/ Home & Energy

Jumpers instead of heating – how you’re cutting back this winter

Have you been forced to slash your Christmas spending? We found that most Brits are cutting back to pay for rising energy bills. Energy should be more affordable and we’re delivering this message to MP Chris Huhne.

Christmas. A time of jolly merrymaking, giving, sharing and tradition. However, this year’s Christmas may be very different for households up and down the country.

Our research found that six in ten people are worried about the cost of energy this festive season, with the vast majority (83%) making cutbacks to keep energy costs down. We also found that over half are putting on extra clothes indoors, and more than four in ten are turning the heating down.

Energy prices have risen by almost 20% in the last six months and, with the average annual energy bill standing at £1,345, it isn’t surprising that this Christmas will be one of hardship and cutbacks for many Brits up and down the country.

Your Christmas cutback stories

Last week we hit the streets and the web to ask people what they were cutting back on to help pay for their energy bills. We received a staggering response and the majority agreed that their Christmas was going to be one of cutting back as bills rise.

We received a broad range of comments, including people who share bathwater, families who have no heating on at all and others who have sold their cars or even downsized their property to help pay for energy.

Carol shared the wide range of ways that she’s had to resort to use less energy:

‘Stopped Christmas lights outside the house. Only have the TV on for a couple of hours and no radio or music. Limit the use of the kettle by making a flask of coffee or tea. Have the heating set to 16˚C. Wrap up in several layers of clothing and if I’m very cold, put on my coat.’

And then there was Lorraine who is really feeling the pinch this Christmas:

‘We won’t be having turkey for Christmas lunch as it is too costly, but have bought a cheaper joint of meat that was on offer earlier in the year to freeze. Have looked for bargains, vouchers and reduced the amount spent on gifts and cards overall. Generally making cuts in all areas this year.’

And Which? Conversation commenter Liz told us about her efforts to cut energy bills:

‘I put the heating on for the first time on December 4th. Until then I didn’t even have hot water on tap, I just heated a small amount in my kettle when I needed it, as I found that my gas boiler uses quite a lot of energy when it’s just left on.’

In light of this, we want the Energy Secretary Chris Huhne to make affordable energy his number one priority for the New Year. Today we’ll be delivering your comments (as well as a festive jumper) to remind him that this Christmas will be one of cutbacks, cold houses and fewer presents. Are you with us?

Comments
Guest
Margaret Murray says:
22 December 2011

I can’t believe how much my electricy & gas has gone up over the last 12 months. I was paying £27 per month this time last year then it was increased to £58 in October. I am currently unemployed so this was stressing me out. I contacted EON on Tuesday and explained the situation to them, also I mentioned that when I did a compare.com it appeared I would be better off with Npower. That sure made them think about it and with that one phone call I was automatically switched to £40 per month (saving £18), then they agreed to send out someone to read my meters on 6th Jan, also to look at any insulation they can help me with (for free).. so at the moment I am happy to stay with EON (but let’s see what happens in Jan). However, in the meantime I don’t have the heating on much and I’m currently sitting here typing this with 4 layers of clothing as I can’t afford to have the heating on. I have updated EON with meter readings but they are still basing my costing on estimated readings, so I’m still in doubt and might consider switching come the New Year. Watch this space really!!!

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

One piece of advice, when using switching websites, including the one operated by Which. When they ask you for your current usage, always, if at all possible, enter your usage in Kwh, rather than in £, and enter the usage for the most recent FULL YEAR, for which you have bills. Whilst it is possible to enter to enter your use from just the last bill, and do it in pounds, it inevitably produces much less accurate results. You are likely to find yourself on an unrealistic payment schedule, or even with the WRONG supplier.

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Guest

Good point Malcolm, and if you have an online account previous bills should be readily accessible. If you have not kept paper copies of bills a call to your energy supplier will provide the information needed.

Another thing to consider is whether your use is likely to be higher or lower for any reason. For example, anyone retiring is likely to start using a lot more energy for heating if they will be at home most days.

Guest
John Wells says:
22 December 2011

Dispite installing loft insulation, Cavity wall insulation, double glazing, it seems that the power companies are raising the charges to maintain the same revenue even though the amount of energy I use has reduced. I suspect that this is not a accident. It does not matter what each domestic user does, the energy suppliers are allowed to increase their costs.
I used to work for a company whos energy usage was huge. They were able to arrange energy costs which were one third of those charged to you and I.
Those in a position of power will extract the maximum from those who are not. i.e you and me.

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Guest

I agree with Mr Wells the energy companys are really too big to fail, we on the other hand fit energy saving bulbs,have cavity wall insulation fitted and have double glazing. This action on our part then produces less revenue for the energy companys and so they are forced to increase energy prices to maintain the level of income, while you and I have to suffer for their share holders. The goverment should be looking into the monopoly that they have. The majority of energy suppliers get their energy from the same source so why the wide range in tariffs.

Guest

We have to agree with the other folks that have commented on the high energy costs, We have only just put our central heating on 16 Dec as it has been mild , like other folks we are wearing more jumpers, boiling kettles less and buying very cheap cuts of meat. We are in our 60’s so we do seem the cold more!!! We have the added problem of now being retired are at home more rather than using our employers heat!

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Guest

I am unemployed at the moment and there’s no way I can afford the energy bills. I only have electricity. I lie alone. I use my heater only when I get dressed/undressed for bed, exercising and for taking showers (which I have also cut down on).
I have watched the temperature in my home drop to 10 degrees centigrade this month. At this point, my hands and feet are very cold. I wear a coat and hat all the time while I am indoors. Still, when I am sitting down, I quake like a leaf. This concerns me because I have a heart condition which makes me more susceptible to hypothermia. January and February are traditionally the coldest months and I do not look forward to them. I really hope the jobs market picks up next year.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

You mention a heater, but don’t say what type. If it’s not a Quartz Halogen one, invest in one! They are really cheap, usually less than £20. They tend to have a rating of 300W to 900W, or 400W to 1200W, which means they have a running cost (assuming you are on a sensible tariff) of between 4p and 18p, per hour, depending on which you have, and how many elements you have on (there are normally 3). The great advantage with them is that they are virtually 100% radiant. They don’t rely on heating the air, just the objects, and people, at which they are pointed, so provide maximum heat, almost instantaneously. I wouldn’t pretend they will make a room “cosy”, but they are the cheapest way to provide, at least, some standard of comfort!

