Dale Hoyland, Strategic Development and Affordable Warmth Manager, National Energy Foundation
For most households, energy is an expensive necessity – but not keeping yourself warm enough in the winter can have dire consequences. According to the most recent Government figures, there was an estimated 43,900 excess winter deaths (caused by cold weather) in England and Wales in 2014/15; the highest number since 1999/00. The majority of these deaths occurred among people aged 75 and over. So, it’s very important to keep warm and maintain a temperature of 180C/640F in occupied rooms. There are lots of quite simple things you can do to keep warm at home, many of which also save heat, fuel and money and help to make your house cosier and more sustainable to run.
Here are our top tips:
- Understand your heating system and its controls. Take time to learn how your heating system works – and how to use the controls properly – so that you can use it in the best and most cost-effective way for you. For example, your home will take about 30 minutes to cool down (longer in a well-insulated property) so consider turning the heating off half an hour before you go to bed.
- Turn your thermostat down. By turning it down by 1°C, you could save both energy and money (around £75 per year), without noticing any difference.
- Avoid drying clothes on your radiators. This lowers the quantity of heat released by the radiators, so the boiler has to run for longer to achieve the same room temperature, thereby using more fuel overall.
- Use a hot water bottle. It’s cheaper than an electric blanket.
- Investigate switching to a different energy supplier. You might be able to get a cheaper deal, especially if you haven’t switched for at least three years.
- Keep furniture away from radiators. The foam in upholstered furniture is a very effective heat insulator and prevents it getting into your room.
- Use the sun. It’s the most readily available source of heat and it’s the cheapest! When it’s sunny, make the most of it by opening your internal doors and let the warm air flow through your home.
- Draw the curtains. Especially at night, to keep the warmth in and the cold out. Also, tuck your curtains behind the radiators.
- Fit extra curtains. For example, put a curtain across any single-glazed external doors.
- Insulate your door furniture. Fit covers for your letter box and keyhole. You’d be surprised how much heat can be lost!
- Fit a chimney balloon. If you have an open fireplace and it’s not being used, consider placing a chimney balloon in it.
- Check the insulation in your loft/roof. Around 25% of heat lost in a typical uninsulated home escapes through the roof. You should have at least 270mm (11.5 inches) of insulation in the loft. If you add extra insulation, make sure it doesn’t get compressed. Raised platforms, above the height of the insulation, can be installed for storage.
- Check your wall insulation. Around 35% of heat lost in a typical uninsulated house is through the walls. If you have cavity walls, think about having them filled. Solid walls can also be insulated (either internally or externally) but this is more complex and costly.
- Fit double or triple glazing. If your windows need replacing, consider fitting either double or triple glazing. Both reduce heat loss through the glass.
- Fit secondary glazing. Putting a second pane of glass in an existing window can be almost as effective as sealed replacement units, but it costs a lot less.
- Fit radiator reflector panels. You can lose heat if a radiator is on an external wall, especially if it isn’t insulated. Reflector panels help to reflect that heat back into the room. You can buy them from hardware shops, fit them yourself and you don’t need to remove the radiator.
- Fit a radiator booster. This sits on top of a radiator and sucks up lost heat from behind it. It uses a small electrical fan to circulate the warm air round the room so you should be able to turn down your thermostat.
- Avoid estimated bills. Keep your bills accurate by submitting regular meter readings to your energy supplier.
- Insulate your hot-water tank. Put a jacket over your tank or buy one that’s already covered with rigid foam.
- Install thermostatic radiator valves. TRVs allow you to control your heating on a room-by-room basis so you can turn it off in rooms you don’t use.
- Lag your pipes. This will help keep heat inside the pipes and also prevent them freezing if they pass through an unheated space.
- Fit draught-proofing. You can fit stick-on strips onto your windows and doors but also check for holes and gaps – loft hatches, floor boards, skirting boards, electrical fittings and places where pipes go through external walls.
- Insulate your loft hatch. Make sure there’s insulation on top of it.
- Replace your light bulbs with energy-efficient versions. Lighting accounts for about 7% of a household’s energy bill. Old-fashioned filament bulbs are only 5% efficient while energy-saving (CFL) bulbs use about 75-80% less energy. Light emitting diode (LED) bulbs are the most efficient and overcome many reservations people have with CFLs, but they are also the most expensive.
- Install motion detector or time-delay lights. These turn off automatically so save electricity.
- Buy an energy monitor. These allow you to see which appliances use the most electricity so you can adjust how much you use them.
- Fit a ‘chop’ device for your central heating. These devices automatically turn your central heating off for a pre-set period during every hour it’s working, thereby using less energy.
- Fit under-floor insulation. If you home has a cellar space, under-floor insulation can help keep the warmth in.
