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Examiner1

Keep warm and make savings in the process

Temperatures dropping and nights getting longer mean mean a major increase in energy costs for households. Autumn is the ideal season to do a full review into who you pay for energy and how you use it in the first place. There has been good news in the energy market for bill payers recently, with three of the main companies reducing their prices in recent months.

In June, SSE Airtricity announced that it was cutting its standard unit rates and standing charges by 5%, Bord Gais Energy then announced a 5% drop in its standard electricity unit price and 2.5% drop in its standard gas unit price coming into effect on October 1 and, most recently, Electric Ireland reduced gas prices by 5%.

However, even if you benefitted from one of these reductions you could still save more by moving. Because of introductory offers and discounts, the customers who save most are those willing to switch every couple of years. "

Recent cuts from energy suppliers show that savings from low wholesale prices are being passed on to customers in the form of price cuts and, to a greater extend, large new customer discounts," says David Kerr, managing director of bonkers.ie.

"I would encourage energy customers to ensure that they are on the cheapest deals before firing up their heat for the winter," he said.

You can check which is the best deal for your home at bonkers.ie, with suggested average savings of about €360 per year. Getting the best value is only half the battle, the next step is to tackle how energy is used. Simple improvements to your home can have a huge effect on costs. Insulating your attic alone can reduce heating bills by up to 20%.

Better Energy Homes is a Government programme which gives fixed cash grants for insulation and heating system upgrades and is available to all owners of houses built before 2006. Insulation grants start at €300 for an attic or wall cavity up to €4,500 for the external walls of a detached house. Homeowners can get €600 toward an upgrade of heating controls, €700 if the upgrade includes a boiler and €1,200 grant for installing solar heating.

It also offer cash bonuses for carrying out three or four measures and will pay for homeowners to carry out a building energy rating (BER) on completion of works.

Grant approval must be in place before work begins and you must use a registered contractor from the SEAI registered contractor list.

Applying is straightforward. Get full details at www. seai.ie/betterenergyhomes. For those in receipt of certain social welfare payments the Warmer Homes Scheme aims to improve the energy efficiency and comfort conditions of homes through the installation of draught proofing, attic insulation, lagging jackets, low- energy light bulbs and cavity wall insulation where appropriate. All of this is done at no cost to the homeowner, see the website for full details.

Insulation and other home upgrades bring major benefits but even small habit changes can noticeably reduce bills. The CCPC estimates that unplugging all non- essential electrical appliances could reduce the average household electricity bill by €50 to €100 per year. All those blinking lights from TVs and laptops on standby are draining electricity, as are chargers left continually left plugged into sockets. Unplug them when not in use.

You should have your boiler serviced every year to help ensure it is safe but also to ensure it operates most efficiently. See our deal of the week panel. Find a registered gas Installer at www.rgii.ie.

With up to 70% of the heat generated by an open fire lost up the chimney, many households have switched to stoves in recent years. If you have a stove you could reduce your costs still further. Ecofans can save you up to 14% on fuel; distributing heat from your stove to give better fuel efficiency, www.ecofan.ie.

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