Hunting for the best gas and electricity deals could save you a king's ransom as Winter approaches, but there are plenty of other ways to make a killing, writes Mark Channing.
"Winter is coming", the motto of House Stark in Game of Thrones, portends a biting season lasting for years or decades. While the Irish winter isn't quite as long, cost-conscious consumers still need to take preventative measures to save money on their fuel bills.
The good news for households is that a pre-winter price war has broken out between energy suppliers. Bord Gais Energy and Electric Ireland cut their prices from yesterday.
As a result, consumers can make greater savings than ever before by switching provider.
"It's highly unusual for energy companies to cut their prices as we head into the winter months," said Simon Moynihan of the price comparison site bonkers.ie. "Normally cuts are announced in January and don't take effect until March."
Switching energy supplier isn't the only thing households can do to keep their winter fuel bills low. Smart energy devices claim to shave euros off your bills by allowing you to become more energy efficient, while the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEA) gives households generous cash grants towards the cost of upgrading homes to make them more energy efficient.
Here's our checklist for getting your home ready for winter.
The average household saves €340 on its annual energy bill by switching to the cheapest supplier. Currently the cheapest electricity-only deal is Energia Clever Electricity, which gives customers a 31% discount on standard rates, and can save the average household up to €206 a year.
This tariff is an internet comparison website deal and available only through comparison sites such as bonkers.ie.
The cheapest gas-only provider is Flogas, which gives a 20% discount on standard rates - worth a saving of €140 to the average household.
Households save the most money on their energy bills by buying gas and electricity from separate suppliers. For those who want to buy from a single provider, the cheapest dual-fuel tariffs Energia's Clever Dual Fuel, worth an annual saving of €305 to the average household. Again, this is an internet comparison website deal.
To get the best deals you will have to sign up to pay your bills by direct debit, and in some cases receive your bills online. Energy providers are also trying to win customers by offering cashback deals. For example, Bord Gais Energy will give you a 10% discount on standard rates and €100 off your bill whenever you want. SSE Airtricity will give you €120 credit as well as also", discount on its standard rates.
Low-energy households have the most to gain from these deals, according to experts. The average three-bedroom semi-detached house uses 5,300 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and 13,800kWh of gas each year.
"Cashback offers represent good value for the most part, but it's worth doing the sums: in general these offers are best for households with low usage," said Moynihan.
"Households with above-average consumption should go for the deals that offer biggest discounts."
While switching your provider is the key to unlocking the best deals, households can also negotiate with their existing suppliers.
Smart energy devices, where you control your heating using your PC or smartphone, have a high one-off cost upfront, but claim to pay for themselves in the form of lower energy bills.
A Climote is a remote-control heating device that costs €399 and claims to cut your heating bill by up to 20%. A similar device called a Hive, available from Bord Gais Energy, is €299 and claims to save a typical household €120 a year in energy costs.
SSE Airtricity and Electric Ireland are offering free or discounted Climotes to their customers. SSE Airtricity will give you a free Climote and an 8% electricity discount, but you must sign up for two years to get the deal. Electric Ireland is offering dual fuel customers the device for free, along with an 8.5% discount on their bills on a one-year contract.
Electric Ireland's deal is "hard to beat" but both offers represent good value, according to Moynihan.
"With these deals, customers pay more for their electricity than they would on the best discounted tariffs," he said. "But when the value of the Climote is taken into account, they will actually be ahead of the game with both companies."
HOME HEATING OIL
Oil prices may have plummeted, but it is still worth shopping around for home heating oil.
The price of a barrel of oil has more than halved over the past two years, from more than $100 (€90) in July 2014 to less than $50 today.
The cost of home heating oil has also fallen, but not by as much. The price of 1,000 litres of heating oil was €838 in July 2014. Levels have since fallen by 35% to an average of €541, according to cheapestoil.ie, an independent price comparison site.
Current prices for 1,000 litres of heating oil range from €514 to €555, including delivery and VAT, and depending on the supplier, according to the site.
Generous cash grants are available for carrying out energy-efficient works on your home. The grants are paid by the SEAI and are fixed cash amounts for insulation and heating system upgrades.
Grants start at €300 for attic or wall insulation but you can claim back up to €4,500 in the case of external wall insulation for a detached house. Grants for upgrading your heating system are in the region of €700-€1,200.
The more works that you get done, the more cash you can claim.
A grant bonus of €300 is given for the third measure you carry out, while you can qualify for a €100 bonus for the fourth one.
You will quickly recoup the cost of upgrades in the form of lower energy bills, according to experts.
Tom Halpin, head of information at the SEAI, said: "The lowest cost measures are the ones with the fastest payback. Attic insulation and cavity wall insulation will pay for themselves in around four or five years. Typically they will cut your energy bill by 15%-20%."
Provided you choose an SEAI-registered contractor, you can get approval for a grant within a day, said Halpin. The grant will be paid in a "matter of weeks" after the works have been completed and you submit the necessary paperwork, which includes an updated building energy rating certificate.
Energy efficient measures that cost €5,000-€30,000 are eligible for a grant and also qualify under the home renovation incentive (HRI). This scheme gives you a tax credit equal to the 13.5% VAT paid on qualifying expenditure, allowing you to save even more money.
However, if you are claiming both a grant and tax credit under the HRI, three times the value of the grant is deducted from the qualifying expenditure.
Suppose you pay for €10,000 for external wall insulation and get a cash grant of €2,700 from the SEAl towards the cost. You can deduct €8,100 (three times €2,700) from €10,000, leaving €1,900 eligible under the HRI. This €1,900 contains VAT of €226, which you can claim back in your taxes.
The HRI is due to expire December 31.