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Guest

Richard Wilkinson writes in connection with the lack of dual-fill washing machines in the UK:

“…The reason I was given is that heating elements in the machines have improved from how they used to be. This means it’s more energy efficient for a washing machine to heat the correct amount of water to the selected temperature, then it is for a boiler to heat a large amount of water and only send a certain amount of it to the washer. …”

Forgive, me, Richard – but this is a lie – and it is the lie that the manufacturers have been trotting out for years. To start with how come that the heating elements have suddenly managed to produce more heat for the same power consumption (impossible – 3KW has always produced the same amount heat – electric heating being near on 100% efficient – unlike, say, light bulbs where most of the electricity is wasted in making heat, not light)? And even if it were true, then how come it is only the UK that has these super-efficient heating elements that the poor Germans, Italians and many other Europeans have been unable to source, so that they have to rely on their domestic hot water aupply?

As we have learnt both here and in the washerhelp forum, it is more efficient for almost everyone to use their domestic hot water supply than to heat water in the machine using full-price electricity. And for those of use with solar water-heating (an ever-growing number) the savings would be massive. And for those whose water heating is so inefficient that there is no advantage in taking in hot water the answer is easy – turn of the hot inlet.

Dual-fill machines can be used efficiently in all circumstances; cold-fill only machines cannot. Which is why I want a dual-fill machine and I see no reason why the manufacturers refuse to supply them in the UK when they supply them everywhere else. Miele, to name just one manufacturer, make dual fill machines that they sell all over Europe – except the UK.

Next time you talk to a manufacturer and get this tired old lie, just ask the question, “…If it is true that it’s cheaper to heat water in the machine, how come it is only in the UK that this is the case…?”

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Guest

Hi Richard (and others commenting on the issue of dual-fill machines). While this is an interesting – and clearly popular – issue, it is going off topic from the original point of this Conversation thread. I suggest we try and get back to the main issue of how people are coping with rising energy costs this winter. We’ll take a look at all your comments on dual-fill machines, however, and see if there’s any way we can start a new discussion thread in the new year.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

I agree with your comments. The arguement that everyone would be heating a cylinder of water, just to do washing, is a total red herring. Firstly, no-one in their right mind, heats a cylinder-full of hot water JUST to do a machine wash, plus, a high proportion of hot water systems are via “combis”, where the arguement doesn’t apply. There is an issue with the amount of cold water, drawn from the hot water pipes, before hot water arrives, but there are ways round that. Presumably H & C fill machines, still have an element to heat the water, if the “hot” fill isn’t hot enough. I presume that the manufacturers think we Brits are too thick to use H & C machines. Obviously, they think the Germans are more intelligent than us. Isn’t that RACIST!!!

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Guest

@Hannah – yes, you are right, but as energy prices spiral higher and as people’s budgets shrink, it is an ever more important issue. And it is directly *related* to the question because for people with cold fill only machines one way to save energy might be to replace it with one that takes hot water, only they can’t in the current market.

It would be very good if Which? could take this issue up and try to get us some answers and, more importantly some changes, whether or not a convo about it comes into being.

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Guest

Unless and until we get dual-fill machines, people might consider doing what I do.
Dishwasher, clothes-washer and tumbler-dryer are all on time-clocks, and use economy-7 electricity. In fact my dishwasher, which is a German Bosch, has a built-in time-clock.

My immersion heater is also on economy-7, and has 9 inches of insulation packed in around it inside its cupboard. Long pipe-runs do unfortunately waste a good deal of hot water, but all in my electricity bill is around £700, including 10 hours a day on the computer, and all my heating.

I have storage heaters in every room, but nowadays rely instead on quartz radiant fires since I work in the conservatory all day, and just visit the living room for a couple of hours in the evening. A radiant fire under my desk, directly on my legs, allows me to work at 12C, and after a couple of hours brings the temperature around my desk up to 18C. Twenty minutes on two bars in the living room before eating raises the temperature from 15C to 18C and keeps me very comfortable when aimed at my legs. Storage heaters are on in just the bathroom and kitchen, at very low input levels. I have an oil-filled electric radiator on a time-clock next to my bed, and use a fan-heater whilst undressing, and a 40W underblanket to warm the bed.

I still manage to have about 40% of my usage on the cheaper night rate.
I am thinking about getting an air-to-air heat pump for the living room next year, when I am advised that there may be grants available. A problem here is that they ideally need an outside temperature >5C, and this occurs only in the afternoon. My next-door neighbour has a tariff that gives him cheap electricity for 2 hours in the late afternoon, ideal for a heat-pump, but only one company does that locally. Something that Which should be looking at, I think, as heat-pumps become more popular.

Guest
erik99 says:
23 December 2011

What’s all the fuss about using domestic hot water for washing machines? And in particular, why the conspiracy theory that UK is the “only” country not to have them? In Spain cold-fill only has been standard for many years. In any case (as I have remarked in a previous post) it must surely be more efficient to heat the water at point of use and not waste it heating cold pipes and pushing cold water into the machine. Or does everybody else have solar hot water and get it free? As for the suggestion that you use hot water fill only, I am dumbfounded. Are we meant to believe that using hot water for rinsing is more efficient than heating cold water for washing???

