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14 useful tips to save energy

Many of us will be worried about soaring energy costs. But there are some practical ways to cut back on the energy you use – and chip away at those bills.

Many of us will be worried about soaring energy costs. But there are some practical ways to cut back on the energy you use – and chip away at those bills.

Written by
Dan Tremain
Energy and business energy expert
Last Updated
24 JANUARY 2024
12 min read
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Power costs have been rising fast and look set to continue soaring, affected by wider world issues.

Prices have risen to such an extent that for some families it can unfortunately be a choice between heating or eating. We all need to use energy, and finding ways to cut back is difficult, especially as standing charges have risen too. So in such tough times it’s good to know what you can do to mitigate rising power bills.

If you’re one of the many people finding it hard, take a look at our article on what help is available if you can’t pay your energy bills.

And for advice on how to cut your day-to-day consumption, check out our useful tips right here.

1. Don’t waste power with standby 

It’s widely reported that the average household could be wasting as many as 7,374 hours of electricity every year when a device is left on standby.

It’s easy to do. For example, many of us disconnect our phones but leave the charger plugged in. And some devices, such as TVs, don’t have an easily accessible on-off switch.

But leaving devices on standby uses up power – sometimes known as ‘vampire energy’ – and over the course of a year it can really add up. In fact, the Energy Saving Trust estimates you can save around £65 a year just by turning off standby mode on your appliances.

So unplugging makes sense, although the amount you’ll actually be able to save by unplugging will depend on what you’re currently paying for your power bills and on the energy efficiency of your device. Newer equipment typically uses less energy, even on standby. These are some indicative annual savings, found particularly among older devices: 

  • Turning off the light in an unused room – £25
  • Television – £16-24
  • Set-top/cable box – £20-23
  • Games devices – £16
  • Smart speakers – £3.45 per speaker
  • Microwave – £16 

And if you’re working from home, don’t forget about office equipment: 

  • Printers (particularly those with LED displays) – £3-4 a year
  • Laptops – £5 (but make sure you shut down and switch off rather than simply closing the lid)  

It’s worth knowing that a laptop typically uses less power than a desktop computer too – if you have the choice.

Make switching things off part of your routine and switch off at the wall if necessary.  

As switches can be tucked away, a smart power strip could be the perfect way to combat power drain. These devices let you choose what you want to keep on or turn off at any given time. (Remember you may want to keep your Sky box or equivalent running to record programmes overnight.)

A few other small changes, such as lowering the brightness on your TV or laptop, switching devices to ‘eco mode’ or charging your phone during the day rather than leaving it plugged in all night, could all add up to savings on your energy bill.

2. Take control of your heating

Heating over the winter uses a huge amount of power, so think carefully about how warm your home really needs to be. Some people feel the cold more than others and if you’re sitting still for long periods, you’ll likely feel chillier than someone who’s moving around. The World Health Organisation recommends a home temperature of 18-22°C and Public Health England advises 18-21°C depending on the vulnerability of the person, the function of the room and the clothing being worn.

The government-endorsed Simple Energy Advice website suggests that you can save 10% on your energy bill by turning down your thermostat by just one degree.

If you haven’t already, give it a go and see how much you save. A good way to work out how low you can go is to turn the thermostat down a degree – if you find that okay, after a day or two turn it down another degree until you find the optimum point for you. 

To make up for that lost degree of home warmth, heat your body instead. Layering up with a thermal base-layer, mid-layer and outer-layer can help keep you nice and toasty on colder nights. Hot water bottles and blankets are also low-cost alternatives to turning the heating up.

If you have thermostats on your radiators, you can turn them even lower in rooms that you use infrequently, such as a spare bedroom.

Keep doors closed in the rooms that you spend time in to keep the heat in. Also check whether heat could be leaving your home through gaps. Getting a professional to draught-proof windows, doors and cracks in floors and skirting boards could save around £125 a year.

3. Adjust your boiler flow settings

A recent study by innovation agency Nesta found that households running on condensing combi-boilers – which includes all those installed after April 2005 – could save around 6-8% in gas consumption by turning down the flow temperature. This means an average UK household could save up to £112 per year on their heating bill.

