Here are some of the first things you can do in a domestic context to minimise your energy bills and your CO2 emissions:
- If you are in in a vulnerable group, consider getting on the Priority Services Register which means you get extra help from your energy suppliers and distribution networks? The extra help includes advance warning of power cuts, priority help in an emergency, accessible format information and other support, as well as priority support when you call your supplier. The Register is available to a very wide group – anyone with a child under 5 living with them, or of pensionable age, or disabled or chronically sick or with a long term medical condition (and these are only some of the qualifications). You can register by calling your supplier: for more information on what support you might get and what the eligibility criteria are, check here.
First be aware of what your bill is telling you:
- look out for estimated readings, indicated by an ‘e’ next to a reading, indicating you may not be being charged correctly for the energy you have used. If your estimated usage is higher than real, you’ll be paying too much; if too low, you’ll be paying too little now may get a big bill later.
- direct debit payments are now the most common way to pay bills. It’s worth remembering that this is an agreed schedule of payments, NOT the cost of your energy. Check that you are not either overpaying (accumulating a credit balance with your supplier) or underpaying (storing up a potentially unexpected big bill later).
- Are you on Economy 7 or another time-based tariff. If so, check that it is actually saving you money. Normally a cheap night-time rate is paired with a higher-than-usual daytime rate and unless your night usage is around 40%+ of your total usage, you may well be better off on a simple flat tariff.
- Switching supplier or tariff has often been the easy way to save money on energy supplies. That’s not true at the moment (early 2023) – with many suppliers not interested in taking new accounts, but the market moves quickly so keep an eye on better tariffs from your exsting or new suppliers. Use the price comparison sites to help.
- Standing charges – watch for suppliers using increased standing charges as a revenue raising tool that can go unnoticed when you sign up. Traditionally domestic standing charges were no more than around £100 annually per fuel, but we have seen some rather high numbers creeping into some of todays trariffs. Be aware, as its a way the supplier can limit what they give back to you when unit rates come down.
Quick and Easy Energy Savings in the Home
- Lag your hot water tank, if you have one. Even if there’s already a pre-formed insulation jacket around it, check the amount of insulation it’s giving. Aim for at least 75-80mm of insulation. Lagging pipes coming out of the tank will also help. Supplies for these are easy and relatively cheap to buy: just measure and search.
- Turn your thermostat down by 1 degree. This obviously depends on your starting point! 18 degrees is the optimal room temperature for healthy adults; if you’re less mobile or elderly, you may need slightly higher temperatures, up to 21 degrees. Cold thickens blood and increases blood pressure, and breathing in cold air can increase the risk of chest infections. So ensure the rooms you use are at the right temperature, and not too cold.
- If you shower, reduce the length of your shower. Four minutes is a good target – use a timer alarm initially to help you get the change built into a habit. It won’t be for everyone but cold showers have some great health benefits !
- There’s been a lot of publicity about turning the ‘flow’ temperature of a central heating boiler down. This can be very effective in reducing your energy use, but needs to be done properly, differently for conventional and combi boilers, and the central heating controls need to be set correctly first. The Energy Saving Trust has a really useful page of explanations and instructions.
- Draught-proofing. Around 15% of heat loss in a house is through draughts and gaps, so sealing these up is important where you can. Brushes on doors (and letterboxes), draught-proofing strips around windows, thermal seal film over single-glazed windows. Check that any loft hatch is insulated, and that unused chimneys are made draughtproof by a chimney balloon or chimney sheep (not a typo).
- Windows – many investments like double-glazing actually take a long time to pay back, but there are some very economical ways to make secondary glazing, starting with the heat-shrink films that cost no more than a few pounds per window. Next up from that would be self-made or custom-fabricated acrylic sheets with magnetic strips. For drafty sash windows these can make a big difference and can be done from around £30-50 per window. Window heat loss can be reduced by drawing curtains at dusk, the thicker the better. If no other options are available in very cold weather, consider pinning old sheets or blankets to the window side to improve their warmth – a cheap and temporary but effective fix.
- Loft insulation – its still one of the best returns on investment available in many homes. Materials are cheap and easy to lay. Check your current insulation is of a good standard. The higher the price of your heating fuel, the more worthwhile it becomes to get up to the recommended standards. If you have a 20 year old layer of now collapsed 100mm fibre-glass it could be good to add some new material.
- If you want more tips, the Energy Saving Trust website is very reliable.
What about Oil?
Living in rural villages, many may use oil for heating. There’s a lot less regulation for oil supply, but here are a couple of useful things to think about.
- Group purchasing: Consider setting up or joining an oil buying group for your village? Such a group can negotiate a better price for multiple customers and reduce the number of tankers travelling through a village too (so saves emissions of all sorts from lorries).
- There’s an oil equivalent of the Priority Service Register, though only for customers over 75. It’s called the Cold Weather Priority Initiative and you can find out about it here. The idea is to prioritise deliveries during periods of extreme cold weather or shortages.
- If your home has a poor EPC, you may be eligible for a grant to upgrade your heating and insulation. Known as HUG (Home Upgrade Grant), you can find out more about it here.
Make Your Voice Heard
There’s a lot you can do yourself to address energy and emission reduction, but at the same time many initiatives only make sense when they have political changes to support them. Tell your MP/ PC/ county council how important you think it is that government prioritises promoting insulation and other efficiency measures with low carbon heating methods, both for our human health and the health of the planet. The more support politicians get for making our homes energy-sustainable, the more they are likely to support and bring forward the legislative changes that we need to create a 21st century clean energy economy.
Rachel Ritchie – (ESD Energy Advice Lead)