Dodge those draughts
Let’s start with the obvious culprits: windows and doors. 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.
Draught excluders can be hugely beneficial in keeping in the heat, and blocking cold air from outside. Also, keep an eye out for any gaps in the house that may need draught proofing. Culprits often include gaps in wooden floorboards and windows.
As well as fitting draught excluders or cushions, also make sure you keep curtains closed in the evening, as this will help you keep the cold air out and the warm air in.
About a quarter of your home’s heat can escape through the roof if you don’t have any loft insulation, according to the Energy Saving Trust. 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.
Cheaper ways to insulate your home
Other tips to improve insulation without having to fork out huge sums include wrapping up your water tank to conserve heat and money, and putting lagging around pipes to prevent them from bursting.
In addition, you should make sure all your windows and doors are sealed properly to stop warm air escaping, as findings from the Energy Saving Trust have revealed that 20% of your home’s heat escapes through cracks and gaps around doors and windows.
Improve your insulation
While installing new insulation will come at a cost, it’s worth noting that your home loses a third of its heat through the walls.
Figures from the Energy Saving Trust have shown that you could save as much as £160 a year by getting cavity walls insulated, and a similar amount by getting your loft insulated. Loft insulation is effective for at least 40 years. You may also want to look into getting double glazing to help keep your home warm.
If you live in a bungalow, it is even more essential that you install loft insulation as the larger surface area of the roof, compared to a house, will mean that heat can escape at a quicker rate.
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 Energy Savings Trust-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.
Save money by switching suppliers
It's worth checking price comparison sites if you haven't switched suppliers for a few years. Key in what you pay now each month and your postcode and the best deals will flash up – with the cheapest first.
Keep your eyes peeled on all the key comparison sites, and by signing up to relevant email newsletters and alerts if you’re thinking about switching your energy supplier or suppliers.
Using an energy-switching/price comparison site 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 an 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. Otherwise estimated readings may see you paying over the odds.
If you've not already done so, it pays to compare prices and switch energy provider - you can save £100s with just a few minutes' work.
Price comparison sites such as energyhelpline, uSwitch and MoneySuperMarket will compare prices – just say where you live and what you normally pay. If you do switch, your new provider can take care of the transfer process for you.
Savings of up to 20% are possible the first time a household switches. So even if you’ve switched before, it's worth doing the comparison exercise again to see if your tariff is still competitive.
Remember, dual fuel, where the consumer pays for both gas and electricity from the same provider, is not always the cheapest, so make sure you compare prices for separate services. Citizens Advice also offers a comparison service that's free and impartial.
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 or receive benefits such as pension credit. Call your supplier, or the Energy Saving Trust on 020 7222 0101, to find out what options are available.
Help with payments
You may be able to claim a discount under the Warm Home Discount, with £140 off your electricity bill available for the winter period.
The money is not directly paid to you - it’s a one-off discount on your electricity bill, between September and March. You’re entitled to it if you receive pension credit’s guarantee element, and if you’re on a low income (and your energy supplier is part of the scheme) you may also be able to apply. Check this out with your supplier.
If you were born on or before 5 April 1954 you can qualify Winter Fuel Payment for a sum of between £100 and £300 towards your heating bills.
Call the Winter Fuel Helpline on 0800 731 0160 to find out more. And make sure you have your National Insurance number plus bank/building society details handy when you do.
And if it’s really freezing…
When cold snaps happen, the Cold Weather Payment is made to people receiving 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.
Use less energy – quick tips checklist
* Buying a new TV or dishwasher? Check the rating on new electrical appliances, which are graded from top-rated A to G.
* Defrost frozen food in the fridge – this will make your fridge colder, so it won’t have to work so hard and will use less energy. Given the fridge is one of the biggest users of electricity in the house, this is seriously worth doing.
* Replace old light bulbs with energy-saving light bulbs. By doing this you could save around £3 a year, or £55 over the life of the bulb. As well as making the switch, don’t forget to flick lights off when you leave a room.
* Got a hot-water tank? Then check your settings. If you have a hot-water tank, have a look at the settings on your boiler timer. 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.
* Keep on top of those energy-saving habits. Switch off appliances such as TVs 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 will also show you how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence, which should prompt you to use less.
* Get a water-efficient shower head. If you have 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.
Reduce shower time
The majority of working Brits rely on their morning shower to wake them up every day. The length of time spent washing can really have an impact on your bills. Try and see if you can spend a minute less in the shower – over the year you’ll see a reduction in energy costs.
