As energy suppliers come under fire for more inflation-busting price hikes, millions of households are worried about the cost of gas and electricity this winter. The good news is a few simple tricks now can save you a bill shock later on.
Here’s how to prepare for a drop in temperatures to ensure your bills are kept to a minimum.
Switch to a cheaper fixed rate tariff
You can now expect to pay £1,434 a year on average for energy bills, according to comparison site uSwitch, who says seven in ten households went without heating at some point last winter to keep costs down.
However you could save £250 simply by switching to a cheaper tariff AND protect yourself from further price hikes by opting for a fixed rate. With fixed rate tariffs, the price you pay per unit of energy is fixed usually for a year. Just remember the actual cost of your bill will still vary depending on your usage.
Use a comparison site to find the cheapest deal as it will depend on your location and usage. All you need is your address and preferably the name of your current tariff and your usage in kWh, although this is not essential.
If you don’t want to switch energy suppliers, at the very least ring up your existing suppler and check you are on their cheapest tariff. You may also be able to save money paying by monthly direct debit instead of quarterly, for example.
Avoid boiler breakdown
Boilers have an annoying habit of packing up on the coldest night of the year. This not only leaves you with a freezing home but a hefty bill too – the average cost of repair is £314, according to uSwitch, although this can easily to soar to £2,000 or more if the boiler needs replacing.
Many energy suppliers now sell boiler breakdown insurance, usually costing between £5 and £13 a month, but beware the small print and exclusions on these policies. Some have high excess charges of about £100, and some will not repair a boiler if it turns out to be ‘beyond economical repair’ ie the cost of fixing would be almost as much as replacing. If you want boiler cover, use a comparison site to look carefully at price, excess charges and levels of cover.
You may prefer to simply have a pot of savings specifically earmarked for household emergencies, as long as you can resist dipping into this for Christmas presents. If your boiler does breakdown, get several quotes before agreeing to any work – find a local, independent tradesman on the Gas Safety Register.
All of your gas appliances such as a boiler, cooker and gas fire should be checked by a Gas Safe registered engineer every year. They will check that appliances are operating with the right pressure, that harmful gases are being removed safely to the air outside, and that all safety devices are working properly. Expect to pay about £65 to £75.
Draught proof your home
As soon as it gets chillier you need to address the gaps in your home where cold can seep through. Doors and windows are your first targets. Old fashioned devices such as the ‘sausage dog’ type draught excluder, placed to cover up the gap between a door and the floor, are available from homeware stores. If you can’t afford new thick curtains, try buying some thermal curtain liners which you simply hook onto your existing curtains.
If wind is whistling through your letterbox or keyhole, you can buy covers for both from DIY stores that are easy to fit and cost less than £10. If you have a chimney, try buying a balloon or felt disc that you squash up the flue to stop draughts coming into your sitting room.
To avoid losing too much heat through your floor, fill the gaps between skirting boards and floor boards with a silicon-based sealant from a DIY store. Wooden floors may be fashionable but are chilly in winter, so lay down some thick rugs.
Finally, rearrange your furniture to ensure no large items such as sofas are blocking the radiators, and remember to bleed your radiators if they are not hot enough at the top.
Insulating your home is a worthwhile investment. With a quarter of heat lost through the roof, this is the first place to start. Many homes already have loft insulation but check that yours is at least 270mm thick – if not, you can either top it up yourself or hire a professional to do the work for about £300. Insulation lasts at least 40 years and saves you up to £180 a year on your energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust (EST), so could take just two years to pay for itself.
If your home was built after 1920, its external walls are probably made of two layers with a gap between them. Cavity wall insulation fills that gap, keeping the warmth in to save energy. It costs about £500 but can save you £140 a year on your energy bills, meaning you make your money back in less than four years, according to the EST.
Some households qualify for free insulation from an energy supplier under the Government’s Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) scheme. Eligibility normally depends on your postcode, any benefits received and the type of house you live in. For example, if your house has more than three storeys, is a multi-purpose dwelling or has never had cavity wall insulation you will probably qualify. Most suppliers such as British Gas have a simple eligibility check on their website, and you don’t need to be their customer to take advantage. You can also ring the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 for advice.