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Using less energy at home

To help explain the current energy market, Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter (Executive Member for Environment) has written a blog covering what residents can expect from their bills and how they can reduce them.

Posted by: The Environment Delivery Team on 28 February 2022 11:02
The logo for 'A Greener West Berkshire'

Energy usage and bills

As most people are aware, the cost of energy has rocketed in recent years, and is likely to remain high for a long time. 

One reason is rising demand from Asia as gas is replacing coal - a good thing for the planet, but not at all comfortable for us.

Household energy is most conveniently measured in kilowatt-hours, or kWh. Boiling the water for a cup of tea in a two kilowatt kettle takes a minute, and so consumes 0.03 kWh. UK electricity prices from April 2022 are expected to average 28p per kWh, so this single job would cost a very affordable 0.8p. 

However, households use a lot more energy each year:

UK Average annual energy use (Source: Ofgem)
 1-2 Bedrooms3-4 Bedrooms5+ Bedrooms
Electricity1,800 kWh2, 900 kWh4,300 kWh
Gas8,000 kWh12,000 kWh17,000 kWh

On 1st April, average electricity and gas price caps (for customers paying by direct debit) will rise from 21p/kWh to 28p/kWh for electricity and from 4p/kWh to 7p/kWh for gas (gulp). 

So average annual usage costs - excluding standing charges etc - will become:

UK Average capped fuel prices from 1 April 2022 (Source: Ofgem)
 1-2 Bedrooms3-4 Bedrooms5+ Bedrooms
Electricity£504£812£1204
Gas£560£840£1190

 

Our house

Cllr Steve Ardagh-Walter headshot
We live in a detached house built in the mid 1980s. We have double glazed windows, cavity wall insulation (which became compulsory for new buildings in the 1990s) and gas fired central heating. Our boiler is 8 or 9 years old, it should have several more years of life ahead but then I'll need to start thinking about a replacement.

In 2013, we invested in rooftop solar electricity generation (or 'PV', standing for 'photovoltaic'). It cost £6,000 in total, this investment achieved payback after 6 years. Solar panel prices have fallen spectacularly (by more than 90 percent since 2010) so a typical installation would cost far less today, though the scaffolding element of a project could easily cost over £1,000. Solar electricity is of course produced in the daytime when you typically need it least. Domestic batteries are available, but at present these aren't cost effective for us.

In 2015 I installed a low cost 'Solamiser' device, which diverts unused solar energy into the hot water tank - this has reduced gas consumption, particularly in the summer months. Last year, I installed a smart heating controller - a bit more on this below.

 

What do we need ?

Warmer indoors than out

Most energy is used during the winter months: we don't typically need heating on during the summer, less energy is normally used for heating water (which is needed all year round) than heating air, and incoming mains water is colder in the winter.    

Ventilation

Adequate ventilation is essential for health. We can generally assume that this has been taken care of through a properly designed and built house. In heating terms, most houses have too much rather than too little ventilation: air is replaced in most rooms 6 times per hour or more. New houses will increasingly be built to higher standards so will have far less 'accidental ventilation' than current or old houses, while keeping the right level of air change.

Hot radiators versus warm rooms

A regular subject of discussion with Mrs A-W on cold days is the meaning of the word 'warm'. We're both happy to put on extra layers of clothing when needed, but a hot radiator is central to my dear wife's sense that all is well with the world. I'll continue to make the point that air temperature through most of a room is what matters. Probably with only partial success.

Heat constantly or when needed? 

Another question is whether you should keep central heating on constantly at a low setting, raising the temperature when you are feeling chilly, or only turning the heating on when you need it. The Energy Saving Trust is quite clear that you should only turn heating on when it is needed; houses leak heat, so you would waste energy and money by doing otherwise. This leads on to how to reduce that leakiness...