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Guest

@Erik99.
Interesting you should mention hot water for rinsing: the dreadful LG machine I briefly had heated up cold water for rinsing on certain cycles on the basis that it was supposedly more effective than using just cold water. Undoubtedly this is partly why as a cold fill machine it cost more than 4 times as much to run as older hot and cold fill machines. To be fair to LG though, some Miele machines also have a warm rinse cycle so it wasn’t just a crazy LG idea.
As for Spain, I think you may find that the latest position from Spain is rather different from how it was a decade or more ago, at the time when manufacturers were trying to convince us that we, the UK, were the only country in the EU not using cold fill only washers. The tables have turned and it seems as if we are now very much in danger of being, if we are not already, the only country left in the EU using cold fill only. Current Spanish building regs certainly promote the use of hot water for washers according to research done for the other site that Richard English referred us to.

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Guest

Many thanks, Hannah.

You are right, of course, and I look forward to contributing to the new thread when it starts. I suppose the reason why I am passionate about this issue is simply that it is the one area where I have little control over the wastage.

However, to add to what others have said here, I would remark that, if you are using full-price electricity for heating then it makes little difference which knid of heater you buy – although it makes sense, if things are tight, to use a directional heater to make sure that the heat reaches your body and is not wasted on heating parts of the room that you aren’t using.

I did mention that I am lucky enough to have a bit of spare cash and I have found it a very good investment to make my house as efficient as possible energywise. So I have loft insulation; foam insulation on the underside of the roof-tiles; double glazing and cavity wall insulation. Grants were available to help meet some of these costs and this insulation, combined with my solar water-heating and solar-voltaic panels keeps my heating bills reasonably with my gas usage at only around half that of comparable properties in my area. My electricity usage is, however, much more than comparable properties and I put this down to the fact that I work from home and am therefore using a computer and peripherals every day – plus, of course, the washing machine, dishwasher and electric cooker electrical usage.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

Whilst I agree that most electric heaters (night storage heaters are a special case) have a theoretical thermal efficiency close to 100%, they all use that efficiency in different ways. Because quartz halogen heaters deliver most of their heat (over 90%, compared with around 65% for a resistive element radiant heater, and virtually zero% for a fan heater) as radiant heat, they are significantly more effective for “spot” heating. They are significantly cheaper to run, to heat a specific area, than any other type of electric heaters, which use much of their output, trying to heat the whole room.

Guest
Ron Bartholomew says:
23 December 2011

If one lives in a rural area where there is no piped gas supply oil heating has now become prohibitively expensive. To rub it in heating oil is, I believe, the only fuel to be taxed. Since most of us are not bankers or financiers it would be of some help in these poorer times if the tax were removed. Meanwhile as with most other people we cut wherever we can in all areas of food, heating, clothes and entertainment.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

Yes. Whilst we all moan about gas and electric price rises, oil price rises have been even worse. I would, however, make the point that many measures, which are still not necessarily viable when compared against gas, must now be more viable, when compared with oil. I do not profess to be any sort of expert on renewables, but they, I presume, together with some of the more sophisticated “intelligent” control systems, are now worth consideration. There is plenty of advice, out there, even if often difficult to find!! Start with the energy links on directgov. Also, there are lots of grants and assistance, even if even more difficult to find.

Guest
Daisy M. says:
23 December 2011

The price of heating oil is astronomical, but so is the cost of coal and other solid fuels, used by many who live in rural areas, where there is no gas main. An 86 year old neighbour, whom we help, is paying £46.50 per fortnight for his open fire, which heats a few radiators,moderately. We could use LPG, which seems to be about twice the cost of mains gas. Comparing electricity cost, I pay more than people who live in a city. I have tried comparing prices in this way, putting in city postcodes, as well as my own. (Sad!) We very rarely put on the central heating. It is 17 degrees here where I am sitting, with no heating. We are used to it and just put on more jumpers and fleeces.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
27 December 2011

There are a couple of cost saving measures, specific to oil fired heating, which can be worth exploring.
It is, generally, much cheaper to buy heating oil, in bulk, in the summer, rather than to have several, small top-ups, in the depths of the winter. This is particulary true of remote, rural locations. By increasing one’s storage capacity (a bigger, or additional, tank), it is possible to substantally reduce annual costs.
Smaller, and cheaper, oil boilers, tend to only be suitable for used with one type of heating oil. I apologise, if some of my information is out of date, since I retired, but some larger, and better quality boilers, were often capable of operation, on cheaper oil grades, with only minor modification, or even re-adjustment, with little, or no loss of efficiency. One would need to check with one’s service engineer, or boiler manufacturer, on the suitability of any given boiler.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

There is certainly too much emphasis on AIR TEMPERATURE. It’s as if we feel, somehow, deprived if a thermometer doesn’t read 21 C! Anyone would think our bodies need the addition of heat, to be comfortable. They DON’T. In fact, all healthy bodies are always (even just sitting, watching TV) producing more heat, internally, than they can cope with. All healthy people need to LOSE a considerable amount of heat, so as not to overheat, and suffer heat stroke. Controlling the air temperature is one, and only one, of the ways, in which we can help our bodies to regulate their heat balance.
17 C, or even 16 C can feel just as comfortable, as 21 c, if other conditions are right. What the human body really does not like is, rapid changes in the environment, and variations in the environment, for different parts of the body.
The most obvious way to improve the situation, is the use of sensible clothes. I don’t mean wear an overcoat, to watch TV. As, in most rooms, the region close to the floor is colder than the rest (unless you are lucky enough to have underfloor heating), wearing good socks is helpful. What you are trying to do is insulate those areas which are most effected by your environment. The more “even” the environment “feels” to the body, the better.
Another big problem is draughts. I don’t mean ventilation. Some ventilation is necessary to prevent damp. Draughts are air movement from one direction. They again effect different parts of the body differently, depending on their direction. Also, if one is trying to use a lower air temperature, draughts will “seem” worse. It is important to reduce draughts, sensibly. Do not try to make a building air tight, or you will just replace cold with damp.
The other, main, factor, effecting comfort, is the surface temperature of the surroundings (floor, walls,ceiling, even furniture). If these surfaces are warm, the environment will “feel” warm, even with a reduced air temperature. This needs careful thought. If, and I stress ONLY IF, the building is very well insulated, or heat retentive (such as a cottage, with thick stone walls), it is worth considering keeping the heating, at least, “ticking over”, continuously. I don’t mean keep it at the SAME temp 24/7. When heating is not REQUIRED, turn the stat down by 3 or 4 degrees which, at least, ensures the building fabric never becomes stone cold (if you’ll pardon the pun). The small extra amount of energy used, on tick-over, can be more than recouped by needing a lower air temp, for comfort. This is particularly true if the building is occupied for most of the day.

