/ 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?


By the way, is there any way of editing one’s comments in these forums? It is a known phenomenon that one can never spot typographical errors (such as the two in my above posting) until they have been published for the world to see and scorn.

Hi Richard, apologies, at the moment there isn’t an edit function for users, but it’s something that we know people want and we’re hoping to introduce it soon! Hannah

I have been told that it might cause confusion if messages could be edited, but it would be a great help to be able to make corrections for a short period after posting.

It would also be good to be able to withdraw a message for a short period after posting.

Perhaps this could be done by having a preview facility.

Claire says:
22 December 2011

Im in an old ground floor flat, which is rental. The storage heaters are awfully inefficient, the windows are drafty as anything, and the vent in the larder blows a gale through. My last quarterly bill was £350!! – And That was only having the hallway heater on (in the hope to warm the rest of the concrete freezer to call a flat); we have now switched that off and have the living room one on, to keep that warm!
I have now resorted to wearing clothes in bed, never daring open the curtains to let heat escape from- in the living room we have a fire place which we use; but I feel the cost of wood and coal it may be a false economy.
Invested in seals for the door frames, and draft excluders and always closing doors. And basically only living in one room.

Im dreading the next bill, i only had the heating on for one month as of my last one! Dread to think what the next will be after 3 months of it being on.

I do sympathise, but don’t forget, much of the heat generated in an open fire goes straight up the chimney, taking any other heat there may be with it.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

Night storage heaters are pretty hopeless, at the best of times, but particularly expensive to run if you have little control over the “ventilation”. If you are “stuck” with electric heating, in this type of property, you are probably better off using infra-red heaters. The quartz halogen type, not one with a “hot” element. They have the benefit that they heat where they are pointed, without needing to heat the air. I am not suggesting they will make you “cosy”, in a room with ice cold air, but they will supplement a “background” air temperature. They also give virtually instantaneous heat, so you can keep control of bills, by switching them on and off as required. They are so cheap, it’s worth getting a couple to try.

Brian says:
22 December 2011

Well done to Which for campaigning in this way. Although I am very happy with my supplier (gained with the help of Which Switch a year or so ago), there is another utility which by its pricing is tantamount to a rip=off.

I refer to the water companies.

Their raw material drops out of the sky and costs the companies nothing. They plod along mending drains little by little, and why I do accept that water treatment does cost, I almost laugh when I read on my bill that I am charged for receiving water and having water taken away from me…bear in mind this is the use of a waste water drain!! I’d be happier if a van came up occasionally and took water away..

Seriously though, I ask myself what large scale infrastructure projects are under way in our land….how many billion gallons of water drops out of the sky and simply flows back to the sea?

I Spain, in a hill village I know well, they have a dual water system….one for domestic use, the second for use where hygiene is less critical eg watering gardens, washing cars/ windows etc…is research being done to see if a similar strategy might work here, with our ever expanding population. If not, why not.

It is just far too easy for United Utilities to whack up their charges, with relative impunity.

John in Bristol says:
22 December 2011

I only have the central heating on in the morning while I have my breakfast and take my shower. Then just tend to have an electric fire on in the lounge when needed, and keep wrapped, and sometimes including my coat.

I think we need a much more informed discussion of the UK’s energy future and the role of renewables.
Currently liquified natural gas (LNG) is brought by sea from Quatar 6,500 nautical miles, up the Suez Canal (got to pay a charge), and at risk from Somalian pirates. Ships dock at Milford Haven.
Thankfully, the USA now has a hugh surplus of natural gas, which is priced over there at almost half the European price. Companies are building liquifaction plants on the East Coast, and the UK would surely be an ideal customer, at 3,500 nautical miles from New York.
The Nabucco pipeline, planned for 2015 will bring gas from Kurdistan and other central European countries like Poland, to the centre of the European hub, and thence presumably to the UK from the undersea pipe from the Netherlands.
On the face of it, energy will therefore become cheaper in the 2 to 4 year timescale..

The Daily Telegraph reported recently on the off-shore wind-farm being built off the Lancashire coast. I checked their figures on the builders’ web-site, and they are correct. The cost is £500M plus the cost of new grid feed-lines. The averaged electricity output is the equivalent of that from just one gas-fired turbine which costs £500,000. Of course you don’t have to pay for the gas if you go via the wind-based source. But even taking this into account, and ignoring the interest to be paid on the £500M, it will take 25 years before the building cost is paid off, and wind-power becomes cheaper than gas-power.
This contrasts frighteningly with the assurances from eco-specialists that off-shore wind costs 7p. per KWH.
Of course we might want to honour commitments made concerning our carbon footprint, but with India, China and the USA burning coal like there is no tomorrow, it does make us look a load of suckers to keep to our commitments.
On the face of it, there seems to be a powerful argument for sticking with gas, and installing lots of insulation. Possibly also using district electric generation systems, with the waste heat sent out down hot-water pipes to surrounding buildings (significant losses over the grid are thereby avoided).