What is the flow temperature?

The flow temperature is the temperature your boiler heats water to before sending it out to the radiators. When the water in the system cools to a prescribed level after giving out heat to the rooms (the return temperature), it returns to the boiler to be re-heated.

Condensing combi-boilers are most efficient at a flow temperature of 60°C or lower, but many are installed to have a flow temperature of between 70-80°C as standard. Although lowering the flow temperature may not be appropriate for some poorly insulated or older homes, other households could reduce their gas use, costs and emissions significantly – without any loss of comfort around the home.

How can I reduce the flow temperature?

Flow temperature can be reduced by changing the controls on your combi-boiler. The flow temperature control for heating typically has a radiator symbol; the hot water control has a picture of a tap (your boiler manual may have more detailed information on the specific dial details).

Nesta has an interactive guide to help you change your flow temperature.

What if my boiler isn’t a combi?

Heat-only or regular system boilers tend not to allow you to change the flow temperature separately from the thermostat. Home heating advice service The Heating Hub recommends a minimum flow temperature of 70°C for these boilers. It’s advisable to consult a heating engineer to see if savings can be made.

Will I feel the difference?

Your radiators won’t feel so hot to the touch and it may take your home a little longer to heat up initially, but your heating will reach your desired level more cost-efficiently.

4. Switch to low energy lighting

Swapping to LED (light-emitting diode) or CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamps) lightbulbs can help save money on your bills. LEDs are the most energy efficient – the Energy Savings Trust estimates you could save £55 a year if you swapped all your bulbs for LEDs. They also reach full brightness quicker than CFLs. They’re now available for a wide range of light fittings. Not all bulbs are dimmable, so check before buying if that’s what you want. 

Both LEDs and CFLs last much longer than old-fashioned filament bulbs, so although they cost a bit more to buy, they’re more cost-effective over time. Light output is now shown in lumens rather than watts. You’ll need about 1,200-1,300 Lm to replace an old 100-watt bulb. LEDs are good replacements for halogen downlighters and produce far less heat. CFLs can be good if your room has one single bulb that needs to be bright enough to light the whole space. 

Always turn lights off – even if you only leave a room empty for a minute or two.

5. Opt for a shower, not a bath

If everyone in a three-bedroom, gas-heated home swapped one bath a week for a four-minute shower, it could save up to £20 a year on their energy bill. A shower timer will help you keep your showers short and sweet.

Replacing your shower head with a more efficient model could also save you £45 on your gas bills each year and £25 off their water bills each year. And there are other low-cost devices you can buy to cut down on your water bills, including tap aerators and washing-up bowls. But one of the easiest ways to cut your water use is to remember to turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth or shaving.

6. Wash as much as possible at 30°C

Today’s washing detergents are very effective at 30 degrees, so try to avoid washing laundry on a higher setting. Wait until you have a full load too – that saves on water as well as energy. Use an eco-wash setting if you can, as this will save on your bills in the long term. If not, opt for the shortest programme possible that will get your clothes clean.

The Energy Savings Trust estimate that by washing at 30°C and running one fewer load a week, the average UK household could save around £34 a year.

7. Reduce your tumble dryer usage

Tumble dryers use up a lot of energy, so try to avoid them as much as you can. If you have to dry indoors, make sure the space is well ventilated to avoid the build-up of damp and condensation. Ideally open the windows and shut the door.

When replacing a tumble dryer, check the energy rating – the better the rating the less it’ll cost to run. On the other hand, you might decide to do without one - the Energy Savings Trust reckons that you could save £70 a year by skipping the tumble dryer entirely.

8. Optimise your oven use

If you’re turning your oven on for one thing, see if you can use the rest of the space to batch cook something for a meal on another day. Get used to how long your oven takes to heat up so you’re ready to pop food in straight away without wasting heat.