Guest
Valerie Morris says:
23 December 2011

You make it sound a real hardship to wear warm clothes indoors! Shouldn’t we all be turning down the heating to save the planet? If high energy prices cause carbon savings now, our grandchildren will thank us for it!

While we were younger and active, we never had the thermostat set above 16 C, and then it was only on only for three short periods a day. Now we are elderly (my husband is 76) we turn it up to 18 when we sit down in the evening, but the rest of the day it’s at 17 C for getting up and lunch, and mid morning and afternoon, when we are out or active, it drops to 14C.

Having grown up with winter woollies, vests etc as standard I find most shops, offices, and other people’s homes quite stiffling in winter! Surely we shouldn’t expect to wear T shirts in December?

Let’s save sympathy and help for the really poor and the elderly and infirm.

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Guest

ABSOLUTELY AGREE!

My heating has never been set over 15 degrees since I first moved in 25 years ago.
Admittedly I do not use the gas fire more often than I used to (though usually INSTEAD of the heating when it’s not particularly cold).

Well said Valerie.

Guest
David Fowler says:
23 December 2011

I have recently changed Gas & Electricity provider to EDF Energy.I received a letter from them stating that I was a winner in their THANKYOUS loyalty scheme.On investigating what I had won,which was not an olympic games ticket, but a voucher to redeem at another shop or outlet providing I spent more money.Not only did I win this once but twice, because I have gas and electric from EDF.
With the price of Electric & Gas increasing at an alarming rate would it not be more sensible to reduce the tariffs rather than spend money on gimics like this.

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Guest

It is so good to heart some sense from Valerie Morris and Malcolm Fry. Whether people can afford it or not, they should wear at least two jumpers before turning up the heating -a much healthier way to keep warm, while the nation could probably meet the Kyoto agreement at a stroke if this became the accepted culture! One certainly needs some background heating to take away any dampness in the air and thus decrease its conductivity, but the heating required to achieve this can be minimal. If sitting for long periods a heated stow could also be very beneficial (£31 from Amazon) with heating costs only a few pence per day.

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Guest

This is interesting. I searched Amazon, could not find “heated stow” but got
Dreamland Relaxwell Luxury Personal Size Micro Fleece Heated Throw at £34. But they do make it sound as though it is intended for a bed, and they warn you not to crumple it.

On another product, priced at £39, they say ” It can also be used as a normal blanket and can be draped around you when you are lounging on the sofa.”

A better source, supplied on Amazon, might be
http://www.hygienesuppliesdirect.com/products/prod151859

I guess that the ones that can be draped over you will have some sort of metalised coating over the outside of the heater insulation, allowing earthing to protect against insulation erosion and cracking.

I searched the Which website, where they discuss electric bed-blankets but not throws. These might pose problems for anyone who is incontinent, and I suppose you could spill your tea or coffee over them whilst sitting in a chair. So the extra earthing would be important. Can you advise, please, Which?
An alternative solution might be a heated cushion to put your feet onto, with a normal blanket to drape over your legs.

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Guest

Earlier in the year, I did ask Which? if they could assess these throws alongside electric blankets, as there is more than one brand. At the time they had no plans to do so, but it’s something they may do in the future.
I have one at home, and one on my narrow boat. If you ‘google’ heated throws, it’ll come up with more than one make – I bought mine in 2009 from e-bay (new product). The one(s) I have, have 9 heat levels and an automatic timer, so you can choose how long you have the heat on for. The throw is long enough to cuddle in to/under and, honestly, I have never had mine on higher than the level 2 heat. Apart from the obvious additional heat in the winter, it’s brilliant for those times of the year when it gets chilly and you want a little ‘something’ to warm you. I had a ‘Slanket’ in use, before buying these, but do prefer the heat element of the throw.
From a H & S point of view, the instructions do warn not to wrap the throw around you, or to crease it but there must be some sort of protection there, as they are machine washable.
On another cost saver, I use my One Cup electric kettle – really good if you live along and don’t want to boil more water than needed – quick, too!

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
24 December 2011

Any polititian who tries to tells us that energy prices are going to come down is ,either, misleading the public, or simply doesn’t understand economics. Any diminishing resourse, like oil and gas, coupled with an increasing demand, can only become more expensive. It’s not an excuse for doing nothing now, but in 30 to 40 years time, global warming will tend to cure itself, because, in that timescale, hydrocarbon based energy will be so expensive that few people will be able to AFFORD to produce greenhouse gases. Alternatives, like nuclear, and renewables, may become relatively more viable, but the price trend is still likely to be upward. In the current economic climate, no government can afford to force prices down, except, perhaps, as a short term measure.
The one “advantage” of this, is that there has never been a better time to improve one’s energy efficiency. Given current interest rates, and energy costs, almost everyone could find that the cost of energy improvements, to one’s home, or its heating, is a better investment than one can get ANYWHERE else. That assumes, of course, that one has the funds, for improvements. However, home insulation, and improvements to heating controls, don’t have to cost a fortune, plus there are still numerous subsidies, and grants, available, one just has to find them. A lot of people, especially the elderly, or disabled, or on means tested benefits, are able to get help, but don’t realise it.
It would be helpful if someone, like Which, could provide some simple, to understand, advice on this.

