Energy saving advice tips
My job on on this page is to save you some money, and that is what I will try to do. This page hasn’t been scraped from the internet, and there is no cut copy and paste going on. What I’m going to do here is list all the best real life practical energy saving tips that can save you money running your home, and typically that will mean learning how to cut fuel costs here or there. I can’t personally give you motivation, but my goal here is to have you walk away from reading this and save £100 – £200 if you can be bothered to act on it.
I’ll hold my hands up right now and confess I’m not Martin Lewis or Swampy the eco warrior, but that means you won’t find advice written by others on my behalf, or find anyone advising you how to compost lentils and toe nail clippings to save 20 pence. Through my work I have met thousands of private householders and worked for property management companies, this in turn means I have been able to gleam practical tips, some of which you will already know, and some you may not, from the people I’ve been fortunate to meet over the years.
Let’s get started… I’ll start with the biggest impact and the simplest to do yourself, and work outward to the harder or more patronisingly obvious stuff.
Best energy comparison site
Switch energy providers. I can almost feel you rolling your eyes here, and I don’t blame you because I would to, but hang on, there is a twist and it may be worth your while.
Stop – Rather than turning to the usual energy comparison websites on Google, such as ‘compare the market’ or any of the other large companies that spring to mind thanks to their multi million pound advertising campaigns, try a website like this thisbigdeal.com instead.
For those who don’t know, an energy campaign was started by the Sun newspaper in response to ‘revelations’ that energy comparison sites were commonly withholding cheaper energy providers who wouldn’t give kickbacks or commissions. If you can resist just clicking the first thing that turns up in Google, you will get all the best deals on the table, not just the highest third party commission payers. At the time of writing ‘thisbigdeal’ are boasting an average saving of over £300.
Be an energy shopper
As with all quotes, always compare any quote with another. So in that spirit why not try the UK’s energy regulator OFGEM for good measure, or Go energy shopping as promoted in the UK by the governments ‘be an energy shopper’ campaign. I know switching is a major hassle for some (I’m thinking of me here) but I have now switched and I continue to save money with a lesser known firm, and as long as they remain sensible I will stay with them, simple as that.
Think about it for a moment. A lot of people do a hard week’s work for £200 – 300 after tax, so fill in an email or make a phone call to switch, time taken… 30 mins max.
Get a good wireless thermostat
I came across my first good wireless thermostat a few years ago in a customers house when I noticed the customer moving a small electronic box around and asked what it was. As it turned out he was a retired heating engineer, and after an hour of bone crunching detail about every aspect of home heating I was enlightened. A lot of the wireless thermostats these days have energy saving electronic programming that manages the boilers startup, heating and running, this is way more efficiently than the older types of simple thermostat.
Simple wireless thermostat – Get the best thermostat you can find within budget. A good quality thermostat, preferably wireless (I’ll explain later) will save you money if you are still using a standard run of the mill thermostat.
I bought one from the internet for just under £50 and saved just over £70 in my first year after fitting it to my condenser boiler, I bought one for my mum and she saved just shy of £100 when fitted to her combi boiler. Not only that but even for the non technical minded they are very easy to use. Set to ‘constant’ and it runs constantly, ‘timer’ is whatever you program in, and ‘off’, is err off.
Fitting costs – I actually fitted both of mine after referring to the manual for the boiler, and if you’ve thrown yours away you can normally find them online with a simple Google search for the manual online. If you don’t feel confident enough, an electrician or plumber can usually fit one for you for about £50 labour only.
Of course there are other more expensive and more advanced options like a Nest wireless controller, but it’s not really necessary in my opinion unless you need to control your heating via the internet or mobile apps.
If you’re wondering why I recommend a wireless thermostat, here’s what I do with mine. After programming the thermostat to 20ºC (68F) which I find about right, you can place it in various locations in the house at will, obviously you can’t do that with a fixed unit. Too hot? place it on or near the radiator. A bit cold? Pop it near the window. When the temperature is about right place it on a shelf. It doesn’t mean you have to be constantly walking around the house with it, what is does mean though if you’re feeling under the weather or have just come in from the cold, all you need to do to boost the heating is move the thermostat somewhere cooler for ten minutes, there’s no diving into the settings or adjustments to be made.
