How will you be cutting your energy costs?

by , Conversation Editor Energy & Home 1 November 2010
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Keeping our homes warm is one of the biggest concerns for Brits this winter. But what will motivate us to take action to keep our bills down – and do we really need to see details of our neighbours’ consumption?

Feet in front of fire

If you didn’t hear anything about energy bills in the news last week, I’ll assume you were on holiday or wearing blinkers.

Numerous reports came out to tie in with Energy Saving Week, and for once, they were all singing from the same songsheet – people are worrying about the costs of their energy bills.

Here at Which? we haven’t ignored the issue either. Our recent study revealed that half of Brits are worried about being able to afford their heating bills this winter, with one in ten concerned about a close relative.

Keeping the costs down

But while it’s safe to say that most of us aren’t looking forward to the prospect of the next confusing energy bill coming our way, what are we actually prepared to do about keeping costs down?

We asked people exactly this – and here’s what they said:

  • Seven in ten people plan to put on extra clothes while indoors.
  • Half will block drafts under doors and windows
  • Four in ten will have a warm drink or meal.
  • Three in ten will try to switch energy supplier or check for a cheaper tariff with their current supplier to cut bills.

Sounds great in theory, but when push comes to shove how many of us actually bother to make changes to our house? My Victorian-semi is pretty draughty, but I’ve still stupidly put up with the chills for two winters rather than buy curtains for the front door and sort out the gappy floorboards.

We need better bills

The government’s aware of our apathy and has come up with its own solution – including information on your bill about how your consumption compares to other people in your area.

This is an interesting one – would it really give us that extra bit of motivation to make changes to our homes? I guess they’re hoping it will bring out our competitive streaks, but it could backfire and simply appeal to our nosy sides.

For me, this kind of information will only be useful if the comparison can be direct with similar-sized households and families. There’s no point in comparing my family’s usage with a single person in a one-bad flat. Plus, you’d need extra details to give it some context – have others got extra loft insulation, for example? Gathering this level of information will be expensive and time-consuming to say the least.

Then there’s the ongoing problem of adding even more information to our (already confusing) bills. I don’t know about you, but for me, a clearer bill with simple tariffs and some energy-saving tips is what I want to see first.

18 comments

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Putting on an extra layer or two of clothes must be the easiest of these.

Last year I fitted draught excluders to doors – didn’t seem to make much of a difference, but hard to tell. Felt good to do though!

Also last year, I discovered that my local library was particularly warm and cosy, so I went down once or twice to read a book or magazine! Very nice!

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Bob

I agree absolutely with Chris C. about an extra layer of clothing.
Having grown up during and shortly after WW2 I have always dressed for the weather, and am always astonished in the middle of winter to see people in over heated shops and offices walking about in their shirtsleeves.

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dave Darwent

I’m completely with Bob and Chris. Well said both of you.

I’m sick to the back teeth of people I work with or teach screaming blue murder because they are cold (“Sir It’s freezing in here!” being a regular cry) when the ambient outside temperature is hovering around 13 or 14 degrees (which is actually very mild) but they want to strut around wearing see-through flimsy tops and shorts or skin tight spray on leggings that look about as thick as a net curtain. When you suggest that an extra layer or thicker more suitable clothes might be selected they are aghast (this is staff as much as or more than students) and many (sadly I have to say more female than male) retort along the line of “But I paid [insert extortionate sum] for this top, I’m not covering it up so no one can see it!”

On the energy comparison issue, I thought about this only the other day when I heard on the radio news a mention of the average household’s annual gas bill being in excess of £700.

What on earth do people do with their gas?!?!?! I live in a 1927 semi, I have secondary double glazing and my loft insulation was up to standard in 1981 – I am well aware that it is only about half of the current recommended thickness. I do not have cavity wall insulation but I do have (and use) thick curtains. My gas boiler is a G rated 1979 model and I cook by gas. I don’t have dual fuel discounts because my electricity comes from Ecotricity and they have only just started to supply gas, so until this summer Gas came from Scottish and Southern. I have solar water hating. From October 2009 to 2 weeks ago when my latest bill came the total for the 51 week period that covers was just a shade under £490, and I thought that was horrific because of the (now unusually) cold winter last Jan – March.

(I’ve posted on another thread on here about my neighbours who had their G rated boiler replaced with a B rated one and have seen their gas bills almost DOUBLE, which answers anyone’s question about why I have not replaced my boiler).

Of course, as Hannah says in her intro., comparing houses is not a like-for-like matter, but I wonder at how average gas bills can be £700+ when most houses now have UPVC double glazing, cavity wall insulation and (SUPPOSEDLY!) efficient new bolilers: theoretically my bills shoudl be the highest!

I can inly assume that the fact I have thermostatic radiator valves and my heating switches off when the hall temperature is 15 degrees C, and I wear appropriate clothes for the season, explains this anomaly.

Any thoughts anyone?