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Guest

I was born in 1924 and few private houses had central heating or even cavity walls,neither did we have electricity in country areas—this may sound pretty primative to those who havn’t lived through that time,but,I assure you we kept warm,mainly by wearing woolen underwear and good sweaters.There are those who expect to wander round their houses in T-shirts and thin trousers in winter nowadays——what’s wrong with appropriate clothing in winter,such as thermals,fleece or wool clothing?Far healthier to run the heating at a lower temperature and save on pumping carbon into the atmosphere!!

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
24 December 2011

Yes. I didn’t have central heating, til the early 1970’s. Before that, we used to mainly use one room, with a coal fire. One had a hot water, for bed, or, if one could afford such luxuries, an electric blanket. As a nation, we have become too “soft”, and regard automatic heating as a “human right”. Yes, it is a scandal that some people cannot afford heating that they NEED, but high energy prices are not a completely bad thing. Were it not for high prices, does anyone think that the majority of people would be thinking, far less discussing it. NO, most of us would still be pumping out ever increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, on the basis of “not my problem”

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Guest

The impression gained from all the feedback is that people are far too dependant on space heating to stay warm – at both the expense to them, their health and the environment. No way should energy companies get away with excess profits, but the culture of wearing minimal clothing and blasting up the heating must change. The one situation when the heating must be turned up is during periods of sustained frost. This is not for the sake of people keeping warm, but because of a sad lacking in the design of buildings in the UK – plumbing is far to exposed to the elements.

Guest
Erik99 says:
25 December 2011

Many years ago, when we were first married and living in a house without insulation (and when we did get it, it was one inch thick, as recommended in those days!) we sat together on the sofa with a blanket across our knees and a fan-heater blowing underneath it.

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Guest

A few people seem to think cavity wall insulation is not worth the cost.
I think it is. Two years ago I had my terrace house done for £130 (grant supported) which was discounted since 2 other neighbours in the terrace had it done too. One of them says he can’t see any difference, but I am sure I can. Upstairs we have cavity walls only up to the window bottoms, after which it is 9 inch solid.
The living room was at 16C when I started to eat my dinner there tonight. I left 800W of quartz radiant heater on till 9pm. by which time it had risen to 20C and I felt too hot with the heater 2 feet away from my feet. The waste heat will rise to the bedroom, reducing heating costs there tonight.
Both windows have heavy lined curtains and a blind half way into the window recess, which seemed to make a 1C increase in room temperature in the mornings, after I had fitted it. The living room door to the porch has lined curtains from Ebay on either side of it, and the front door has a heavy thermal curtain over it. My neighbour in one direction no doubt helps to heat my living room, but there is a passage isolating me from the other neighbour. At 3 hours a night at 800W, it is costing me £1-90p. per week to keep my living room comfortable, even with this just occasional usage.
When I put plasterboard backed by polystyrene insulation blanket on half the rafters in my loft, I also got a 3C rise in temperature in the living room in the mornings. It’s 10C outside at the moment, and in my porch, 2 curtains away from the living room, it is 14C.
OK, a mild night, but even when freezing outside, the fire brings the room up to 18C within 30 minutes.

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Guest

Cavity Wall Insulation (CWI) certainly has it’s place, but as a convo specifically on that topic, and a Which? investigation earlier this year, both discovered and highlighted, there are many cowboy installers out there (mainly, it seems, doing the subsidised installs for the energy companies). If you are unlucky and get a cowboy job, or if you have it installed in a house which is NOT suitable, you can end up not only with no benefit but also with horrendous structural problems.

My house is not suitable, according to several installers and a couple of independent builders, but CWI installed well in a suitable property is doubtless advantageous.

Guest
Malcolm Fry says:
26 December 2011

It should be appreciated that the effectiveness of cavity wall insulation is heavilly dependant on the length of time for which the heating is on. This may sound obvious, but it is not as simple as, if one has the heating on for twice as long, the CWI will save twice as much.
When the heating is switched on, in a cold building, there is no heat loss THROUGH the walls For a considerable, initial period, all heat which is passed from the air, in the building, as that heats up, to the walls, is ABSORBED by the material of the inner wall, rather than passing through it. It takes a considerable time (often hours), before any appreciable heat reaches the cavity, for the CWI to start doing any good. If it is time for the heating to turn off, again, before much heat has passed THROUGH the wall, the CWI never gets the CHANCE to do much good.
The result of this is that, if heating is only used for an occassional 2 hour burst, CWI will acheive very little benefit. If, however, heating is on for several hours, CWI does “come into its own”. Performance figures for CWI are based on “steady state conditions”, ie when heating up of the walls is complete. Performance, during heat up, will be much lower.

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If anyone’s interested in reading/joining the Convo that Dave mentions on cavity wall insulation, here’s the link: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/cavity-wall-insulation-companies-can-we-rely-on-their-advice/

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@ Malcolm Fry – that’s very useful and interesting info: I had no idea at all about this aspect of CWI. I may be wrong but I don’t recollect this being mentioned in the Which? report / investigation either.

@ Hannah – thanks for the link: I’m afraid that yesterday I couldn’t be bothered to search around to find it!

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Malcolm Fry,

That’s interesting and had not occurred to me. Probably that is another argument for quartz radiant fires, since they heat up the person and not the air, so do not transfer as much heat to the inside of the brickwork. However, a family would really need two operating, to cover everybody. The heat stored in the inner leaf of bricks still has to dissipate overnight through the cavity insulation, and that should raise the time-averaged temperature of the inner brickwork, even if a room is heated only occasionally. The figures below suggest this.

My quartz fire (800W) got my living room air-temperature up to 20C last night after 3 hours (35p. a night), and it was 19.5C when I went to bed three hours later. This morning, before I let any sunlight in, it was still 18.5C. That is a miniscule drop overnight. Outside temperature last night was 10C, and is 13C this morning.

