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Energy Saving Tips

The energy we use in our homes is responsible for one quarter of the carbon emissions in the UK - and that's a lot of emissions. Of course, few of us can wipe out our carbon footprint completely, but we can all make our homes more energy efficient. It not only helps save the planet, it can save money, too.

How to insulate your home

Many of the properties in the UK lose heat through poor insulation or draughty windows. Let's start at the top of the house. If there is no insulation, a quarter of the heat in your home will seep out through the roof. So why not insulate the loft?

It doesn't have to cost much - probably between £100 and £350 - but it could cut your energy bills by up to £175 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. In other words, it would pay for itself after two years.

If your loft is already insulated, it's worth checking that the insulation is adequate. To enjoy the maximum benefit, experts recommend loft insulation that is 270mm thick.

Heat can also seep through the walls of your home. Most houses in the UK have either cavity or solid walls. If your home was built after the 1920s, it is most likely to have cavity walls. A cavity wall is actually two walls, with a gap or cavity in between. And if you insulate the gap, you can help to keep the heat in the house.

Cavity wall insulation can cost up to £350 to install, but it could reduce your annual energy bill by £135 a year. And you may even be able to get if for free. The major energy firms often have offers on for free or discounted cavity wall and loft insulation so look out for those.

Free insulation is also available for low income households and the elderly. Your energy provider should be able to tell you whether you qualify.

Homes with solid walls are a bit trickier - and pricier - to insulate. For example, if you were to tackle a three bedroom house, you could pay up to £13,000 for solid wall insulation. The annual saving could amount to £475, but it could still take more than 25 years to recoup the cost.

You wouldn't think you could lose heat through the floor of your home, but if you insulate under the floorboards you could save about £60 a year. Floor insulation costs about £100 if you do it yourself. A professional could charge up to £800.

Don't forget to lag the water tank to lock in the heat. A British Standard jacket should be at least 75mm thick and costs about £15, but it could reduce heat loss from the water tank by more than 75% - and knock about £40 year of your fuel bill.

It's also fairly easy to insulate the pipes in your home. You can buy pipe insulation from the local DIY store for as little as £10, which is less than the annual saving of £15.

Stop the draughts

If your home is very draughty, you are undoubtedly wasting heat - and money. But there are several cheap and easy ways to draught proof your property.

For example, you can buy draught proofing strips to stick around the window frames. You can also seal any gaps in the outside doors by fitting a keyhole cover, a letterbox flap or brush and a draught excluder at the bottom of the door.

Heat can escape through the gaps between the floors and skirting boards. Most DIY stores stock sealant to plug the gaps. Just make sure you don't block any air vents or your floorboards could rot.

Chimneys also let in the draughts. So if you don't use your fire, you could fit a cap over the chimney pot, or buy a chimney balloon that inflates to fill the gap.

Energy efficient glazing

If your windows are particularly old and draughty, you might want to consider installing double glazing. It will not only make your home more comfortable, but also more energy efficient. And that's not all. Double glazing could reduce your energy bill by about £150 a year, although the savings will vary depending on the type of windows in your property and the size of your house.

You can find out more information on the website of the Glass and Glazing Federation (www.ggf.org.uk).

Don't forget that if you live in a conservation area or a listed property, you will have to be careful that any alterations to your home comply with the appropriate planning rules.

Energy saving grants

If you are planning to make any energy saving improvements to your home, you could be eligible for a grant to help fund the cost.

The Warm Front scheme, for example, is available to people on certain income-related benefits, such as Pension Credit, who live in a property that is poorly insulated. You can also qualify if your home does not have central heating. Grants of up to £6,000 are available for improvements including loft and cavity wall insulation.

But restrictions apply - and if the work costs more than the grant, you would have to make up the difference yourself.

The Warm Front scheme is only available in England. Northern Ireland has its own scheme, known as Warm Homes. North of the English border there is the Home Energy Efficiency Programmes for Scotland, or HEEPS, and Nyth/Nest or Arbed in Wales.

