It's a fact of life right now that everyone needs to learn to reduce energy bills. With massive hikes to energy costs this year, most of us will see our bills double. And while the causes of these huge energy price increases may be beyond anyone's individual power to fix, you can reduce some of the burden of a steep bill by learning to be a bit savvier with how you use energy at home.
Of course, if you are a homeowner, you may look into more long-term energy-saving ideas like extensive insulation, double glazing, or maybe even a carbon-neutral home heating system, if you can afford it. However, if large-scale energy-saving projects are currently out of reach either because you don't have the funds or if you rent, rest assured there are several other options that don't require a major home improvement project.
How to lower an electric bill
Of course, there are a couple of no-brainers, some more obvious than others. In an exclusive interview with Real Homes to talk about Grand Designs Live (opens in new tab), Kevin McCloud mentioned a few of his personal no-brainers to lower energy usage and therefore, energy bills.
'Simple things we read about, turning our thermostats down, I’m all for.' Of course, this can't apply to everyone but McCloud also highlighted how even if you rent, you can raise the question of installing home insulation with your landlord, 'If you’re renting you could ask your landlord whether you could install insulation in their attic and they might say yes. You could also say can I install temporary secondary glazing and they might say yes. Of course, there’s an outgoing and there’s a cost but there are some great cheap systems out there.'
Meanwhile, here's what you can do right now to mitigate rising energy costs.
1. Submit regular meter reading to your supplier
This first and essential step cannot be stressed enough. If you're still getting quarterly estimated bills, you could be overpaying by as much as hundreds a year. Conversely, if you are constantly underpaying for your actual energy usage, you will end up being hit by a huge unexpected bill when you move out of your current home.
So, locate your electric and gas meter and submit regular meter readings, usually every month. It's especially important to take an accurate meter reading right around the time energy prices change so that you don't end up paying more at the higher rate.
2. Understand how your bill works
The main thing to understand about bills is that they're calculated using prices per unit (kilowatt) of energy. When energy prices go up, the main thing you need from your supplier is the new price per unit of electricity and gas. Your previous bills will give you a good idea of how many kilowatts of energy you use every year or every month, so you can begin to work out how much your new bills will be (and whether you can still afford them) using that past data and the new prices per unit.
Fortunately, most suppliers nowadays will provide you with this information on their bill, even advising you if you could save by switching to a better tariff.
3. Massive bill? Reduce your electricity use first
If your bill is becoming unsustainable, then you should first look at how to reduce the electric part of the bill. Electricity always costs more than gas – just to give you an idea, electricity prices per unit are four-five times higher than gas.
So, the first thing you should do is cut down on unnecessary electric appliance use. We're not talking about powering the computer you need to do your work or not having the lights on. The fact is that many people have electric appliances that could be either swapped out for energy-efficient alternatives or that may not be necessary. While an air purifier may not use that much energy, if you're also using a dehumidifier, a plug-in oil diffuser, a smart TV, a rice maker, a chocolate fountain... You get the drift, it all adds up!
The other important thing to try and cut down on is electric heating. If you are renting a place where all heating is electric and moving is an option, we would seriously advise moving somewhere with gas central heating. Even in a home that. lacks insulation it's still the better option. Freestanding electric heaters should also be avoided, particularly the oil-filled type – these use over a kilowatt of energy per hour.
4. Turn down your heating a notch
More than half the money spent on fuel bills goes towards providing heating and hot water, according to Energy Saving Trust (opens in new tab). And relying on the convenience of a thermostat (more on those further down) is a big part of high energy consumption.
What can you save? Turning down your room thermostat by just one degree can save between £85 and £90 a year.
5. Close your curtains
As simple as it sounds, closing your curtains or shutters at dusk will stop heat escaping through your windows – especially important if you live in a period property.
What can you save? DIY draught-proofing of windows, doors and blocking cracks in floors and skirting boards can save up to £25 to £35 a year on energy bills.
6. Shut down your devices instead of using standby
‘There is a growing black hole in our energy bills because we prefer the convenience of standby,’ warns Philip Sellwood, Energy Saving Trust's chief executive.
What can you save? According to Energy Saving Trust, you can save around £30 a year just by remembering to turn off your appliances completely, rather than leaving them in standby mode.
