Fight back against the cold and chop your energy bills

There’s no denying it: the nights are drawing in and temperatures have started to drop. As we begrudgingly reach for the thermostat, now is a good time to think about ways to keep the bills down.

We’ve got a relatively mild couple of months ahead before the full force of winter arrives, so why not use this time to make your home more energy efficient? Loft and cavity wall insulation is a great way to keep heating bills down, and you can even get help with the cost of installation.

Here’s a look at how to prepare your home and your wallet for the colder months ahead.

What can I do?

The Energy Saving Trust says houses without cavity wall insulation are around £135 more expensive to run each year than those with insulated cavities. It can cost between £100 and £350 to install this kind of insulation, but even at the higher end it would pay for itself in two years.

Similarly, loft insulation can quickly save you money on your heating bills. The Trust says insulating your loft could save you up to £175 a year. Again, it could cost up to £350 to insulate a totally un-insulated loft up to 270mm, but you’d recoup the cost in two years.

Clearly there’s money to be saved over the years by properly insulating your home, but the initial cost may put some people off. Luckily, there is help available.

What help can I get?

The government’s Warm Front scheme installs insulation and heating to make qualifying homes more energy efficient, but the scheme is in its final year and will end when the current funding runs out later in 2012.

The scheme pays for improvements to properties that are poorly insulated or have outdated heating systems where the household is claiming certain income-related benefits. Those that qualify can get improvements worth up to £3,500 or even £6,000 where oil central heating or alternative systems are recommended.

Grants are available to pay for loft and cavity wall insulation, hot water tank insulation and more. If the work costs more than the grant available you’ll have to pay the difference yourself, otherwise it’s free.

Qualifying criteria for the scheme, which were revised this month, are quite detailed and can be found here under ‘Eligibility for the Warm Front Scheme’.

Research from Consumer Focus says that millions of pounds’ worth of Warm Front cash is still unclaimed. In fact, the scheme under-spent by £50millon in 2011/12, so it’s worth checking the criteria to see if you could benefit.

Warm Front is only available in England, but there are equivalents for Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish households under the Nest, Energy Assistance Package and Warm Homes schemes respectively.

What if I don’t qualify?

Tesco is offering free loft and cavity wall insulation through grant funding for homes around mainland Great Britain. You have to be a homeowner and there are some other criteria to meet, but you can find the details here.

EDF Energy also offers free insulation, even if you’re not a customer – as long as you meet its eligibility criteria. More details here.

Scottish and Southern Energy and British Gas have their own free insulation schemes too, details of which can be found here and here.

Why do companies do this for free?

It seems almost too good to be true that so many companies are offering free insulation, and even throwing in other freebies while they’re at it.

Your cynicism isn’t entirely misplaced – they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s all because of the government’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Target (CERT), which gives energy companies emissions targets to meet.

To achieve these targets they offer free insulation to make homes more energy efficient so they’ll use less energy and reduce their suppliers’ emissions.

Pay less for your energy

Of course one obvious way to save on your energy bills is switch to the cheapest provider for your gas and electricity.

One of the Big Six energy providers, SSE, last month announced it would be putting its prices up. When this happens, the other five providers tend to follow suit, making now a good time to see if you can switch and save money.

You can read more about this in my article ‘Grab a new energy deal while stocks last!

Crucially, people sometimes don’t want to switch energy provider because they think it’ll involve work being carried out in their homes to replace pipes. This is simply not the case, and there won’t even be any disruption to your gas or electricity supply.

The whole process takes between four and eight weeks, but the only difference you’ll notice is that your bills come from the new provider, and that they’re cheaper. In fact, MoneySupermarket research shows the average household could save £220 a year by switching.

There’s a handy guide to switching energy suppliers here, including some of the most frequently asked questions about it.

When you’re ready to switch, our free service only takes a few minutes. Click here to begin, or contact us on 0333 123 9601 (lines open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5.30pm).

Follow Mark on Twitter @MoneySuperMarkH

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct. We're free, independent and compare all UK credit cards, as well as offering exclusive deals you can't get anywhere else. Contact at Moneysupermarket House, St David's Park, Ewloe, Flintshire, CH5 3UZ. © Ltd 2012.

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