Advice on reducing fuel bills in the short term and improving energy efficiency at home
Wondering how to reduce energy bills? You’re not alone. It’s not just rising fuel prices that are driving people to find ways to use less gas and electricity, the climate crisis has long been driving self-builders and renovators to boost their home’s energy efficiency. So what can you do in the short term to lower your energy bills, and in the long term to reduce your carbon footprint?
How much are energy bills going up by?
‘Gas and electricity bills absolutely skyrocketed in the UK last year due to persistently high wholesale prices across the globe, and are still at a record high,’ said a spokesperson for Boiler Central.
The annual energy bill for a typical household is currently £1,971. That was expected to rise by 80% to £3,549 when the energy price cap increases from 1 October 2022. However, the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, has replaced this cap with an ‘energy price guarantee’ of around £2,500, which will remain in place for two years. While that’s about £1,000 less than expected, it’s still an increase of £500 to typical energy bills. Most of this will be absorbed by the government’s one-off £400 fuel bill discount.
How does the energy price cap work?
The energy price cap is not an upper limit on how much you will pay. This is an estimate of typical energy use in a typical household. A ‘typical household’ is defined by the government as a three-bedroom house occupied by two-three people. The amount you will actually pay depends on the amount of energy you use.
For a flat or one-bedroom house with one-to-two people, the average annual cost is likely to be closer to £1,700, whereas a five-bedroom house of four-to-five people is likely to pay around £3,500 (source: British Gas, UK Government, BBC Research).
The new energy price guarantee sets the upper limit suppliers can charge for every unit of energy they use. From 1 October 2022, dual-fuel customers on a standard variable tariff paying by direct debit will pay 34p per kWh of electricity (plus a standing charge of 46.36p per day) and 10.30p per kWh of gas (plus a standing charge of 28.49p per day). But again, this is just an average – rates are set by region.
Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis is a great source of helpful information on this topic. Follow him on Twitter @MartinSLewis.
Energy bill help
The problem with the energy price guarantee is that most households aren’t typical, so while government interventions are helpful, many people will still be wondering how to reduce their energy bills this winter.
‘There are some grants and schemes available to help people on a low income or Universal Credit with their energy bills, such as a Winter Fuel Payment or the Warm Home Discount scheme, so it’s a good idea to check with your local Citizens Advice Bureau to see if you might qualify,’ continued the Boiler Central spokesperson.
If you were born on or before 25 September 1956, you could get between £250 and £600 to help you pay your heating bill under the Winter Fuel Payment scheme for 2022-2023. The Warm Home Discount – available to those on low-incomes or vulnerable to cold-related illnesses – is £150 for winter 2022-2023.
The Simple Energy Advice website offers further advice on any energy grants that are available.
How to reduce energy bills now
Looking for energy bill help now? From running appliances on the eco setting to downsizing your washing machine and installing LED bulbs and smart heating controllers, these small, simple steps can help reduce your energy bills.
1. Don’t leave appliances on standby
This so-called ‘vampire energy’ is more wasteful than you think, so it’s always worth turning your electrics off at the mains plug when not in use. British Gas estimates up to 23% of electrical usage could be vampire energy. Phone chargers draw energy constantly, so unplug them when not in use. A TV left on standby costs around £10 per year. According to MoneySuperMarket, a microwave on standby costs around £4.72 per year. Kettles and toasters also draw a small amount of energy when not in use.
2. Switch to energy saving lightbulbs
Changing your old incandescent lightbulbs to LED (light emitting diode) alternatives is a great way to reduce energy consumption. LED bulbs use 2-17 watts of electricity – a third of what an incandescent bulb uses. You could also opt for CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) bulbs, which are cheaper at the outset than LEDs but less energy efficient.
3. Use the microwave or slow cooker over the oven
Julie Gokce, a Senior Designer at More Kitchens, found the microwave to be the most energy-efficient cooking appliance in the kitchen. Microwaves use far less energy because they heat the food itself, not the air around it. Sarah Bridle, Professor of Food, Climate and Society at the University of York, compared the energy required to bake a potato the oven, versus the microwave, concluding that it required 6.07kWh to cook in the oven for 120 mins, versus 0.14 kWh ) for 10 mins in the microwave.