Nobody seems to be discussing these issues in any depth. I am particularly worried by the intention to build more nuclear reactors in the UK. In 40 years we have had Long-Mile Island, Tchernobyl, and recently the Japanese nuclear disaster. More reactors mean more risk.
There is still caesium poisoning on our hills that limits what farmers can do with their sheep. The eco-specialists claim that it takes 20 years output from a reactor to pay off the energy costs of building it, but they might be wrong here as they appear to be wrong over off-shore wind. If they are right, then it would be very unwise to make commitments to nuclear, which will inevitably have to be long-term.

All these questions need clearing up, if we are to properly influence our government’s energy plans for the future.

Countries burning coal like there’s no tomorrow? If they keep it up, there may BE no tomorrow (relatively speaking, of course!).

Malcolm Fry says:
24 December 2011

I agree with your over-view. Unless both the US and the developing world, especially China can be persuaded to cut their use of hydrocarbons, our efforts are almost useless, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and energy stocks. Unfortunately, anyone who believes they can be persuaded to help, was probably born on a different planet.
The government is correct, in the sense that we need to plan for the senario that, in 30 to 40 years, whilst oil and gas won’t necessarily run out, hydrocarbon fuels will become too expensive for general use. We need to plan for the most diverse energy production possible. Wind farms may have dubious economic viability, now, but that will not always be the case. We need to make a start, now, using renewables, to develope more efficient one’s. And, I am sorry to say, nuclear has its place as well. Even given all the arguements against, they are the only way to fill the “energy gap”. It is POSSIBLE that renewables may expand to fill the gap, or that a “new” energy source may be developed, like fusion, but that cannot be relied on. All measures take so long to develope, from planning, to production, that the government are only being prudent, by “pushing ahead on all fronts”. I’m sorry, if I upset the green lobby, but they can’t have it both ways. It’s the exact same people who protest against nuclear power, who protest if anyone wants to build a wind farm, especially in their “back yard”.

Bertie Coakes says:
22 December 2011

We would all be paying less for energy if politicians woke up to some reality. The subsidies for Wind Farms are a total waste of money. For every Megawatt installed we get less than 200 Kilowatts generated on a yearly average. And if that’s not enough operators are paid compensation if they have to shut down during high winds. Solar panels are not much better, even at the lower feed in tarrifs.
Ironically both are a blight on the environment and they do not save us from this fraud of catastrophic, irreversible man made global warming.

Bertie Coakes,
I am not too worried about the wind-farms generating only 20% of their rated capacity, so long as this is taken into account in costing the electricity. Gas-fired turbines seem to be very cheap, so there should be little extra cost in having a number stand-by to substitute for wind-farms when these cannot generate. Subsidies that disturb market forces also seem less than wise.
I am very worried by the fact that the Lancashire off-shore farm seems to disprove the eco-specialists claims that such electricity costs only 7p. per unit, compared to around 2p from coal and I believe 3.5p. from gas-turbines.
If these people have been lying to us, then this needs to be exposed, before we make any further long-term energy commitments. The same obviously goes for nuclear, where we also risk the destruction of large amounts of usable land, as they are now discovering in Japan.

I agree with your campaign, however, don’t expect the Government to have any sympathy, they couldn’t give a damn about this country, all they are interested in is poking their nose in abroad.

Our temperature is set at 18 degrees. We have like others put on extra clothing and we both have rugs to wrap around our legs in the evenings. We don’t have the heating on during the day although I work at home. I just have to keep getting up and moving around. We do seem to have less colds though since the thermostat was lowered. A good brisk walk gets the blood circulating for those who are able and helps to keep us fit too.

Jean Fooks says:
22 December 2011

While I agree that energy costs are high and that this is bad news – it is not bad news that people are taking sensible steps to use less by for instance putting on an extra jumper to keep warm. WE have to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change – reducing the demand for energy will help to reduce the dependence on foreign energy as well as reducing overall carbon emissions. If our houses were better insulated we would use less energy and be more comfortable at home – both good things.