Below are thermal images captured from the various situations described…The pictures show the affect on the radiator temperature, not the room temperature.
Thermostat on radiator – Placing a wireless thermostat on the top of a lounge radiator will lower the boiler to a slight tick over, very useful on cold winter nights, or when the house seems too warm.
Thermostat in the window – This is the ‘holy moly it’s freezing in here’ place to put it. Putting it somewhere cold like the windowsill will give you an instant boost in temperature as the boiler works harder, and is still being controlled by the thermostat.
Maximise the heat from your radiators
Don’t put clothes directly on a radiator to dry them if you can help it, not only does this rob you of lots of valuable heat but the clothes dry too quickly and go hard, what’s more the moisture gets into the house faster than it can breathe, making condensation problems more concentrated over a short space of time. Consider using a clothes airer instead, place the clothes horse close but not too close so that some radiant heat dries your clothing, and the majority of heat warms the house. Remember keeping warm is actually the primary function of your heating, not as a cripplingly expensive drying machine. A good desiccant dehumidifier with laundry function is a viable alternative if you can’t afford to tumble dry instead, and these can be found in the links at the bottom of the page.
Installing radiator reflector foil behind radiators will save energy. The reason this works is because the heat produced at the back of the radiator is reflected between the foil and the radiator itself and not absorbed into the brickwork at the rear of your radiator as readily. This heat then rises into the air so you may actually get to feel it yourself it before it absorbs into the walls or ceiling over time.
Best radiator reflector foil – Yes it can be a bit fiddly to install unless you use one of the newer systems like Radflek radiator reflectors or Heatkeeper panels, but it’s well worth it.
The quoted energy saving figures are that you will be probably looking at up to a 10-20% saving year on year on your heating bills, especially on radiators that face an outside or a partition wall with a neighbour, where currently you are trying to warm up the outside itself, or your neighbour house. Although the 20% saving and above quoted by some manufacturers may be a bit of a reach, many of the customers I have spoken to say they have noticed a difference and turned the thermostat down a percentage or two after fitting.
Do Thermostatic radiator valves work (TRV’s)
On the face of it these look like a great idea, each radiator is fitted with a little valve that controls the temperature of every individual radiator in the home. For example, this would mean that a small bedroom radiator that’s not in use can be set to a lower temperature, thus redirecting valuable heat elsewhere. The first snag you hit here however is assuming that these self adjusting valves never break or go wrong.
Working or not – Thermostatic radiator valves are almost never checked, meaning no one knows if they are actually working correctly. Should they break, they either jam in the position they were last, or are set to off. This will probably make it colder in that room, potentially increasing condensation problems as a result.
Another undesirable situation is central heating thermostats located in the same room as a radiator fitted with TRV’s. In this situation they will fight for dominance over the heating controls, and if you have a smart thermostat or wireless thermostat, this is the equivalent of a monkey and a scientist fighting in a sack, with a hammer, about who controls your heating. Not clever.
Just to complicate things further, sometimes obstacles like the boxing in of pipework or decorative enclosed radiator covers corrupt the internal control of the valve as well. So as you have probably worked out I’m not always an advocate of fitting thermostatic radiator valves, so if you are thinking of retro fitting them I would think again. It may be better in my opinion to manually balance your central heating by adjusting the radiator valves yourself, unless you have a very large house with unused rooms, or intend to regularly check the function of any installed thermostatic valves.
Money better spent for me would be radiator reflectors and a good thermostat as mentioned above.
Get indoor home humidity under control
If you have read any of my other articles on the website you will already know about my work with tenanted properties and helping to fix condensation problems, and if you haven’t already you can see my page on how to cure condensation here, or in the links at the bottom of the page. Excess moisture in the home makes your home feel damp and cold, even if it’s not immediately obvious to you. Often I can tell when a house is too humid just by walking into it, and this becomes most obvious for me when the homeowner or tenant is showing me a leak that is nearly always upstairs. I can literally feel the air change to slightly damp on the skin of my face, and nearly always the tenant or homeowner is totally oblivious to it. Damp air makes things damp, damp things feel cold and conduct the cold better, damp air makes the house more expensive to heat. As a byproduct this in turn helps bacteria, mites, mould and all sorts of other things grow.
