The Pricewatch five-grand challenge: how to save on energy costs

In part four of the series showing you how to save €5,000 a year, utility bills come under the spotlight as leaks to your wallet are plugged – Conor Pope

Some Irish homeowners will waste as much as €1,200 over the next decade because they can’t be bothered to plug out their televisions, while those who have never switched energy provider – or gone to their existing one looking for a better deal – have probably wasted the same sum over the last five years.

When it comes to utilities, the savings are so obvious we should all be making big switches every year. But we’re not and, as in so many other areas, this consumer lethargy is costing us money.

Moving from one provider to another is very easy and – unlike switching cornflakes, broadband or health insurance – the end product is absolutely identical with the only difference being price. Take a look at some of the numbers.

Last week, Electric Ireland cut its standard unit rate for electricity from 17.01 cent to 16.59 cent, a drop of 2.47 per cent which will see average bills of 1.2 million customers fall by €25.27 per year. While €25 is better than nothing, those 1.2 million people could save a whole lot more by shopping around.

Right now the best value deals can be found with SSE Airtricity. Last month it rolled out its biggest electricity discount which will see new and returning customers get 20 per cent off its standard electricity unit rates, making it the cheapest standalone electricity option for many Irish households. It also unveiled a new dual-fuel deal which offers 20 per cent off electricity and 10 per cent off gas unit rates.

Someone who is currently paying for full-price energy would be able to save €260 a year by making the switch. Energia also offers very good value for money and – depending on your circumstances and your preferences – Flogas, Bord Gáis Energy and big player Electric Ireland also offer big discounts to new and returning customers.

The bottom line is that if you have been with the same provider for two years or more you are wasting money. The first stop for anyone looking to make a switch is price comparison website Bonkers.ie. It is easy to use and will almost certainly save you a few bob – no matter which company you switch to.


Save energy

It is not all about switching, however. Clued-in homeowners can knock at least 10 per cent off their annual energy bill by making a few judicious changes. Given that the average energy cost for an Irish household comes to about €2,000, this could amount to savings of €200 a year.

As anyone who has ever heard an energy conservation ad will know, turning the thermostat down by just one degree will reduce heating energy consumption by up to 10 per cent and you probably won’t even notice the difference in temperature.

But when it comes to energy management, we have come a long way since the days of messing with the thermostat and sticking on an extra jumper.

There is no point in heating the upstairs of the house if you are sitting downstairs, so zone control is important, and getting a thermostat that allows you to do that will cut costs.

If you have an older house, the chances are you will not have upgraded your heating controls for quite some time. By upgrading, you could knock more than 10 per cent off the cost of heating your home.

In addition to getting better control of what part of your home is being heated when, getting a handle of where your electricity is going will save money.

Energy monitors detail exactly which appliance is using what amount of power at any given moment. As smart phones continue to take over almost every part of our lives, managing our energy usage using apps becoming increasingly evolved.

The Nest Learning Thermostat is at the cutting edge of home heating. It promises to cut heating bills by between 5-27 per cent, depending on your home, giving you more control of temperatures and creating a personalised heating schedule.

It was founded by Tony Fadell, who appeared at the recent Web Summit offering free Nest Learning Thermostats to Electric Ireland customers.

Fadell sold the company to Google earlier this year for $3.2 billion (€2.5 billion) and was also involved in the creation of the iPod and the iPhone so he is pretty clued-in when it comes to technology. After leaving Apple, he was doing up his own home and wanted one that looked good and didn’t need to be programmed at all. Instead, it would learn from the person using it.

It even comes with built-in sensors so it knows when no one is home – although there is a touch of Big Brother about that element of the Nest . It can be used to control your heating from a smartphone.

New Electric Ireland customers who sign up to a two-year price plan can get one of the Nests free. Existing customers can get one for €99 – and given that it has a full price of €375 that does represent good value for money.

Stoves might not be so cutting-edge but it you want to invest to cut the cost of your energy, these are very good indeed and ultimately they will save money without costing the Earth. Stoves are up to three times more energy-efficient than open fires and keep houses warmer, even when not in operation due to the reduction in ventilation heat losses.


Warming stove

More than 70 per cent of the heat from an open fire goes up the chimney, while a stove retains as much as 76 per cent of heat in the room. Replacing an open fire with an efficient stove can reduce the household energy consumption by 8-10 per cent. Given that we spend about €2,000 on heat, light and hot water, that could see a person’s fuel bill fall by €200 a year.

Waterford Stanley sells stoves for less than €1,000, and installation is easy and fast, which is at least one reason why sales have increased dramatically over the past two years.

You don’t need to make any investment at all to make substantial savings, however. The amount of power that simply drains away because things are left on standby depends on the appliance, but standby can use up to 30 per cent of the power a product needs when turned on fully.

Other elemental steps to cut your energy costs include cooking more than one item at a time to make your over more efficient and avoid opening the oven door while cooking – 20 per cent of the heat escapes every time you do. Put lids on pots boiling on your stove and always turn down the heat when water starts to boil.

Don’t let frost build up inside your fridge or freezer, as this increases energy consumption. Try to defrost every six months, and keep your fridge and freezer in the coolest part of the kitchen.

When using your dishwasher, wash at lower temperatures, clean off food and wait until you have a full load before putting on a wash.

Get your boiler serviced regularly: it could save you up to €150 a year in energy costs. Lagging jackets will reduce the cost of hot water, while chimney balloons will block draughty fireplaces when they are not being used.

When switching and just some of the saving steps outlined above are combined, the average Irish home should be able to knock €460 a year off their costs next year. If you put that money aside to buy a stove, the savings will climb even further in the years ahead.


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