Let’s start with the obvious culprits: windows and doors. An Energy Saving Trust (EST) spokesperson advises, ‘Professional draught-proofing of windows and doors, and blocking cracks in floors and skirting boards, may cost several hundred pounds, but that outlay will gradually be made back through lower energy bills.
‘However, DIY draught-proofing can be much cheaper: you’ll find plenty of options available at hardware stores.’ Try sticking self-adhesive foam strips over any cracks, attaching draught excluders to the bottom of doors and hanging thicker curtains (and closing them earlier in the day than usual) to stop heat escaping.
About a quarter of your home’s heat can escape through the roof if you don’t have any loft insulation, says the EST. Yet it needn’t be difficult or pricey to fit – you can install it yourself by laying mineral wool (from DIY stores) between the joists. Or if you prefer to get someone to do it for you, you can find a registered fitter at National Insulation Association.
It costs around £400 to have your loft professionally insulated in a detached house, but it will pay for itself quite quickly. The EST says installing 270mm-thick insulation could cut up to £215 off fuel bills each year. Insulating hot-water pipes with foam sleeves and your hot-water tank with a cylinder jacket also reduces heat loss.
Fit double glazing
It may be expensive but, for long-term savings, fitting double glazing can cut heat loss by 50%. The most efficient designs will be EST-endorsed. If you can’t stretch to double glazing everywhere, just install it in the rooms you use most.
Get an efficient boiler
The more efficient the boiler, the more heat it produces. Check your boiler’s rating, which ranges from A to G – A being the most energy efficient. If your boiler is more than 15 years old, it could be time to replace it. High-efficiency condensing boilers can save up to a third on your heating bills compared with older models. To compare boilers, visit Boiler Guide. You may be able to get one fitted free or at a discount through your energy supplier - scroll down for more information.
Is it cheaper to leave the heating on low constantly?
An EST spokesperson says, ‘Leaving your heating on all day will not only mean that your home may never be at a comfortable temperature, but it will also waste heat and increase your bill.
‘Instead, invest in a room thermostat with a timer control, for around £20. These turn the heat on when you need it, and off when your home reaches your set temperature. Some smart thermostats let you control the heating from your smartphone when you’re out. It could save you around £150 a year.
Are you entitled to a freebie?
You may be eligible for a grant – from the Government, your energy supplier or local authority – towards making your home more energy efficient. For example, you may qualify for a new boiler if your current one is inefficient or more than five years old, and you get tax credits, have an income of £16,190 or less, or receive benefits such as pension credit. Call your supplier, or the EST on 020 7222 0101), to find out what options are available.
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Save money by switching
Make sure you’re on the cheapest energy deal for you by using one of the many switching services.
Mark Dorman, energy and utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com says: ‘Unfortunately, energy bills are heading only one way: up. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the last of the sub-£900 deals disappear as rising wholesale costs squeeze providers – and they are passing on those costs to consumers.
‘Four of the big six suppliers have hiked prices twice this year and if you are on your provider’s standard tariff it’s almost certainly expensive – often £100s more than the most competitive deals. Our stark warning is that winter is coming, prices are rising, so use the hikes as a trigger to take action and switch to a cheaper tariff.’
Using an energy-switching website is simple. You just need a few basic details and they do all the work for you.
You’ll be offered choices, including whether you want to fix your energy price over a period of time, opt for a ‘green’ environmentally friendly deal, or a tariff with rewards. Your new supplier will take care of the switching process for you, including cancelling your current contract and arranging the changeover date.
Choose a dual fuel deal (gas and electricity from the same supplier) and you may get a cheaper rate. Many suppliers also offer a discount for paying by Direct Debit, so you can spread the cost of your energy over the year.
If you’re not using a smart meter, give your supplier regular meter readings for accurate billing. Estimated readings may see you paying over the odds.
Help with payment
Can you claim a discount under the Warm Home Discount (WHD) Scheme? It gives vulnerable customers with the major energy suppliers a one-off £140 reduction on their electricity (or gas) bill between September and March. You’re entitled to it if you receive the pension credit guarantee element; you should receive a letter confirming this by 7 December. If you are on a low income and your energy supplier is part of the scheme you may also be able to apply – check with your supplier.
If you were born on or before 5 November 1953, you may also be entitled to a tax-free Winter Fuel Payment of between £100 and £300 towards your heating bills. Call the Winter Fuel Helpline on 0800 731 0160.
And if it’s freezing…
If another cold snap happens, the Cold Weather Payment is made to people getting pension credit, income support or other benefits, when the temperature is or falls below 0C for seven consecutive days in your area. It’s £25 for each seven-day period between 1 November and 31 March. Payment is made automatically.
Tips for using less energy
Here are seven ways to save money around your home
• Buying a new TV or dishwasher? Check the rating on new electrical appliances, graded from top-rated A to G.
• Defrost frozen food in the fridge. ‘It’ll make your fridge colder, so it won’t have so much work to do and will use less energy. Given the fridge is one of the biggest users of electricity in the house, this is worth doing,’ says Mark Todd, co-founder of comparison site EnergyHelpline.com.
• Replace halogen bulbs with LEDs. EU legislation means that halogen bulbs are being phased out. LED light bulbs are about ten times more efficient than filament bulbs and can dramatically reduce the amount you pay for lighting. It would cost an average household about £100 to replace all bulbs with LEDs and save about £35 a year, according to the EST.
• Got a hot-water tank? Check your settings. 'If you have a hot-water tank, check the settings on your boiler timer,’ says Matt Clemow, CEO of Igloo Energy. ‘You could save up to 50% by heating the water only once a day.’ He recommends switching to a smart thermostat as one of the simplest ways to get better control over your hot water, as well as your heating.
• Make new energy-saving habits. Switch appliances such as TVs off at the plug when not using them. Only run the dishwasher and washing machine when they’re full, and don’t boil more water in the kettle than you need.
• Have a smart meter installed to send meter readings automatically to your supplier. It also shows you how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence, which should prompt you to use less. By 2020, everyone will be offered a free smart meter by their energy supplier.
• Get a water-efficient shower head. An EST spokesperson says, ‘If you’ve got a shower that takes hot water straight from your boiler or hot-water tank (rather than an electric shower), a water-efficient shower head will reduce your hot-water usage while retaining the sensation of a powerful shower.’ It does this by mixing in air or restricting flow.
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