Many local authorities offer grants to residents who make energy saving improvements to their home. You can find more details of the financial assistance in your area on the website of the Energy Saving Trust.

The government introduced the Green Deal in 2012 as a way to encourage people to make their homes more energy efficient. It is not a government grant, but a type of loan, so that consumers will not have to pay anything up front for energy-saving measures they install.

Borrowers will have to pay interest on the loan, but the so-called Golden Rule states that you should never have to pay back more than you save on your energy bills each month. The loan is also attached to your home and not you as an individual. So, if you move house, the new owner will take on the deal.

Easy ways to save money

You don't have to go to great expense to make your home more energy efficient. There are lots of cheap and easy ways to cut your fuel consumption - and your energy bills.

  • A shower if usually more energy efficient than a bath, though it depends on the type of shower - and how long you spend in there. For example, if you stand for 20 minutes under a power shower, you might as well soak in the bath.
  • Fill up your dishwasher before you turn it on - and don't run your washing machine with half a load.
  • Kettles use a lot of electricity. But if you only boil the water you actually use, you could save around £7 a year on energy bills.
  • If you are boiling water in a pan, put the lid on. You'll be surprised how much quicker it reaches boiling point.
  • Turn off the tap while you are shaving or brushing your teeth as a running tap wastes more than six litres of water a minute. You should also try not to leave the hot tap running when you wash up. And if you have a dripping tap - fix it, or pour 5,500 litres of water down the drain a year.
  • Most of us live in homes that are far too hot. If you turn the temperature down by just one degree, you could save about £55 a year - and you probably won't even feel any colder.
  • The lights in your home typically account for about 20% of the electricity bill. A simple way to cut the cost is to fit energy saving light bulbs. If you swap one 40W traditional bulb with an 8W low energy bulb, you can save about £5 a year. The savings jump to £10 a year if you replace a 100W standard bulb with a 15W energy efficient version. It doesn't sound much, but if you replace all the bulbs in your home the savings can add up surprisingly quickly.
  • Remember, too, that low-energy light bulbs can last ten years or more, compared with a one-year lifespan for a traditional bulb.
  • Traditional light bulbs are now being phased out across Britain and the rest of Europe. The price of energy-efficient light bulbs has also come down and they now cost about £1.
  • Most of us are guilty of leaving our appliances on standby overnight. But it's a habit we should break. The annual standby costs of a DVD recorder, for example, could be as much as £15, according to Which? And you could save more than £70 a year if you switched off all your electrical equipment when not in use.

If you are liable to leave your electricals on standby when you are asleep, why not invest in a device to turn them all off with one switch. They are simple to fit and widely available on the internet. Or you can buy a special plug that automatically turns off any electrical appliances that are left on standby for long periods.

Monitor your energy consumption

Most of us have no idea how much energy we consume every day, so it's difficult to see how we could make savings. But an energy monitor can help. Energy monitors are clever little gizmos that display your electricity consumption and the cost per hour.

Some will even beep when you reach a certain reading. They are a great way to track down the energy guzzling appliances in your home. Most people also find that an energy monitor triggers energy saving, with a typical saving of between 5% and 15% in the first year. Prices for energy monitors start at about £30.

Some utility companies will carry out a home energy check. Or you can complete an online check-up at the website of the Energy Saving Trust.

Generate your own power

If you are a real eco warrior, you might want to consider generating your own power. So-called micro generation could help you to cut your carbon emissions because you will be less dependent on fossil fuels.

You should also see a drop in the size of your energy bills. You might even be able to sell any surplus energy back to your utility company to make a profit.

Solar panels

There are various different ways to generate your own power. Solar panels, also known as solar photovoltaics, are one of the most popular. The photovoltaic cells basically convert sunlight into electricity, which can be used to heat and light your home.

It typically costs about £10,000 to install solar panels, though you should compare quotes from different firms to get the best price.

You will also find that panels that are built into the roof are more expansive than panels that sit on top. Solar tiles are more expensive still.

But there are savings to be made. The average 3kWp system can generate more than 2500 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, or about three quarters of the typical household electricity consumption.

