Ways to save on energy bills as prices rise ahead of the long winter

Smart thermostats, apps and switching utility companies can cut your bills significantly

All the smart systems currently available will allow you to turn the system on and off remotely via an app. Photograph: iStock

All the smart systems currently available will allow you to turn the system on and off remotely via an app. Photograph: iStock

 

As if 2021 wasn’t bad enough, we are now staring down a winter of paying more for electricity and gas, with the prospect of further rises in the future.

No wonder people are seeking out ways to make their homes more energy efficient but without breaking the bank. So what can you do to help cut down your home heating and electricity bills?

It may seem counterintuitive, but technology can play a part in helping reduce your energy use by working smarter rather than harder.

Smart thermostats

Installing a smart thermostat in your home could save you money on your heating bills this winter. While traditional timers on heating systems can control your heating effectively, a change in your schedule could mean coming home to a cold house, or heating an empty one.

But a smart thermostat could solve those problems, helping reduce energy usage by up to 20 per cent. All the smart systems currently available will allow you to turn the system on and off remotely via an app on your smartphone, once you have an internet connection. Others can also use your phone location to determine if the house is empty and adjust the thermostat accordingly.

The intended objective? To avoid wasting energy by heating an empty house, and therefore cutting your bills.

What are the options?

There are several smart thermostats on the market. They offer different capabilities, from hot-water control and support for zoned heating, to geolocation and presence-sensing to figure out if someone is home.

You don’t have to be a tech expert to use a smart thermostat; they are designed to be user-friendly, even for the less tech savvy. But it helps if you have access to a smartphone or tablet so you can set up the accompanying apps to help with your heating.

It’s also worth noting that smart thermostats aren’t cheap, especially if you have multi-zoned heating that could require more than one thermostat. If you want to get a decent return on your investment, make sure you plan on staying put for a few years.

Nest

Google’s smart thermostat can control your heating and hot water, and learns from your schedule. In fact, it’s in the name: the Nest Learning Thermostat.

A couple of weeks of setting and adjusting the temperature, learning what time you come home, leave the house or get up, and the thermostat will take over, creating a schedule it thinks will suit you.

It will also sense when the house is empty, using a mixture of motion sensors in the thermostat and geolocation on your phone, automatically switching the heating to a more economical mode. A cheaper version, the Nest Thermostat E, strips out some of the more advanced features

Netatmo

The Starck-designed Netatmo has style, and it offers many of the same functions of its rivals, allowing you to control your home heating from anywhere in the world. Its “auto adapt” function uses your home’s insulation and the outdoor temperature to decide when your heat turns on.

Climote

The Climote smart thermostat is essentially a digital version of the manual time clock on your boiler, mimicking the fiddly pins that we’ve all struggled with over the years but in a much easier-to-handle way. The bonus: you don’t need broadband as it has a sim inside the thermostat that allows you to control it via text message commands.

Hive

Hive Active Heating is part of a whole smart home system that includes heating controls, light bulbs, plugs and security cameras. The set-up has geolocation to remind you that you’ve left the heating on, and a schedule with up to six time slots per day for heating and hot water. Plus it integrates with most of the major platforms, including Google Assistant, Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homekit and even IFTTT to automate your home.

Hub Controller

Home-grown heating company Hub Controls offers an easy to use touch screen controller, a large display and an accompanying app. A boost button provides a quick way to heat up the house quickly, and the schedule can be adjusted as and when you see fit.

Tado

German technology company Tado has a couple of options depending on your home: a wired controller that replaces a traditional thermostat, and a wireless controller that can integrate into your home heating set-up if you don’t have a wired thermostat to swap out. The Tado system also works with smart radiator valves.

Smartzone

Cork-based Smartzone does the whole package: smart home and smart heating. Its alarm.com based system will control your heating and hot water, and also allow you to bring in extras such as smart plugs and sensors to smarten up your home.

