I regularly speak to people and groups about how they can reduce their carbon footprints. And of course, most of the things that reduce your carbon footprint also reduce your energy bills. As I’ve tried to make our 1920s family home zero carbon, we have also seen our bills fall.
According to Ofgem, the average energy bill for a three bedroom house in 2021 was £1,970. We paid less than half that, a total bill of £787. My aim has been to reduce emissions rather than bills, and I would have done things differently if the main goal was to make things cheap. However, here are some key things that I’ve learned that will help to keep the costs down as we face rocketing energy bills over the next few months.
First, it’s important to know where we actually use energy. What are we paying for? If we understand where we use energy, we know where to focus.
So here’s a key fact – one that you may know already, though I am regularly reminded that not everybody does: heating is the biggest energy user in the home.
The exact percentages vary according to building type, lifestyle and region, but as a general rule, heating is the big one. In Scotland it averages 70% of household energy use, lower down south.
The tips we are given on reducing energy use don’t necessarily reflect this. Think of how many times you have had energy saving light bulbs recommended to you. All great, but lighting is a pretty small fraction of overall energy use. You could turn off all your lights and live in the dark this winter, and you’d only shave 5% off your bills. If you really want to make a difference, go for the bigger users.
That means heat.
Any energy saving measures that target heat will make a bigger difference. The simplest of those are the ones that don’t require any expensive interventions – that’s why people are always advising us to turn down the thermostat. But did you know that most combi boilers run at the wrong temperature? Turning down the ‘flow temperature’ of the boiler, which is different from the thermostat, could save 6-8% on your bills. Here’s how you do that.
Here’s a good principle to remember when reducing heating bills: warm the person, not the space. It’s how we used to do things in the old days, which is why we designed high-backed chairs and four-posters beds. Both keep the heat around the person, rather than attempting to heat the entire room. Central heating has made us forget a bunch of things we used to know. The first time you think of putting the heating on this autumn, ask instead how you could warm yourself – a jumper, a hot water bottle, one of those microwave wheat bags?
The same goes for spaces. I work from home, and during the winter I try and just heat the space that I’m in, rather than putting the heating on and warming the whole house.
Look again at the graph, and you’ll see that hot water is the second biggest user. Taking shorter showers, or running the dishwasher less often, will both put a dent in that. The Energy Saving Trust reckons shorters showers can save £70 a year, which seems well worth it.
Homes lose heat all the time, so it’s important to keep as much of it as we can. That’s why insulation is so important, and why I’m writing about heating now, rather than in the autumn. If you’re concerned about energy prices, you’ve got time to do a few things to make your home more efficient before the cold weather arrives.
Here’s an image of how homes lose heat, so you know where to focus. Hopefully you’ve done the loft already, but you can put down another layer of insulation. The recommended depth has gone up, so if you insulated your loft years ago you might want to top it up.
You’ve got time to improve heat retention with some thermal curtain lining if you haven’t done that yet. Blinds or shutters might be an alternative, and you’ll get the benefit of those during heatwaves too. You might want to hang curtains above doors as well – I’m considering a thick curtain across the front door this year, something I’ve done in previous houses that were draftier than this one.
If you’ve been putting off bigger jobs, such as wall or underfloor insulation, they’ll pay for themselves quicker if you do them now and reap the savings while energy prices are high. But you might find a waiting list for specialists, as demand has gone up.
There’s lots more I could say, but I want to keep the post from getting too long. But to summarise – if you’re looking to reduce energy costs, focus on heat first. Insulate. And heat the people.
Please do drop any of your own tips or suggestions in the comments.