Householders can cut down significantly on energy costs by taking some simple steps, writes Aideen Sheehan
Consumers are now counting the costs of our cold and stormy winter as high energy bills land.
Householders are paying over €400 more a year for gas and electricity than they were two years ago thanks to steep price rises since then, meaning typical energy costs now come in at more than €2,175 per annum.
But with Energia the latest entrant to the domestic market sparking a mini-price war, it's a good time to take a look at what savings you can make on your home gas and electricity costs.
Smart Consumer took a look at some of the ways you can save money on your energy bills.
And by practising what I preached, I discovered I could save more than €250 per year on my own energy bills.
Switch, switch and switch again
While consumers often sign up to cheaper energy tariffs, it's usually only for a year, after which you'll generally be moved back on to higher-priced plans.
Having switched energy suppliers a couple of times, I wrongly assumed I was still on a good rate with Electric Ireland for gas and electricity. But when I looked into it, I discovered that actually I'd been moved back on to the standard tariff months ago.
By checking out my options on price comparison site bonkers.ie, I quickly found I could pay €136 less a year for electricity and €123 a year less for gas with newcomer Energia, saving me €259 a year, the only downside being I'd have to move to paperless billing.
Bord Gáis had a slightly cheaper electricity deal but that required accepting level payments over the year, which I didn't want.
Simon Moynihan of Bonkers.ie says it's crucial that consumers review their options when introductory discounts with energy suppliers run out.
"The only way to get value in this market is to be proactive. The best deals are always aimed at new or returning customers," he says.
Use accredited price comparison websites
Bonkers.ie and uSwitch.ie have both been accredited by the Commission for Energy Regulation, which means that you can trust the price comparisons they offer are fair and not skewed towards any particular provider.
They both offer comparisons showing the cost of different options over a year compared to the tariff you're currently on and taking into account standing charges and unit rates. Users can accept the default gas and electricity consumption figures for the average Irish home, but, if you have a different usage pattern, you can get quotes tailored to that.
Bonkers.ie says consumers can save up to 20pc on gas unit prices and 14pc on electricity between the cheapest and most expensive tariffs.
Pay by direct debit
It's costly and time-consuming to chase consumers for arrears, so companies are desperate to sign up consumers to direct debit – meaning they all offer cheaper rates if you pay this way.
Consider electronic billing
Electronic/online bills save companies loads of money compared to issuing paper bills so they all discount their rates, for accepting these.
However, while many consumers find electronic billing convenient, others find it a hassle to remember passwords and prefer the ease of reference to a paper bill.
Don't assume dual fuel is cheapest
Consumers often believe that getting a single electricity and gas bill from the same provider will be cheapest, but that's not always the case.
Switching doesn't involve new pipes or wires
All electricity comes in through the same wires from the same central grid and likewise all gas is piped in through the same pipework.
That means when you switch supplier, no physical work needs to be done because they all feed their electricity and gas into the same central network. Switching is done remotely over the phone or internet quoting the Meter Point Reference Number (MPRN) from your bill, and the new company liaises directly with the old provider so there's no overlapping charges, as long as you're not locked into an ongoing contract that still has months to run.