Power cut: How to reduce your energy costs

Doing some work on your home now will significantly lower those ever-spiralling utility bills

Attic insulation: 300mm recommended

Attic insulation: 300mm recommended

Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 01:15

Yes it’s summer, and saving money on energy costs may not be to the fore of your mind.

However, a little preparation now to increase your home’s energy rating may help keep those ever-spiralling costs down when winter comes around again.

And, with the first domestic water bills set to issue from next January, and an average charge of about €240 expected per household, it might be time to change your water habits to prepare for the switch.

Attic insulation

It’s likely that most houses now have some form of attic insulation, given it’s one of the easiest ways to let heat escape from your house. But is it enough?

Typically, it was recommended that you insulate your attic with 150mm of product such as sheep’s wool or polystyrene. Now, however, if the depth of your attic insulation is less than 200mm, experts recommend you bring it up to 300mm.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) estimates a 540sq ft attic will cost you about €400 to insulate, but could save about €130 a year in heating costs, so it will pay for itself in about three years.

The ESB suggests the typical cost of attic insulation for a three- or four- bed semi-detached house is about €460.

And if you have a flat roof, insulating a 540sq ft roof will cost you about €1,000.

If you’re happy doing a bit of DIY yourself, you’ll find plenty of videos on YouTube giving you advice on how to do it. Just remember to shop around for your insulating material, as prices do vary.

There is a potential SEAI grant of up to €200 for attic insulation.

Wall insulation

If you wish to insulate your walls, the method you choose will likely depend on how your house is constructed – and the size of your budget.

Cavity wall insulation is the most cost-effective – you can expect to pay about €800 for a three- or four-bed semi-detached house – but is only suitable if you have cavity walls, which usually consists of two leafs of bricks or blocks with a space between them. Insulation is then pumped into the cavity through holes drilled in the surface.

If you’re not sure as to whether or not you have them, you can ask an insulation provider to check. A grant of €250 is available for this type of insulation.

If cavity insulation isn’t an option for you, you could consider dry-lining, whereby warm boards of insulation are attached to your wall and then plastered over. Building regulations recommend panels of about 75mm thick.

However, the SEAI suggests that if you have walls which currently have no insulation, then even the thinnest insulated panel, which would be 37.5mm thick, would result in the order of a 70 per cent reduction in heat loss through the walls.

Dry-lining a standard house will cost in the region of €7,000, with a grant available for €1,350. However, you will only qualify for this if you get all the external walls in the house done – getting walls insulated on the north-facing side of your house won’t suffice.

Finally, external insulation involves attaching insulating material to the outside of your house, and finishing with a weather-tight render.

While it effectively gives your a house a makeover, it is the most expensive option, at about €12,000-€14,000 for a standard house, and more for a larger property, but there is a grant available of €2,700. You will, however, have to finance the work up-front before you can apply for the grant, so it is a sizeable chunk of money to be parting with.

Heating

It’s estimated that about 60 per cent of your total energy usage comes from your heating – so while it makes sense to reduce the need for heating by improving your insulation, you should also improve the efficiency of your heating system.

According to Jim Curran, energy adviser with Electric Ireland, natural gas is “by far cheaper” than oil when it comes to heating your home, and it is also cheaper than electricity for heating water.

However as Curran notes, most homes in Ireland have just one heating zone, which means the radiators come on with heating water, as it’s all on one circuit. To avoid this, and bring down your costs, he recommends you put in two zones, so you can heat water separately from the heating.

This basic level of zoning will also ensure you will have a programmable temperature control through your thermostat. But Curran is quick to point out that reducing the temperature on your thermostat may not bring down your heating costs – a common belief.

“You cannot figure out what a degree on your thermostat is, they are typically very rough objects. So I don’t give that tip to people.”

A thermostat will cost less than €200 to install, while zoning your house will typically cost about €2,000 says Curran, with a grant available from the SEAI of €560 for this work. The work can involve pulling up carpets and laying new pipes, but a new level of smart control is coming in soon to the Irish market, which will be installed wirelessly. This will allow you to treat each room separately, which means that you could turn on the heating in your bedroom from the comfort of your couch using your phone. Curran estimates this will also cost about €2,000.

If your boiler is old, it may pay to switch to a more efficient non-condensing model. Curran recommends you do your research on this first, as not all boilers are equal.

Wise up on electricity

The good news is that contrary to popular perceptions, leaving your phone charger on all day and all night won’t drive up your bill. The bad news is that other household appliances might.

According to Curran, a surprising thief of energy is your Sky or UPC box. While your TV is now likely to be energy efficient, your box can guzzle about 22 watts “just doing nothing”. So turn it off.

He also recommends switching to LED lights, which are more efficient than CFLs, particularly if you have halogen downlighters. “You could save €9 a year on each one, and they last 15-20 times longer.”

Another way to save energy is to group together all the appliances that come with your computer, such as scanner, speakers, printer etc, and turn these off each evening.

Some of the biggest energy saving advances in recent years have come in fridges and freezers. Curran recommends that if you have a freezer that’s 15-20 years old, it’s time to get rid of it.

If you’re a night-owl, or have an appliance with a delayed timer, it might also pay to switch to nightsaver electricity and run your dishwasher or washing machine while you sleep. A unit of electricity currently costs about 19 cent with the ESB – switch to nightsaver and it drops to 10 cent, although an annual standing charge of about €50-60 also applies. In summer, nightsaver hours are midnight-9am, switching to 11pm-8am in the winter.

Your energy spend

If you’re interested in learning about what appliances are costing you money, you could invest in a device such as the Owl home energy monitor. Costing from €40, it will give you a reading of how much energy you’re using in your house.

