UK energy bills: what are the best ways to save this winter?

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The prospect of huge home energy bills this winter means Britons are desperately casting around for ways to reduce how much gas and electricity they use. Here are some of the simplest ideas, from hooded blankets to chimney balloons, that could help keep a lid on costs.

Turn down the thermostat from 20C to 19C

If you turn down your main thermostat just one degree it will cut your heating bills straight away, and you may not feel any difference. Experts suggest waiting for a day and seeing how it feels. If you’re still feeling OK, turn it down another degree. Most families are happy with a setting somewhere between 18C and 21C but it may need to be warmer if there are elderly or infirm people living in the property. The Simple Energy Advice website says a one-degree reduction can slash your heating bill by 10%.

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Heat the human, not the home

When the energy companies advised customers to cuddle their pets it rightly caused a furore but there are obvious steps you can take to keep warm, such as wearing a thicker jumper or investing in a cosy layer. The shops are full of this type of clothing, including onesies and hooded blankets, at the moment with prices to suit every budget. If you are working from home the extra layer may help you stick to your conviction about the thermostat temperature.

Winter-proof your home

There’s no point cranking up the heating if that warm air is escaping up the chimney or under the door and there are cheap fixes for this. You can make your own draught-excluders for internal doors using rolled-up towels, or tights filled with old clothes. If there’s a chimney you’re not using, stop the hole with an inflatable chimney balloon, which cost about £20. The Energy Saving Trust (EST) estimates that installing a chimney draught-excluder can knock about £65 a year off your energy bills.

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View image in fullscreenInsulating your loft will pay for itself over several years. Photograph: Andrew Aitchison/Alamy

Insulate your loft

According to the EST, an insulated loft can save up to £355 a year on energy bills in a semi-detached house, rising to £590 for a detached house. If your loft is easily accessible, you can do the work yourself using rolls of mineral wool that rest between the joists. There are videos online that show how to fit this. It costs about £630 to insulate a loft in a detached house, according to the EST, £480 for a semi, and £455 for a terrace house so this is an investment that pays for itself over several years.

Change how you do chores such as laundry

Washing clothes at higher temperatures uses more energy, so savings can be made when you turn down the dial. The EST says that washing at 30C, rather than 40C or higher, will save 40% of the energy used every year. Make sure you optimise your machine by only doing full loads. A tumble dryer will run up more costs, so try to air-dry on a clothes horse or heated airer. If you do have to use the tumble dryer, spin clothes at the highest cycle in the washing machine before putting them in.

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View image in fullscreenWashing clothes at 30C, rather than 40C or higher, will save 40% of the energy used every year. Photograph: monkeybusinessimages/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Turn off the heating in unused rooms

Many households will delay switching on their radiators for as long as possible. However, once the heating goes on, if you are savvy about the rooms you use (and use the radiator valves to turn the heating off) you can have it on but still cut your energy usage. Also ensure sofas or beds aren’t in front of radiators as that prevents the warm air from circulating. Whatever you do don’t forget to bleed radiators: ensuring there’s no air trapped inside will keep your central heating system running efficiently. You can find guides on how to bleed your radiators on YouTube.

Avoid standby, unplug gadgets and turn lights off

Unplugging devices at the mains will make sure they are not adding to your bill unnecessarily. Some gadgets are often left on all the time barely noticed by the householder, such as computers, media servers, set-top boxes, heated towel rails and underfloor heating – collectively known as the “phantom load”. It won’t recoup a fortune, but a simple step is to turn lights off when you leave a room.

Make changes in the kitchen

Recent research by the energy supplier Utilita suggested households could save hundreds of pounds a year by opting for more efficient cooking methods. “Microwaves, slow cookers and air fryers all tend to be cheaper ways of cooking meals than using an oven,” according to Uswitch’s energy expert, Ben Gallizzi. Other tweaks include batch cooking, using the right-sized pan with a lid, simmering rather than boiling, and avoiding overfilling the kettle. The study found that a microwave was the cheapest cooking option.

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Take showers not baths and install a water-efficient shower head

A five-minute shower uses about a third of the water of a bath. Obviously the less water you use, the less energy you need to heat the hot water, and the lower your energy bills will be. Heating water is responsible for about 20% of household gas consumption and “low flow” shower heads can cut water use by about 40%.

This article was amended on 10 October 2022 to correct the fact that Ben Gallizzi is Uswitch’s energy expert and does not work for Utilita as originally stated.

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