It’s safe to say most of us are feeling the pinch when it comes to energy bills. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely nothing we can do to resolve the causes of higher energy prices as individuals. Still, there are a few things we can do to reduce our own energy costs.
A staple piece of advice seems to be to ‘heat the person, not the house’. Whilst keeping your central heating turned off will reduce your fuel bills, breathing in cold air can exacerbate certain health conditions and moisture build up in the home can create damp and mould. Simply keeping your heating switched off might turn out to be a false economy. So how can you keep your home warm without making your blood run cold when you get your gas and electric bills?
Home improvements to reduce energy bills
Energy-saving home improvements range from cheap and easy (for low-level savings) to expensive and complex (for greater, long-term savings). What’s right for you will depend on your budget, skill level and commitment to reducing costs for the long term.
Here are some ideas on what home improvements you can make to reduce your energy costs whilst still keeping warm.
Low budget, easy home improvements
We know the term ‘low budget’ means different things to different people! Here are a range of ideas that range from virtually free to a few hundred pounds that will at least make you feel more comfortable (enabling you to keep the heating turned down) even if they don’t drastically reduce your bills.
1. Lay carpet
If you have wooden floors but can’t afford to insulate them beneath the floorboards, laying a carpet with thick underlay will stop a lot of drafts creeping up through the gaps. This is more useful in downstairs rooms, where the gap beneath your floor is likely to be below ground level. The floors in your upstairs rooms will get draughts from your downstairs rooms if they’re very cold, though, so you might need to carpet upstairs too. At least your feet will be nice and toasty!
2. Block up draughts
If you have draughts coming through the sides of your doors, one of the cheapest and easiest energy saving home improvements you can make is to buy some draught seal tape. You can get tape that can be used externally and internally, on doors and windows that don’t open. If you want to be able to open your doors and windows without having to remove the tape, you can get silicone strips that adhere to just one edge of the door or window. Rolls of draught tape cost less than £10.
You could use a snippet of that tape to cover keyholes, which let in a surprising amount of cold air!
Another idea is to invest in, or make, some draught excluders to put at the foot of your doors; these are cheap and long-lasting, and will keep in the heat and keep out the cold from other areas of your house.
You could also consider installing a curtain (by fitting a curtain rail) across your front door to keep out draughts from your letter box and keyhole.
Don’t forget your chimney! As daft as it may sound, a tunnel leading from your roof to your living room is often overlooked when people think about how to draught-proof their homes. There are chimney insulation plugs or draught excluders that come in a range of shapes and sizes that should fit neatly into your chimney just above the fireplace. Needless to say, it is VITAL that you remove the plug before you turn on your fire, or you risk fire and carbon monoxide poisoning. Chimney draught excluders cost around £20.
The savings you’ll make on your heating are difficult to quantify, because there are so many other factors at play. But on average, by blocking draughts you can expect to save around £50 - 100 per year, and you’ll certainly feel less of a chill so you can keep your thermostat turned down lower and still be comfortable.
3. Make a snug
If you have a large room (perhaps your downstairs area is open plan?) you could install a thick curtain across part of the room to make a smaller, snug room. This smaller area can be quickly heated with an electric heater, fireplace or radiator without the heat dissipating across a much larger area.
4. Lag your pipes
Do you have a hot water tank, rather than a combi-boiler? If so, a £20 water tank insulation jacket could reduce your bills by ensuring that the heat from your boiler goes to the radiators rather than being lost into your airing cupboard. The same principle applies to your hot water pipes - where possible, lag them with insulation (the covers look a bit like pool noodles, and cost around £2 each).
5. Maximise your radiators’ heating power
Radiators are usually installed along the longest wall of your room, which is unfortunate really because most of us also place our largest pieces of furniture (beds and sofas) along those same long walls! Pull your furniture further away from the wall during winter to allow your radiator to heat the room rather than the back of your sofa/bed. If your radiator is fixed to an external wall, you could also buy a radiator reflector to place behind the radiator so that the heat reflects into the room rather than into the wall (and therefore outside!).
