This week I decided to go for a totally unscientific top ten list. Well, when I say unscientific, I mean the order of the list. There's perfectly good science behind these ideas but if you think number 10 is a better idea than number 1, I won't argue. And of course, if you have any of your own to add, please let me know through the comments below.
So on to the top ten ways to use less electricity and save money in your home...
10. Use your dishwasher!
It's true! Your dishwasher is more efficient than you. In fact, a full dishwasher uses less than half the energy you do when washing dishes by hand and uses gallons less water too. In fact, a dishwasher is so much more efficient than a comparable person doing the same job that you should pop the pots and pans in as well - and know that you're not just saving money; you're doing your bit for the environment too!
9. Don't settle for estimates, provide your own readings
The ESB reads all electricity meters regardless of whether you have Bord Gais, Airtricity or ESB as your supplier. The thing is, they'll only come out to read your meter four times a year. And if your meter isn't read or the ESB can't get to it because you're not home, you'll get an estimated bill. It's easy to tell if you're bill has been estimated - it'll have a big "E" after your meter reading.
Providing a meter reading to your supplier is easy - you can do it online or over the phone and your bill will be automatically adjusted. You usually have two weeks to provide a reading if your bill is an estimate. There's no point in paying for more than you've used. This is especially helpful if you've been away or you're using less than you usually do.
8. Find out how much you use
The average household in Ireland spends about €1000 on electricity and standing charges per year, or 5590 units. Of course, nobody is average so it's a good idea to find out how much you use. The easiest way to do this is call your supplier and ask. Read your meter before you call and they'll be able to tell you how many units you've used in the last year. Once you know how much your household uses, you have a benchmark you can measure against if you plan on reducing your consumption. And then...
7. Get an electricity monitor and find out which gadgets are the biggest energy hogs
Electricity monitors are becoming more and more popular and their manufacturers reckon you can knock at least 10% off your bill if you know which gadgets and appliances are using the most energy. They are pretty simple - a little clip goes around the mains cable at your meter and tells the monitor how much electricity you're using in real time. If you turn on the kettle or the dryer, you can see the numbers on the monitor jump. What surprises most people is the other stuff that uses lots of energy.
When I got a monitor, the biggest surprises were the electric shower (by far the biggest electricity hog in the house), the microwave, and all the stuff connected to my TV. Now if I'm not using the xbox, it stays off, and if I'm not watching TV, I turn everything connected to it off at the mains.
You can get wireless electricity monitors cheaply in electrical shops or online, and I've had lots of fun walking around the house with it while switching stuff on and off. Owl is the most popular brand and they sell for about €30. I think mine has paid for itself already.
6. Get online billing
I love online billing for everything because if you're like me, you get mountains of post and rarely have time to go through it all. Bord Gais and Airtricity have online billing and offer discounts if you don't get your bills in the post - but that wasn't the only selling point for me. Online billing is simple, your bills are archived, you can see charts of your consumption, and you can enter meter readings online. Easy, less hassle, and the discounts save you money.
5. More efficient appliances
If it's time to replace a fridge or washing machine, it's a good idea to look energy ratings. Most modern appliances are more efficient than older models, but the rating will help you choose the most efficient model. The ratings, which are compulsory now, range from A to G with A being the most efficient, but I think the most valuable piece of information is the actual amount of electricity that is used per cycle or per hour. Some modern washing machines and dishwashers can do a full load for less than one unit. If you wash a load a day, it could save you €60 per year compared to older models - which should pay for your new washer in just a few years!
4. Consider a Nightsaver meter
If you think you can shift more than 20 per cent of your electricity consumption from the daytime to the middle of the night a Nightsaver tariff is a great way to save money. You'll need to get a Nightsaver meter, which the ESB will install for free, then you'll get half price electricity at night. You'll pay a little more for your daytime unit rates and your standing charge will be a little higher, but if you use more than 20 per cent at night you'll rack up the savings.
A few easy ways to shift some usage overnight is to get plug timers for your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer and make sure that your immersion is well insulated and set to heat water overnight. Just those items will shift enough of your usage to the cheap rate to make it worthwhile.
3. Make sure your immersion is properly insulated
We all know this, but it's a biggie. Heating water uses more energy than anything else in your home and can account for half of your annual electricity costs. You can reduce your water heating costs by up to 30% just by properly insulating your tank. A good 3-inch thick lagging jacket will pay for itself in no time and save you a bundle.
2. Low energy light bulbs
Like the immersion, we know that they'll save us money but most of us don't know exactly how much of an impact they will have. A low energy bulb uses more than five times less electricity than a standard bulb. If you're spending a euro a day on lighting, it'll cost you 20 cent with low energy bulbs.
If you've managed to dismiss Bord Gais's "Big Switch" campaign, and Airtricity's "5 Weeks Free" offer has fallen on deaf ears - I'll throw in my two cent - switching is still the quickest and easiest way to reduce your electricity bills. Why pay more than you have to for something you have to pay for anyway?
I'd love to hear your comments on saving energy and money at home. I know I've left out lots of great ideas, so if you have one that isn't on the list, please let us know.