If someone told you it was possible to cut your utility bills in half simply by making your home more energy efficient, how would you respond? Most of us like to think we would take action and invest in whatever was necessary to make it happen. However, that is rarely the case even though halving your utility bills is entirely possible.
Far too often homeowners and commercial property owners view investments in energy efficiency as something extra that cannot be afforded. In reality, the amount of money saved through energy efficient improvements easily dwarfs their expense after just a couple of years. Perhaps if more people could sit down and run the maths they would be convinced on their own. In either case, you can beat rising energy prices by making your home more energy efficient.
It Starts with Insulation
The most important thing any property owner can do to reduce utility bills is to insulate. Properly installed insulation is the key to cooler summers and warmer winters; it is also the key to lower utility bills year-round. The unfortunate truth is that most local insulation codes are woefully inadequate in this regard.
So where is insulation needed most? Let's start with the roof and loft.
The UK climate dictates that most of our wasted energy escapes us during the winter months. Given the fact that warm air rises, an improperly insulated roof is like a huge, structural vacuum sucking heat and pounds right out of a home and releasing them in the atmosphere. This is completely unnecessary.
An estimate from the Energy Saving Trust shows the average UK homeowner would spend roughly £250 to properly insulate a loft (DIY). At an average energy savings of approximately £180 per year, the installation is paid for in less than two heating seasons. And with an average life of 40 years, that same insulation will save the homeowner approximately £7,200 over its lifetime.
Another big need is underneath the floorboards of your home's first floor. During the wintertime, a poorly insulated floor allows draughts to enter; it also encourages warm air to rise further into the upper recesses of the home. In summer months, the cooler air falls and escapes through draughty floorboards. Energy Saving Trust estimates an additional £60 savings annually by properly insulating floors.
Insulating Your Walls
Insulating the walls of your home is a bit more tricky and expensive than dealing with the roof and floor, but it is still well worth it when you consider an average savings between £450 and £500 per year. The big question is the type of walls that exist in your home. The two possibilities are:
- Solid Walls - Solid wall construction was the norm prior to the 1920s. While solid wall homes are very formidable against weather and other environmental concerns, they are very poor in terms of insulation. Fortunately, they can be insulated either internally or externally. The choice is yours depending on your budget, circumstances, and aesthetic preferences.
- Cavity Walls - The cavity wall design features external walls that are made up of two structures with a gap in between. Under normal circumstances, cavity insulation would have been installed when the home was built. However, as a home ages, that insulation is prone to settling to the extent that upper floors of your home may not be seeing any benefits at all. Insulating cavity walls is a great way to button up your home, save on your energy bills, and avoid damage caused by condensation.
Properly insulating your walls can be somewhat expensive, so to help the UK government offers several incentives. One of those incentives is a reduction in VAT for owners of existing homes who hire contractors to do the installation work. The reduced VAT applies to both materials and labour. Individuals building brand-new homes are charged no VAT at all on labour or materials.
Landlords are not left out of the incentives either. They can claim up to £1,500 against their tax bills by investing in energy saving upgrades including wall insulation. This applies to each individual home or flat that is renovated.
Investing in New Windows
Up until a few decades ago, glass windows were pretty standard: a single sheet of glass or plexiglass mounted in a wood or metal frame. Little did we know in the old days how terribly inefficient these types of windows are. But trust us, they are. A single pane of glass is a conduit for energy to flow right out of a home.
By investing in double glazed windows, homeowners could save in the neighbourhood of £170 per year. Replacing all the windows in your home could be quite an investment, but once it is done, they will be good for decades to come. The annual energy savings will more than pay for them in the long run.
The secret of the double glazed window is a pocket of air between the two panes of glass. Sometimes that air is replaced by krypton, argon, or xenon by manufacturers of high-end windows. However, whether the gap is filled with air or gas, it acts as insulation that greatly reduces energy conduction through the glass panes.
Energy Saving Trust says it is possible to get triple glazed windows if you want them. Nevertheless, they suggest triple glazed do not always perform as well as double glazed windows and, even when they do, the extra cost is not likely worth it. You are better off getting a double glazed window with a B rating for energy efficiency.
Other Things You Can Do to Reduce Energy Bills
Once you invest in improvements to make your home more energy efficient, you will start seeing noticeable reductions in your energy bill. But you are not done yet. There are several other things you can do to maximize the investments you have made in your home and pay for them sooner. They include:
- Thermostat Adjustment - According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, just turning down your thermostat by a single degree can make a big difference. You can always throw on a sweater if that makes you a little bit uncomfortable.
- Lights and Light bulbs - Most of us waste a lot of energy through our lighting choices. Beginning with the bulbs themselves, it is helpful to replace inefficient bulbs with more efficient ones. The top-of-the-line bulbs do cost more but they use less energy and last much longer. In addition, turning lights off when no one's in the room is a big help. There is no need to have lights on if a room is empty -- unless you enjoy higher utility bills.
