Low cost/no cost tips to cut energy bills

For most households, just over half of our energy bills is used for heating, either heating our rooms or heating hot water for washing, and the rest is electricity for lights, TVs and other appliances. Here are some ways to help you reduce your energy use - mostly low cost or even no cost at all.

Download a condensed version of this web page here (pdf).

(All cost calculation are based on 35 p/kWh for electricity and 10.4 p/kWh for gas.)

Temperature control

The warmer your home is, the more heat it loses, so try not to heat it more than you need to be comfortable. Here are some tips.

Turn down the thermostat a degree or two

Turning down the thermostat by just 1C could save you 8% on the space heating part of your bill. However, different people are comfortable at different temperatures. Many healthy active people are comfortable at 17C or even less, if they are wearing suitable clothes. Vulnerable people including the elderly, or the very young, or people with limited movement, usually need to be warmer, at least 18C and probably higher.

It is best to change this a little at a time - even just half a degree - and see how you feel. Put on a warmer woolly, or a quilted jacket and if you get cold hands you could try some fingerless gloves. Personal heating such as a heated jacket or pad for your feet is a lot more energy efficient than heating the rooms. Also make sure you move about or and do something every now and again - at least have a stretch and take a few steps around the room; this is good for your muscles too. If you feel cold at first, persevere for a week or two and see if you get used to it. If not then turn it up again but if you feel comfortable try lowering the temperature a little more.

Alternatively, if you have a controller with a 1 hour boost button or similar, you can use turn down the normal temperature more and use the boost button if you feel cold.

Set the timer to turn off heating 30 minutes before you go to bed

Your home probably takes an hour or so to cool down after the heating goes off so you should be able to turn the heating off half an hour before you go to bed without any discomfort. If you normally heat for 8 hours in the day, you have just saved about 5%.

Turn down the radiators in less used rooms

If you have thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) you can twiddle them up and down according to need. If you have a spare room, turning that one down could save you 4% on space heating, or 8% of the room has two outside walls and you donít have wall insulation. You can also turn the heating down in bedrooms you donít use during the day and turn them up again half an hour before you go to bed.

Heating one room only

If you mainly occupy one room only you could turn the central heating right down and use an alternative form of heating (if available) for that room. However, be aware that modern gas central heating is very efficient so if you use a gas fire with an open flue instead it will use up to three times as much gas for the same heating effect Ė the rest goes up the chimney. If your gas fire has a balanced flue then this is not such a problem. An electric fire keeps all the heat in the room but electricity is more expensive than gas or oil. Also, not heating the rest of the house may contribute to damp problems, if warm, moist air from the heated area leaks into the unheated areas.

Where to put the thermostat

The thermostat is often in the hallway, which is central to the house but it gets a cold draught every time you open the front door. This can trigger the boiler to heat up even though other places are unaffected. Ideally the thermostat should be on an inside wall in a place you like to keep warm such as the living room - or you can have a 'wireless thermostat that you can take with you between rooms.

There is lots more advice for controlling your central heating system here

Reducing heat loss

If your home is draughty, fixing those leaks is the quickest way to reduce heat loss and very cost effective. Insulating lofts, walls and floors is also important and upgrading your windows.

However, there are also some other quick wins I should mention here:

Heavy thermal curtains

Fitting thick curtains (or roller blinds or, even better, honeycomb blinds) can reduce heat loss through single glazed sash windows by around 15%. Even if you have double glazing, it is worth closing the curtains at night.

Curtains for doors

If your front door leads straight into the living room it could do with a curtain, even if it doesnít have a window. Most doors arenít very thick. Ideally the curtain should go right down to floor level but this is annoying if it drags: portiere rods have a lever action which lifts the curtain slightly when the door is opened.

Curtain fixed to a portiere rod: as the door opens the rod is pushed away from the wall and the pivot forces it up, lifting the curtain above the ground Thanks to Penny for these pictures

Keep curtains behind radiators

Many homes have radiators under windows but when you close the curtains you want the radiators to heat in front of them, not behind. So tuck the curtains behind the radiator if they are long enough. Better still, fit a shelf (extend the window sill) above the radiator to guide the rising warm air into the room and away from the glass.

