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How to quickly and easily save money on your home energy bills

With the price of gas going through the proverbial roof, I’ve put together some advice on how to save money.

And, first of all, let’s look at some general advice about boilers, as heating is where people are finding the biggest hit on their pocket right now…

How green is your boiler?

Boilers aren’t cheap to replace but, at the same time, if you’re using something that was in use at the time of Noah, then it may be costing a small fortune to heat your home. When I changed my boiler a few years ago, it went from an energy class E to a class A, which makes a massive difference.

If your boiler is old, not only consider a newer, green version but, also, the type as well, as something like a combi boiler, which heats all your water on demand, maybe much more suitable than a regular boiler, which heats up water to store in a cylinder.

Consider your thermostat

If your boiler has a thermostat then placement is important. Don’t have it too close to the radiator and have it in a room that’s appropriate to be the yard stick for the temperature of the house – after all, this is going to dictate when the heating needs to come on.

So, for example, if you have it in the hallway, your heating is likely to come on, during a cold day, every time the front door is opened – do you want that? Main living areas are the best location.

Lastly, and it’s the usual cliche, you can turn the temperature down. Obvious, yes, but where as most people will take about turning down to a set temperature or by a couple of degrees, I’m going to suggest turning down half a degree from where you usually have it. After all, most people have their own preferences for temperature so the idea that one-temperature fits all, is rather pointless. But, half a degree is unlikely to be noticeable and, yet, will save your money.

Check your radiators

This might seem obvious, but make sure that, when the heating does come on, that they all heat up and that each radiator feels an even temperature from top to bottom.

If not, it may be down to air in the radiator and/or not enough pressure in the system.

Banish air in the radiator

When air gets into your system (e.g. if there’s a leak, even if quite small), it will be pushed, usually, to the radiators furthest away from your boiler. The end result – not enough water in a radiator, and a failure to heat up. This usually presents itself as the radiator being warm at the bottom but cool at the top.

The answer is simple – as, Leona Lewis once sang, you need to keep bleedin’. Bleeding a radiator involves using a very simple radiator “key” to release the air from a valve. There are lots of great guides online on how to do this and radiator keys are inexpensive.

Make sure your boiler has enough pressure

Central heating systems are pressurised and, if this pressure is lost, then water may not circulate properly around your property. Many boilers will have a pressure meter of some kind on the front, which can be used as a guide. Consult your manual to find out what the pressure should be and how to re-pressurise your system. If you’re not at all sure, you may need to consult an expert.

On my boiler, I have a valve on a pipe under the boiler – when the pressure is low, I open this momentarily to restore it to the correct amount.

If you’ve bled a radiator, there’s a good chance that the pressure will have dropped as a result, so this process may be necessary as a result.

Add thermostats to the radiators

As well as having a simple thermostat to control the heating for the entire house, it’s possible to add thermostatic valves (known as “thermostatic radiator valves” or TRVs) to individual radiators – these will turn off the radiator when the room reaches a desired temperature. For example, you may want bedrooms to have a lower temperature than other rooms in your house. These can cost less than £8 each but will need to be fitted by a plumber, but are a worthwhile investment.

One note of caution – it’s best not to add a thermostat to the radiator nearest your thermostat as this should be set to full temperature at all times.

Should you cover your radiators?

Whether you have a smart cover over the entirety of a radiator, or just a simple shelf above it, it’s generally recognised that these aren’t a great idea. With radiators relying on convection current to work most effectively, anything that interrupts this will affect the heating of a room. And, more generally, they can just block and retain the heat too.

Yes, a cover can make a radiator a lot safer but it does so by reducing their effectiveness.

Reflect heat back into the room

Radiators don’t care which direction they radiate heat and, as much comes out the front, as much comes out the back too. And a lot of that will be soaking into the wall behind it. Again, this is just wasted.

One simple solution is to put reflective foil behind your radiator, which helps prevent this. A 4 metre roll costs less than £7. Match this up with some double sided tape to secure it behind – £7 for 25 metres – and you’ve got a cost-effective solution that you can do yourself.

Combi Boiler Recommendations

The following advice is exclusive to those of you with combi-boilers.

But, first of all, let’s make sure you actually have a combi boiler. You’ll know by the simple fact that you won’t have a hot water cylinder, which is often tucked away in an airing cupboard somewhere.

