As the clocks go back and the nights draw in, our dependence on energy to light and heat our homes increases. In energy terms the winter months are a peak season, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that bills have to go through the roof.
David Weatherall, an expert with the Energy Saving Trust, says there is a host of ways in which householders can save money by becoming more energy efficient.
Many of these methods are not big investments and it’s surprising how effective they can be.
The savings are so great that it would be worth paying to have your home draught-proofed
The second factor is the amount of work that you or a previous occupant may have already done to the house. Improving existing insulation will bring minor savings. Installing insulation in a house with none will save a small fortune.
The third is your house’s energy demands: the number of people living together, their habits and their attitude. Fitness fanatics are often said to drive up household bills, for example, because they take lots of showers and machine-wash sweaty kit. Some people would rather nip upstairs for a jumper instead of switching on the heat. Some boil only the amount of water they will use on a tea break. Some switch off lights when they leave a room. Some switch off appliances at the wall when they’re not in use. Some don’t.
All that aside, there are several areas where the average house can eliminate waste. According to Energy Saving Trust statistics, the average three-bedroom semi-detached house should be able to save £302 annually. It’s not just about bills. Mr Weatherall points out that these adjustments, like smart meters, have other benefits:
“Installing double glazing throughout your home is a very significant energy-saving measure but people don’t usually do it to save money,” Mr Weatherall says. “They do it because it reduces draughts, keeps street noise to a minimum, and can improve the appearance of windows. It isn’t typically for a direct cash payback arrangement. It tends to be for added comfort.”
Newer houses have walls with two layers of bricks and an insulated cavity in the middle. Victorian homes usually have a single skin of bricks, so owners need to add insulation to either the interior or exterior. It is estimated only 3 per cent of properties have done so, but it can have a huge impact on energy bills and comfort.
Mid-century houses may have cavity walls but no insulation. These can be insulated for about £500 and would pay back on average £150 a year, according to Mr Weatherall. The next step would be to inspect the loft. It is unusual to find no insulation, but it may be that the thickness is below modern recommendations.
A new generation of gas and electricity readers is being rolled out as part of a government initiative and will soon start being installed across the UK at no extra cost. They give users real-time information on energy use, expressed in pounds and pence. They pass information directly to the energy supplier, so there is no need for someone to come and read your meter. Smart meters will end estimated billing and people will only pay for the energy they use.
The simplest solution of all is overlooked by too many homeowners, according to Mr Weatherall. “Draught-proofing is a big, cheap way to reduce costs. We have a lot of very old homes in the UK that have draughts all over. Draught-proofing can save you a lot compared to what it costs.”
Keyholes, old extractor fans, chimneys and any other holes in your house that do not need to be there can be plugged at little cost. Such small measures really add up over the course of a winter. “It is worth spending an afternoon visiting a DIY store, buying strips and installing them,” Mr Weatherall says. “If you really can’t be bothered, or you are unable to, by our estimations the savings are so great that it would be worth paying a workman to do it.”
Boilers installed in the 1970s and 1980s are less efficient than modern equivalents. But they were built to last, so many houses still have them chugging away. Swap it for a modern condensing boiler, with a 90 per cent efficiency rating.
For a more comfortable winter, check on any or all of these energy areas. Experts at energy companies and not-for-profit organisations are on call to identify problem areas and suggest how to put them right. By investing a little now, you could save money in the long run, improve the comfort of your home and reduce your carbon footprint. Let winter do its worst.