So I am happy with my CWI, but have tested it only using my quartz fire. Two years ago, before I added all the insulation, I used a 24KWH storage heater (£1-20p a night), and that failed to keep the room comfortable by the evening. I did install a 6foot drain-pipe with a 4 inch fan in the top end, in one corner of the room, to pull down the warmed air, and this did give rise to a 3C rise in some parts of the room, but not in the area where I was seated. Maybe a conservatory fan in the centre might have worked better.

But for a single person living alone, the quartz radiant fire plus CWI, lined curtains everywhere and a blind on the window under the curtains, seems to be a very comfortable, cheap solution.

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Malcolm Fry says:
26 December 2011

I would not mean to suugest the CWI will save NO energy, if heating is intermittant. Even with intermittant heating, some heat will be stored in the walls, which will continue to dissipate, when the heating is switched off. It should be noted that it will, in fact, dissipate in both directs; towards the cavity, AND back into the room (if the inner skin of the wall is warm, it can act as a giant radiator, to help keep the air temperature up, with the heating off). The point is, however, that, with highly intermittant heating, one is likely not to get anything like the advertised energy saving, from CWI.

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Malcolm Fry says:
26 December 2011

This point has been referred to in a couple of other entries, in this convo. What one is doing is, expending a little extra energy, on “tick-over”, when heating is not strictly REQUIRED, in order to reduce the amount of energy needed, to heat the building up again, when comfort is next REQUIRED. This is because the solid surfaces are kept slightly warmed, and thus do not take as much heating up. There can also be savings because, if all surfaces are warm, a lower air temperature, is required, to acheive a standard of comfort.
It should be appreciated, however, that this process leads to a higher energy loss THROUGH the structure. It is a question of whether the savings of energy outweigh the extra energy used on “tick-over”, and increased fabric losses. Thus, this approach will lead to energy savings, in some circumstances, but not in others. The factors which tend to suggest that the “tick-over”, or hi/lo method may be beneficial are:
Buildings where the fabric is likely to absorb, and store, a lot of energy (a cottage with thick stone walls, is a prime example).
Very well insulated buildings.
Buildings, for which comfort is REQUIRED, for a significant portion of the day.

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Malcolm Fry says:
28 December 2011

Attn: admin

My post of 26th Dec (8:04), was in response to Stephen Price’s of 23rd Dec. For some, unknown, reason, it permanent appears as the final item in the convo, irresespective of what else is posted. I don’t mind having the last word, but as it keeps being moved behind more recent posts, it loses all context.

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HI Malcolm, very sorry, we missed this at the time. We’re looking into it now!

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Simpy says:
26 December 2011

It doesnt feel quite so bad to learn that others appear to be suffering as well. I moved to E-ON last year for a better deal and pushed to keep monthly dd at £50 but they got back at me and now I’m paying £78 pm. GGGRRRRRRRR. They say they will refund any overpayments so will wait and see.

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Malcolm Fry says:
26 December 2011

A lot of problems have arisen, both with the setting of direct debit payments, and with the inaccuracy of estimated meter readings, since most of the energy suppliers have switched to 6 monthly billing. Managing one’s energy account, online, can help reduce estimated readings, but they still like to use estimated readings, when there is a price rise, and still only WANT meter readings, every 6 months. There is, however, nothing to stop one giving regular readings, even if they aven’t asked for them. I send my supplier an e-mail, every couple of months, or so, with my meter readings, requesting that they advise my current position. I’m sure they don’t like me doing that, but do so, and, at least, that way I don’t get bills that are a shock. I also have evidence of my usage, should there ever be a dispute.

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Stephen Price says:
26 December 2011

I’ve saved over 30% of my heating costs compared to last year and I’m not doing some of the strange things I read about here!
Remember when you have been away for a few days, it takes ages for your to warm up. First it’s the ceiling to absorb the heat, then the walls, the furniture the glass , long before the air gets warm and you!
So it’s easy……..just leave your heating on all the time at a much lower water heat setting . My Valiant heating engineer told me and is he so right. Just try it! I’m comfortably warm though out the house and paying E-On 30% less, I’m in credit! No hot water bottles, dangerous electric blankets draped over me!
I’ve posted this first on 22nd, but Which deleted it! Pity, this really saves you money!

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Hello Stephen, thanks for the comment. We didn’t remove your comment, it’s simply on the first page of comments as we’ve had so many posted. Thanks!

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I live in the North East of Scotland and so far we have been very lucky with the weather. We do not get the option of turning down our heating, if we did we freeze. So yes we put on extra clothing whether it be an extra fleece or a thermal vest, it really is a matter of survival ( a bit dramatic but true). I feel sorry for those who moved here from milder climates as it can get very very cold here. As I said so far this year we have had a very mild year, which is saving us all money and long may it continue.

So in essence I would like to see fuel tarrifs stabilise all year round that way we could all, young and old, afford to keep ourselves warm.

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David Sanders says:
27 December 2011

I thought you may be interested in this Canadian carbon reduction and fuel saving system, which is about to be launched in the UK.

It’s a low cost, self installed passive device which reduces natural gas, propane and heating oil consumption by around 15% (more if the boilers are old or badly maintained), and reduces CO emissions by up to 80%.

We have over 7,000 of these units installed and in some cases, we can guarantee a one year payback (ROI).

We’re in contact with one L.A. who have a £1M heating bill and £250,000 carbon credit contribution to make.

We can save them £125,000 per year – every year, whilst significantly reducing their carbon footprint

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erik99 says:
27 December 2011

This sounds to me somewhat like a commercial advertisement, or am I just being unduly cynical?

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I don’t object to commercial advertisements, unless they are thought up by some overpaid ethic-deficient ad-executive who plays on my psychological weaknesses, rather than describing the merits of his particular product. I am sick to the back teeth of cars that turn into robots or mechanised centipedes, or drive through the set of Lord of the Rings with some fire-breathing monster chasing them. Its like a Golf but not a Golf, but what on earth is it like? A Golf is nothing to me, and inarticulate people who relate everything to a Golf, sure ain’t gonna sell me anything. This particular ad seems to discuss the real merits of the product, and I find that refreshing.
But I would welcome a url link to an independent assessment, please.