Assuming you do have a combi boiler, there are a huge range of makes and models, so this advice is going to be pretty generic. It will be best to consult your manual on how to do the things we suggest – if you don’t have a paper copy, then there’s a good chance the manufacturer will have a digital copy on their website.

Adjust your flow temperature

All of the above recommendations are things that most people have done or considered. This one, though, is the big one that many people don’t think about.

First of all, we need to understand what the flow and returns temperatures are.

Most gas boilers are set up to operate at what is called 80/60 flow and return temperatures. This means the boiler heats up the water it sends around your radiators (called ‘the flow’) to 80°C. The water returns to the boiler after travelling around all your radiators (called ‘the return’) at 60°C, having given off 20°C to the room. However 80/60 flow and return temperatures are too high to achieve the claimed manufacturer efficiencies. So, you must reduce the flow temperature to give the boiler a chance to run in what is known as ‘condensing mode’. At 70/50°C the boiler will start to operate in condensing mode. Only when the flow and return temperatures are 65/45°C or lower will the boiler reach its efficiency.

So, what’s best? The best temperature setting is ‘as low as possible’ – boilers start to reach their best efficiency figures at around 45°C, but that may be too low for some people. Basically, find the controls on your combi boiler that control the flow temperature and turn it down – try around 65°C at first and then try reducing it down over time.

Don’t have a combi boiler? Don’t do this!

This is important. If you don’t have a combi boiler and have a hot water cylinder, then don’t do the above.

Hot water must be stored in a cylinder at 60°C to kill legionella bacteria, which can be fatal for humans. This means flow temperatures should be 70°C to compensate for heat loss during the movement of the water to/from the cylinder.

Switch off the pre-heating

Many boilers have a pre-heating option – this means that some water is kept hot, in preparation for it being requested. The advantage of this is that hot water is delivered through the taps much quicker. The downside is that more energy is used, so switching this off can save money.

If you have a Worcester Bosch boiler, for example, pressing the “Eco” button will turn off pre-heating. Be careful though – a power cut will turn this off again.

Cool your hot water

How hot do you need the hot water coming out of the taps? If you can’t think of an instance where you don’t need to add cold, it’s much more efficient to heat it to a cooler temperature in the first place.

As with the radiator temperature, there will be an option on your combi boiler to adjust this temperature – by a digital display or a simple dial. Whatever you set it to, it’s recommended to have it below 49°C, to avoid the possibility of scalding.

That’s the boiler sorted, now let’s look at your electricity…

Use your Economy 7 (if you have it)

If you have Economy 7 (check with your supplier if you’re not sure) then you get cheaper electricity overnight (times vary – again, check with your supplier), often between midnight and 7am.

I have my washing machine set up to finish around 6am, so I can empty it when I get up. My dishwasher comes on at midnight, so it’s completed and everything is dry by the morning.

Make use of eco settings

Many devices have eco options and it’s worth investigating this further to see if you can take advantage of them, if they’re not on by default.

For example, my Freeview recorder now turns itself off between midnight and 6am and I always use the eco option on my washing machine, as well as turning down the default temperature from 40°C to 30°C.

Invest in technology

Although not a cheap up-front cost, use of technology that can help you better understand and control your heating systems, is a longer term pay-off. As this is the time of year when discounts appear on many of these products, investment now ready for the coming winter could be an ideal solution.

I wrote about the options for this on The Big Tech Question – follow this link to read more.

Buy an energy monitor

No, I’m not talking smart meters here, but you can buy plug-in energy monitors for less than £13, into which you plugin any of your devices and it will then show you how much power it’s using. Being able to see how much power one specific device is using is a great way of knowing where excessive use of power is going.

Be wary of energy saving myths

The BBC recently published this article, which on the surface, looks like some pretty important information about devices that are over-using your electricity…

But dig further, and it doesn’t hold much water…

Terence’s post is well worth reading but, to summarise…

  • The numbers being quoted are pretty dodgy
  • “Vampire devices” shouldn’t include things that probably need to remain on at all times, such as doorbells, freezers and your home Wi-Fi.
  • Adding smart plugs to turn off devices that may use a trickle of power overnight is rarely a good idea – for the simple reasons that the smart plug uses power itself
  • Indeed, there are just various recommendations that are, shall we say, not great.

Oh, and unrelated to this specific article, also never – and I mean never – buy anything that it says will miraculously save you energy. They often look like this…

They’re a scam.

Talk to me!

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