What simple, affordable changes can I make to combat rising energy costs?

Property Clinic: I’m worried about energy costs for the year ahead and I don’t have a lot of cash for upgrades

'Do you have any suggestions for simple and affordable updates or changes I can make that will make a difference?' Photograph: iStock

I’m worried about energy costs for the year ahead. I don’t have a lot of cash to hand for upgrades. Do you have any suggestions for simple and affordable updates or changes I can make that will make a difference?

Home energy costs have increased significantly over the past year, and this has resulted in financial pressure for the majority of householders. By all accounts it doesn’t look as if energy costs will be coming down in the short to medium term, despite the Government’s intervention and support.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland manages and promotes national home retrofit schemes whereby owners and occupiers can benefit from grant aid to subsidise the cost of improvement works. However, in most cases, the schemes require a sizeable financial contribution from the applicant. The SEAI website provides comprehensive details of the schemes, which now includes a “one-stop-shop” option, making the application process and selection of a contractor straightforward.

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I recommend that householders review these schemes as they are a great way to save on energy costs while also creating more comfortable living spaces. Notwithstanding the financial commitment, the savings are generally noticeable in the short term with reduced heating bills and the “pay back” on your investment will be realised over a few years. Householders can consider these schemes in line with their available finances. Several finance providers (including local credit unions) now provide special “green home”-type loan products.


In the meantime, there are a number of options available to homeowners to try to save energy costs and to make their homes more comfortable.


Review energy supplier offers (for electricity, gas, fuel and so on) to seek the most preferential unit rates/offers. However, as suppliers can change their rates frequently, you will have to review your costs on an annual basis.

Heating system

It is recommended heat-producing appliances be serviced regularly to ensure they are performing at their best. From a health and safety point of view, it is most important to have your appliances inspected and serviced by approved technicians. If your boiler is old, it is worth considering having it upgraded with a modern energy-efficient model.

Heating controls

Most older heat-producing appliances do not have heating controls. These controls allow the user to select home zones where heating can be provided, for example, downstairs during the day and upstairs at night, heat water but not the house in summer, and so on. The controls can be easily incorporated and will allow you have more control over your heating system and reduce costs.

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Windows and doors

While I do not know the type and age of your home’s windows and doors and whether or not they are single- or double-glazed, it is worth having them serviced and maintained to ensure they close tight to frames to reduce draught ingress. A service person could complete this task on a typical home in less than a day. Use your curtains and close them at night to retain heat. The alternative, if your windows and doors are old, is to have them replaced.


If you have open fires in your home that are no longer in use, you could incorporate temporary seals to reduce the risk of draught coming down the flue. However, it is important to maintain a degree of air circulation in your home from a health safety perspective. If your only source of ventilation is from the chimney flue, do not seal it.

Heating stove

A solid-fuel stove is more than twice as efficient as an open fireplace and is also a safer option. There are some very smart stove retrofits available that can easily be incorporated into an existing fireplace.


It is important the fabric of a house incorporates an insulation material. However, some homes were constructed before the introduction of insulation requirements and to retrofit insulation into walls and floors will now be costly. However, an upgrade of roof space insulation in a standard attic can be easily completed and this will provide a significant reduction in heat loss.


It is good to close doors internally in a home to retain heat in the living space. It can also be beneficial to open doors to hallways and so on, to allow heat from a heat-producing appliance to circulate around your home. Remember, it is good to close doors that lead on to such hallways at night.

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Light fittings

Consider replacing the light bulbs in your home with energy-saving fittings. Turn off lights when not required.


Reduce the use of your appliances where you can. Only switch on the dishwasher when it’s full. Dry your clothes outside, if possible, to reduce the use of the tumble dryer. Consider the use of a lower temperature wash in the washing machine. Turn off standby switches to electrical appliances (including TVs) when not in use.

Lagging jacket

Some older homes have hot-water cylinders that are not adequately insulated. Installing a simple lagging jacket around the cylinder will retain heat for longer.


While showers are most convenient, house occupants might consider reducing the time spent in the shower.

Budgeting advice

It may be helpful to contact the Money Advice and Budgeting Service (Mabs) for advice on how to better “average” utility bills over the year taking the higher cost winter months into account. Most energy providers allow customers to average their bills over 12 months.

The local authority Housing Aid for Older People Grant assists people over 66 with essential repairs to their homes. Such works can include repairing or replacing the roof, windows and doors or providing a central-heating system. Subject to eligibility criteria, a maximum grant of €8,000 may be provided. The Citizens Information website has more information on the grant.

The above is a brief list of energy-saving options you could consider. A home assessment by a suitably qualified professional will also assist, and a tailored programme of measures could be discussed.

Andrew O’Gorman is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

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