/ Home & Energy

Are you running your home efficiently?

Lockdowns have put increased pressure on all our domestic bills, but are you doing all you can to to make savings? What are your tips for saving money running your home?

The global pandemic has been a time like no other, and while you may already have been working hard to keep your finances in check before coronavirus hit, the economic uncertainty that we have been left with could make you more determined to get value for money and avoid paying out more than you need to.

Lockdown has meant that many of us have spent a lot more time at home, which puts increased pressure on domestic bills, particularly services such as water, gas, electricity and broadband.

But while the number of service providers you have to interact with is huge, the upside is that this gives you plenty of scope for shopping around and making some savings. By budgeting carefully and not taking the first deal you’re offered, you can make small savings that will soon add up.

Sustainable choices

Which? has always offered information and expert advice to help people get the best deals, switch providers, get a better service and shop smartly, but you can also save money by making more sustainable choices – something that we know many of us are increasingly keen to do.

Choosing products such as kitchen appliances and your boiler wisely can also make a difference. Buying the most energy-efficient models can save you a hefty sum in running costs over the course of a year.

Learn more about the Which? ‘Eco Buy’ label

And by repairing rather than replacing them when they break, you can reduce your impact on the planet with cast-off appliances as well as avoid the expense of buying new ones.

Your tips for an efficient home

If you’re a homeowner, do you do all you can to ensure you’re on the best mortgage deal available? Does your home insurance meet your needs? Have you considered switching energy supplier?

Whether it’s broadband, home improvements, shopping or budgeting, there are guides across which.co.uk that can help people get the best deals, switch providers, get a better service and shop smartly – but what are your top tips for running your home efficiently?

Are you a regular switcher of services, or do you prefer to stick with one company for an extended period of time?

Comments

There are two parts to this. The first, as you point out, is the active strategy of looking at what is bought in terms of energy saving and value for money. The second part is a little more negative, and that is the time and effort needed to keep track of everything. When life gets busy or uncertain, we ( me certainly, maybe others) set priorities and deal with things that demand the most attention. If water flows down a pipe, electricity comes down a wire and gas arrives at the boiler, it is not the most immediate thing on the list to change these and to worry about cheaper options unless the bills suddenly become astronomic. We also have our own particular life-styles and they dictate – to some extent – what we spend and how we save. While one family might economise in one area it might overspend on another more than the neighbour next door. Those with time constraints are less likely to spend time in the supermarket looking for deals when the shopper knows the favourite cereal and simply puts it in the trolley before hurrying on. Time and effort count as much as bargain hunting and energy switching.

I have not needed to switch energy recently, having done so some years back when almost everyone was on British Gas and what ever the equivalent electric company was called. Now I have one supplier and a monthly payment. Energy might be cheaper elsewhere, but not by that much and I am content with the service I receive. I do switch insurers though it is my broker who does this for me. In the past, a bill would arrive at the end of the year and I would compare it with the previous one. A huge increase would make me look round for other offers a small increase would cause a shrugged shoulder.
I always take a shopping list to the supermarket and, give or take an item or two, stick to it. I don’t replace items unless they break. Newer, more economical ones will have to wait until I need to research for another one. I generally try to buy what I need and get quite cross when I find things in my cupboards unopened and unused. It also annoys if something is used once and I find it is more trouble than it is worth. I have a juice machine that is a pain to clean and is seldom used, even though it was an expensive purchase.
I divide my budget into things I need to buy regularly and things I would like to own at some point. I save up for the luxury items and never use a credit card without thinking about it. Last year I wrote huge cheques to the builders and now I think twice about spending in order to regain some of that lost capital. This mental attitude is a form of saving since it translates in to money unspent.
Long ago, I used to do a monthly spreadsheet, mortgage, car, house, rates, electricity, gas etc. I knew what my end of month bank balance was likely to be. Now I am less fastidious but I still keep a mental check and this is a good thing to do.
I have to admit that sustainability is not something I worry about as a topic in itself. This becomes important only when making a purchase or when I seem to be using something in excess and the bill tells me that I am. I dislike waste of any kind, particularly food and am quite proud of my bin record which usually only contains peelings, rind and a few spare rib bones. I am lucky enough to be able to live without wondering how to pay the bill at the supermarket checkout, but I do make sure that my trolley only contains things I will use and that is extrapolated to life in general. An awareness of world resources and my own consumption of them makes me careful but I know I could do more.

Simon Burdett says:
27 July 2021

Vanilla and salted caramel is my (new) favourite ice cream

Rachel Butters says:
28 July 2021

I think it is easy to believe that because you had a good deal on your household utilities a few years ago you are still on a good deal. However, the market moves on around you and it is easy to overlook the small price increases until it gets to a stage where you’re not on a good deal anymore. It is also easy for energy usage to increase without you realising. Our freezer developed a fault and was using lots more electricity than normal. If I had not been checking that could have been a costly fault. So my tip is to check the boring things such as bills and energy consumption on a monthly basis. It doesn’t take long and could save money. I think it is also worth checking your utilities on an annual basis. You may decide you are on the tariff but you may find a new product on the market that is better.

I agree that it’s a good idea to monitor energy usage, Rachel. When visiting people I have sometimes noticed that the ‘fast freeze’ light on their freezer is on, which means that the compressor is running continuously. That wastes a considerable amount of electricity and is likely shorten the life of the appliance.