 

What you can do: insulation

There is a lot of information on how to improve your home insulation available online - the Energy Saving Trust website is a good place to start. I'll just touch on a few of the points I've picked up over the years. Two important points are (a) if you have any issues with your house - particularly any problems with damp - you should get these fixed first, and (b) you may be eligible for a grant to cover some or all of the cost of loft or cavity wall insulation. I haven't looked into these in detail, but do check with your energy supplier and other providers.

Loft insulation

If you don't have 27cm or more thickness of loft insulation, this is probably the best job to do first. It is cheap to do, particularly if you can install it yourself (the material costs about £4 per square meter), but it is rather itchy!    

Cavity wall insulation

This is another very good job to get done if your house is suitable. As above, do check if you are eligible for a grant, but even if you're not this could be worthwhile. Costs are generally £250 to £800, and as 30 per cent of household heat is lost through the walls, payback can be achieved within a few years.

External wall insulation

If your home is not suitable for cavity wall insulation, it may still be worth getting external wall insulation (EWI). As above, this will save a lot of heat and ongoing expense and you may be eligible for a grant, but it is important to choose an experienced supplier to do the work.

Windows and external doors

If you don't have double glazing and your home is suitable, do look into this. Around 25 per cent of heat in a badly insulated house is lost through doors and windows. If your home is not suitable for double glazing, could you get secondary glazing? Again, you may be eligible for a grant. If a double glazed window needs to be replaced because its seal has failed, make sure you get low-E glass (sometimes marketed as K glass) which reflects internal heat back into the room.

Infrared thermometer
Building defects

You may live in a very well built house, but it is worth checking just to be sure; soon after we moved into our home, I found that a large area of wooden cladding above the front door had no insulation behind it. Window and door frames can hide gaps to adjoining brickwork or a lintel which should be thoroughly filled. Finding these sort of problems is a great justification for investing about £15 in an infrared laser thermometer, shown in the photo here (this also allows you to relive highlights from Star Trek all those years ago too).

Smaller causes of heat loss

Chimneys, loft hatches, and some letter boxes can all be sources of drafts and heat loss. There are plenty of fixes available. Curtains are good, but try not to let them hang in front of a radiator.

LED lighting

It is worth replacing other lightbulbs with LEDs where possible. Don't wait until an older light bulb fails - though energy use for lighting is far less than that for heat, the payback period for changing to LED is very short.

 

What you can do: heating

A boiler is the key part of central heating systems. It's the most expensive single item, costing several thousand pounds, and should have a life of 10-15 years or more. All modern boilers, whether 'combi' (delivering hot water when needed) or used with a hot water tank, recover heat from the flue before it is vented outside by condensing water vapour.   

Boiler temperature

In order for the condenser to work properly, your boiler temperature should be set to no more than 60 degrees. If it is set to a higher temperature, water vapour which would otherwise be condensed and contribute its heat to the system will be expelled within the flue gas, wasting energy, CO2 and money.  

Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs)

If you don't have these fitted to most radiators, this is a very worthwhile project for the summer months. TRVs are cheap, costing from £4 each if you're buying several. By automatically opening and closing the radiator according to room temperature, you can avoid overheating rooms. You can see and adjust the desired room temperature level very easily.

Smart energy app
Smart heating controllers

There's now a wide range of systems available, ranging from smart thermostats (which allow you to control household temperature remotely from a mobile app, and can predict when to increase or decrease heat), up to more sophisticated systems allowing per-room timed schedules and more. Systems generally cost a few hundred pounds. It's worth checking with your energy supplier - ours had a very attractive offer running last year. We've found that being able to turn heat on or off remotely is a major benefit.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are probably going to be the dominant source of heat for new houses, and are likely to gradually replace boilers in existing buildings. This is a big subject, which I hope to touch on in a future post.

 

Wrapping up

Higher energy prices are probably here to stay. There is nothing we can do about this fact - however, reducing energy wastage will save money as well as being the right thing for the environment. I hope some of the points in this post have inspired you to improve your house. 

There are probably other good things you can do as well - please let me know if you have other practical ideas worth sharing. Email us at Environment@westberks.gov.uk.
 

Last modified: 11 October 2022 11:44

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