Bright ideas to cut energy bills

Money Matters by Mary Smithwick

With energy costs set to increase yet again, our weekly column in association with the National Consumer Association looks at ways you could dut your electricity and heating costs.

Last month, Bord Gais warned of higher energy prices in the coming months because of the rising cost of natural gas.

All providers are likely to follow suit, but the news prompted many householders to examine their bills and wonder if there's a better deal out there.

There are now many options when it comes to your energy providers, and it can be difficult to work out the best option for you.

There are still savings to be made by switching provider.

However, if you are among the close to 50% of households who have already switched providers, it can be difficult to work out where there are savings among the four different energy companies and their many varying tariffs.

There are websites out there that can help you work out what, if any, savings are to be made - for example www.bonkers.ie.

To maximise your savings, you usually need to pay by direct debit and sign up for paperless billing. You often get further discounts if you sign up for both gas and electricity from the one provider.

One change that is expected is a proposal from the Commission for Energy Regulation to require that energy suppliers tell people how much electricity and gas they have used in the last year. This figure will appear on your bill and will make it much easier for households to find the best deals.

Besides switching, you can reduce your energy bills even further by changing your electricity consumption habits. Here are six tips that could be good for your wallet - and good for the planet too.

1. Heating and Water:

Installing a lagging jacket to your hot water tank can save up to €2.50 a week in water heating costs and can pay for itself within three months - or less than two electricity bills.

The recommended temperature to set your thermostat at is 20C, but turning it down by just one degree will cut heating bills by about 10%.

A timer on your hot water tank and an immersion switch will help ensure you have the right amount of hot water when you need it.

Remember, always use a registered electrical contractor when making any electrical changes such as this - see SafeElectric.ie.

2. Lighting:

You can make significant savings in electricity bills by replacing your used traditional bulbs with new compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and halogen bulbs. CFLs are around three times the price of a traditional bulb, but they last up to 15 times longer and can save you up to 20% on your lighting bills.

Try not to leave lamps and lights on for children when they are asleep.

A simple socket nightlight uses a lot less electricity.

3 Roof insulation:

Good insulation is one of the most basic and effective cost-cutting measures. For example, insulating your attic can cut your home heating bills by 20% a year. there are grants available for some upgrades to make your home more energy efficient.

4. Appliances:

On washing machines and dishwashers select the lowest temperature that the manufacturer recommends. A half-full dishwasher or washing machine uses the same amount of energy as a full one so wait until your appliance is full before turning it on.

Plug out or switch the button off on your sockets for TVs, hi-fis, computers, appliances etc - equipment on standby uses upp to 20% of the energy it would use when fully on. Also, plug out your phone charger when not in use.

5. Doors and Windows:

Shut doors and windows and only heat rooms you are using. Much of the heat loss from a house occurs through windows, particularly if single glazed. So close your curtains at night, even in empty rooms.

6. Estimated bills:

ESB Networks aims to read yuor meter up to four times a year. This is not always possible, so if there is no actual meter reading your bill will be issued based on an estimated meter reading. If you have consumed less electricity than the estimate, you can decrease your outgoings by contacting your provider with an actual meter reading and the bill will be readjusted.

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