Welcome to a new series I’m deciding to call “Blitz Your Bills” where we investigate the average UK household’s expenditures on the various costs of life and determine the best ways to improve your situation and thus savings! There are several cheap or even free ways to help lower your costs on your energy usage, from improving efficiency to finding better deals for what you’re paying, but I’ve decided to pick 10 simple steps you can take to make your home more efficient, less power hungry and less costly to run!
First of all, what is the ‘average’ usage of electricity and gas in a UK household? Using figures provided by one of the ‘Big 6’, Ovo Energy, we find that the average electricity usage is around 3700 kWh and the average gas usage is around 15,000 kWh a year according to Smarter Business. I found several sources where this fluctuates a bit, some higher and some lower, but this seems to be the general case.
Comparing dwelling types
A lot of things might affect the ‘average’, such as some houses using oil or electricity to heat their water and rooms. Certainly a lot of flats tend to run everything off electricity in my experience. Ovo Energy kindly break down the differences between housing types as well.
It’s interesting to note how end terrace houses seem to use 23% extra electricity due to having an additional outside wall! Detached houses similarly use about 8% more due to having an additional outside wall. For myself, living in a semi-detached house, I am comparing my own usage to 3,847 kWh of electricity usage a year.
Our house uses 60% less electricity
If you’ve read my one year review of The Solar House Experiment, then you’ll know that we use roughly ~1550 kWh a year, before factoring in the solar panels and excluding the electric car. That’s 60% less than the average semi-detached house! How on earth do we do that?!
First of all, it does help that our house is a relatively new build (just over 10 years old) and had an Energy Performance Rating (EPC) of B when new. Since then the previous owners added on an extra floor, so it’s not as good as it could be. But there are some other changes we have made that have reduced our usage considerably.
If you’re wanting to make the biggest impact, you need to target the most costly areas, which as you can see mostly covers kitchen appliances and lighting, with home electronics further down the scale but still a significant amount. With that, let’s look at 10 areas you can focus on to reduce your energy usage and bills.
#1 – Replace all bulbs with LEDS
The previous owners of our house had pretty much all normal incandescent light bulbs everywhere! A 60W bulb uses, well, 60W of energy an hour that it’s turned on. An A++ energy efficient LED light bulb can output roughly the same amount of lumens (light) with just 6W of power – a 90% power saving! If you’re willing to drop to a 40W equivalent, likes the ones I’ve installed, then that’s 94% saving!
As an example, in our kitchen there were 6 recessed lights, each consuming 35W each for a total of 210W per hour (or about 3p/hour of electricity). I headed to my local hardware store, bought a couple of packs of LED replacement lights and replaced them. The new LED lights? They only draw 3.5W each or 21W total an hour – again, a 90% saving! For minimal effort and expense! And they’re as bright (possibly brighter) than the old ones! Ain’t technological progress grand?
#2 – Turn down your hot water
Did you know that you can set the temperature of your hot water boiler? I didn’t until I had my own place and started wondering why my electricity bill was so high. Turns out heating water by electricity is the most expensive way to do it. Oops. Though living in a flat at the time, I didn’t have any other option.
What I could do however, was reduce the energy by lowering the water tank’s thermometer to 60 degrees Celsius instead of the 80 degrees it was on previously! My showers were generally at 40 degrees and I had no need for anything higher – I never noticed the difference. Why not just drop the temperature down to that level? A minimum water temperature of 60 degrees Celsius is recommended to kill legionella bacteria (the cause of Legionnaires’ disease). It’s not worth risking yourself and your family to save a few pounds on hot water.
#3 – Get a temperature control kettle
I’ve already covered why this will have a pretty big impact on your energy savings in a separate article, but the principle is very much the same as #2. Water is a very energy intensive substance to heat up so if you heat it to a lower (but still very hot) temperature then you save money – especially as electricity is the most expensive way to heat water!
And the best thing is, you can buy one for just £30 which will pay back itself in under a year!