Ken Dobbie says:
22 December 2011

I was looking forward to using the loyalty discount due to me from First Utility in November to help towards the December energy bill, but the company have not paid it and I’m having to engage Trading Standards to get them to honour their promise.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

One does need to keep on top of energy suppliers, regarding discounts. The most problematic of these is the Warm Home discount that the government has supposedly arranged, mainly for pensioners on Pension Credit, with the main energy companies. It’s £120 (inc VAT), and supposed to be AUTOMATIC, for pensioners on Guaranteed Pension Credit, but not on Savings Credit. Automatic? Yeah right! Even after an official letter, confirming mother was entitled to this, it took me three phone calls and two e-mails, to get her supplier to agree she would get it. Even now, whilst the DWP are telling me that she should receive this by 31/12/11, her supplier is still telling me that they won’t even BEGIN issuing these discounts, until MARCH, next year. Suppliers seem to be using it as a means to stop pensioners from switching suppliers. I eagerly await Which starting an investigation, in the new year, when people start complaining they haven’t had their discount!!

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

I am a convert to the use of energy monitors. I used to regard them as rather “pointless”, as they don’t actually DO anything. However, since being given one FREE by my energy supplier (npower), I realise just how useful they can be. They do make one aware of what appliances are using, and I find myself, almost automatically, saving energy. My biggest electric user, overall, is a washer/drier. By keeping an eye on its usage, on different programs, I have now worked out the most efficient way to use it. Overall, my electricity consumption, this year, is nearly 15% lower than last year. That is with minimal effort, and without, noticably going without anything.

Mike Cooper says:
22 December 2011

Close all your curtains at last light. Have the boiler on in the morning and evening for 60 minutes maximum and use the advance only if necessary. Switch off all unnecessary lights. Put a pullover or fleece on. Use the sun to dry clothes where you can and limit the use of the tumble drier. Don’t have any appliance on standby. Shower rather than bath and don’t stay any longer in the shower than necessary to clean yourself – use ship shower – wet, soap and rinse. Insulate your hot water cylinder. Only open windows and external doors if you have to. Go to bed earlier. Its all basic stuff but it does save money. If you can afford it, get at least 250 mm of insulation in your loft and if you are buying double glazing get the biggest air gap you can. If someone can explain the utility of electicity monitors, I’d be very grateful.

We now put the central heating on at about 4 pm on low heat setting. We have open fire in lounge which gets lit usually late AM and with living in bungalow the warmth can circulate reasonably well (all wall cavities are insulated as well as loft space and double glazed all round) and room doors closed where we dont want warmth. We do wear woolen sweaters which is not a problem(we used to as kids 60 odd years ago) Open fire burns coal but this year due to cost of coal we are using small logs which I “rounded up” with car and trailer as they were free to anyone who could collect. We also have hot water bottles and reuse cold water from bottles using a kettle kept for this purpose. It does not take a genius to work out water saving by reheating (Just one point – using a kettle for this purpose taints the water so mark the kettle DO NOT USE FOR DRINKING – friends called one day and said they would make the tea and yes you guessed it they used the wrong kettle (before I marked it) .

Sandy Valentine says:
22 December 2011

An aspect which does not appear to have been covered so far is the fact that the ability of this country to generate more green energy is discouraged by charges imposed by Westminster government, thus reducing the supply of energy and, at the same time, adding to its cost. The assumption appears to be that the further one is from London, the more a provider of energy should pay. Thus the latest proposals, for example, mean that a wind farm in the Western Isles will pay £77,000 per megawatt of capacity compared with a charge of £2000 per MW in south-west England while provision in the London area will actually be subsidised. It is difficult to move a hydro-electric station from the Highlands to the banks of the Thames! See “The Herald” of 21st December for further information.

Stephen Price says:
22 December 2011

I’m a pensioner and have reduced my gas heating bills by nearly 30% and I have NOT reduced the temperature in my converted barn.
Easy, I just never turn my heating off!The radiator thermostats control the temperature.
I really feel we need some re-education of how heating works!. The initial heat of any radiator or fire goes in heating the walls/ceiling/furniture/glass [remember how long it takes to warm up your home when you have been away] so once the walls etc. are heated the room air is then allowed to be warmed. I have for the second winter an even very pleasant temperature and it is always warm, even in the middle of the night.
I really feel sorry for these elderly people who by turning off, actually increase their bills.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

We have been having some extensive discussions, on this point, on Which Local. What you say is correct, but it is only true for certain types of building. For continuous heating to be economic, one needs a structure which tends to absorb, and store, a large ammount of heat (like thick stone walls, in a cottage), but, at the same time, a reasonable standard of insulation.

This is very true. And constantly having your boiler start up from cold wears it out more quickly as well. Just compare it with your car – it’s the starting the engine from cold that causes the wear.

You are absolutely right about car engines and the reason is very well known. I have never heard of the same applying in the case of boilers. Mine has been starting up from cold for over 30 years.