“A simple way of examining that is when you’re looking at your feed, it will give you a reading how much you’re paying per hour. If your TV is on standby at that point in time, turn it off completely and see how the monitor adjusts,” suggests Colm Griffin of purchase.ie, which sells energy savings products.

To keep track of your heating costs, you could opt for a Climote product, which is sold by Electric Ireland for €299 installed, or a Nest device, which may enter the Irish market shortly.

These devices give you remote access to your heating, and allow you to turn it on/off or reduce the temperature. In a survey of about 70 homes, Electric Ireland found that of those who used it, they had their heating on for 20 per cent less of the time.

Water charges

While it’s not yet exactly clear how much we will pay for our water charges, the Government has made some disclosures.

Each household will receive a free allowance of 30,000 litres of water a year, which is well shy of the 140,000 litres or so of water it’s estimated a household of 2.7 people uses a year. But, if you have children under 18 you will also get an allowance of up to 38,000 litres per child per year.

So, a family of four will get an allowance of 106,000 litres, or about 50 per cent of their estimated annual usage of 140,000 litres. The rest is going to cost you, at an estimated cost of about €240 for a family of four, or €125 for a single person living by themselves.

So from next year, five minutes in the shower is going to cost you. A regular shower is said to use about 35 litres of water in five minutes – using a power shower, on the other hand, will use more than 125 litres in the same time. But you can take some steps to reduce your usage, while still staying clean.

Griffin estimates that every 1,000 litres of water we use will likely cost us €2.20. So a shower using 125 litres could set you back about 28 cent.

One option to reduce your usage is to buy a water-saving shower head (you can expect to pay about €20 for one) which promises to reduce the amount of water that flows from your shower to just eight litres per minute.

“They’re very popular because they reduce the amount of water you use without affecting the pressure so it’s the same experience,” says Griffin.

Another option is to get a restricter for your tap, for about €6. This will reduce the water flow to about 4.5 litres per minute without affecting the water pressure, or you can opt for a stronger flow for your kitchen, at about 7.2 litres a minute.

It is estimated that about a third of all the water used in the house is flushed down the toilet. The impact of this can be reduced, however, by using a displacement device.

“What I’d say is that if it’s a modern toilet, and it’s dual flush, I’d recommend not using anything in them. If it’s an older cistern ie 2004 or before, you could use a toilet tank bank,” advises Griffin.

Placing this in your cistern will save you about 23 per cent of the water typically needed to flush a toilet, and will set you back about €5.

Water-charge friendly gardens

If the sun comes out, this summer may be the last time that children get to enjoy getting hosed down in their garden in their swimsuits with a hosepipe. Given that you can use as much as 1,000 litres of water in an hour with such a hose, it’s likely that parents will cull this past-time.

It also makes sense to protect external sources of water – it used to be oil that was at risk of being stolen from your garden but soon it could be water. If you want to protect an outside tap, consider getting a lock for it, which will cost you between €20 and €30.

While sprinkler systems are rarely needed to keep lawns green in Ireland, it makes sense to harvest as much free rainwater as you can to keep your garden hydrated for those times when the sun actually comes out.

As a result, water butts are starting to pop up in homes across the country, and any catalogue from your local DIY store or low-cost supermarket now seems to feature them.

They work by collecting water from your roof by connecting to a downpipe, and the water can then be used to water your garden or car, or any other activity which doesn’t require drinking water.

You can buy a butt for upwards of about €40. Things to watch out for are how much water it can store, and whether or not it comes with a downpipe kit. You can also get a solar powered pump to get the water out of the butt.

Once you have this in place as your source of water, the advice then is to use a watering can or bucket, rather than a sprinkler or hose, as this uses less water.

Remember, if you have small children running about, make sure that the butt is safely secured. Change our habits now: Top tips on water saving Turn off the tap . It has been estimated that a running tap wastes more than six litres of water a minute, or over 7,000 litres a year, so turn it off while you brush your teeth. And if you’re washing up after dinner, fill the sink rather than keep the water running Get an efficient shower head Keep a jug of water in the fridge for drinking, rather than running the tap each time Only run your dishwasher/washing machine when you have full loads Know how to turn off your water supply – this could save thousands of litres of water and can prevent damage to your home in the event of a pipe burst Re-use water – use a basin in your sink to collect and reuse water for your garden plants or for washing the car

Reduce your costs: Getting a grant Grants available Attic insulation: €200 Cavity wall insulation: €250 Internal dry-lining: €900-€1,800 External wall insulation: €1,800-€3,600 Heating controls with boiler upgrade: €560 Heating controls only: €400 Solar heating: €800 BER certificate: €50

(Source: Better Energy Homes) How to qualify Before you embark on a project in the knowledge that you will get a grant to help defray the costs, you should brush up first on how to qualify for one, as some caveats do apply.

Firstly, the minimum amount you can claim at first from the SEAI is €400 – this means that work such as attic and cavity wall insulation, if carried out individually, won’t qualify for the grant.

Secondly, each grant application requires a BER cert, which must be done once the work has been completed. While you may be entitled to a grant of €50 to help reduce the cost of getting a cert, (which typically ranges from €100-€200), you will have to pay the full amount if you apply for grants on separate occasions.

Finally, to qualify, the work must be done by a contractor from the SEAI’s registered list, and according to the SEAI, it will take between three and four weeks for your grant cheque to be processed.

Remember also, that if you do carry out works in your home to improve its energy efficiency, you might be entitled to a tax credit on any VAT you pay at a rate of 13.5 per cent under the Revenue’s Home Renovation Incentive Scheme.

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