7. Use a timer
Use your timer to schedule your heating and hot water to come on 30 minutes before you get up in the morning and to switch off again when you leave the house. Do the same in the evening when you are due to come home. Invest in a smart meter (keep reading for more on those) with geo-fencing and it will know when you leave and switch the heating off for you.
What can you save? It depends how often you switch yours off and on... but the savings can be significant.
8. Use your kitchen appliances, sensibly
Doing your washing-up in a filled sink rather than under the tap could save you £30 a year, while filling the kettle with the amount of water you need can save £7 a year. Reduce your washing machine use by one cycle per week and save £5 a year on energy and £8 a year on water. Get clued up and weave better habits into your home's routine, if you have access to a dishwasher be sure to check whether using the dishwasher or handwashing will fare best to save money and the planet also.
What can you save? You can save around £50 a year by using your kitchen appliances more carefully.
9. Go for LED lighting
LED lights are the most practical, energy-efficient choice for your home, using up to 90 percent less energy than traditional halogen bulbs. Lighting accounts for around 15 percent of a typical household’s electricity bill, and Energy Saving Trust (opens in new tab)estimates that switching all your bulbs to LED versions could save you £35 per year.
While the upfront cost of an LED bulb might be more than a comparative halogen bulb, they cost far less to run and last much longer, with LED Hut (opens in new tab) advising that standard LED bulbs have a lifespan of around 25,000 hours, compared to 3,000 hours for a halogen equivalent.
Most halogen bulbs can simply be switched for an LED version, too, making it easy to upgrade your existing light fittings. LED bulbs from LED Hut start from £3.30 each.
What can you save? Up to £35 a year.
10. Stop the drips
A dripping hot water tap can waste enough energy in a week to fill half a bath, so get any leaks fixed by a pro or learn how to fix a dripping tap yourself.
What can you save? It won't be much but over time it'll add up.
11. Ditch the dryer
Tumble dryers may be convenient but they use around £100 of energy a year and there are loads of ways to dry clothes without a dryer like air-drying on a rack or airing ladder instead. Or switch to a dehumidifier (see our pick of the best), which is cheaper to run.
What can you save? Up to £100 per year.
12. Make sure your washing machine is full
Filling up your best washing machine to capacity will help lower your electric bill over time. In fact, one full load of your washing machine, tumble dryer, or dishwasher uses less energy than two half loads.
What will you save? £££s over time, depending on how much laundry you do.
13. The same goes for your dishwasher
The best dishwashers are high energy-efficient appliances, particularly if run on the 'eco' cycle. However, even the most energy-efficient dishwasher is no longer so very efficient if you keep running it at half-loads. Wait until your dishwasher is full and only run it then. A typical dishwasher cycle will use 1.5 kilowatt of energy, whether it's full or only has a couple of cups in it, so make it count.
14. Draught-proof your home
Preventing heat escaping from your home is essential to minimise energy bills, so look out for any unwanted gaps that could allow warm air out, draught-proofing doors, including keyholes and letterboxes plus, spaces between floorboards, gaps around loft hatches and open fireplaces.
Most basic draught-proofing products can be fitted on a DIY basis, and simple solutions include self-adhesive sealant strips for use around the edges of windows, doors and loft hatches; the addition of letterbox plates and keyhole covers; draught excluders for the bottom of doors (widely available at Amazon) (opens in new tab); flexible fillers for use between floorboards; and chimney balloons, which can be inflated within an open fireplace when it’s not in use to stop warm air escaping up the chimney.
What will you save? Draught-proofing doors and windows can save around £25 per year.
15. Upgrade your boiler
A boiler that is 15 or more years old is likely to be around 70 per cent efficient, meaning that for every pound spent on fuel, 30p is wasted. ‘Older boilers are also likely to have a standing pilot light, which could cost in the region of £50 to 60 per year just to keep going,’ explains Martyn Bridges, from Worcester Bosch. ‘Updating your heating system to an A-rated condensing boiler could make your system more than 90 per cent efficient. Add a weather- and load-compensating control and you could see a further four per cent of savings.’ It’s also important to install and use the correct controls for your heating system as this will ensure it doesn’t have to work any harder than it needs to, which will make it as efficient as possible.
