Amid a sea of energy-saving advice that is impractical or just plain out-of-touch, we have talked to a range of experts about real ways to save money this winter.
The cost-of-living crisis has been dominating headlines, and people across the UK continue to worry about how they are going to afford to pay their energy bills this winter. The energy price cap will offer relief to some consumers, but plenty are still concerned that further interventions will be required.
First, it is important to debunk a few myths about how to save money on energy bills, as there has been plenty of impractical or ineffective information doing the rounds, especially on social media.
Advice such as “put on another jumper” is not especially helpful, for example. Putting on another jumper will not increase the ambient room temperature in a cold house, nor is it much use if your core temperature has dropped to dangerously low levels. At that point, a paramedic is more useful than a poncho.
Similarly, advice around buying a more economical kettle or putting foil sheets behind radiators will likely only have a marginal effect on energy bills, especially when they creep into four-figure territory. Instead, we asked experts for practical tips that will make a real difference.
Getting to grips with the price cap
Firstly, it is important to understand how the new quarterly price cap works. Financial educator May Fairweather says that many people have not understood that the price cap does not cap the total amount you will pay each year. Instead, it caps the price per unit of energy.
She explains this using the analogy of pints of milk: “If milk used to cost 60p a pint, and the new maximum price is 80p a pint, a household that drinks 12 pints a week will pay more than a household that only drinks two pints a week. The average household uses five pints of milk a week, and it's that figure they've used for the annual price.”
Little changes to make a difference
Stats taken from plumbing and heating specialists Max Shutler show that making small changes can help cut energy use and therefore reduce bills. For example, £105 per year can be saved by turning down the thermostat by one degree; £20 can be saved by turning off lights when leaving rooms and £14 can be saved simply by having one less wash a week – but maybe choose a day when you’re not planning on hugging too many people.
May Fairweather recommends getting a smart meter so you’re aware of how much you’re using and to keep an eye on the energy you use by not switching things off: “TVs on as background noise is a good example of a small thing that adds up.”
Brian Greenburg, CEO of comparison site Insurist agrees: “Turn off lights when they aren't being used or make sure they are turned off when leaving rooms unattended. You might think turning them off isn't making a difference, but it really does add up over time.”
To cut down on energy costs when cooking, May says that if you need to use the oven, try to cook multiple things at once.
“Microwaving is cheaper, and a lot of things can be cooked in a microwave,” she continues. “Knowing how much each appliance costs to run can help to make simple changes – it's all about awareness.”
How electric car drivers can save money
Electric car owners might have thought they were doing their bit for the environment by getting ahead of the curve and investing in zero-emissions motoring. But with rising energy prices, there have been concerns that the price of charging electric cars might make them more expensive, especially over winter when people tend to drive more.
“It’s well known that drivers of electric vehicles can save money over a petrol or diesel equivalent, even with the current rising home electricity prices,” says David Watson, CEO of smart EV charging company Ohme. “However, EV drivers can save even more money by doing their home charging at an off-peak rate tariff. “The off-peak tariffs essentially work by offering cheaper electricity overnight when demand is at its lowest,” says David. “So, if you can also delay your washing machine and dishwasher on a timer for those times, then you can save with those too, not just for charging your EV.”
Emergency help is available
“For anyone on a low income, receiving means-tested benefits, with a disability or health condition, or several children, it's worth checking whether utility companies offer a scheme to reduce costs,” May Fairweather advises. “Sometimes, they will cap the annual bill, sometimes there are special tariffs available, sometimes they can help you to clear debts if you've not been able to pay your bills.”
She also urges people to contact their local authority for assistance. Every local council has funding for a Household Support Fund to help people in need with food and energy costs: “This is separate from and in addition to the government schemes that are being paid automatically – you need to contact the local council to apply.”
It is a somewhat bleak sign of the times that more people than ever, including those in work, are eligible for food bank assistance. May says that many food banks offer fuel vouchers, but it is important to remember that you need to be referred to a food bank before using their services. GPs, social workers and support workers usually make these referrals.
As well as getting a smart meter to keep track of energy use, if you have the means to invest in energy-saving technology, there are benefits to be reaped that will last way beyond this winter. Nick Jacobs, managing director of Taurus Real Estate Investments UK, says that householders can utilise technology that has become integral to energy-efficient property projects.
“Our most recent project, in London’s Parsons Green, incorporates technology like air-source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels and abundant natural light to reduce emissions by nearly 50% from baseline levels and maximise energy saving,” Nick says.
Insulation is another worthwhile investment for keeping homes warm in winter and preventing constant cranking up of the thermostat. As well as spending money on wall and roof insulation, which can be expensive, Brian Greenburg offers some more affordable advice.
“Wrap pipes in insulation and seal doors and windows with weather stripping,” he says. “Insulate pipes and seal doors and windows with weather stripping to prevent heat from escaping out of your home – this will help keep it warm inside during cold months as well as reduce your overall heating costs.”