We’re in for a shock this winter. Energy bills for the colder months are never fun, but multiple price hikes this year mean some of us will see them soar. Taking things into your own hands, with some commonsense energy-saving DIY tips, can, however, defray the cost and give you a cosier home.
How bad could the surge in your energy bills be? Well if you need some convincing to don your overalls, read on. "What's happening at the moment is unprecedented," says Daragh Cassidy of Bonkers.ie, a price comparison website. All energy suppliers have raised their prices at least once this year and some three or four times.
“You are looking at between €400 and €500 being added to the average household bill. For some, it will be €700 or €800, so it’s almost an extra 50 per cent on your bill. It’s astronomical,” he says.
Electric Ireland is the latest to increase its prices (for the second time this year), impacting about 1.1 million electricity customers and 145,000 gas customers. Hot on the heels of the significant increases the company announced in August, this further increase of 9.3 per cent for electricity and 7 per cent for gas comes into effect on November 1st.
"When August's price hike is taken into account, their customers will be paying around €208 a year more for electricity and €120 more for gas," says Cassidy. Price increases from Bord Gáis Energy in August and in October (on top of one back in April) mean its customers will pay about €340 a year more on average for electricity and €200 extra for gas.
Remember the stinker of a bill that hits in January? The one where it’s payback time for having the heating on full throttle over Christmas? No matter your provider, it is likely to be doubly bad.
Money for nothing
More than 60 per cent of energy used in the average Irish home goes on heating the space, according to estimates from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). But in many homes (those built before 2011 at least), you may as well be burning your cash for warmth.
We’re all familiar with the dispiriting cycle of heating up the house for a few hours only for it to turn cold again as soon as the switch goes off. The heat in your home is leaking out somewhere. By making a few simple changes yourself, you can beat the draughts on a budget and save money.
Through the roof
Your attic is a big culprit in the war on energy costs. A home can lose up to 30 per cent of its heat through poorly insulated roofs, says Pat McGovern, building surveyor and Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland member. If the futility of this doesn’t spur you into action, the cost savings should.
"Older houses, anything built up to the 1980s or 1990s, will have a layer of 100mm fibreglass [in the attic]. You could add another 250mm layer of attic insulation. It's not that expensive and most people can do it as a DIY job," says McGovern.
A roll covering 3.5sq m costs about €115. If you tackle it yourself, take care not to impede the natural ventilation flow around the perimeter of the roof, he says. This means you should not pack the insulation tight to the eaves but leave a gap. Check the U-value of the insulation too (this is a measure of heat loss), and that it is certified.
If you don’t fancy the job yourself, employ a SEAI registered professional.
Window of opportunity
Fix your windows and you'll spend less for a cosier home. Your house can lose 10 per cent of its heat through poorly performing windows, doors and un-insulated floors, says the SEAI. Plug these gaps and you won't haemorrhage so much money and heat.
“Windows are a weak point in any wall,” says McGovern. “A lot of windows will have defective or missing seals. Renewing the seals is a simple thing to do, such as a rubber gasket installed in uPVC windows and doors.” Add that to your DIY trolley for an afternoon of DIY fun and you’ll get peace of mind that your cash isn’t going out the window.
The SEAI advises closing curtains to keep heat in and opening them in the morning to capitalise on the heat of the sun. Common sense really.
Just like your windows, the seals on doors may be shot too so tend to them with a roll of sealing tape. The letterbox is another place where your heat is disappearing. “Consider a letterbox with flaps on both sides with a proper seal that is spring-loaded so you are not getting a draught through the letter box,” says McGovern. It won’t keep the bills out but it might lower them.
Of course if the door is warped or not closing properly, replacing it is the better, if more expensive remedy.
Closing doors between rooms that are heated and unheated will also keep the heat in. Don’t overlook putting seals between internal doors too, says McGovern. A draught coming into the utility room can kill the heat in your living area. “Doors can shrink or there can be a gap between the door and the floor. A rubber floor seal strip can be used to close gap,” he says.
Skirting the issue
A suspended timber floor can be the cause of heat-loss too. "The boards can shrink creating gaps. Caulk is a filler that can used to fill small gaps in floorboards," says McGovern. There can be gaps around the skirting too. "Something as simple as putting carpet down on a timber floor, fitting it tight to the skirting, might be the easiest way to get over that."
For many homeowners, carpets will be a step too radical. Try a quality plush rug instead and enjoy the twin benefits of your lovely wooden floors and cheaper heating.
How many homes have a fireplace they rarely use? When it’s cold outside, your chimney acts like a hoover, sucking the warm air out of your sitting room and up through the flue. Your money is effectively going up the chimney. Be careful what you use to plug it however. The chimney flue needs to breathe and closing it off incorrectly will lead to condensation and dampness in the chimneybreast. It must remain vented. The SEAI recommends a chimney balloon to keep draughts out but the heat in. You can pick one up for as little as €30.
Don’t get completely obsessed with blocking all air from the outside. Your home does need ventilation. If you have a wall vent, stuffing it with newspaper is not a good idea. This can damage air quality and lead to issues with condensation.
Some like it hot
If you have thermostat controls in your house, use them and dial up the savings. You can reduce your heating bill by 10 per cent by lowering your room temperature by just one degree, according to the SEAI. It recommends turning the thermostat in your living areas down to 20 degrees. The temperature in hallways and bedrooms should be cooler, ideally between 15-18 degrees.
It's a good idea to check your radiators too. "If only part of the radiator is heating, it's certainly an airlock issue," says McGovern. "You will need to bleed them to get the full benefit of the radiator in the room."
This won’t help with your bills but it will make your house warmer. Use the radiator valve to turn the temperature down in rooms that you do not use a lot. Set your hot water thermostat to between 60-65 degrees, to make sure you are not spending money unnecessarily overheating your water, says the SEAI.
Having your boiler serviced once a year will make it run more efficiently. Ask the plumber to explain the settings and how to use them correctly. Most of the energy used by a dishwasher and washing machine is for water heating. Run them on a lower temperature setting and save on your energy costs. Wash clothes at 30 degrees if they aren’t particularly dirty.
And don’t put them on radiators to dry. Placing clothes over the top of radiators prevents heat from escaping and heating your room. That means your boiler has to work harder, clocking up additional units, and bills. In addition, drying clothes can increase the air’s moisture content, creating condensation and leading to potential issues with mould and dampness.
It’s not all about money
Not all energy saving tips require a financial investment. Still with radiators, a build-up of dust can prevent heat from circulating effectively, meaning your radiators will have to work harder to warm your room – so give them a quick clean.
The same is true for some radiator covers. If you have radiator covers, make sure to check they are a good conductor of heat. Covers made from wood, for instance, are poor conductors and the top of the cover can prevent heat from being dispersed effectively – wasting energy and money. A cover with a solid top may also be costing you as heat will be absorbed.
Finally, heating your home to be warm enough to walk around in shorts and a T-shirt is clearly not a good use of hard-earned cash. Try turning down the thermostat and opting for a jumper or hoodie instead. Adding layers will insulate your body and make it easier to regulate your body’s temperature, and the less the heating will need to be on, reducing your heating bills.
Switch to save
Don't forget, even though all providers are upping prices, you can still save by switching. "Suppliers offer great discounts to new customers: some can be 30 -40 per cent off the standard price so you could save €500 a year," says Cassidy of Bonkers.ie. Ideally your contract will be finished but even with break fees of €50-€100, switching supplier mid-contract can bring savings. Do it before winter.