There's been some relief for UK homes this week, as British Gas announced a cut in gas prices of 7%, potentially saving 8million customers around £56 each a year.
Although this is a welcome development, and could potentially prompt an energy price war (read our article '
Price war hope as British Gas cuts bills' for a more indepth look), it doesn't help people who've already been hit with high bills for their winter energy use.
Scott Byrom, moneysupermarket.com's head of utilities, said: "As the winter season comes to an end, a 7% decrease (£56) to standard gas prices, whilst a step in the right direction, is little consolation for all those who are getting expensive quarterly statements for their winter usage."
This is always the most expensive time of year for energy bills because of the extra gas and electricity we use during the winter months. However, many people will be in for a shock as moneysupermarket.com has calculated that the average household paying their provider's standard tariff will pay £616 for their winter energy bill, up from £512 last year.
Since 2003, annual energy bills have risen by almost 130% and with the recent cold weather, people are really going to start noticing their bigger bills. That's why it's so important to move to the cheapest energy tariff for your home, and why British Gas' announcement is so welcome, particularly because it is a cut for all their standard customers.
The big six energy firms - British Gas, E.ON, EDF Energy, npower, Scottish Power and Scottish & Southern - all dropped their prices last year, but then only customers who moved tariffs actually benefitted.
Scott Byrom, utilities manager at moneysupermarket.com, said: "Many people will be getting a hefty quarterly statement landing on their doormat... This bill is likely to be the biggest winter energy bill they've ever had to pay.
"It is therefore extremely important for bill payers to address this issue and do what ever they can to reduce their bills going forward - especially as the cold weather and snow looks set to continue for many parts of the UK."
While there could be a flurry of price cuts following British Gas, the long-term future looks less rosy.
Ofgem, the energy industry watchdog, has warned that the next decade could see bills rising by a further 25% as the country struggles to generate enough power to meet its needs.
"The higher cost of gas and electricity may mean that increasing numbers of consumers are not able to afford adequate levels of energy to meet their requirements," it predicted.
Act on high bills
So, bills are high and they could get worse - it's hardly cheering stuff. Is there anything you can do to protect your home from rocketing energy costs?
Well, the good news is yes there is. Most people are on their provider's standard tariff and simply by switching to a better deal, they could cut their bills dramatically.
For example, if you're on Scottish Power's standard tariff, you're paying an average of £1,361.95 a year, when you could be paying £430 less on its Online Energy Saver tariff.
Switch to the new, market-leading Websaver 6 tariff from British Gas and you'll pay £462.95 less a year - that kind of money can offset a pretty substantial rise in bills.
Compare gas and electricity providers now and find the best price for your home.
Act on CO2
There are plenty of ways to reduce the energy you use in your home - which cuts your bills and helps the planet. Here are some key habit changes that could add up to a substantial cut in your energy costs.
Switch everything off
Our homes are filled with more gadgets than ever before and leaving those all on standby can really burn a hole in your pocket.
Make sure you turn appliances off when they're not in use and the savings really add up. Don't forget charging laptops and mobiles - if they've finished recharging then unplug them.
Turn down the thermostat
If you reduce your home's temperature by just one degree, you could save as much as 10% on your energy bills.
Heat only what you need
Only fill the kettle with as much water as you need - it's a simple change that will shave pounds off your bill.
If you don't frequently use the whole house then you could also consider only heating the rooms you do use. A low-energy heater in the sitting room can keep you toasty while the heating is off everywhere else.
Run a cool wash
Modern cleaning products are so efficient that most don't need high temperatures to wash your clothes. Turn the temperature down to 30 degrees and you'll use less energy. It's also worth avoiding the tumble dryer at all costs.
Shower don't bath
Hop in the shower instead and you'll use around a third of the water you run for a bath. Make a bath an occasional treat (I recommend combining it with bubbles, a bath bomb and a glass of something nice).
Close the curtains
While the nights are so long, draw the curtains as soon as it's dusk. This helps trap the heat inside your home, as well as making it cosier.
Fit for the future
It's not just habits, there are some ways you can fit your home to make it more energy efficient. You have to make an initial investment but your upgrades will pay for themselves before long.
Around 25% of heat is lost through poorly insulated roofs, so pop down some insulation. If you don't have any insulation at all just now, the Energy Saving Trust reckons you can save around £150 a year by installing it.
Sort out draughts
Heat is flying out of your home through your letter box, gaps next to doors and windows and keyholes. Pick up a draft excluder pack from a DIY store and go to war on draughts. You could save as much as £25 a year.
Okay, it is expensive but double glazing could save you around £135 a year. If you can't afford to upgrade every window, then do so on the rooms you use the most.
Look for the Energy Saving Recommended logo when you're picking your window - they've approved the most efficient.
Article updated 04.02.2010 following the announcement from British Gas
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