Worcester Bosch’s Greenstar CDi Compact Combi Boiler (opens in new tab) is suitable for properties of all sizes with one or two bathrooms. You can expect to pay around £2,500, including installation, depending on the size of the property, location and the work involved.
What will you save? According to Worcester Bosch, upgrading to a high-efficiency condensing boiler with appropriate controls could cut your energy bills by around £235 and save over one tonne of CO2 each year.
If you rent, you should always take careful note of the make and model of the boiler before you move into a place. If it's very old, don't move in unless the landlord agrees (in writing) to replace the boiler before you move in. It is very difficult to convince a landlord to replace a boiler that hasn't broken down and is merely inefficient.
16. Choose efficient appliances
From dishwashers and fridge-freezers to washing machines and tumble dryers, the number of appliances we use in our homes on a daily basis contributes a significant amount to our overall energy bills. According to Which?, fridge-freezers account for around 20 per cent of the electricity used in our home, making them the biggest contributor to energy bills after heating.
All new electrical appliances need to display a ‘traffic light’ energy efficiency rating label, showing dark green (A+++ rated) as the most efficient, and red products as the least efficient, so look at these carefully when choosing your new appliance. The label also shows the annual energy consumption for the product in kWh, making it even easier to compare the efficiency of different designs.
What will you save? The HB18FGSAAA French Door Fridge Freezer (opens in new tab) has an energy efficiency rating of A+++ so makes a great pick to save cash on electric bills.
17. Opt for low-flow taps
When you consider that around 15 per cent of a typical home’s energy bill is as a result of heating the water for showers and taps, reducing your water usage is always a good idea, especially if you’re on a water meter. Consider retrofitting flow limiters to your existing taps (try the Tapstore (opens in new tab) for a range of products), and, when choosing a new shower or taps, look out for designs that come with a built-in flow limiter. Aerated showers and taps that automatically enrich the water with thousands of air bubbles are also a clever solution, creating the feel of a fast flow rate while actually using far less water.
McCloud adds, 'Anything we can do to reduce the cost of heating our homes, when I say heating that includes water as well, that’s secondary. Getting hot water out of the tap requires energy.' Noting how 'Even turning the tap off while you’re brushing your teeth, which is important,' can help reduce energy costs.
The Mike Pro basin tap from Crosswater (opens in new tab), is fitted with flow regulators, giving a flow rate of just three litres per minute.
What will you save? According to Energy Saving Trust, if you’re a family of four and swap an inefficient showerhead for a water-efficient one, you could knock around £75 off your gas bills and around £120 off your water bills (if you have a water meter) each year, giving you a potential total saving of around £195.
18. Use smart heating controls
Unlike smart meters, which simply monitor and report on energy used, smart thermostats (see our buyer's guide for the best buys) can intelligently assess how much energy a home is using and make automatic changes to help reduce this. They can learn how warm you like your home and assess how to reach this temperature efficiently, and will also turn off the heating when you leave the house so it isn’t being heated unnecessarily. As the thermostats can be controlled by your smartphone, you can access your heating controls remotely, giving you greater flexibility on how you program your heating.
The Nest Learning thermostat (opens in new tab) costs from £219 (£269 with professional installation).
What will you save? According to Nest, using one of its Learning Thermostats can result in annual savings of up to £353.
19. Switch energy supplier
Shopping around for the best energy tariff to suit your needs and switching energy suppliers can be an effective way to reduce your bills. Start by comparing tariffs from various suppliers to find the cheapest option – the easiest way to do this is using one of the many price comparison websites, such as uSwitch, Money Supermarket and Compare the Market (opens in new tab).
You’ll need to decide if you want a flexible deal that you can leave at any date; a fixed-rate option, where you sign up for a specific period. Or perhaps you’re simply after the cheapest current deal available at the time. According to energy supplier Toto Energy, once you’ve changed your supplier and set up your new plan, it’s worth checking out different energy deals every year to make sure that you’re not losing out. If you’re set up on a fixed plan, then note down the end date so that you can start shopping around a couple of months beforehand to try to find a better deal.
Providing you’re not on a fixed-term deal, there shouldn’t be an exit fee to leave your existing contract but always check with your current supplier to make sure. Rules from energy watchdog Ofgem state that if you leave your contract 49 days or less before it’s due to end, then your provider can’t charge you.
