that being a little stricter about the temperature you heat to can pay big dividends.  

Claire Osborne, energy spokesperson at uSwitch.com says: “Before you put the central heating back on this autumn, remember that turning your thermostat down by 1 degree Celsius can save you as much as £60 per year. 

“Also keeping your heating constantly on a low heat could potentially save you more money than switching it on and off for big blasts of heat.”

Ben Wilson, energy spokesperson at Gocompare.com, thinks there are other ways to get smarter about heating: “Simple things like turning radiators off in rooms that aren’t regularly used, bleeding radiators to increase efficiency or turning down the thermostat on your heating and hot water can have a big impact on the amount of energy you use.”

3.    Block up your chimney

Maybe don’t tell the kids about this one just before Christmas, but insulating the chimney more effectively can make a big difference to the comfort of your home and how much it costs to keep warm.

Around 11 million UK homes have open chimneys even if they rarely use them and around 4% of a household’s heat is lost up there. There are a few ways of blocking this up, for example the Chimney Sheep costs around £30 depending on size but can save around £60 over just one winter.

4.    Seal off the draughts

If you can feel a draught then your home is losing heat and that means it’s costing you money. There are lots of ways to seal draughts off, including lining for keyholes, door gaps and letterboxes, all of which can be achieved with a minimum investment and a trip to a DIY store.

The Energy Saving Trust reports that draught-proofing windows and doors could save the average home almost £30 a year and yet 46 per cent of people haven’t done so.

5.   Don’t doze in the shower

When the weather gets colder it can be harder to step out of a warm shower and into a chilly bathroom. However, lazing under the running water costs some serious cash.

Aled Stephens, home energy commentator at the Energy Saving Trust, explains: “Spending one minute less in the shower each day could save as much as £10 off energy bills each year. If you have a water meter this will save a further £12 off annual water and sewerage bills. At least 25 per cent of people could cut a minute off their showers.”

6.    Dry clothing carefully

If you’re relying on a tumble dryer because it’s too wet and cold for the washing line then it makes sense to ensure it’s running as efficiently as possible. 

George Charles, of the website VoucherCodesPro.co.uk, says: “Make sure you remove lint from your tumble drying after every single use. Tumble dryers are used much more often during the colder months and leaving the lint filter full can increase energy use up to 30 per cent.”

7.    Shift your radiators

Spending a few minutes moving the furniture around can save some serious money over the colder months. If curtains and furniture are blocking the radiators then they are limiting airflow, meaning the heat doesn’t circulate as efficiently.

Energy provider E.ON also suggests cleaning radiators regularly as layers of dust and lint can also block the airflow and act as insulation, making your heating less efficient and more expensive. 

8.   Insulate your home

Fitting insulation is a bigger job than moving the furniture, but it really can result in some spectacular savings. Most DIY retailers sell some sort of insulation, along with tips for fitting it successfully, and it’s something many householders can do on their own.

If you want more extensive fittings, such as cavity wall insulation, it’s worth speaking to your energy provider as they can advise you on any government grants that may help pay for this.

According to uSwitch, insulating a home can save around 15 per cent on fuel bills, meaning annual savings of £98 a year. Loft insulation, which can be fitted by the homeowner, can save an average of £128 a year.

9.    Be cannier in the kitchen

The vast majority of energy used in our homes goes on heating, but there are steps to take in the kitchen that can lead to savings of around £50 a year. For example, using a bowl to wash up in rather than constantly running a tap can save as much as £30 a year in energy alone, while only boiling the water you need can easily save £7 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

What’s more if you cut back your washing machine use by even just one cycle a week then you could save £5 a year on energy plus £8 on water.

10.    Clean out your pipes

A lot of households would save money by installing a new boiler – a detached house upgrading from a G-rated boiler to a new A-rated condensing boiler could save an average of £350 a year. Unfortunately, for many people that’s just too expensive an upgrade until the existing boiler gives up completely.

However, it is possible to make existing heating work more efficiently by treating the system with a chemical inhibitor. Corrosion deposits in older central heating systems can cause a build-up of sludge that can substantially reduce how effective they are – the Energy Saving Trust reports as much as a 15 per cent reduction in efficacy. 

Adding an effective chemical inhibitor to the system can prevent the system deteriorating and increase efficiency by around 3 per cent and usually costs less than £15 for a bottle.

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