/ 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?


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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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%.

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.

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.

Malcolm Fry says:
29 December 2011

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!

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.

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”

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!