- Passive Consumption - The age of electronic gadgets is great for many things, but not efficient energy use. Every passive device plugged into a wall outlet is drawing current even when not in use. This includes mobile phone chargers, laptop computers, televisions, microwave ovens, DVD players, and so on. Any electronic device you have is drawing power if you see a glowing light. Unplug them when not in use and you will be surprised at how much you save.
Most of us can save on energy bills by being smart about our energy suppliers. This includes the choice of whom we purchase our power from, the tariff we select, and the payment method in place. Let us look at each of these beginning with the choice of supplier.
It has been estimated that only about 20% of the UK population regularly compares prices among utility providers in order to find the best deal. Those who do so tend to switch every 16 to 18 months because of finding a better price. These folks save upwards of £300 per year by comparing and switching.
It is easy to compare utility prices thanks to the dozens of comparison websites on the Internet. In fact, the information age makes it possible to compare and switch in less than an hour for most people. There is just no good reason to not to play the market these days.
Next is the issue of tariffs. A recent analysis suggests that there are more than 300 different tariff options among the combined offerings of the 18 power companies in the UK. It is likely you are paying more than you need to if you have not checked your tariff within the last 24 months. It is important to know what tariff you are on and whether or not you qualify for a less expensive one.
Lastly, your method of payment may influence your monthly utility bills. The simple truth is that some utility suppliers prefer specific methods of payment and offer discounts to customers in order to encourage them to adopt that method. We will use the quarterly debit just as an example.
The quarterly debit option allows your utility supplier to debit your bank account four times per year based on the amount of energy you consume. Your supplier may prefer this method because it gives them the maximum control over billing and ensures, as long as there's money in your bank account, they will get paid. As such, they may offer a discount for choosing this method.
It is common knowledge that utility prices in the UK continue to rise with no end in sight. However, you do not have to simply accept this reality and allow yourself to be buried under the weight of your gas and electric. You can beat rising prices by making your home more energy efficient, changing some of your routine behaviours, and taking advantage of the way energy suppliers are set up. You can cut your utility bills in half if you have the mind to do it.
Becoming energy efficient is not hard to do but it does require some knowledge. Here are links to some websites that will provide you with invaluable information. Take advantage of them along with other sources of information.
Centre for Sustainable Energy - A national charity with a mission to help people change the way they think about energy. They offer excellent advice about becoming more energy efficient, using renewable resources, and reducing your monthly utility bills.
Mother Earth News - This well-known environmentally focused news publication offers countless tips and tricks regarding energy efficiency and lower utility bills. While you are there, you can learn about other things like organic farming, green transportation, and homesteading.
GOV.UK (Green Deal) - If you'd like to make energy efficient improvements to your home but can't afford the entire expense on your own the government's Green Deal program might be right for you. All the information you need is found right here.
Earlier we mentioned comparing and switching energy companies using comparison websites. These sites make the job of searching for better rates easy by collecting your information and comparing it across multiple suppliers. The following links will take you to some of the better known comparison websites where you can get started in your search for better rates:
Go Compare - Here you can quote and switch whether you are an individual homeowner or a business owner. From time to time, this site offers extra incentives to encourage customers to use them.
Money Supermarket - This site claims to be the biggest comparison website in the UK. When you shop and switch with them you'll enjoy benefits like no early cancellation fees, prices compared across the entire industry rather than just a handful of suppliers, and much more.
Confused.com - Get your quote here for gas only, electric only, or dual fuel. If you are interested in green energy or quotes for your business, you can get those here as well.
Compare the Market - Follow this link to a site that gives you straightforward comparisons without all the hype. If you get started and do not have time to finish, the site saves your quote for later retrieval.
Tesco Compare - Consumers participating in the Clubcard rewards program will want to visit this site for sure. You can earn 250 points when you shop and switch through them. Compare single utility services or dual fuel.
uSwitch.com - In addition to offering free price comparisons for gas and electricity this site also offers helpful information about insulating your home, installing solar panels, and reducing your total utility bills with easy tips and tricks.
Money.co.uk - Here is a very thorough site giving you dozens of options for both gas and electricity. You can compare prices individually, combine them in a dual fuel option, or search for utilities for your business. All the information is laid out in simple English so it is easy to understand.
Totally Money - This may be one of the more subdued comparison websites but they do guarantee you will not find a cheaper price anywhere else. All you need is your postcode and your e-mail address to get started.
Money Saving Expert - When you follow this link, you will find dozens of consumer guides covering just about every financial topic you can think of. Their guide to cheap energy contains information you will not find anywhere else.