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Cost of living crisis: How to save money on heating bills this winter

heating bill  A general view of a household energy bill displayed on a mobile phone held next to a gas hob. Families across Great Britain will find out on Friday how tough energy bills will be this winter but they may have to wait to discover what the Government will do to help Picture date: Thursday August 25, 2022.
Many UK households are concerned about their heating bill this winter. Photo: PA (PA)

Spiralling inflation has sparked a cost of living crisis and many UK households are worried about how they are going to afford the heating bill this winter.

The government’s U-turn, announcing that the energy price guarantee for all households will now run for just six months, until April 2023, will only add even more concerns for families.

Here are eight top tips from consumer group Which? to help you save money on your heating bills.

1. Adjust your combi boiler's flow temperature

If you have a combi boiler, you could shave 8%, or around £112, off your annual heating bill by turning down your boiler flow temperature.

By default, many boilers are set to as high as 75-80°C, but many homes with condensing combi boilers can be suitably warmed with heating flow temperatures of 50-70°C or lower.

Read more: Millions struggling to pay bills as cost of living surges

Lowering that temperature means your boiler uses less gas and operates more efficiently — meaning immediate cost savings for your energy bills while still keeping your home warm.

Which? suggests lowering your boiler to around 60°C and checking whether you’re comfortable and your radiators can still operate effectively.

2. Check other boiler settings

Boilers are usually the primary way to heat the home — while they can be costly to run, there are steps you can take to ensure your heating is running efficiently.

Combi boilers sometimes pre-heat water so it's ready to get to taps quicker. Those with a combi boiler can try turning the pre-heat settings off — as it keeps your boiler burning more than necessary.

You can also ask a boiler engineer whether your boiler's settings can be toggled to run more cheaply.

Read more: What happens if you miss a bill?

Renters are within their rights to ask their landlord to arrange a boiler service every year.

Which? recommends getting your boiler serviced to reduce the potential cost of an emergency repair if something goes wrong and to keep a new boiler in warranty.

3. Use thermostatic radiator valves

Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) detect a room’s temperature and open or close the valve of the radiator as appropriate — so you can make sure each room of your house is only ever as warm as you need it to be, and you won’t waste money keeping rooms overly warm when you’re not using them.

Which? suggests using setting two for rooms you don't occupy as much and three for rooms you use often to try and cut heating use, knowing that you can go higher if you're feeling cold.

Nesta suggests that readjusting existing TRVs outside the living room to one setting lower than before can save individual households 5.5%, or £68, on a typical annual gas bill.

Remember that heat moves into cooler spaces so close the doors to cooler rooms you’re not using to avoid losing heat.

4. Turn your thermostat down a little

Each degree you lower your thermostat is energy and money saved. Figures from the Energy Saving Trust suggest that turning your thermostat down by one degree can save you up to 10% off your heating bill.

According to the NHS, temperatures as low as 18°C are healthy for most, but vulnerable people should take care and make sure they’re comfortable.

Read more: How to have a more affordable Christmas

Try to make sure you're keeping at least one room at a comfortable temperature for you, and keep the doors closed as much as you can to keep that room as warm as possible.

5. Look into insulating your home — if it isn’t already

The top way to keep energy bills low is to trap as much of the heat we generate as possible inside our homes, so if you can afford the upfront costs, insulation is a good long-term investment.

The Energy Saving Trust estimates that having a professional install loft insulation in a typical semi-detached home would cost around £480 in October 2022, but once it's done you'd save £355 a year on your energy bills.

So over the course of two winters you'd be making a saving. A detached home would cost more at around £630 — but the savings are as much as £590 a year. And you'll also be saving around 1,000kg CO2 emissions.

Plus, you'll be ready for whatever comes next. The central heating options of the future will operate more cheaply if homes can retain heat. Technology like heat pumps are able to operate efficiently because they're designed for well-insulated properties.

6. Explore home grants

Energy schemes and grants are available to help pay your energy bills or to support you with the costs of renewable heating. The Warm Home Discount of £140 increasing to £150 in October 2022 is available to pensioners and those who get certain benefits.

Those born before 26 September 1955 can claim Winter Fuel Payment of between £100 and £300 per winter.

Read more: Energy bills could hit £4,000 after Jeremy Hunt U-turns on support

Check the benefits calculator from the charity Turn To Us, or the government’s Help For Households campaign, to see what support you are entitled to.

Energy companies also have their own hardship funds you may be able to access.

7. Insulate your boiler's hot water cylinder and pipes

If you have a boiler with a hot water tank, you may be using a lot of energy to heat up the water in your storage cylinder.

To avoid wasting that energy, make sure the cylinder itself is well insulated. This can be as easy as buying an insulating jacket for about £20 — it should be no less than 75mm thick according to industry standards.

You can also lag — a term for wrapping in insulation — the pipes that carry water around your home for around £5 a metre. Water loses a lot of heat in transit, so it's a small expenditure for a good long-term saving. It's particularly useful to do it for the pipes coming in and out of the cylinder.

Lagging pipes will also reduce the risk of them freezing in a cold spell, which can be costly to repair.

8. Use electric heaters sparingly

Many are likely wondering whether they should turn off the heating completely and replace it with electric heaters to save money.

Unfortunately, Which? found that it's unlikely to be cost-effective over long periods of time. While portable heaters are great at providing a quick heating fix for a short time, or if your central heating system isn't working, it'll take a portable heater between 15 to 30 minutes to raise the temperature of a medium-sized room by 10ºC at full blast.

Read more: How to save this Halloween without scaring your budget

If you pay for energy by the unit and with the current price cap, electricity is much more expensive than gas — so be prudent if using an electric heater in place of gas.

If you're on a standard variable tariff, the average unit price for dual fuel customers is 34p per/kWh for electricity and 10.3p per/kWh for gas. That means that a 2kW portable heater at its full output would use 34p of electricity every half an hour.

Once your room is up to temperature, it will toggle on and off as needed to maintain this — make sure you choose a model with good thermostatic control that can do this accurately.

Watch: Protesters burn energy bills outside London's Downing Street