Tips to save energy and slash your bill

Autumn is the season of change. The days get shorter, the leaves change colour, the clocks go back and the energy companies start putting up their prices.

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Four of the Big Six energy providers have made higher-than-inflation price increases in the past few weeks. The government has stepped in, proposing new legislation to make the energy market fairer for consumers, but in the meantime we’re all reaching for the thermostat.

You may have already seen plenty of tips for keeping your energy usage down, such as washing your clothes at lower temperatures and not leaving appliances on standby, but there are more, less obvious things you can do to keep your bills down.

Here are a few tips and tricks to make sure your next energy bill is less painful than usual.

Stop over-charging

We ran a poll in May and found a quarter of people (myself included) leave gadgets such as smartphones plugged in to charge all night, needlessly wasting electricity.

For example, an iPhone shouldn’t really take more than three hours to charge fully, but many people leave them on charge all night, perhaps doubling the necessary charge time.
Instead, stick it on charge a few hours before you go to bed and then turn your phone off at night if you can.

The point is that phones don’t stop sucking in a charge when the battery is full – they keep topping themselves up for as long as they’re connected to the mains.

What’s more, experts say leaving your phone plugged in can actually be bad for your battery’s health in the long term. Lithium-ion batteries, like those found in most smartphones, will have a longer lifespan if you don’t overcharge them.

There are special socket adapters like the Belkin Conserve Socket which allow you to set a timer to half an hour, three hours or six hours, after which it cuts off the power supply to your phone or other gadgets.

While we’re on gadgets, you could always turn down the brightness on your phone and tablets, or even disable things like wifi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them, so that your battery needs charging less often.

In the loft (and around the home)

You can get cavity wall and loft insulation for absolutely nothing, with no strings attached. It sounds too good to be true, but energy companies have government energy efficiency targets to hit, and giving you free insulation helps them to hit those targets.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, homes without cavity wall insulation are £135 more expensive to run each year. The trust also says that insulating your loft could save you up to £175 a year.

EDF Energy, SSE, British Gas and even Tesco have their own free insulation schemes, with various qualifying criteria – but now is as good a time as any to take them up on the offer.

Another way to stop heat escaping from your home is to block up your chimney. If you have a fireplace you never use then you can cap your chimney. If you do use the fireplace on occasion, you can block it with an inflatable and removable chimney balloon. Just don’t forget to remove it before you light the fire!

Radiators

An obvious energy-saving tip is to bleed your radiators so that the excess air in their coils is released, making more room for hot water.

It’s a task that needs doing perhaps two or three times a year, but there are devices you can fit which will automatically bleed your radiators throughout the year. You can buy automatic bleeders for around £10 and there’s none of the mess you get when you bleed using a radiator key.

If you want to go further, you can buy radiator foils which go on the wall behind each radiator, reflecting the heat back into the room rather than allowing the heat to be absorbed into the wall. Again, these can be picked up for around £10 or less.

Many radiators are sited beneath windows – it can help to close the curtains as soon as dusk arrives, again keeping heat in the room.

Unused rooms

If you have a spare room, or an empty bedroom during term time because you have a child at university, it’s worth sealing the room off by turning the radiators off, closing windows, curtains and vents and using a draught excluder to block the flow of air in and out of the room.

In the kitchen

Using just enough water to cover whatever you’re boiling on the hob is a proven way of being energy efficient and saving money, but that hot water usually gets poured down the drain and wasted afterwards.

Depending on how frugal you’re willing to be, you could always funnel that water into a hot water bottle and use that for a bit of extra warmth in your living room.

When you use the kettle, try to boil just the amount you need. There's no point filling it to the brim when you’re just making yourself a cuppa.

There’s an argument to be made for leaving your oven door open after you’re done and it’s turned off, allowing the residual heat to escape and warm up the room. Some say that the heat dissipates through the door’s vents over time anyway, but you’ll probably feel the heat more immediately with the door open.

If you have a dishwasher, pre-rinsing dishes with hot water is a bit of a waste, because modern dishwashers do a good job of dealing with residue on your plates. Of course, you should scrape off any actual food as it can clog the filter.

Finally, if you don’t have a frost-free freezer, be sure to keep an eye on your freezer and defrost whenever you see more than half an inch of ice around the inside to keep it energy efficient.

In the bathroom

The Energy Saving Trust says that if everyone in a family of four replaces one bath a week with a five-minute shower, they will save £18 a year. If you’re having a bath every day of the week then there’s even greater savings to be had by switching to showers.

Another tip I picked up in my student days, which I’ve used with varying success, is to save on ironing by hanging up clothes in the bathroom while showering, so that the steam helps creases drop out. This works less well if your bathroom has an extractor fan.

In the living room, study or computer room

There used to be an old misconception that turning your computer off altogether when it’s not in use was energy inefficient, given the amount needed to start it up again. This is not and has never been true. Leaving computers on while not in use is a waste of energy, particularly if you have older monitors.

If you absolutely hate booting-up your computer from scratch, you should at least go into hibernation mode when you’re not using it. With your router, things aren’t as clear cut.

On the one hand, it’s fine to leave your router on around the clock, but it is a waste of energy. On the other hand, turning your router off at night shouldn’t cause problems, though a cursory search of the web finds people complaining of synchronisation problems once turned back on.

Check your router’s instruction manual for clarification, but if your router has a power switch, then it’s probably fine to turn it off at night.

Switch to a cheaper tariff!

The media coverage surrounding energy tariffs lately can’t have passed you by. Energy companies are under pressure to simplify their products and to offer the absolute cheapest deals to their customers.

We’re not there yet though, which means it’s up to you to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. Our energy comparison service will tell you, based on your usage or bills, whether there’s a cheaper deal to be had elsewhere.

The switch can be sorted in six to eight weeks, there’s no interruption to your supply, no need for any works to your pipes and ultimately, no excuse.

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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