Getting started – energy saving at home

You might be worried about rising energy prices, global climate change or energy security issues – all these are good reasons to save energy and home is a good place to start. After all, here in the UK a third of energy use is in the home. Or, maybe you have quite low bills but only by being very careful with the heating and the TV and so on – you’d like to know how to make your home more efficient so you can be a bit more comfortable without having to pay extra. So - how? What next? There is no one size fits all solution, but here is some advice to get you started.

Making a list of things you can do

Personalised energy advice checklist

  • Run through our home energy self-survey to get a personalised energy saving checklist. It also covers things you can do to keep cool in summer, improving indoor air quality and for generating renewable energy.

Start today - you will find things on the checklist that you can do this minute - like turning down radiators in unused rooms, turning off appliances when they are not in use, adjusting the thermostat. It's just good housekeeping really.

Ask CCF for a thermal imaging survey

More about heat loss

  • Try out this tool to check where you are probably losing most heat and how much you could reduce this.
  • Ask CCF for a thermal imaging survey (Cambridge only) This is very good at pin-pointing draughts and showing where insulation is missing or degraded that you can’t see directly – for example in cavity walls or behind plaster panels in roofs.
  • Get an energy assessment if you think you want to spend a lot of money. An assessor will measure your home and gather details about its construction. Also, they will ask about your heating regime. All this is needed to get a reasonable model of your current energy use and hence your potential savings. If you want to fully understand the energy performance of your home, more detailed audits can be commissioned, such as a Parity Home Energy Masterplan.
  • Worried about historic or aesthetic features? There is plenty of advice on less disruptive options for older houses, for example this from the Centre for Sustainable Energy

Measure individual appliances with a plug-in monitor

More about where the energy goes

  • View this downloadable spreadsheet for energy use by common appliances and activities and how much they cost (such as shower, kettle, fridge-freezer, lighting,...)
  • Measure your energy use to see how much you use on standby, how much the washing machine uses...
  • Try a room by room audit. In each room, check what light bulbs you have – you should have low energy bulbs everywhere unless they are only used occasionally. Check what appliances you have. What do they use on standby? (Use a plug-in monitor or check if the power supply is warm to the touch). How much do they use when they are on? How often do you leave things on unnecessarily? How much are you wasting?

Find more advice here.

How much do you use for standby? As a rough rule of thumb, 1 W continuously costs about £2/year. My microwave oven is old and it uses 3W on standby. Just switching that off at the wall saves me £7/year.

Tumble dryers For many households, the biggest single energy hog is the tumble dryer. One load can use up to 3 kWh. Doing that 3 times a week would be £42 in the year. If you use a washing line instead when weather permits - say half the time - that would save you £21.

Planning and prioritising

After going through all that you probably have a great long list of things that you can do but you can’t possibly do it all at once. So you need to make a plan. Here are some things to consider when making that plan.

Draught proofing is often an easy win

Picking out the quick wins

Where do you sit on cold winter evenings? Is that room cosy? Reducing heat loss in that room could make you more comfortable as well as saving money.

Where is the worst heat loss? For example suppose you have a bedroom with a north facing wall and single glazing in the windows - Could you put in secondary glazing? Could you insulate that wall? However, if you don’t use that room much then you could turn down the radiator in there and come back to it later.

Draught proofing is usually quicker payback than insulation – and it makes you more comfortable very quickly. You can often do this DIY, over a few weekends. It is worth exploring your house looking for draughts. Do this several times, when the weather is windy and coming in different directions. There is advice on locating draughts here

Controlling the temperature of your hot water. If you have a combi boiler, there should be separate controls for the temperature for the radiator circuit and the hot water temperature. If you have a hot water cylinder it should have a thermostat which you can adjust. Reducing the temperature of the cylinder reduces heat loss. Also do make sure it has adequate insulation. See our tips page for more on quick hot water savings.

Take opportunities

Some things can be easily factored in when you are doing other work on the house. For example:

  • if you have a plumber in for some reason that would be a good time to improve the heating controls and check you have a hot water cylinder thermostat
  • If you need new windows, then that is a good time to do external wall insulation. Both jobs need scaffolding and if you replace the windows at the same time you can move them forward into the insulation, avoiding cold bridges through the frame.
  • If you are having a new kitchen you could upgrade the boiler at the same time

Doing internal wall insulation and floor insulation at the same time

A bit at a time or all at once

Some things can be done a bit at a time, others are better done in one go. For example:

  • DIY jobs like draught stripping can be done gradually and you can learn as you go along.
  • Internal wall insulation can be done a room or two at a time
  • For cavity wall insulation or external wall insulation you have to get a professional in and it will cost much more to do it in stages than to do it in one go
  • If you need a grant to pay for work done then you will probably have to do it all at once.

Consider how long you are likely to be in your house. If you expect to leave in a few years it may not be worth doing the big things (though energy saving improvements can increase the value of your home). However, if you plan to stay put for ten years or more, then it is worth considering a ‘deep’ retrofit – but you can also take your time to plan it properly. Don’t rush and do take expert advice. This is your home and you live in it!

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