Heating Helpline

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There are many ways that you can cut down on your energy consumption in the home – in the process reducing your energy bills. Heating, cooling and lighting buildings causes 60% of UK carbon emissions so cutting down on the amount of energy used in the home will reduce your property's carbon footprint, help the environment and mean more pounds in your pocket too.

Some things you can do require little or no expenditure – others will require a larger outlay leading to longer term savings. In this section we look at all the options.

Benefits of a new boiler

Today's boilers are up to 40% more efficient than they were in the 1980s. A modern condensing boiler converts up to 100% of the fuel it uses which could save over £200 on your fuel bill, even more if you're replacing an electric system. An added benefit is that you will be playing your part in helping the environment by keeping your home's carbon footprint down – modern boilers produce far less carbon dioxide.

Old appliances waste energy

Appliances guzzle about 20% of a typical home's total energy bill so replacing your old (10 years plus) appliances with energy efficient 'A-rated' or 'A+-rated' ones could save you as much as £150 per year.

Just replacing an old freezer with a new 'A-rated' one could save you around £40 a year on running costs. It is estimated that if everyone in the UK upgraded their fridges and freezers to modern energy saving models, nearly £800 million in energy would be saved.

Energy efficient lighting

Filament bulbs have hardly changed since they were invented in 1879 and 95% of the energy they use is wasted as heat. Energy efficient CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs use 80% less energy, last up to 12 times longer and each bulb you swap can save you £7 a year and £60 before it needs replacing.

Insulate for big savings

Nearly a quarter of all the heat lost in an uninsulated home is through the roof. If you have less than 10cm of insulation in your loft you'll be wasting energy. Top the insulation up to 27cm and save around £150 a year. If everyone in the UK did it we'd save around £560 million a year and millions of tonnes of CO2.

Since the 1930s most houses have been built with an air cavity between two outer walls. If you get this gap filled with insulating foam you could save well over £150 on your heating bills.

Floorboards lose a lot of heat - insulation seal between the gaps can save you about £25 per year.

Insulate your hot water cylinder. Fitting a jacket at least 75mm thick costs very little and you could save more than £50 each year. Lagging all your hot water pipes could also save up to £25 a year.

Badly fitted doors and windows mean avoidable heat loss. Draught proofing doors and windows by sealing gaps will help save energy. Similarly a curtain at the front door and heavy, well-fitted curtains at the windows provide insulation and reduce draughts. To track down the source of draughts take a lit candle and see where it flickers.

Thermal blinds, which stay flush to the window frame using magnets, are a good alternative to heavy lined curtains. They cost about £145 per sq m.

If you're not using your chimney but don't want to board it up try a chimney baloon - they're easy to inflate and last for years.

Take control of your heating and hot water

A staggering 84% of domestic energy consumption is used for heating and hot water with 60% used for heating alone.  Taking control of your heating system is therefore a top priority in keeping energy use – and bills – down.  According to the Energy Savings Trust, 80% of heating systems in UK homes don’t have controls mechanisms at all, with 8.5 million homes in the UK having no thermostat to control their central heating.

These five top tips will help you take control of heating in your home:

- Turning your room thermostat down by just 1ºC could save up to £100 a year and you will never notice the difference.

- If you have an adjustable thermostat for your hot water you should set it to no hotter than 60°C (140°F).  Any higher is a waste of energy and could scald; much lower and there may be a risk of harmful bacteria forming.

- Turn down the radiators in any spare rooms; why pay for a warm space with nobody in it?

- Replacing your old heating controls with a modern programmable electronic timer will provide far greater control over your home’s heat by giving you the ability to set precisely when the heating comes on and at what temperature.

- Installing thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) to every radiator (they cost a few pounds each) means you will be able to manage the heat in each room.

Information on household utility bills

All energy suppliers have to provide certain information on your bill. On each bill you should expect to see:

- Your tariff - How many units of electricity or gas you have used over the previous year (if you have been with your supplier for more than 12 months) - A comparison of your consumption for the same period last year - How much you could expect to pay over the next year: if you use the same amount of energy and stay on the same tariff, at the current price, with the same supplier.

New rules from OFGEM mean that suppliers have to provide you with an annual energy statement. This could arrive on its own or it could form part of one of your bills. Your energy statement provides valuable additional information on your energy use over the previous year. You will see:

- How many units of electricity or gas you have used over the last year - The main terms of your contract - Details of any premium or discount you have, compared with your supplier’s standard direct debit tariff - A reminder that you can switch supplier - Information about where you can get impartial advice about switching.

This will help you manage your energy use: you can see if any energy savings measures are needed and armed with the information on your statement you can also shop around, to see if there are any better deals for you.

Shop around

The UK has six main energy companies (utilty companies) supplying gas and electricity to households. Collectively these are known as "the big six". There are some smaller providers too. Broadly they all put their prices up together but there are variations and at any one time one or two of them will try and attract new customers by offering better deals if you switch to them. It's not difficult to switch - energy companies are only too glad to have your custom and will take care of most of the "admin" involved in switching over. So it pays to shop around. A good place to start, to see who is offering lower prices, are the many online comparison websites where you can see at a glance how each of the energy companies compare on price. When switching, or using an online comparison site, make sure you have your recent bill or energy statement on hand. It provides valuable information on your energy use and the type of deal you are currently on. It will help you make accurate comparisons with any alternative offer.

When comparing different suppliers there are a range of tariffs to choose from, with a variety of prices and other options. Some tariffs include discounts for direct debits, dual fuel (sourcing both gas and electricity from the one supplier) etc. Some may also offer energy efficiency deals, so when when switching supplier, you should look at all aspects.

Ways to improve the efficiency of your heating system

Your central heating system requires regular servicing to keep it working at its best. An annual service by a qualified engineer will improve the efficiency of your boiler and a well maintained boiler will burn up to 10% less fuel than a poorly maintained one. Why not ask your local, reputable heating engineer to give your system a thorough "once over" checking the boiler, radiators, radiators valves, pumps and thermostats,

Replacing your old heating controls with a modern electronic timer will provide far greater control over your home's heat by giving you the ability to set precisely when the heating comes on and at what temperature.

And if you install thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) to every radiator (they cost a few pounds each) you will be able to manage the heat in each room, turn off the radiators in spare rooms or set to a lower temperature in naturally warm areas.

Try hanging reflector pads behind your radiators. Made from aluminium foil they reduce wasted heat by 40% - yet cost ony around £4 each.

Simple steps to cut your energy bills – that will cost you nothing!


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