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eco warrior

Dave .
I am surpised that you think the energy costs you quote are excessive i am an former markeing man ager in the nations largest energy supply company and i only wish i could get my current annual fuel bills down to your quoted figures.
My past working experiance equips me to fully understand energy saving measures.
However as both my wife and i are pensioners who being at home each day have above average heating requirements..
My Boiler thermost iis set at minimum levels with radiator stats fitted to each radiator this together wiith all the other heat retention measures being installed and employed. Perhaps you have not given sufficient thought to the more pedestrian age group whose blood is somewhat thinner than the average younger working population who are out at 7.30 am returning at 8pm for 5 days a week..
In what bracket of age /home time occupancy etc would you fall in

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helen

All you lucky people with gas spare a thought for those of us renting and stuck with ‘cheaper’ night storage heaters. I live in a two bedroom semi with maximum insulation and double glazing. My electricity bill is over £600 despite never switching on the immersion heater for baths but using a shower, having only a halogen oven, washing machine twice a week on low energy cycle. And I have a gas fire to top up in the sitting room. Night storage heaters are a con. I am writing this with seven layers on,

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dave Darwent

Eco Warrior.
I’m in my mid 40′s.
I agree that I do tend to feel the cold less than many people I know, but I seem to have a very narrow temperature range that my body tolerates, so although I can get away with my heating switching off when the temperature in the HALL goes over 15 Degrees, this means that the living room and dining room are around 19/20 at the time which is more than hot enough for me.
The bedroom, on the other hand, is usually only about the same as the hall and I don’t find that especially warm. If I spent more time in the bedroom I’d need to warm it up more.
As for house occupancy it may be better actually if I said the hours that he heating is on for because, being a totally barmy cat lover, I have the heating on for the cats even when I am not around myself! The heating comes on at 05:50 and off again at 07:20 on weekday mornings, then on at 12:00 noon and off at 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, purely for the cats’ benefit, then on again at 5:00 p.m. and off at 10:50 p.m. on weekdays. At weekends it comes on at 06:30 (I’m an early riser!), off at 10:00 a.m., on at 4:00 p.m. and off at 11:30 p.m. I also stick rigidly to the old Public Buildings Heating Seasons so my heating goes off on May 1st regardless of the weather and back on on October 1st.
Eco Warrior is almost certainly right: I probably have not given enough thought to the older and house bound, and that’s really important because they are the most likely to have trouble affording the bills too. On the other hand, I live in an area where most residents are well past retiring age and I have to say that the people who moan about being cold most often are the YOUNG people (younger than me in the main) who have moved into the area quite recently. I suspect that like my 83 year old mother, many older people have a bit of that “wartime spirit” left in them and keep warm using a conglomeration of methods, rather than just relying on being able to flick a switch for instant Hawaii.

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fat sam

No one’s mentioned exercise – a run or playing sports is a great way of getting warm even after a shower and a drive home. And then there are bedroom sports. I am of course referring to lying in bed under a warm duvet reading a book with hot mug of cocoa. Yes, of course I am… I would recommend getting a Tempur memory foam mattress. Trust me, you’ll need to switch your heating off a good few hours before getting into bed as it reacts well to body heat. And not only that, you’ll have a good night’s kip on a comfy mattress.

Dave Darwent, I would def recommend getting your cavity walls insulated. It’s a relatively inexpensive process – my brother had his done and although you might not recoup the whole cost through savings it just made his home feel a lot cosier and didn’t take as long to heat up once the heating went on. There may even be some grants floating around from your local authority – always worth asking.

Loft insulation – I use the Space blanket stuff (a Which? best buy from a few years ago) and definitely recommend that to anyone. It’s dead easy to lay too.

However, does anyone know the carbon footprint of manufacturing and transporting loft insulation? Does it save energy in total?

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dave Darwent

Thanks for the point about cavity insulation Sam.
I have looked at this several times but I am put off by two things:
1) Most houses in my street which have had this now have terrible condensation and damp problems with peeling paper and flaking plaster. My builder tells me that this is to do with the construction of the house (a 1920′s semi) and advises that in his opinion cavity insulation would probably give me damp problems and over a period of time failing wall ties. This would clearly be undesirable and would cost a lot more than I would save on fuel.
2) I have a single storey extension and the only cavity wall insulating companies that have been to quote have said that insulating above that is impossible due to access over the roof. This means that the north facing wall of the house – likely to be the coldest – would not be insulated.
Taking these issues into account I think I’d rather spend my money (and any grant I can get) on extra loft insulation, and I agree that space blanket insulation seems very attractive.

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Sophie Gilbert

If only the Government gave grants to more folk to save energy. I’m in the category where I’m too “rich” or too “young” to be eligible for grants and yet too “poor” to afford to replace my boiler. I started putting money aside for depreciation of my gas boiler a while ago, but the pot isn’t substantial enough just yet. In the meantime a warm fleece and a hot drink (not having filled too much the kettle to make it!) does do the world of wonders, in the office or at home.

fat sam – good question about the carbon footprint of loft insulation. I’ll dig around! I imagine it does save energy in total, quite a bit in fact. I’ll see what I can find.