Single glazed windows? Try secondary glazing film

Double glazing and glass secondary glazing is expensive but there are some more economical solutions. The cheapest is to fit secondary glazing film Ė not as good as glass but it traps an insulating layer of warm air between the film and the glass. This video shows you how to fix it. (This film is advertising a particular product called Easyfix but there are others such as ĎStormguardí. As of Sep/22 you can get Stormguard for £2/sqm, cf savings £5/sqm/year for single glazing, heating with gas). This solution is good for windows that you donít need to open.

Draught proof your chimney

If you chimney has an open flue, it is very likely the biggest heat loss in the room. Some chimneys have a flap you can close to control the air flow Ė so keep it closed when you arenít running a fire. Otherwise, use a chimney balloon, a chimney fleece or just a bag stuffed with newspaper. (You must leave some ventilation through the chimney or it wonít dry out if it gets damp with rain).

Put foil behind radiators on outside walls

You want the heat from your radiator to go into the room, not into the wall and outside. With a thermal camera it is often possible to see warm patches under windows from radiators. So fit a reflective panel, or even just some foil, on the wall behind the radiator. (It is important that the panel does not touch the radiator.)

Improving heating efficiency

Reduce the radiator temperature

If you have a condensing boiler, but your radiators are too hot to touch then you are probably not getting the best efficiency from your boiler. You could get up to 8% improvement or even more by reducing the temperature which feeds the radiators so that the temperature in the water returning to the boiler is well below 50C. Above 50C you will hardly be condensing the flue gases at all!

This is normally straightforward for combi boilers but with regular boilers, which heat a hot water cylinder as well, you may not be able to control the radiator temperature separate from the hot water temperature.

Find out more from The Heating Hub

Check your radiators

Make sure your radiators are working properly. When they are warm the whole radiator should be warm: if they are cold at the top you probably have an airlock and they need bleeding which is very easy to fix; if they are cold at the bottom they may be blocked with scale or sludge. See My radiators arenít warming up evenly. What is wrong?.

Donít hide your radiators

Radiators need good air flow around them to transfer their heat into the room. Placing a sofa in front tends to block the heat in (and probably isnít that good for the sofa either).

Use a wood stove

If you have a source of waste wood, then running a wood stove is very cheap and even if you havenít it is lower on carbon emissions. Stoves are much more efficient than an open fire because you have fine control of the air flow. That means you burn the wood completely and minimise losses through hot air going straight up the chimney. We have more advice on running a wood stove here.

Hot water savings

It takes a surprising amount of energy to heat up water so it is a shame to waste it. Here are some tips.

Turn off keep-hot

Many combi boilers have a 'keep-hot' or 'pre-heat' facility. This is a small internal store for hot water so that when you turn on the hot water you get it more quickly. If you can use hot water many times a day this is convenient but it can also waste energy - turning it off can save 5-10% of your bill. Here is advice from The Heating Hub on how to turn it off: for Ideal boilers and for Worcester boilers.

Install a combi-save

Also, if you do not have keep-hot or have turned it off, then a combi save can save you even more energy - and water. This restricts the flow of water until it gets hot enough to be useful.

Avoid using cold 'hot' water

When you run the hot tap and it runs cold to start with, do you wait for it to get hot? If you aren't going to wait, why not just use cold instead? Every time you run the hot tap you are draining hot water from your cylinder, even if it doesn't get as far as the tap on that occasion. Or if you have a combi boiler, running the hot tap turns the boiler on, using a certain amount of fuel however little water you use.

A half inch pipe (internal diameter 16mm) holds 0.2 litres water per metre length. If you have 10m from cylinder to tap, that means 2 litres.

Wrap up your hot water cylinder and pipes

If you have a hot water cylinder then it is constantly losing heat. That may not be such a bad thing - it might make your bathroom cosy - but if it isn't where you want heat then it is a waste. So make sure it is well insulated. Modern cylinders have built in insulation but older copper cylinders should have a thick insulating jacket; if haven't got a proper jacket for it, wrapping it up in an old quilt is a great deal better than nothing. In fact giving it a second jacket is not a bad idea if you have room.