If keeping heating on all the time would save energy, this would be well documented and common practice. I don’t believe that it is true, but keeping heating on will help avoid condensation problems and frozen pipes.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

There is a physics proof for this. Basically it says that, if one keeps the heating on continuously, not necessarily at the same temperature (2 or 3 degrees lower when full comfort is not required), then the temperature of all the surfaces, in each room, will be kept warm. If all those surfaces are kept slightly warmed, then a lower air temperature is needed to acheive comfort. The net effect is that less heat is required to heat the air. Of course, as the walls are kept warmer, the heat losses through them will be higher. It is a question of which is greater. Only certain types of building will benefit from continuous, or hi/lo heating. A cottage, with 2ft thick stone walls, is a classic example. The proportion of the day, for which comfort is REQUIRED, is also important. No one would suggest that if one only NEEDS heat for 3 or 4 hours a day, it would be better to switch to continuous heating. It is more the case that, if one needs heat for, 8 hours a day, AND the building is suitable, there is little to be gained by switching the heating completely off, for the rest of the day.

Grumph says:
22 December 2011

I am lucky that I can afford my energy bill (Oil and Electricity). What amazes me is how the Government ever got away with putting 5% VAT on something that is essential to everyone. If affording your energy bill is marginal should we be putting on extra clothes or campaigning against taxing the means of keeping warm?

Has thought been given to those of us who are chronic sick and require a constant and highish temperature at all times, but are not so destitute as to be on benefits? Being cold exacerbates our illness which affects not only our quality of life but places an increased burden on the NHS?

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

I would just say that one does not have to be destitute to receive benefits, particularly if one has serious health issues. Whilst many benefits are means tested, many are not. If one is not employed, either retired or unable to work due to health issues, almost everyone is entitled to some assistance. The benefit system is complex, so good advice is important. Citizens Advice are pretty good. Unless one is independantly wealthy, and heating costs irrelevant, there is no reason not to ask. I am not saying help is necessarily generous, but no one should not be able to have reasonable heating, if their health requires it. Certain benefits also act as a “gateway” to other assistance, such as with the cost of insulation..

toxic says:
22 December 2011

i am a full time carer for my disabled child we cannot compromise on heating or water. People will die this year as a direct result of cold because their chronic medical conditions will deteriorate. Christmas lights and tv? what we are actually talking about is people who will be taken to court next year because they will not be able to pay their energy bills which they simply cannot compromise on.

Malcolm Fry says:
23 December 2011

I am the carer for my mother, who is 90, with alzheimers. As I had to retire early, to do this, I’m only on a relatively low income. However, I have found that there is a reasonable amount of help available, for mother, because of her age, and disability. It took some effort to find my way around the benefit system, to ensure she receives what she is entitled to. It’s never going to make us rich, but at least we don’t have to panic about fuel bills, as long as we are sensible. It would be useful to know, generally, what the situation is like for other carers, who are perhaps caring for a disabled child, or working age adult.

Sue Cope says:
22 December 2011

I am with Scottish Power.
I sent in my meter readings in and eventually got an email back telling me they were putting my gas/electric up beyond my current income. When I asked what I could do to cut my usage, they told me to use less gas.electric. My loft is sorted, I have low energy bulbs throughout the house, i leave nothing on standby, i have a water meter, double glazing. I do not have a tv. How can I cut my cost? I went to my local Eco Centre and it turns out my electric is so low in use, that my bill is loaded to take account of this. I am looking to find a cheaper supplier if there is such a thing available now.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

I think a lot of energy companies are guilty of “sharp practice”. They tend to give a low estimate for usage, at the outset, and set a payment rate accordingly. They then wait til late in the contract, to “discover” they have underestimated, so one owes a lot of arrears. They can then force a ridiculous increase, in one’s payments, and, of course, they can then use the fact that there are arrears, to block any switch to a new supplier. All I can really suggest is NEGOTIATE. Their “correcting” estimate will often be an over-estimate, so they will normally agree a sensible rate to clear any arrears, but they are being a bit “naughty”. Another one for Chris Huhne!

I’m not sure if energy companies are guilty of what you suggest. Me and a lot of others have the problem of having our use overestimated and the energy companies have a lot of our money, thanks to direct debits, which is generally the cheapest way to pay for gas and electricity.

The energy companies would like us to have smart meters so that billing is accurate but as you will read on other Which? Conversations, smart meters are not necessarily a good idea for other reasons.

As you suggest it is important to contact the supplier and discuss the problem.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope for a mild winter.

Malcolm Fry says:
22 December 2011

One “trick” I find useful with energy companies. Even though we are have an online account, they still only ask for meter readings, once every 6 months, which is a recipy for getting into difficulties. There is nothing to stop one sending in meter readings more frequently. I tend to send them an e-mail, every two months or so, asking them to advise me “where I stand”. I am sure they find it infuriating, but I don’t care, if it means I know whether I am up to date.