In the mean time, good idea about bedroom sports – except I’m more of a horlicks man.

Sophie – I bought a fleece top for the first time a couple of weeks ago, pretty cheap to buy, but does a great job at keeping you warm. I actually had to take it off as I was getting too hot! Will be more useful in the depths of winter.

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leilaprowting

I switch the heater off at night and cuddle up with my warm water bottle and i sleep like a baby.

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dave Darwent

Here’s a thought:
Does anyone know how much difference in terms of fuel use there is between homes with a traditional boiler – i.e. wall hung or floor standing with a cast iron heat exchanger – or a traditional BACK boiler behind a gas fire, and homes with modern “lightweight” boilers only?

It just occurs to me that in my home and my mum’s home we have floor standing traditional boilers in the kitchen and we need no radiator in the kitchen at all as the residual heat from the boiler keeps it more than amply warm.

Similarly my neighbours who found that after getting a new combi boiler their gas bills shot up massively had a gas fire with back boiler taken out and had to have TWO double radiators added in the lounge, where previously there had been no radiator.

I’ve not the slightest clue what effect such changes have on gas use – could it be significant?

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Chris Gloucester

Dave,
I’m an energy assessor.
Some simple principles for you, which might answer your questions.

A boiler burns fuel, lets say gas, and heats water for both space heating and domestic hot water.
Burning gas means you need an exhaust, a flue, where toxic waste gases and some heat is vented outside.
Efficiency is a ratio of what gets used to good effect (heating water) and what goes out through the flue. This applies to all boiler types.
The old back boiler, perhaps a Baxi Burmuda, is/was about 45% efficient. That means 45% of the energy released from burning the gas actually heats the water and 55% goes up the flue. Or another way to look at it is 55% of your gas bill is paid to heat your garden.
Modern condenser boilers are all over 90% efficient.

Second factor. The hot water produced is circulated to provide space heating (and some for your hot tap supply). You want this heat to keep you warm but the fabric of your home is such that there is constant loss to the outside so we have a secondary effeciency factor.

My advice is ditch the back boiler and get a new condenser (taking care to ensure the plastic condenser pipe is routed where it won’t freeze) and you’ll save a small fortune.
Also make sure your home is as well insulated as possible to save another small fortune.

Energy costs won’t be coming down anytime soon whoever you buy from. In fact never, only upward.
If you really want to keep the back boiler going I’d hope for a lottery win if I were you.

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colin grave

I’ve not spotted an article in Which? magazine regarding the benefits of flueless gas fires but these can be dramatic in the way they reduce gas consumption. Because there is no chimney you can install these modern styled gas fires on any wall in the house and because there is no chimney absolutely 100% of the heat produced goes into the room. We have to use ours on the lowest setting otherwise we can’t stand the heat after half an hour!

At night when we are all in one room we use the fire instead of the central heating. I have monitored over a few days the gas meter using either the central heating or the flueless fire. The gas central heating costs around 90p per hour and the gas fire costs 14p per hour. Ideal if you don’t need to heat the whole house.

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richard

I’ve found the cheapest way is to wear two jumpers – something I learned during the war!. At 80 I’m not interested in exercise except for taking my three dogs for two six mile walks daily. It is a gentle sustained exercise that is good for me and my dogs. While we are out walking for our daily four hours the house in not heated either. Haven’t been sick – including colds for over 20 years. Which basically says my regime can’t be unhealthy.

In addition – I installed loft insulation and double glazing many tears ago. The fully insulated boiler is in the bathroom and any escaping heat heats the room. The central heating is on twice a day for an hour a time which seems to keep the house at about 60 degrees with a rise to 62 at peak times – All radiators are thermostatically controlled and most are turned off as 5 rooms are rarely used.. So only the ‘living space’ is heated.

My bill is way below £700 p a.

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beehive03

I have not seen any comments on wood burning stoves which woukld seem a good environmental option if only for heating the main living room. However one needs to be aware that the stainless steel chimney liner which seems to be a requirement for new installations has some snags. It would seem ideal if one can use wood which would otherwise go to landfill. For example many builders may have off cuts, palletts etc and on the face of it this would provide a cheap and environmentally good way of heatings ones home. But be aware that the stainless steel liner is very fussy about what you burn and much of the scrap wood is either painted ot treated both of which can cause the expensive liner to fail prematurely. This is a very expensive problem and one which does not seem well publicised

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Alan

I would like to install a flueless gas fire fuelled with LPG. I am thinking about the Burley Esteem with Catalytic technology. Any comments for or against would be welcome. Two main concerns are (1) Is there any smell emitted into the room? (2) Would condensation be a problem on a 7 year old house with good insulation?.

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Damn Young

I admit to being an extra clothes convert. In recent years, I have taken to wearing two track suit bottoms, and two jumpers indoors throughout the day. It is only in the colder evening that I start to burn fuel.

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