If you haven’t read my article on curing condensation it may be worth a read, if you follow a few simple tips you could easily save £50 and upwards for no extra expenditure, and breathe better air. Keeping household air from being damp is one of the simplest bits of energy saving advice and it’s overlooked so often.
Buy a simple home energy meter
You may or may not have one of these provided by your energy supplier, but if not you can buy them from the internet for around £30. An energy meter is ‘fall off a log’ simple to fit and requires no electrical skill at all, just clip the transmitter on the incoming wire to the fuse box and plug in the display unit where you can view it. There’s nothing like seeing that you’ve left the lights on in cold hard cash terms to get you motivated. Two words of warning, yes you may have to read a 2-4 page manual to get the very best from it, and secondly they are addictive to look at once set up.
Energy monitor – All types are available from the simple like this one pictured, to versions that record a usage log and make graphs for smart phones and tablets. These can normally be picked up from eBay or Amazon for less than £30. This is an indirect saving, but it’s worth having.
Warning, energy monitors may inspire insanity amongst some people as they dive around the house switching things off, and extreme aggravation in others that are on the receiving end. Remember a costly divorce will put a downer on any good energy saving advice.
Buy a plug in power monitor
This is different to the item above and I’d recommend one of these to anyone. It’s so simple to use, plug in the power meter, plug in the appliance you want to test, and read the results. It takes all the guesswork out of power consumption and isolates the electrical use of a particular device accurately, which unfortunately a home energy meter as mentioned above won’t do.
Plug in energy meter – I find one of these sparks an interest in energy consumption. When you replace or upgrade any electrical household items you actually take more notice than you did before.
For a low cost, simple to understand and easy to read version see the Energenie Power Meter but if you need a slightly better one spend a little more money. Everyone has a different idea of what makes the best plugin power meter but personally I have found the one I’ve linked to is easy to use and a bargain at the price.
Don’t boil more water than you need (I’m not going to patronise you)
That’s a comment you hear or read everywhere don’t you? It has to be said but it makes me grit my teeth inside. What buffoon in their right mind fills a kettle to the brim for one cup of tea? No one I’m guessing.
Kettle alternative – There is though one good tip I can give you, stop using your Kettle and replace it with a ‘one cup boiler’. Not only does it look like you’ve come into some money, but it reduces the contribution to indoor humidity and saves power at the same time.
I got one as a christmas present and it’s so good I’m actually angry I didn’t have one before. Our kettle used 3Kw of electricity and so does the Breville Hot Cup, the difference is the kettle takes 90 seconds to boil the least amount of water for a cup (just on the visible fill line) and the ‘one cup’ is 40 seconds with subsequent cups at 30 seconds. This means not only do you reduce power consumption by about 50%, you also release less moisture into the air at the same time. And yes, you can control the amount of water dispensed for filling mugs and jugs too.
Re-think your bulbs… again
You’re probably in one camp or another over energy saving bulbs depending on how old you are and the condition of your eyes. If you are reluctant to make further inroads into the land of energy saving bulbs though I would ask you to think again, or at least compromise a little, a few simple swaps and you could save £20 per year, every year. Here’s just a few tweaks you can make…
- Buy branded bulbs or read reviews – The bulb you buy will shape your experience with energy savers, a modern bulb with a good brand name has a reputation to keep. I totally agree that previous incarnations have been slow to start, non dimmable, and dull. But the latest bulbs actually last as long as they say (mostly) and kick out a much better, and almost instant light.
- Give them a try somewhere – A good place to start that I notice is that a lot of my customers don’t bother with the landing light or hall light, you know, the one you leave on 24 hours a day when you go on holiday, to let the burglars know you’re on holiday. There are obvious savings to be made here swapping out 60w bulbs for an 13-18w version.
- Increase the power – Often on the side of an energy saving bulb it will have an ‘equivalent’ rating. Unless you are 17 years old this may not be what you actually see when it’s switched on though. Think about taking a step up in the power of the energy saver to counteract this effect.
- Spotlights or downlights – Consider the shape of the beam when buying LED bulbs as halogen replacements. This is important, most often the cheap bulbs have a very wide spread making a powerful LED seem dull in comparison. Look for a beam angle of 60° or less if you want to have a definite bright spot effect made by many halogens.