Use the timer
Another simple way to save on your energy bills is by setting your timer so that your central heating comes on for a few hours in the morning, and the same again once you get home in the evening.
Don’t waste money by keeping the heating all day long if no one is home to reap the benefits.
Bleed your radiators
If your radiators have cold spots, this means you have air in the system. This can easily be resolved by bleeding the radiators to get them working efficiently.
Turn the thermostat down by one degree
You may be able to save more than £60 a year on heating costs by turning the thermostat down by just one degree; the optimum temperature is around 21 degrees.
And don’t forget, radiator valves allow you to control the temperature of every room independently.
Further savings can be made on your energy bills by washing your clothes at 30 degrees rather than 40 degrees.
Don’t leave TVs and consoles on standby
It can be tempting to leave TVs, consoles and other equipment on standby overnight (or in the case of phone chargers, on all night) or while you’re out of the house. But figures from the Energy Saving Trust show households can save around £30 a year by switching off at the plug.
Only boil the amount of water you need in the kettle
You may love nothing more than a hot cup of tea or coffee. Who doesn’t? But are you guilty of over-filling the kettle each time you make a fresh brew?
The more water you boil, the more energy you will use. So be sure to only fill the kettle for the amount of cups you need.
When temperatures remain low, our thoughts turn to keeping warm. Smart thermostats such as Hive, Nest and Honeywell Evohome promise better control over your heating, enabling you to ensure that you never heat an empty house, which should lead to significant savings.
Smart thermostats typically have easy to use displays, with larger colour touch screens making them simpler to program. They connect to your mobile device so you can control your heating on the go from your phone or tablet. If you’re coming home early, you can turn the heating on so that the house is warm when you arrive. Similarly, if you accidentally leave the heating on, you can turn it off.
Depending on which thermostat you choose, they differ when it comes to extra functions. Nest, for example, can detect whether you’re in the house and will adapt the heating accordingly. Some smart thermostats take this one step further and will send a message to your phone when you are close to home, asking whether you want the heating turned on.
Adjust your thermostat
While at home and awake, set the heating thermostat as low as is comfortable and then turn it right down while you are out or during the night. Just knocking it back for a few hours a day will be barely noticeable, but can save 10% on fuel bills.
Free your radiator
Make sure your radiators can circulate warm air freely. A lot of homes obstruct radiators with curtains, sofas and bookcases.
Another great tip is buying radiator panels. These are reflective sheets that can be placed behind your radiator. They stop heat from being absorbed by the wall, allowing more warmth to enter the rest of the wall.
Make smarter payments
Paying for fuel by fixed monthly Direct Debits will save up to 10% on the final bill. Make sure you do a meter reading every time a bill arrives to avoid over or under payments, which can be disruptive to cash flow later on.
Plan ahead to conserve energy
According to the Energy Saving Trust, being energy efficient can cut as much as £270 off annual fuel bills. Before the cold weather sets in, it’s well worth doing a home energy audit. Stop draughts by installing low-cost brushes or PVC seals on exterior doors, and fill gaps in floorboards and skirting boards with newspaper or sealant. Hot water tanks should be fitted with a tank jacket that is at least 3" thick, which can save you £30 a year or more on fuel bills.
Switch to smaller suppliers
Whether it’s price hikes, over-charging or complex tariffs, you may feel you’ve had enough of the Big Six.
The good news is there is a growing range of smaller suppliers to pick from, and they provide many good deals. A search on comparison site uSwitch.com throws up a range of options, including the likes of Shell Energy, Ovo Energy and Octopus Energy.
These buy their supplies from the Big Six, so it’s tricky to work out how they compete. However, smaller providers claim they can move more quickly to cut prices.
Other small suppliers that score well for customer satisfaction include Ebico and Utility Warehouse.
So if you’re fed up with massive energy firms, then it may be worth investigating the alternatives and backing a smaller company.
And to find out more…
Find out more on the Energy Saving Trust website. You can also learn more about grants that may be available by using the gov.uk energy grants calculator.
For further reading, check out EnergyHelpline.com.
Make sure, too, that you speak to your energy provider to see whether you qualify for any free energy-saving home improvements.
And make a note to enquire about smart meters. These devices show you how much energy you’re using in pounds and pence – giving you a clear idea of your average consumption, and where you can make savings.
Some energy providers focus on green energy. So if you’re keen to opt for one of these suppliers you might want to choose the likes of Good Energy or Ecotricity, an environmental champion that invests profits into finding sources of green energy.
Finally, remember this: if an energy supplier goes under, regulator Ofgem can step in to ensure you’re never left without power.
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