6. Switch your bulbs
LED lights can save you money on your electric bills as they’re much more energy efficient, and they last around 10 times longer than traditional bulbs. You could also invest in light-sensitive bulbs that turn off automatically when natural light levels increase, or smart bulbs that turn off when nobody is moving around in the room.
That last type of bulb can be a bit annoying if you’re reading a book, and have to break off to wave your arm around, but they would reduce the need to say, “Turn the lights off!” or make a comment about it being “Like Blackpool illuminations in here!” to the other members of your household.
7. Replace your showerhead and taps
You can get showerheads that reduce the amount of water that passes through the shower. These don’t really work if you have a combi-boiler but they’re great if you have a hot water tank because the pressure remains roughly the same. Low-flow taps can also reduce the amount of water you use - saving you money on your water bills if you have a meter, and on your electric bills when you use hot water. They aerate the water, so you still get the pressure but will use less water.
8. Choose low-energy rating white goods
Next time you need to replace your oven, fridge freezer, washing machine, dishwasher - or even your kettle or toaster - choose low-energy rated goods to keep your bills down.
9. Line your windows
If your double glazing has seen better days, or if you still have single-glazed windows, but can’t afford to upgrade, you could add a layer of insulation yourself. Magnetic window insulation film is available at a cost of around £30 for 1.5m2.
Higher cost, longer-term reward improvements
For these improvements, you should examine the costs of the work and compare them to the savings they’re likely to bring. Will you make your money back in savings in a year? Five years? Twenty years? How much can you spare now to heat your house for less over the coming years?
Alternatively, if you have savings (capital) that you can spare, but your income barely covers your bills, you could see these home improvements as a way of freeing up some monthly income by using capital that you don’t have any other particular plans for.
1. Install Wall insulation
This isn’t a DIY job. You’ll need a cavity wall insulation specialist to drill holes in your wall and inject insulation into the gap between your inner wall and the outer wall of your house. Check that your chosen specialist is registered with the Cavity Wall Insulation Self Certification Scheme and will notify the building regs department of the work.
The cost will depend on the size of your house, but on average it will take around 5 years to recover the cost of cavity wall insulation from savings made on your bills.
If you have solid walls, as many old Victorian properties do, you’d need building regulation approval to install external wall insulation and cladding.
2. Install floor insulation
Again, this is something to leave to the experts. The gap between the ground and your floorboards can be filled with insulation foam to add a layer of protection against draughts. Typical energy savings from installing floor insulation is around £100 - 200 per year depending on the size and style of your house.
3.. Replace your windows and doors
PVC windows and doors can be replaced for those with greater energy-saving ratings. Triple glazing is much more commonplace now and cheaper than it once was, but it’s still a big investment.
Before you get a quote for new windows and doors, check if your house is in a conservation area or if your house is listed, because there may be restrictions on what type of glazing you can install anyway. Also get a price for resealing your windows and doors. Have you noticed your windows fogging up in direct sunlight? That’s a sign that your seals aren’t working efficiently and resealing them might help with their energy efficiency.
4. Install loft insulation
If you’re confident, this is something you could have a go at yourself. Bear in mind, though, that if you put your foot through the ceiling when you’re working, it will cost you more than you’ve saved (in not hiring a professional) to put it right. You don’t need building regulation approval.
Strips of loft insulation can be easily laid between the ceiling joists in your loft. If you want to, you can lay loft boards over the top so the loft can still be used for storage. You can also buy sheets of thermal foil that you can staple to the roof of your loft, using a staple gun to fix them to the joists and silver tape to join the gaps.
5. Fit solar panels
This is a big investment, and you’d need to do your sums very carefully and read the small print to fully understand how much this will cost you, how much it will save you, and how efficient it will be before you decide whether it’s worth the initial cost.
There is government help available with the costs of major energy-saving home improvements, and you can see if you’re eligible for help here