Baby, It’s Cold Outside goes the Christmas song goes, and, given the soaring cost of heating a home, it might be cold inside too for many this festive season. But if you’ve had enough of either sitting in the cold or stomaching a hefty bill, here are 10 steps to keep more of your money in your pocket, while keeping your home warm at the same time.
By Fiona Reddan
Switch energy supplier
Just one phone call could save you money this winter. Remember, when shopping around for gas or electricity, consider the price per unit, as well as the standing charge.
The ESB, for example, has one of the lowest annual standing charges available – at €125.77 a year – but cost per unit is 19.28 cent, although this can be reduced to 17.63c with an online billing and direct debit discount. This compares with 16.63c cent at Bord Gáis (standing charge of €138.79), and 16.74c at Airtricity (annual charge of €165.83).
When it comes to gas, Flogas charges just 5.108 cent a unit on its direct debit discount account, with a standing charge of €89.40. This compares favourably with Bord Gáis’ standard account, which charges 6.014 cent a unit, with a standing charge of €91.76.
Check out the www.bonkers.ie, accredited by the CER [the Commission for Energy Regulation] to compare price plans between providers. If you’re not up for the hassle of switching, make a call to your current provider and ask is there a better rate you could be on. You might do best if you opt for the same provider for both your gas and electricity.
Get savvy when heating one room
If you work from home, or if you wonder how to heat your child’s bedroom while they study and you sit cosily by the fire, then Electric Ireland has some advice. It might seem counter-intuitive, given how expensive they can be to use, but an electric fan heater could cost you as little as 19 cent an hour to heat one room.
This avoids the cost of heating the whole house, or having to run around turning off radiators before putting on the central heating (which could be a cheaper option, however). According to the electricity supplier, the key is to buy a fan heater with a thermostat, which turns off when your ideal temperature is reached. Forget to use the thermostat, however, or leave it on for long periods of time, and your electricity bill will add up.
Upgrade your windows
If you still have single-glazed windows, it may be time to make the switch as much of the heat loss from a house occurs through windows. If you can’t afford a full switch to double-glazing, which will cost upwards of €3,000 for a three-bed house, you could consider switching windows which face north first, or alternatively, opting to get just the glass replaced. Energlaze, for example, claims replacing the glass in your window with double-glazing costs half that of replacing the full windows, and could save you up to €400 a year on heating bills.
A cheaper option – which is backed up by energy experts – is to simply stretch cling film, or transparent polythene film, across your single-glazed windows to prevent draughts and stop energy loss.
If you already have double-glazing, you might be able to improve their efficiency further. Thermal lined curtains can help keep draughts at bay, as can closing curtains early in the evening and keeping them closed.
One tip to find drafts is to light an incense stick or a candle and hold it around the window to isolate where drafts are coming from. A sealing product, which can be purchased for €10 or so from your local DIY shop, can then be used to block any draughts.
Maximise your fireplace
They might be cosy, but open fireplaces are far from being energy efficient. Indeed it has been estimated that about 70 per cent of the energy a fireplace produces is lost through the chimney. So, if you want to improve your fire’s heating capabilities, consider opting for a stove instead.
If you don’t use a fireplace, then a special balloon can help reduce the amount of heat you will lose through it – and stop those cold drafts coming down at the same time. You can buy one on Electric Ireland’s website for €31.99, or in Woodies DIY for €26.99.
Insulate your home
Insulating your attic is key, as doing so can save up to 20 per cent on your heating bill. The recommended level of insulation is 300mm, so if it’s less than that you can bring it up to this level by adding further layers.
You should also think about insulating your walls, through either external lining, internal dry lining, or insulation which is injected into cavities in the wall.
Churchfield Green Energy is currently offering to externally insulate a semi-detached home for €8,150 (after grant is deducted – see below), or €7,850 for a detached home. Electric Ireland estimates the typical cost for a three- or four-bedroom semi-detached house is €13,702.
Consider a new boiler
If you have an old-fashioned boiler, it may only be operating at about 60 per cent efficiency, so switching to a newer, condensing boiler, may make sense. A boiler will cost you upwards of €1,000 and you’ll also have additional costs for fitting.
If you don’t have the budget for a new boiler, getting your boiler serviced annually will improve its efficiency and could save you up to €150 a year in heating costs.
According to energy consultant Brona Tennyson, of OES Consulting, lowering your thermostat by just one degree (Celsius) can cut your heating bill by approximately 10 per cent.
Get a grant
For larger insulation and energy upgrade works, you might find you’ll be entitled to a grant. Administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), if your home was built before 2006 you’ll be entitled to a grant for roof and wall insulation, boiler and heating control upgrades, and solar panels.
The minimum spend to qualify for a grant is €400, and a cash grant is on offer which means you will get the same amount whether you get the work done for a lot or a little, so it pays to shop around for the best quality at the best price.
Some caveats apply, however. If you’re in the market for a new boiler, you’ll find you won’t be eligible for a grant unless you upgrade your heating controls – such as introducing zones etc into your house.
Also, if you’re up to doing some of the work yourself – such as insulating your attic, which is a job many take on themselves – you won’t be entitled for a grant on the cost of the raw materials.
And dry-lining two walls – regardless of the cost – won’t mean you qualify for a grant. According to the SEAI to get a grant you must “implement the optimum solution”.
Remember your VAT rebate
Introduced in October of this year, the home renovation scheme allows homeowners to avail of a VAT rebate of up to €4,050 from now until 2016 on upgrading works carried out on their home.
To qualify, you will need to spend at least €5,675 (including VAT), with amounts up to €30,000 eligible. You won’t have to spend it all in one go, however, so just keep those receipts until you reach the threshold and you can then make a claim.
The rebate is given in the form of a tax credit, and applies to most work involved in improving the energy efficiency of your home. If you’re unsure, you can contact the Revenue first.
If you qualify for one of the aforementioned grants, you will also be able to use the grant on works carried out, although any grant you receive will be disregarded from the qualifying amount by a multiple of three.
So, for example, if you spend €10,000 ex VAT but also receive a grant of €1,000 to upgrade your property, you will only be available to claim relief on €7,000 (ie €10,000 – €1,000 x 3), for an additional benefit of €945.
Get wise with electricity
It’s easy to go to bed and leave your appliances on standby rather then turning them off. Indeed how many homes around the country have those tell-tale red lights glowing all through the night with phone chargers, televisions, computer screens and games consoles all still plugged in? For Tennyson however, it’s important to switch all appliances off completely. “This can save up to 20 per cent of the energy that your appliances use,” she says.
And energy experts also recommend using old-fashioned cooking devices such as slow cookers and pressure cookers.
Similarly, when it comes to filling the kettle, how many of us fill it all the way up so it will still have water the next time we want to use it? Well energy experts say to just add the amount you want to use each time – and try not to re-boil – make that cup of tea first time around!
You can buy a device to help you monitor your electricity use through Electric Ireland. A Climote gives you remote access to your electricity for €299. Another option is the Owl monitor, which costs from €43.50.
Turn it off
It’s the simplest step to take, but if you’re not at home, don’t have the heating on, and if it’s timed to come on, change the timer before heading out for the evening.