What will you save? How much you save will depend on your current deal, but Claire Osborne, an energy expert at uSwitch, advises that you could save up to as much as £618 by switching to a better deal.
20. Only heat the rooms you're using
Installing a smart thermostat is one step to saving on energy bills, but if you live in a large house with many rooms, we advise investing into thermostatic radiator valves in every room, so that you can turn up the heating only in the rooms you are using.
What will you save? The Energy Saving Trust say that this move could save you £75 a year in the long run.
21. Add rugs to your rooms
This is a great way to save on energy bills in the long-term if you have hard floors. These are always colder than carpeted floors, whereas textiles are great at trapping and retaining heat. Larger rugs will be more effective as they cover more of the floor surface.
22. Swap portable heaters for keeping yourself warmer
The vast majority of portable heaters are not energy-efficient. This especially applies to fan heaters. If you have to have a portable heater on – say, you work in a part of the house that doesn't have central heating – go for a low-energy infrared heater. Infrared heaters heat you rather than the air around you and are much cheaper to run.
Alternatively, invest in a heated blanket for yourself – these again heat you rather than the surrounding air and can cost as little as 4p an hour to run. McCloud adds, 'There’s a very basic principle here, if you insulate the person, the human being, you then need to insulate the house less. I say this to everybody I speak to.'
23. Bleed your radiators regularly
If you've never done this, learn how to bleed radiators right now – it will save you money. When radiators have air trapped in them, they don't heat up evenly, and the whole central heating system doesn't work as well as it should. If you've noticed that one of your radiators is partially cold, it's time to bleed it. Don't worry, you can do this yourself without calling out a professional plumber.
24. Get your heating system rebalanced
If, on the other hand, you are noticing that some of your radiators are perfectly hot and others are just lukewarm, you may need to rebalance your heating system. James Clark, technical training manager at Wiser (opens in new tab), recommends 'getting your installer to lower the flow temperature to around 55ºC and to balance the heating system. It is advised that this is done by a heating engineer as there are other factors to consider. If not done correctly, homeowners are likely to find that the radiators furthest from the boiler do not heat up to the desired temperature.'
25. Struggling to pay your bill? Speak to your supplier
Even if you are doing the best you can to reduce energy bills, you may still find yourself in a situation where you're struggling to pay your bill, especially during a cold winter. If this is the case, speak to your energy supplier as soon as you can. Many are understanding, especially with the current high energy prices, and could agree to a different payment plan or a temporary delay to you paying your bill. Ultimately, this isn't your bill being cancelled and you will still need to pay it, but it's always better to come to some kind of an agreement rather than just not paying your bill.
26. Check if you qualify for help
Some UK council bands may be entitled to a one-off energy rebate payment. Even if you are in a higher council tax band and are still struggling to pay your bill, you could still qualify for a discretionary payment. You'll need to speak to your council to see if you qualify.
Why is my electric bill so high?
In most cases, this will due to the fact that you're using old appliances. This is especially problematic with old washing machines, dryers, ovens, and dishwashers. All of these appliances have come a long way, with newer models consuming much less energy.
If you are a renter, then noting what appliances the apartment or house has should be on your list of things to check before going ahead with a rental contract. It may not seem important when you're thinking about the overall look and feel of a home, but the quality and age of the appliances that come with the place will have a huge impact on your bills.
Energy-saving myths: the 'hacks' that don't help you reduce your bill
It is understandable that when we're worried about bills we'll try almost anything, but there are several 'energy-saving' tips that actually don't do anything and aren't worth your time or the hassle. Consumer champion at energyhelpline.com (opens in new tab) Tashema Jackson debunks the most persistent energy-saving myths:
- Placing foil behind your radiator: does nothing. 'Reflective panels can work to conserve energy by bouncing heat back into the room; however, this only really works for external walls as they prevent heat from escaping outside.'
- A smart meter 'will not in itself save energy or reduce costs. However, by having a smart meter installed you see how much energy you’re using and therefore identify how to lower your usage by changing day-to-day behaviour.'
- Turning off hot water when you're not using it: 'There really isn’t any saving to be had by turning your hot water on and off. It’s better to make sure that your boiler tank has a good insulating jacket so that the water doesn’t require reheating. '