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Malcolm Fry says:
27 December 2011

I would be concerned, admittedly some greater detail would be helpful, that this may be one of these magnetic/electrostatic “molecule organisers”, that seem to suddenly appear on the market, every ten years, or so, and disappear just as quickly. Inovative products are always welcome, provided their claims are verified, by someone one has actually heard of.

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Malcolm Fry says:
28 December 2011

One aspect of heating management has not been discussed. The humble room thermostat. If one has recently had a new system installed, there is a good chance it has some decent control fitted. However, most older systems have control which is, to say the least, crude. Most heating systems, which cost thousands of pounds to instal, and not much less to run, have, as their primary control, a room thermostat, that cost a tenner, and which is often badly located, and not even appropriately wired. In the days when energy was cheap, there was a tendancy for heating engineers to fit the cheapest stat, they could find, site it where it was convenient to wire, and then wire it in the cheapest possible way, that worked. How many people are forever “fiddling” with their stat, trying to get it right, or having it set so it’s sometimes like a sauna, to avoid it being freezing at other times.
The best time to fit a modern stat, is when changing the boiler, as most boiler manufacturers now offer controls, as an accessory, particularly suited to their boilers. It is, however, possible to fit a modern, electronic stat to most systems, at reasonable cost. Many are “wi-fi”, so one can fit the sensor, if necessary, at a better location, without the need for additional wiring. Electronic stats tend to give much better control, and/or reduce running costs, especially when replacing an old, badly installed, electro-mechanical one.

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It used to be common to have the thermostat in the hall and many CH systems have been installed without a room thermostat. Sensibly installed thermostats can improve comfort and save money.

I defend those who fiddle with the thermostat. Perhaps they are the ones who realise that our need for heating does vary during the day.

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I’m with Wavechange, but I do agree that British Gas in particular and many other heating installers too have a diabolical record of fitting the cheapest stats in the easiest place even if, as is often the case, that is the worst place in terms of operation. Many installers, and BG is certainly one, also fail to wire them safely, let alone to work correctly.

A properly wired electro-mechanical room stat, located in a sensible position, is every bit as effective as modern solid-state ones and, albeit infinitesimally small, the amount of electricity consumed by a modern solid state stat (mains type only) is greater than the zero consumption of an electromechanical one.

All that said, you cannot expect to “set and forget” a stat and still get the best economy and operation. If you could there would be no need for a user control on the stat.

I’m not sure about the “Valliant” (should that be Vaillant??) heating engineer’s advice to dispose of stats: since Vaillant (and as far as I know, pretty much all other) Boilers all come with a strong recommendation that a room ‘stat is fitted it seems a little odd.

In terms of heating controls and fuel economy fitting a modern programmer (timer) that allows very short switching periods and more than just one or two on/off cycles per day saves a huge amount of fuel. I would suggest that anyone thinking of spending money on updating controls looks first to the programmer and only worries about the stat if they either don’t have one at all (in which case fit one) or if they think it is incorrectly wired and / or not working properly (in which case get it looked at by a reputable independent heating engineer but NOT one of the boiler manufacturers’ or energy companies’ engineers who are likely to try to sell you a new system or many alterations that you don’t need and won’t save you money).

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Thermostatic radiator valves should really have the temperature sensor well away from the source of heat but the only ones I have seen are combined with the control knob. Better than simple valves but not an ideal way of controlling temperature.

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Malcolm Fry says:
28 December 2011

Electomechanical thermostats do actually consume a small amount of energy, producing a tiny amount of heat, within them. Most, decent stats, of this type, incorporate a small balancing circuit, to compensate for this. It does, however, require the provision of an extra wire, a neutral. The thermostat will still “work” without this, so guess what, probably 90% of stats have this un-connected.

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And those stat’s installed by many contractors often DO have the Neutral connected, but contrary to all regulations and very dangerously they used the EARTH conductor of standard twin and earth cable rather than buy the correct 3 core and earth cable.

I’ve taken this up with BG in several installations, one of which they had even used flexible cord for rather than correct fixed wiring cable.

In all cases I have taken up BG have sent inspectors who have confirmed that the incorrect wiring has been installed, blamed their subcontractor and sent an electrician to correct the issue.

Going back to the heating side of this though, the current flow in an electromechanical ‘stat should be zero unless the stat is calling for heat. The tiny flow (usually through a neon indicator and resistor) is to provide switching hysteresis and promote positive switching to avoid sparking of the contacts, but it should only be operating when the ‘stat is calling for heat to assist in the switch OFF operation.

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Stephen Price says:
28 December 2011

Re No thermostat in hall?
I used to have one.
I now know they are redundant as every room has different requirements and is just a case of re-education.
My Valliant heating engineer told me to get rid and use the individual rad valves to set the temperature and leave the boiler on all day. I did [once the walls are warm they stay warm] and my heating cost dropped 30%.

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Malcolm Fry says:
28 December 2011

I have had to revise my opinion on the use of thermostatic valves. We were taught that, whilst a few thermostatic valves, on a system, could be beneficial, over-reliance on them could cause problems. As they shut down, the flow through the boiler could be reduced, and, in extremis, a boiler could be firing, with zero flow through it, and the pump, pumping against a “dead-end”. This could cause damage to both boiler and pump.
I understand, however, that the latest boilers can cope with this, by the use of automatic by-pass, and modulating burners. It should still be appreciated that older boilers are not necessarily this “forgiving”, and advice should be sought, before fitting too many thermostatic valves, to check that one’s boiler can cope.

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erik99 says:
29 December 2011

It has been my experience with all systems I have been involved with, or aware of, that at least one radiator has no thermostatic valve, specifically to avoid the problem of pumping to nowhere. This of course means that you can’t just leave the boiler running with no room-stat.