It is also important to insulate the pipes between the cylinder and the boiler. These run very hot to warm the cylinder so can lose a lot of heat. Also, if you don't have a thermostat on the cylinder then your boiler will be checking the temperature of the returning water to see if your cylinder is up to heat. If your pipes aren't lagged and they are losing a lot of heat then the boiler will think your cylinder is not hot enough. It is easy to fit foam insulation around the pipes, provided you can get to them.

Check the cylinder thermostat

The hotter your cylinder is, the more heat it loses, so don't heat it more than you need. It should be heated to 60C to avoid any risk of legionella bacteria growth. However you probably don't need to to go any hotter than that unless you use a lot of hot water. If you don't have a dial to control the cylinder temperature, you could get one fitted. Here is advice from Simple Energy Advice.

Showers: aerating shower heads and egg timers

Do you need a tropical rain storm or will a shower do? Fitting an aerating shower head can make a shower feel more like a deluge. However, only do this if you have good water pressure. Also, shorter showers use less water. Use an egg timer to remind you how long you are taking. Doing both of these could save you £42/year. Savings based on 7 min. at 8l/min. shower reduced to 5 min. at 5l/min. 5 times per week, 90% efficient boiler

Wash up less often

How long do you have to wait before the kitchen tap runs hot? This is water that has been sitting in the pipes. It was hot once but has gone cold. Every time you wait for the tap to run hot you are wasting heat. So wash up once a day instead of every time you use a plate. If you avoid waiting for the tap to run hot three times a day, you could save £24/year
Savings based on 4 litres, 3 times/day, assume 90% efficient boiler.

Saving on appliances

Let the sun dry your washing

Running the tumble dryer uses 1.2 kWh on average - if you run it twice a week that would be £44 per year - and it could be considerably more. If you have a garden and the sun is shining, use a washing line and do it for free! However if you must dry indoors make sure the room is well ventilated because that much damp can cause condensation and mould.

Turn the TV off when you aren't watching

An average LCD TV could use 100W. If you turn it off when you aren't watching it and that is 1 hour per day you save £13 in the year.

When you are buying new appliances, check the energy label

Many electrical appliances now need energy labels giving their energy rating and estimated annual energy consumption (kWh). Do look at the labels when you are selecting an appliance. The rating scale was adjusted back to 'A' to 'G' in March 2021 but the old scale - going up to 'A+++' in some cases - may still be used. In any case the annual kWh is much more useful than the energy rating because the rating only says how the appliance compares with similar ones. Larger appliances and ones with more features can use more electricity for the same rating. So only buy the size you need and don't go for fancy features that use more energy unless you are really likely to use them.

Note that for things like washing machines and TVs the annual kWh is based on 'average' use - you may use them more or less than this. So you can use the annual kWh to say which appliances use more and which less, but don't believe that the actual value is accurate in your case.

Boil just the water you need

It takes a surprising amount of energy to heat water. If you boil 1 pt more than you need, 4 times a day, over the year you will spend an extra £26

Measure your electricity use

There are two ways to find out where you are using electricity the most:

  • Use a plug in monitor, fits into a plug socket, measures an appliance such as a washing machine or a TV (ask us about borrowing one).
  • Check how much electricity you are drawing from the grid, using your smart meter in-home-display. If you do not have a smart meter, you can get monitors that clip onto the supply leads or that read your old style meter either by counting the LED flashes or by reading the digits. Try searching for 'electricity monitor' - there is a range of types here. If you have solar PV panels then you will need to do these tests when it is dark outside as otherwise you will be using your own power as well as the grid. (Some monitors can handle this and monitor both but they are more expensive.)

Using a plug-in monitor you can check your TVs, HiFis games consoles and so on for standby power. Older appliances can have significant consumption when on standby but most items bought since 2010 should use less than 1W (because of EU regulations). 1W over a year would cost £3. However set top boxes, DVR devices and many games consoles can use much more as they don't have a standby mode as such. Some of them do have an eco mode, though you may have to configure them to activate it - for example Sky STBs have one.

Also, try Nicola's electricity calculator.

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