Beyond that, the slow cooker is the most energy-efficient alternative, generating less than a 10th of the same energy as an electric oven. The average-sized slow cooker uses just 1.3 kWh per meal cooked, which, when broken down to hourly cost, comes in at under 1p on the average energy tariff. Of all the cooking appliances, ovens expend the most energy.
4. Turn down your heating by one degree
You probably won’t notice the difference, but according to Simple Energy Advice, it will shave 10% off your energy bill.
5. Buy a smart thermostat
A smart thermostat lets you adjust the temperature as you wish through an app on your mobile device, even while you’re away. It can also turn off your heating or air conditioning system automatically when you leave the house, reducing wasted energy.
6. Switch to a smart meter
A smart meter allows you to see and monitor exactly how much energy you’re using, meaning you are more aware of your energy usage and can control it better. Contact your energy supplier for more information on switching to a smart meter.
7. Take shorter showers
Keeping your shower time to just four minutes could save a typical household £70 a year on their energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust. If you swap one bath a week for a four-minute shower, you could save a further £12 a year on your energy bills. This is also a great way to save water.
8. Wash your clothes at a lower temperature
Washing machines consume a lot of household energy. Reduce this by filling your machine and washing your clothes at a lower temperature. Many laundry detergents are now designed to work best at 30ºC.
9. Dry your clothes outside
Avoid using the tumble dryer wherever possible, or run it for shorter periods on a lower setting. According to the Energy Saving Trust, drying clothes on racks inside or outside in warmer weather can save £60 a year.
10. Fill your dishwater
Only run a dishwasher when it is full to ensure you’re not wasting water or electricity. Also, make sure the capacity is suitable for your household (you can get a dishwasher for a single-person household), and use the eco setting when you can to help save water.
11. Take advantage of natural light
Open curtains and blinds throughout your house to capitalise on solar gains and reduce the electricity demand of lights. In warmer months, this will help to naturally heat your home too. The opposite is true in winter – as soon as it gets dark, close those curtains to keep the warmth in.
Which household appliances cost the most to run?
Tech retailer Currys has revealed the most energy-guzzling home appliances, with washing machines and kettles scoring worryingly highly. If you need to reduce your energy bills, it pays to be aware of which appliances cost the most to run:
- Washing machines, dishwashers and other wet appliances account for 25% of total average household electrical use, and 15% of total energy bills costs, making them the worst offenders.
- TVs and game consoles, which are usually left on standby, account for 19% of total electrical use in the average household, or 9% of the nation’s energy bill. Switching off electronics at the wall can reduce your energy bills.
- Kettles and other cooking appliances also account for 19% of the average household’s electricity use. Kettles can be surprisingly wasteful – you may wish to consider switching to a hot water tap to save both energy and water.
- Fridges and freezers consume 16% of the total electricity used in an average household. Since these cannot be switched off, it pays dividends to seek out the most energy efficient appliance you can afford.
- Lighting comes in just behind cold appliances, at around 16% of the total electrical use in the average home.
Longer-term energy efficiency solutions
Homes in the UK are among the coldest and leakiest in Europe. This has been known for some time, but recent research by German accommodation company Wunderflats ranks the UK 23rd out of 28 countries in its Green Living Index, which assesses the thermal efficiency of nation’s housing stock.
Boosting the energy efficiency of your home means you need to buy less fuel, so boosting your insulation, installing low-carbon heating like air source heat pumps and choosing low-energy appliances will reduce your fuel bills.
Some interventions are more expensive than others. Loft insulation is one of the cheapest ways to make a difference, while a full Enerphit-standard retrofit sits at the opposite end of the spectrum. But with energy prices rising, spending a small amount of money on insulation will pay dividends. Plus, a recent Halifax survey found that homes with an EPC rating of A are worth up to £40,000 more than G-rated homes.