- Only use energy when you really need to. For example, switch lights off when you leave a room and turn your PC off when you’re not using it.
- Buy energy-efficient appliances. When replacing a household appliance, buy an energy-efficient model. Look for the energy rating.
- Avoid standby. Leaving appliances on standby can use as much as 75% of the energy they use when they’re fully switched on, and could cost you up to £80 per year.
- Change your shower head to an ‘eco’ version. This will reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the water.
- Buy a shower timer. These act as an incentive to take shorter showers, reducing the amount of energy required.
- Cook sensibly. On average, cooking accounts for about 4% of energy use. Choose the right-sized pan for the food and the cooker. Cut food into smaller pieces and put lids on pans. The food will cook a lot quicker and use less power.
- Use your toaster rather than your grill. A toaster uses less energy than a grill.
- Don’t overuse your kettle. Kettles use quite a lot of energy so only boil as much water as you need.
- Leave your oven door open. After you’ve finished cooking in the oven, leave the door open to keep the kitchen warm.
- Use a slow cooker. Slow cookers are cheaper to run than conventional ovens.
- Use your microwave. If you’re defrosting food, or just warming things up, microwave ovens use much less electricity than conventional ovens.
- Look after your fridge and freezer. Regularly defrost your freezer and try to keep it reasonably full, to avoid wasting energy. Check the seals are tight to make sure that no warm air is getting in.
- Don’t leave your fridge door open. The longer it’s open, the more energy it takes to get it back to its correct temperature.
- Get rid of your freezer. If you don’t use your freezer much – don’t have one. It’s a big electricity consumer.
- When washing, use full loads. This will reduce the number of loads. If you need to do less than a full load, use the ‘half load’ or ‘economy’ setting.
- Use the 30°C wash setting. Nowadays, this is more than adequate to clean clothes and will save you up to 75% of the cost of the hottest cycle.
- Use your tumble drier sparingly. Tumble driers can use a lot of energy. On nice sunny days, dry your clothes outside. If you have to use a tumble dryer, only tumble dry those clothes that really need it.
- Use the retained heat in your tumble drier. If you have a lot of clothes to tumble dry, consider dividing them into more than one load. The tumble drier will retain heat after each load so it will use less energy during the second and subsequent loads.
- Clean your tumble drier filter. Do this regularly as it helps your drier operate at its most efficient.
- Use eco balls in your tumble drier. These create gaps between your clothes, allowing the heat to move freely around and dry your clothes quicker.
- Don’t heat your water to a scalding temperature. For most people, 60°C/140°F is quite adequate.
- Use manual tools in the kitchen. For example, bread making and whisking can be done by hand.
- Don’t leave your iron on. Irons consume a lot of electricity so switch yours off when you’re not using it.
- When you can, either let your hair dry naturally, or towel dry it. Hair dryers consume lots of electricity and drying your hair naturally is better for it.
- New computer? Think about buying a laptop, which will use around 85% less energy than a new desktop.
- Time for a new boiler? Install an energy-efficient condensing boiler. These are much more efficient than old boilers, use less fuel and are available for use with mains gas, oil or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG).
- Finally, put on an extra layer! Actually, this is a sensible suggestion. Adding more layers really does keep you warmer.
Other things you can do to keep your energy bills under control:
Talk to your local council
If you’re still struggling with your energy bills, please seek advice from your local council, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, AgeUK, etc, any of which will be happy to help with free, impartial and expert advice on reducing your energy bills, heating your home affordably and efficiently, and any grants and financial assistance that might be available.
Investigate the Energy Company Obligation (ECO)
ECO is a Government scheme that gets energy suppliers to make energy-saving improvements in vulnerable and low-income households and in harder-to-treat properties such as those with solid walls. To find out if you qualify, please contact the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 (or Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282).
Find out whether you’re eligible for the Cold Weather Payment, the Winter Fuel Payment or the Warm Home Discount
- Cold Weather Payment. If you’re getting certain benefits, you might also qualify for a Cold Weather Payment. If you’re eligible, you’ll automatically be paid £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather.
- Winter Fuel Payment. To be eligible, you need to meet certain criteria. Householders usually get a Winter Fuel Payment automatically if occupants receive a state pension or another social security benefit (but not Housing Benefit, Council Tax Reduction or Child Benefit). For more information, please call the Winter Fuel Payments helpline on 0345 915 1515.
- Warm Home Discount. This scheme provides a £140 discount on electricity bill It applies to pensioners receiving the guaranteed credit element of Pension Credit. Some energy suppliers make the Warm Home Discount available to a wider group of people and some don’t offer it at all. So, if you don’t currently receive it, it’s worth investigating switching to a supplier where you would receive it – but always check and confirm with the relevant suppliers first.