Save energy - and pounds, says Miranda Moore

Thinking of university living brings back memories of layers of jumpers, socks, scarves and hats, and me and my housemates huddled under duvets in the living room, trying to warm our hands on mugs of hot tea. Of course, we were suffering for nothing. Although switching your heating off all year might shave a bit off your bill, we were probably wasting more energy by filling the kettle up to the brim, leaving the lights in the kitchen and bathroom on, and keeping the TV on standby.

If you've seen the British Gas adverts with those two little flames trying to inspire us to save energy, you'll know that, rather than turning radiators off completely, just turning the thermostat down a degree will save £49 a year and turning off unused lights will save £32. But when bills are divided between five housemates, are such savings really worth it? The simple answer is "yes, yes, yes!" Although each individual energy-saving tip might not add up to a huge amount, when they're all added together, they could save you a tidy sum. Especially as most involve absolutely no effort on your part.

According to the National Energy Foundation (NEF), if you take all the small steps needed to reduce the amount of energy you use, you could save 20 per cent, or £250 a year. As a student in rented accommodation you might not be able to take up all the energy-saving tips (you can hardly force your landlord to put in double glazing), but you should be able to cut 10 per cent from your bills, just by paying attention to your use of lights, computers, sound systems and central heating.

It's also important to remember that the saving figures from British Gas, NEF and other organisations are based on the average home - and let's face it, a student home is no ordinary one. The boiler is probably older than your nan and the landlord's idea of insulation is more likely to be one scrawny door snake than cavity wall insulation. Add the fact that there's often a lot of people living under one roof who spend a lot of time at home, and the amount of gas and electricity you use may well be above average. Which means, of course, that you stand to save more.

So back to your 10 per cent savings. Unless you have an exceptionally good landlord who's willing to invest in A++- or A-rated appliances (the energy-saving equivalent of a university First), there's not much you can do about the energy-wasting boiler, washing machine and fridge. However, you can turn computers and TVs off when you're not using them, which should save more than £100 a year. And while you can't sort out roof insulation, pushing clingfilm into the cracks between window and frames, and any external doors you don't use, will help to stop heat escaping. Gaps under skirting boards and between floorboards can be filled with newspaper, saving up to £20 a year. Just keeping the curtains closed will keep in the heat - and keep out prying neighbours. And even buying a brand new door snake could help to make things toasty for less.

If you're feeling inspired, the next stage is cheap, easy-to-apply draught-proofing, which you can pick up from DIY shops and fit around doors, windows and the letterbox. You can also pick up energy-saving light bulbs , which can last for up to 10 years and save 80 per cent of normal energy use. Prices start at around £3.50 so, considering the fact that lighting accounts for 10-15 per cent of your bill, you could save £100 over the bulb's lifetime.

There's also some pretty cool eco-products on the market, including www.naturalcollection.com solar radios and water-powered clocks. They even have an ECO Kettle, which (for £33) accurately measures the amount of water you need to boil. On average, we boil twice the volume of water we need every time we use the kettle, but a fancy kettle is hardly necessary. Just pay attention when you fill up!

Similarly, choose the correct pan size when cooking, cut food into smaller pieces and put lids on your pans; and try to have full loads when using the washing machine. Ok, so you might need to clean your best jeans right now - isn't that gorgeous postgrad student you've had your eye on taking your next seminar? - but chucking in some other dirty laundry, or sharing a load with housemates, could save enough pennies to invite them for a beer afterwards. And if you use the lower 40°C wash, you could cut a further 30-75 per cent of energy use.

Although you may be tempted to spend hours in the shower getting ready, or run yourself a bath, you'll certainly keep your bills down if you have shorter showers. Insulating the hot water tank with a special jacket can also save £20 a year. These can be bought for a few pounds from hardware stores; just make sure you get one that's at least 75mm thick.

All these tips should add up to more than £250 savings, and there's further advice at www.nef.org.uk/energyadvice. So what if I said you could save another 10-20 per cent just by switching energy provider? You don't even have to do all the groundwork yourself; there are plenty of companies who check the best deal for you in just five minutes - for free. Some even give you cash back or a bottle of champagne when you switch: try www.uswitch.com and www.energyhelpline.com.

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