You can also use solar panels, called collectors, to heat up water in a cylinder, as long as you have a sunny place to put the panels and a cylinder to store the water. You will probably also need a compatible boiler or immersion heater to top up the temperature of the water.

It costs about £5,000 to install a typical solar water heating system and the savings are not always as satisfying. You might be able to get most of your hot water from the solar panels during the summer months, but they are unlikely to heat up the water to a high enough temperature during the colder weather.

Typical savings are about £55 a year if you previously used gas to heat your water. You could save up to £80 a year if you replace electric immersion heating with collectors.

Wind turbines

Giant wind turbines are now a familiar feature of the landscape, but did you know that you can also fit small-scale turbines for domestic use? Wind turbines harness the power of the wind to generate electricity and there are two types of domestic turbine: pole mounted and building mounted.

It is much cheaper to install a turbine on the roof of your home - about £2,000. If you choose a pole mounted turbine you could pay more than £20,000. But building-mounted turbines tend to produce less electricity.

The Energy Saving Trust calculates that a large pole mounted turbine could generate around 10,000kWh per year. If you could earn money by exporting your surplus electricity to the grid, the income and savings could add up to more than £3,000 a year.

Ground source heat pumps

A ground source heat pump uses pipes to extract heat from the ground. The pump can even be used in the middle of winter because the ground stays at a fairly constant temperature throughout the year. You don't need a very big garden to accommodate a ground source heat pump, but you do need ground that is suitable for digging a trench or drilling a borehole. The pumps also work better with underfloor heating systems because they generate heat at a lower temperature than traditional boilers.

You should expect to pay about £15,000 to install a ground source heat pump. The savings vary enormously, but if you replace an electric heating system with a pump, you could save up to £600 a year. The savings if you replace a gas central heating system will be much smaller. Bear in mind that the pump is powered by electricity, although it should generate more energy than it consumes.

Biomass fuels

All the trendiest homes now have wood-burning or biomass stoves that burn logs or pellets to heat up the room. You can also install a biomass boiler that burns logs, pellets or chips and is linked up to the central heating and hot water system.

It's obviously a lot cheaper to install a stove than a boiler. You could probably buy a log woodburner and get it up and running for about £2,000, compared with about £11,500 for a biomass boiler.

The price of wood fuel varies, although it helps if you have somewhere to store wood so you can buy in bulk and cut down on delivery costs.

A wood-fuelled boiler could save you nearly £600 a year compared to electric heating. If you replace a gas heating system with a wood-burning system, you might save £100 a year.

If you live close to a river or other water source, you might be tempted to try and harness the power of the water to generate electricity. However, most homes are not suitable for hydropower, often because the water does not flow fast enough, particularly during the summer months. The installation cost of about £25,000 can also be prohibitive.

Whatever type of renewable energy system you decide to install, always check whether you need planning permission before you go ahead. You should also make sure that your home is as energy efficient as possible so that you don't waste any of the heat you generate.

Payment schemes

The government is in the process of setting up a Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to encourage greater use of renewable energy sources. However, the RHI is not yet available for domestic generators.

If you generate your own power, you might be eligible for the government's Feed-in-Tariffs, in which case you will be paid for the electricity you generate and use as well as the surplus power that you feed in to the grid. You can find more information on the website of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (www.decc.gov.uk).

Can I save money with Economy 7?

If you have an Economy 7 tariff, you get cheaper electricity at night than during the day. It sounds great, but it does not suit everyone. In fact, most experts agree that you will make only marginal savings unless you consume at least 40% of your electricity overnight.

Economy 7 is therefore most effective for people who have electric storage heaters and a hot water tank because they can warm up the heaters and the hot water overnight for use the next day.

It also helps if you can switch on your dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer at night when the electricity is cheaper.

If the tariff suits your lifestyle, you could save between £200 and £300 a year.

Most of the big energy companies offer Economy 7 tariffs. The cheap hours vary according to the company, as does the cost of the electricity. So make sure you compare prices.

You will also need a special meter, though your supplier should fit one for free or for a nominal fee.