Switching off

If you want to make sure that your electric devices are not wasting power when not in use, unplugging them is the quickest and cheapest way to do it. But it’s not always practical, and it also requires you to be diligent about your task.

Smartplugs could be the way forward, allowing you to turn off appliances at the press of a button, regardless of whether you are home or away.

Not every appliance is a smart one, but it could be with the help of a wifi-connected plug. The smart plugs can be controlled via an app on your phone that turns them on and off remotely. No more wondering if you’ve accidentally left the TV switched on or left the house without remembering to turn on the slow cooker.

You can plug your regular lights into a smart plug and control them with your voice via Alexa, Google Home or Siri, or programme them to turn on around sunset, meaning it changes every day.

Some plugs will also monitor how much energy you use, so you can tell which settings cause your bills to spike and which are more economical.

There are a number of different options, from TP Link and Wemo to Eve, with prices starting from about €18.

Connected lights

Speaking of lighting, you can skip the smart plugs and put connected bulbs into your home. No more lights on unnecessarily, Although the initial outlay can be more expensive, the savings you make on your energy bills from switching to low-wattage LEDs combined with the ability to control the bulbs from afar should make a difference to your electricity bill.

You can dial down the brightness, too, which will save you more energy, and also set timers on all the bulbs so they don’t get left on accidentally.

Among the options are: Philips Hue lighting, which have the ability to change colour too; the TP Link Kasa system, which offers different colour temperatures; colour-changing Nanoleaf bulbs; and Wix, which mimics the old-style Edison bulbs.

If you are interested in taking it further, you can set up your smart home to turn off plugs, lights and thermostats automatically when you leave the house, or with a single voice command, easily saving you time, energy and money.

Alternative chargers

The experience of solar chargers hasn’t always been great, but the technology is improving. You have nothing much to lose anyway; leave a solar charger in sunlight during the day and use it to charge your various electronics.

Shop around

Cutting down on our usage of gas and electricity is important, but when it comes to cutting costs, you can start with your bills. Shop around for the best rate you can get; sites such as Switcher.ie and Bonkers.ie will scour the different energy providers that operate in your area and offer up a list of price plans that you can compare to find the best one for you.

It may not necessarily be the cheapest one on offer either. Electricity companies, for example, are starting to offer plans that suit your lifestyle, whether it is charging an electric vehicle or selling back electricity to the grid through solar panels.

Apps

Energy Costs
Nothing changes behaviour like a short, sharp shock to the system – or your wallet. Energy Costs does exactly what it says – it calculates the cost of using your appliances. You provide the details – the power consumption on the device, how long you are using it per day, how long you’ve been using it in terms of days, months and years, how much your power costs per unit – and it will calculate how much it has added to your energy bill. It could also be used to show you the potential financial impact of anything you are thinking of buying.

Joule Bug
Joule Bug will help you develop more sustainable habits in your life. It works through a combination of commitments, challenges and accountability, and pushing you to hit goals and earn rewards.

It could be as simple as hanging out your washing to dry or closing the blinds when it is hot outside to keep your home cool. Each time you carry out one of these energy-saving tasks, you log it with the app and earn yourself some points. You’ll also see the real-world impact of your actions – how recycling stacks up in terms of planting saplings, or how turning off your office lights can save the equivalent energy of powering a hot tub for a few hundred hours. Gamification aside, you can get some ideas about how to cut your energy use.

MyEarth
The adoption of the “carbon footprint” may be a very effective marketing effort on behalf of the oil industry, but it seems to have stuck. MyEarth helps you calculate how much carbon you can cut down on if you implement some energy-saving habits, such as washing clothes in cold water (1.1lb of carbon), unplugging chargers that aren’t in use (0.22lb of carbon) and reducing your gaming and TV watching (0.4lb of carbon per day).

The more carbon you commit to saving, the more the more you level up. It is much wider than just saving energy but, like Joule Bug, it provides you with some ideas to cut down on fuel use, and therefore lower your energy bills.

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