Websites are a vital source of consumer information, but beware ones with an agenda.Kya deLongchamps reports.
The internet is a convenient method of making price comparisons and shopping for best value.
We need help honing our domestic budgets in the New Year. The internet is a primary research tool for consumers, but check the source of what you read. If the website is paid for by commercial firms, a professional or trade body, their interests will be represented, and in cost-comparison sites you may find only participating sponsors are included in the reckoning, so be wary.
THE SUSTAINABLE ENERGY AUTHORITY OF IRELAND
The SEAI website is a powerhouse of information on sustainable, energy tight technologies and practice. Learn how to save energy in your home just as it is, and how to approach the Better Energy Homes grants still available but likely to be reduced or quashed by 2015. Highlights include their new Ipod phone app’ for managing and reducing energy bills by up to 20%, which includes a handy energy tracker for logging bills and savings. www.seai.ie
THE NATIONAL CONSUMER AGENCY
The NCA, set up in 2007, does more than just investigate firms for unsafe products and practices. The ‘your money’ section covers the tangle of personal finance in intense detail, from choosing firms and products to methods and juggling bills, to how to complain when others are at fault. Check out their mortgage section for impartial advice on everything you need to know about applying, re-financing and managing mortgage debit. Try out their free ‘economiser’ online. www.nca.ie
CITIZENS’ INFORMATION BOARD
This site is useful for all sorts of life situations, and their ‘housing’ area contains all the facts and links you’ll need to rent, buy or alter your home. The section on planning permission will introduce you to the basics of a misunderstood area of home improvement, saving you from expensive and potentially illegal mistakes with your greatest investment.www.citizensinformation.ie
Once confined to the insurance industry, price-comparison websites cover a range of other products and financial services.
For example, websites including Bonkers can quickly collate the prices of energy from Flogas, Bord Gáis Energy, Airtricity and ESB Electric Ireland. How to choose, how to pay, deal terms, and the ins and outs of switching service are all covered. Direct debit and e-billing could save you several percent on your utility bills, so use these sites to search the market thoroughly on goods and services. Look for independent, impartial advice.
ROYAL INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS OF IRELAND
I have to include the RIAI, because having a professional architect build or alter a property is a solid investment in the value of your home.
Only an architect with full training and continued assessment by the institute can use the title, and on the RIAI websites there are tools to help you find the right individual for your project, in your locality, from 622 practices.
Most, but not all, architects in Ireland are registered on the RIAI website. The consumer section will walk you through the process of working with an architect, their role, charges and responsibilities. www.riai.ie
Over the pond, Which.co.uk is a website married to the consumer champions at Which? magazine. You don’t have to subscribe or live in the UK to find all sorts of information on the site, from how to choose the best washer/dryer to avoiding dodgy builders and ropey financial deals. Their appliance testing is recognised as second to none, making the site a first point of call if you’re buying white goods or gadgets in the January sales. If you fancy a full subscription, including Which? magazine, you can trial the full service for sterling £1 for a month from your Paypal account or credit card.
This article appeared in the “Home” supplement of the Irish Examiner