Microwaves are cheaper and more energy efficient than stoves at warming food or reheating leftovers. Meanwhile, slow cookers are an energy efficient way of cooking, and preparing food in larger batches helps to cut energy use, as well as time spent in the kitchen. When you do cook on the stove, remember to use lids to cover your pots and pans to heat your food faster.

9. Optimise your fridge use

A fridge freezer is one of the few appliances that you have to keep on all the time, so you’ll want to make sure it’s working as efficiently as possible. Your fridge can struggle to function at full capacity if it gets dusty. Make sure to regularly clean the coils at the back to optimise its performance and keep it fire safe. Unplug and gently use a vacuum or brush.

Free-standing fridges should ideally have around 5cm of space around the sides and back, and at least 2.5cm at the top to allow heat from the compressor to escape. Without it your fridge will have to work harder.

Keep your fridge around two-thirds full as it has less air to cool that way. If it’s getting empty, consider adding a jug of water or two.

Putting warm food in the freezer is a big no-no. It takes much more energy for your freezer to retain its temperature when you stack it with food that’s still warm. Let your leftovers cool before you stash them away. Glass containers can be better than plastic as they retain the cold better.

Defrost your fridge and freezer regularly to keep everything working at its best.

10. Use your kettle wisely

Use a kettle rather than boiling water for cooking in a pan. While it might seem logical to boil water in the same pan it’s typically faster to heat water in a kettle and usually more efficient. This is because the heat is generally transferred directly from the heating element to the water, compared with a pan on the stove where more heat is potentially lost to the pan and to the room.

The average kettle is about 80% efficient, while boiling water on the hob is only 70%. But whether there’s a cost saving may depend on the price you are paying for your gas hob compared with your electricity.

When making a brew, don’t overfill. Just using as much water as you need and fitting a tap aerator could save you £43 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust. And remember you boiled the kettle. It might sound silly, but how many times have you boiled a kettle, then walked away and forgotten you’ve done it? By the time you remember you’re after a hot drink, the water will have cooled and you may need to boil the kettle all over again - a total waste of energy.

If you live in a hard water area, descale your kettle regularly as this can affect its energy efficiency.

11. Think about the washing up

Don’t wash up under a running tap. Use a washing-up bowl and fill it up as needed for the level of washing up you have. If it’s just a few plates and cups, a third to a half of the bowl is all that’s needed.

Using a dishwasher can use less energy than doing the washing up by hand. Just make sure you fill it completely before you turn it on, to make the most out of the energy it uses each cycle. Cutting your dishwasher use by just one run a week could save you up to £17 a year.

12. Monitor your energy use

Energy companies tend to use local data to estimate how much gas and electricity you’re using. While these are often close to reality, it’s impossible for them to be completely right every time. By checking your own meters every month, you’ll be able make sure you only pay for the energy you’re actually using.

If you don’t already have a smart meter, it might be worth asking your power company for one if they’re available in your area. These cut out the middle man, making sure you get an accurate reading throughout the year without having to check yourself. A smart meter will help you monitor your power use. You can test out your appliances by using one at a time and see which are the most energy-hungry so you can adapt your usage. You can also use your meter to see the impact of having appliances on standby.

13. Manage your energy smarter

Smart thermostats, such as Nest and Hive, help you manage your heating room-by-room. You can even control your heating when you’re out using your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Smart appliances, lights and plugs can also be programmed to switch off at particular times or when you leave the house or even a room, saving you money.

14. Make long-term investments

If you’re not planning to move in the near future, it may be worth looking at more long-term energy-saving solutions. Insulate your home to avoid wasting energy – double or triple glazing and insulating walls and lofts can reduce heat loss, making your home more energy efficient. Replacing your boiler if it’s getting old could be a good investment too.

Solar panels, ground source heat pumps or air source heat pumps could be really cost effective for you in the long run and be good for the environment too.

And make sure you choose the most energy efficient models when replacing household appliances. See which appliances are the most expensive to run.

If you're thinking of making your home more energy efficient, waiting until the middle of the summer could be the time to do it. Heating engineers are likely to be less busy in the summer months and that could mean a cheaper quote on a replacement boiler or heating system.

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