In my previous post, I looked at why energy prices are high, and why there’s not much anybody can do about it right now. The government has promised to tinker with the markets, and we can hope for a mild winter so we don’t have to compete on the markets for our gas supplies. In the end though, the only way we’re going to lower our energy bills is to use less energy.
Before I go any further, I ought to add that we don’t actually have it that bad. We love a good whine about it, but Britain still has some of the cheapest energy prices in Europe, with gas prices at almost half the EU average (pdf). Household energy, and gas in particular, is one of those incidences where the legendary ‘rip-off Britain’ doesn’t apply.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, and there is the very real prospect of ‘fuel poverty’ affecting one in four households by 2015. So what do we do about it? I’m not going to offer a list of tips, because you already know to switch to energy saving light bulbs. These are more top-level ideas:
- Work out how much you actually use. Before we can get to grips with our energy bills, we need to know what we use and spend. Go through some old bills, make a note of how much you actually pay, and see what your annual spend is. That will give you a benchmark figure to work with.
- Start tracking your energy use. You put the bins out every week, how about adding a meter reading to that routine? I read my electricity and gas meters every monday morning, and plot the results on iMeasure, as I’ve mentioned before. If you don’t know how much you’re using, you won’t know if you’re reducing
- Do an energy audit. Lots of websites and books offer these, a way to go through your home and your lifestyle and identify where you’re using energy. You may find you know plenty about how and where you use energy, but it might also highlight some things you’ve overlooked. Here’s a simple one from the Energy Saving Trust.
- Shop with the long term in mind. When most of us need to replace an appliance or buy a new one, we look at the price. What we forget are the running costs. That B-rated fridge-freezer might look like a bargain, but if it costs £50 a year more to run than the AA rated one, then after four or five years you’ll have wiped out the savings in higher energy use. Start thinking with the energy price in mind, even if it means paying a little more first time round.
- Reduce your number of gadgets. Appliances, gadgets and machines of all kinds draw power. If you don’t need it or use it, switch it off or just sell it on and gain the extra space. Beware of computer peripherals like printers, or unnecessary electrical items like digital picture frames, which may draw more power than you think.
- Diversify your heat sources. Most of us have central heating, which heats a whole house regardless of how many people are in it and what rooms they’re in. You might want to consider fitting a gas fire or a wood-burning stove in the room you use most, whether that’s a home office, kitchen or a living room. Having a portable heater or two allows you to boost the heat in one room without turning on the central heating and wasting energy in all the other rooms.
- Plan a renovation weekend. You can make a serious difference to your house in a weekend. Clear the loft and top up the insulation. Insulate the top of your loft hatch. Hunt down draughts and seal up gaps. Fit draught-proofing around doors, and flaps on keyholes and letterboxes. Fit thermostatic radiator controls so that you can turn down the heat in spare rooms. Lag pipes and fit a hot water tank jacket – if you’ve still got a hot water tank.
- Re-fit as you re-decorate. Most of us don’t have the luxury of retrofitting our houses from the bottom up, but we can make improvements as the opportunities come up. Redecorating a cold bedroom? Consider internal cladding on external walls, or insulating paint. Changing the carpets downstairs? Take the opportunity to seal the gaps between the floorboards, or fix underfloor insulation. Take out the radiator and fit a more efficient plinth heater if you’re re-doing the kitchen.
- Save for the big stuff. It may be daunting thinking about a new boiler or new double glazing, as these things are expensive. The good news is that they do add value to your property, so they’re worth doing even if you don’t intend to stay in the house long enough to enjoy the pay-off yourself. If you are intending to stay long-term in the house, fit a solar hot water system.
- Change your energy supplier. It may pay to shop around, and it is easier to change supplier than it used to be. Websites like Energy Helpline can tell you about deals in your area. Check dual-fuel deals, direct debit and e-billing options to see if there are extra savings. However, bear in mind that the cheapest deal may not be the best for the environment – I chose my supplier on their green credentials, and I believe its worth paying extra for renewable energy.
- If you want to see what I’ve done with my own house, I’ve written about it here.