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Malcolm Fry says:
29 December 2011

Eric99
It certainly was common practice to do that, if one was generally installing thermostatic valves throughout. It was, if I recall, building regulations to fit a room stat, and good practice not to have t/s valves in the room stat location. I am not sure if that is still the case. It was also good practice not to have t/s valves, throughout, to avoid damage to boilers and pumps. If, as I understand it, modern boilers and pumps can cope with it, I can see the logic of fitting t/s valves to all radiators, although if done, I can see arguements, both for and against, having a room stat, as well. It would serve little purpose, except to ensure some idiots didn’t leave their boiler on “tick-over” all summer!

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Patricia says:
28 December 2011

A few years ago we moved into a relatively new cottage with an old oil fired range cooker that heated the water and fed the central heating systems. There was a bottled gas hob. The boiler stayed on all year to heat the water. The oven took 20-30 minutes to warm up. Individual radiators had thermostats but there was no overall thermostat to control the heating and there was no immersion heater.

The range was inefficient and expensive to run or replace. We did what we could ourselves to keep the fuel costs down by laying extra insulation in the loft, adding draught excluders etc. Extra layers of clothing helped in the colder months and thick socks worked a treat. We wanted a greener energy solution so we did our homework and consulted the experts.

To begin with, we installed a wood burner to replace the open fire and this cut the fuel bill over the winter. Our house is on the edge of a conservation area so we weren’t able to have solar panels on the front which faces south. We looked at putting them on the back and after 15-18 years we might have broken even on our investment. We looked at ground source heat pumps, woodchip burners and other green energy sources but we had restricted access to the back garden and not enough space for storage. They were all very expensive too. Green energy was neither viable nor affordable so we looked to gas.

There is no piped gas into the village even though we can see the lights of a storage plant from our window. A village the size of ours didn’t offer them enough return on the investment. We asked if we could have an Lpg tank and boiler but the driver must see the tank from his truck when he comes to refuel and he couldn’t. The next best alternative would be 6 x large gas bottles, but we would need too many deliveries to replace the empty tanks. We wrote-off gas as an option and we were told that suitable electric heating systems weren’t that efficient.

The running and maintenance costs on the range became very high and the price of oil escalated. The final straw was when we spent £1,000 in the space of a few months only to have the oven break down on the run up to Christmas. The freezing weather also affected the gas to the hob. The oven part arrived in January but it broke down again 4 weeks later. By this time we’d had enough.

We opted for an efficient oil boiler with time switch and thermostat and a separate dual fuel cooker with lpg. Although it cost a lot of money to replace the old system, we now have a more controllable and efficient heating system and aim to keep the running costs down.

We only have an oil boiler as we had no choice and the price of oil is more expensive than other fuel sources. There is no good reason for oil being so expensive and it does not seem fair that we have to pay so much just to keep ourselves warm.

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Malcolm Fry says:
28 December 2011

If this conversation has shown anything, it is that, whilst there is a trend for rising energy prices to cause increased concern over affordability, there is a wide variaton of individual experience, and ideas. This is not surprising. Were everyone’s metabolism the same, and were we all to live in identical rectangular boxes, our needs, and experiences, might be the same. As we are not identical, some are old, some are young, some are fit, some are poorly, and we live in a wide variety of buildings, some of which may be energy efficient, but most are not, and we have a wide variety of heating methods. It is, therefore, not surprising, that a “one size fits all” way to improve our “lot”, is simply impossible. Few people can afford to employ an independant consultant, and most “free” advice is sales based.
The government should be making realistic advice more affordable, not just to those officially classed as fuel poor. They may have the greatest need, but are not the only ones to be “struggling”, and unable to afford advice, let alone improvements. I would have thought it not beyond the bounds of possibility, to devise an online facility to provide, at least, some REAL advice, to “point people in a possible, right direction”

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Had some very good news just before Christmas: The Cooperative Energy are reducing their unit prices from 1st Feb next – an average reduction of 2.5% for gas and 3.5% for electricity. The standing charge element [which did not go up at the last price review] will stay the same. The Coop says the reduction will make them “cheaper for dual fuel than the standard tariff prices of all the major suppliers in all parts of the country”. They also say that they “are able to do this because wholesale energy prices have been falling in recent weeks as a result of the mild Autumn. As a co-operative owned by our customers, we want to pass on the benefit to our customers as soon as possible”. It will be interesting to see how long it takes the major suppliers to follow suit.

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I am surprised that no-one mentions the advantages of covering the head. If I am too cold indoors I put on a woolly hat and immediately notice the difference in body heat. The less hair you have the better this works!

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I do agree. I have very little hair at all.
I prefer Thinsulate hats that are washable without shrinking, and do not cut into the forehead.
They cost about £3 on the market or in Millet’s sale (if still on). They don’t blow off in the wind.
Warm socks are difficult to get. I recently bought a lot with 2-for-1 Tesco vouchers which were cheap, but not as good as the Coolmax cotton walking socks. These are available on Ebay for about £7-00p for two including postage. This is a bit expensive. I did manage to buy some on Wellesbourne market for £1-50p. each so maybe I might be lucky again.

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Malcolm Fry says:
6 January 2012

There have been several posts relating to curtains, to help with energy retention. It is true that closing curtains will often reduce heat loss, from a room. There is one caveat. There is a modern tendancy to site radiators beneath windows. There is nothing wrong with that, there are good reasons for doing so, but it does mean that closing the curtains can actually INCREASE heat loss. Depending on the fitting of curtains, one can be enclosing the radiator in a sort of “window room”, which will get very hot, whilst the radiator output, to the main room, is reduced. In those circumstances it is better to use a blind, either roller or venetian, which will help to retain heat without changing the effectiveness of the radiator. I appreciate they are not necessarily aesthetically pleasing, but that is personal choice. The thickness, or insulation, of a closure is of secondary importance. Any opaque closure will have energy benefits.

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Just a quick note to those of you who made comments about heating oil on this Convo – we now have another discussion running about the price of heating oil – do come and join in!

https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/heating-oil-can-the-cost-be-justified/