#4 – Investigate everything on stand-by
It can definitely be worth your while to pick up a power consumption device for your plugged-in electrical items. You can get a basic one for just £12.99 from Amazon for example. Plug in your various appliances and see how much power they are pulling even in ‘stand-by’ or ‘low power’ modes. For example I was surprised to learn just how much power my Xbox was drawing in its ‘off’ state. Delving into the options for it, I found a way to properly ‘turn it off’ when I hit the power button which took it’s stand-by usage from about 12W down to 1W.
Even with a full check of our devices, there is still roughly a 100W load in the house with everything turned off. I suspect this is related to our mesh Wi-Fi routers and some monitoring devices I have installed but it contributes towards an extra £100 a year on our electricity bill!
#5 – Turn down your heating / reduce the duration
It’s an oldie but a goodie. If you’re heating your house to a lower temperature then you’ll pay less, pretty simple. Our house does have some cold spots in the ground floor and a radiator very stupidly positioned near the thermostat but we leave ours on 20 degrees Celsius which seems to be about 18/19 degrees elsewhere in the house.
Also make sure to keep your doors shut when heating specific rooms!
#6 – Check how efficient your appliances are
While I am not a proponent of throwing out a perfectly working appliance, it is worth checking how efficient your kitchen appliances are and your gas boiler. For example, nowadays I think it is pretty much impossible to buy a washing machine that isn’t at least ‘A’ rated and most ‘A+++’ machines cost no more than the ‘A’ rated ones. If you have an appliance that is nearing the end of its life – strongly consider going for a more efficient one. The savings over the lifetime of the device will likely pay off.
The Energy Saving Trust has a nice list of recommendations for all appliance types.
#7 – Insulation and air gaps
Turns out we had a big air gap in our front door and in a hole that was drilled for some electrical installation! Filling this gap up with the correct sealant has made the downstairs feel a bit warmer but we still need to sort out the front door as it is not sealing properly with the frame.
Another good idea is to check you have sufficient insulation in your walls and loft (if you have one). You will probably have to get a professional in to get this checked and installed, but if you’re spending a load on energy bills, it’s worth doing. The newer your house is however, the less likely this is needed as new homes are built to be very thermally efficient. I shall direct you to MSE for the full details of the government scheme, where you may be able to get some of this for free or discounted:
It can be worth getting a professional audit done (see #9) as they have the tools such as thermal cameras which make the job of finding cold spots easier to do.
#8 – Radiator reflectors
Radiator Reflectors are basically a thermally reflective foil layer (usually aluminium) that reflects the heat that would have been absorbed into the supporting wall out into the room instead. While there are different studies on their effectiveness, this study showed a 6% reduction in the energy required to heat a room after installing the reflector.
While I don’t usually mention brand names, it is notable that in the UK only two suppliers have reflectors approved by the government’s Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT) scheme: Radflek and Heatkeeper. The prices don’t look extortionate for an ongoing 6% reduction in your heating bill!
#9 – Get an energy audit
If you’re struggling with any of the above, it can be worthwhile getting a professional to give your house the once over with an energy audit. They have all the tools required such as thermal imaging cameras and the know-how to what your problems may be. You can find a well reviewed one on CheckATrade or equivalent site.
We got one in and he determined our radiators were undersized for a couple of rooms in our house and that they weren’t properly balanced. 20 minutes later he had fixed the balancing issue and refused to charge us! Our house is much toaster now and our heating bill seems to have dropped a little. Sometimes it pays to get an expert in!
#10 – Switch to a cheaper supplier
Finally we get to the big one. All of the ideas above reduce your energy consumption. The other way is to pay less for the actual energy you consume. I’ve left this one till last because while it is very important, I think you should take all the steps above first to reduce your consumption before you reduce your price per unit.
I am a long time user of MSEs Cheap Energy Club. Put in some details, find out how much energy you use a year (normally stated on your bill somewhere) and get a complete list of all energy companies and the price they will cost you. If you are on a standard tariff, first, what the actual f*ck are you doing paying so much (?!), and second, get onto a fixed deal now! You could literally save a few hundred pounds a year!
And that pretty much covers the biggies of UK household consumption! Some are very cheap or even free to implement right now whereas some will require more investment in new appliances or changing of your habits slightly. Do you have any more to add to the list?