I once had a new fridge and the compressor was running more than I would expect. The lamp inside was not switching off when the door was closed. Modern fridges have low energy LED lamps but this was when fridges had an old fashioned bulb.

Robin Jones says:
16 August 2021

I monitor the amount of gas and electricity we use every week and have done so for years by keeping an Excel spreadsheet. In the spring this year our electricity usage gradually increased to about an extra 4Kw per week. Try as I may I could not find out why. Then my wife thought things were being overcooked in our main electric oven and started to use the smaller fan oven, which is lower down and less convenient to use. That was it the main oven was the problem andnow we are back to using about the same amount of electricity per week. A new thermostat is required on the main oven which will be fixed shortly. So it definitely pays to keep a weekly eye on your energy use.

I frequently switch energy suppliers these days on an annual basis to try and get the best deal as loyalty these days by organisations seems much less of a priority.

Loyalty is, rather understandably, rare in a commercial organisation. I check my fixed-price 12 mth energy contract during its expiry period and usually find a change is well worth while. This year I have moved to Avro. Apart from wanting 1 month up front, as do some others, they are significantly cheaper and – so far, so good.

My routine bills including paying off credit card balances are paid by direct debit, on the basis that I should be protected by the direct debit guarantee if there is a mistake. The only hiccup was when I switched energy provider and cancelled the direct debit. Apparently that prevented the company from refunding the credit balance into my account, so I had to wait for a cheque.

I try to avoid continuous payment authority, for example small annual subscriptions charged to my credit card, but if this is unavoidable I put a reminder in my calendar.

I avoid automatic renewal of insurances to avoid the risk of price hikes. It was encouraging to see that my car insurance premium had decreased, but like many people I have not been driving much during the pandemic.

Michael Jenkins says:
16 August 2021

We have installed solar panels (4.5Kw) and run an electric car. Our fuel costs through the Summer effectively zero.
We use OVO as our elec/gas supplier and they pay up to 5% on overpayments. Where else can you get this return? I realise to achieve these savings one has to lay out expenditure, ie cost of electric car and overpaying on utility bills.

This looks very attractive, Michael, particularly if you are frequentlynable to charge your car during the day.

Bite says:
17 August 2021

You could try Igloo Energy lot cheaper unit rates than OVO (probably wouldn’t apply to you as your energy usage is low) and offer 3% interest on overpayments. So leaving £1,000 (max) with them for a year returns £30. Better than any bank offers at the moment. Although not as good as OVO’s 3rd year 5%, but if your energy usage is high then Igloo shows considerable saving over OVO.

Andrew Hyde says:
18 August 2021

I had solar panels fitted 9 years ago and subsequently added a switching system to my immersion heater when sufficient pv power is being generated. Means our gas boiler can stay off most of the summer. A wonderful return on investment.

I read my gas and electricity meters every week and have done for many years so I know what my consumption is and how it changes with the seasons and the weather. I send my readings to Octopus Energy (and previously to Coop Energy who credited my account with £1 each time). I do not need smart meters. However when I am obliged to have one, I will not allow my supplier to take readings more often than at present.

John Ashby says:
18 August 2021

I switched to Octopus Energy recently, and was pleased to be offered a smart meter but it is not showing my gas consumption and the response to my complaint is: “I can definitely understand your frustration as the IHD is advertised to be this great piece of tech, but in reality, they are very faulty and unreliable.” In my opinion, the whole point of a smart meter is to be kept aware by simply glancing at the graphics. So providing me with a display unit that tells me nothing about my gas usage (gas being the least green energy source in domestic use) is pretty poor!

Give them a call and if they continue to be unhelpful, please make a complaint, John.

It’s likely that the display is faulty but it is possible that something in your home is causing interference of the radio signal between your meter and the display.

Until you have a solution you should be able to see your daily use of electricity and gas on the website. When I leave my heating on low to prevent freezing over Christmas, it’s comforting to see that I am using a small amount of gas daily, showing the boiler is working fine.

Has anyone experience of the companies promoting free gas central heating for homes with electric only? Or better quality night storage heaters on a deal for families on any kind of benefit? Has Which? investigated any of these schemes and are they likely to reduce the value on the EPC in the future?

No – I haven’t. But Ofgem have some important advice here:

https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/environmental-and-social-schemes/energy-company-obligation-eco/support-improving-your-home

In particular:

“You may be contacted directly by an installer claiming to be working under the ECO scheme. If the company claims to be an installer, always ask to see the following credentials: for most measures, installers under ECO must be PAS 2030:2017 (Publicly Available Specification) accredited, and will have a registration number. If they are installing microgeneration measures (eg measures that produce heat) they need to be Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited and will be registered on the MCS website. All companies repairing or replacing a gas boiler must be registered with Gas Safe. You can check this on Gas Safe’s website.”

They also recommend you contact:

https://www.simpleenergyadvice.org.uk/

I have been with Utility Warehouse for nearly 10 years because I hated having to make sure everything was paid, checking all the bills, etc. Its so easy, but I do worry that I am maybe overpaying for electric as we are a fully electric household. UW has been one of Which’s top providers for years so I get complacent about not swapping. If I am likely to find considerably cheaper Electricity elsewhere I might move despite the hassle. Anyone else in this situation?