- Consider mix and match – This is a trick I’ve seen done in kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms with great effect. If you must have normal incandescent bulbs or halogens for reading purposes, localise them to reading areas or food preparation areas whilst keeping all others energy saving, it often creates a very nice overall lighting effect.
- Be adventurous – In household lamps and similar situations try decorative shades, energy saving bulbs can go as low as 5w sometimes and look great for mood lighting. If the bulb is visible seek out energy savers that look like traditional bulbs.
LED downlights – his is a very good example of how energy saving bulbs work. Two downlights, one a traditional halogen filament bulb and the other is LED. Traditional bulbs waste energy in the form of heat, even heating up the surrounding plasterboard ceiling.
Energy saving bulbs – Here’s a lamp fitted with a 7w or 30w equivalent bulb. They don’t have to be expensive or ugly to look at, when lit they look great.
Insulating your property
The insulation of your property is vital to capture and hold the heat inside your home, you already know that, I don’t really need to tell you. Is your home as well insulated as it should be? Could you do more? Obviously apart from topping up the loft insulation and installing draught excluders this could get very expensive, especially if you’re talking double glazing, cavity wall, or external insulation to walls. I can’t work out whether it will pay you back because there are simply too many variables, but you could see if you are liable for some financial help like the green deal or energy grants.
Use an alternative source of heating
Often in my line of work I deal with people with very little money to spend on heating, and they certainly can’t afford to heat the whole house, this can often be single parents, students or the elderly. There’s no shame in this, I’ve been there too. There are other sources of heat available though that can often be used as a supplement to turning the main central heating right down.
Good examples of these would be Halogen heaters, PTC fan heaters, portable oil filled radiators, panel heaters and desiccant dehumidifiers, these will all supply a clean dry source of heat to take the chill off a room. If you are in the market for a heater always seek out the lowest power consumption possible, often the peak figure is advertised as say 2000w when it’s running at full blast. If you’re working on a serious budget a heater also needs to be able to be set low, say 750w or less.
A bad example of a heater for me is the portable calor gas type heater like the Superser. Don’t get me wrong they are great little economical heaters, but I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen these used in houses and shops with chronic condensation.
Gas heater – Gas has a very high water vapour content in the burnt fumes, and it doesn’t matter whether we are talking about natural gas, propane or Calor. If you have ever put your hand in front of a central heating exhaust you will know what I mean, after just a few seconds your hand it literally damp.
A very good and cheap alternative to a small heater is actually a desiccant dehumidifier. During the winter months in the UK condensation and humidity rises. Not only will a 350W dehumidifier be economical to run in comparison to a heater but it will also make the air drier and warmer, (see my page on the best dehumidifiers liked at the bottom of the page). Please take note, heat produced from a dehumidifier is a slow gentle contribution to existing heat, not an instant boost for warming hands and toes.
A Real world desiccant dehumidifier test…
Is it cheaper to leave the central heating on 24 hours a day ?
Let’s finish with this old bone on contention. I’ve got to be honest I did search the internet for a definitive answer to this and I couldn’t find one. I searched really hard too because I practise leaving the central heating on low by putting the wireless thermostat on top of the radiator when I’m at work in the coldest parts of winter. The Government, the energy saving trust, and some money saving websites state that switching the heating off when you’re out is the best solution, but don’t back this up with any real world tests or data, so for me it’s hearsay or at best a guess, sorry.
The truth is the average home is quite a complicated place, no winter is the same, no outside weather is the same, and the levels of internal / external humidity and damp change from house to house, as well as from region to region. Not to mention the number of people in a home, the construction of it, how much moisture they produce and so on… How anyone will ever produce definite data on this I don’t know, it would be a nightmare undertaking.
What I can tell you is that over the past 3 years when I have left the central heating on low instead of timer controlled, I have found virtually no difference, but with a slight leaning to a saving money by leaving it on low. The last winter of my test (2015) has been exceptionally mild however, which may have swayed the results, who knows?
What can you and I conclude from this?
Well if anyone tries to tell me one way or the other without a huge book of real world statistics and data from UK based tests over multiple similar winters to back them up, I wouldn’t believe them, neither should you. What I can tell you is there is very little difference for me so I shall continue to leave the heating on low while at work, this is very beneficial at keeping damp and condensation at bay in the less used rooms.