In June this year I said I’d start writing about our efforts to cut our gas and electricity bills (and of course save the planet, but mostly we want to save money), and I have written very little on this so far, but yesterday we found out that our joint gas and electricity bill is now down to £42 (from £125 a month at the start of the year), so I thought I’d do a summary of how we have done this and what’s next.

First what is our house like today;

  • Late 18th/ early 19th Century mid-terrace cottage
  • 1970′s extension to rear
  • Front wall solid brick, 3 storeys high
  • Rear wall modern cavity wall, 1 storey high (difference between front and back is due to slope of roof which goes from the top of the house right down to the kitchen) not insulated
  • Double glazed throughout – only 1 south-facing window (due to roof – this window is in the kitchen)
  • Top and side attics; both converted, no insulation on pitched parts of roof
  • Attic spaces (floors of unoccupied sections – crawl spaces only really) have less than 60mm of insulation
  • Flat roof over kitchen has 150mm of modern space blanket

So there is still a lot to do to save even more money, here is what we have done so far though to save cash (I’m not going to dwell on what we did wrong to get such massive energy bills), please note that from start it took us about 4 years to do all the stuff below:

Our online energy tracker shows a reduction in electricity use since last year

Our online energy tracker shows a reduction in electricity use since last year (click on image for more detail)

  • Use energy-saving light bulbs; we use these almost throughout the house, the only exceptions are lights for a few very dark areas (see no south-facing windows above) which are seldom used and for which energy-saving bulbs are not easily or cheaply obtainable. One such light is on a mid-landing and is a halogen strip on the wall, the only other examples are the three spots for my daughters bedroom; they are GU10 100W bulbs and came free with the light fitting we bought earlier this year. We will replace them soon as we are starting to the use the lamps more now it is dark earlier (during summer she was in bed before it got dark). All the energy-saving bulbs I have bought are rapid-start units and cost about 10p to 20p each.
  • Have light switches at every door; not an easy one to achieve but we’ve had extensive work done to our house over the last few years and have had switches added at every door in the house. Quite a simple one but it makes it easier to turn lights off when you leave a room.
  • Use LED light bulbs; I put these in a separate point to the energy-saving bulbs above because they are not quite in the same league. I use them in the bathroom (as replacements for 3 100W GU10 ceiling spots). First of all they are very expensive when compared to standard energy-saving bulbs, £15 each. Secondly they do not have the same light output; we are probably going to have to add extra lighting to the bathroom as whilst they are not dim the quality of the light is different enough to require additional lamps. You may ask why even use them then? The only reason was that my bathroom lights and fan are run off a fused spur from the main lighting ring that used to have no discrimination; by changing the lamps I was able to use a much smaller fuse (and no-longer deal with all the lights going off due to a blown bulb in the bathroom)
  • Use all A-rated appliances; we did not set out to replace all our appliances to save money, we did it because all our old appliances died (except for the fridge/ freezer which were costing us a phenomenal amount of money), and I’d have to say that unless your appliances are completely dead (or cost lots and lots to run) it’s not worth replacing them purely to reduce your utility bill – they just won’t pay for themselves
  • Get an A-Rated Boiler; we have an A-Rated Combi-boiler, which we only bought because the old boiler broke down. The £2300 we spent buying a new boiler has pretty much negated all the energy savings we’ve made here, but we like to pretend that it hasn’t (remember; get a gas break-down policy!)
  • Draught proofing; we have done the front and back doors plus some other odds and sods. There was a lot of cold air coming into the house via the front door especially.
  • Use a programmable thermostat; this, more than anything else, has helped to cut our gas bill BUT these do take a lot of managing, by which I mean you only save money if you really do plan its use around when you are in the house. When we first had this I didn’t use it properly and made almost no savings, now I review it once every few weeks around our regular activities (for example Kelly and Bella are home two days a week, but attend different things outside the house which change times regularly). Also make sure you use the ‘holiday’ function as much as possible; ours allows you to take holidays of a few hours, so on the weekend – when the thermostat is set for us being in all day Saturday and Sunday, and we are heading out for the morning – we set the holiday timer as we are about to leave the house. Finally if you have a battery operated one like us (we have a Drayton Digistat that was a straightforward swap for our old mechanical one) make sure you change the batteries once a year; ignore the battery warning symbol, if you find the thermostat sticking on or off it means the battery is too low to switch the relay over.
  • Get a thicker duvet for the bed; we have a duvet with three ‘settings’, a thin duvet, a thick duvet and poppers to join them together into a very thick duvet. Having a thicker duvet means that we can set the thermostat lower overnight.
  • Fit water widgets; I think these are now no-longer available, but I got free one for the shower. I also have a different water reducer for the other shower head (we have one over the bath for showering and one on top of the taps for rinsing the bath out and doing Bella’s hair etc). These save gas by reducing how much hot water you use, however bear in mind we are in an area with very high mains water pressure, these might not be for you if you have low mains pressure or a gravity fed hot water system.
  • Fit Intellipanels and other; we have fitted an Intellipanel to my office PC and a TV PowerDown to our multi-media equipment in the living room (we have a flatscreen, surround sound, PS3, XBox 360 etc etc). These save us about 30W combined, which over the course of a year (assuming that you never turn on your equipment and pay 14p per kWh) saves about £35. The TV PowerDown was free from a display at our local shopping centre.
  • Air-dry clothing; not really a revelation that drying clothes on a washing line saves money, but I thought I’d add a bit about what makes our washing line special. We got a wall mounted multi-location clothes airer from Tesco’s (they are on eBay too), the great thing being it comes with two brackets, one white for putting indoors and one brick coloured for outdoors. We are able to move our washing in seconds from outdoors to indoors meaning we are more likely to hang washing out later in the year (in fact had two loads out drying this weekend) as we don’t need to worry about the epic dash to get things off the line if it starts to rain. During the really cold bit of the year the airer stays on the kitchen wall and as it can take up to two loads of washing we seldom use the tumble-drier.
  • Use timers; this is the latest thing I’ve started. We have so far only got three things on timers, the broadband router, the network powerline for my office and our wi-fi printer. These all rely on each other to work, and we don’t need them on whilst we are away from the house, so they are all controlled off the same timer (connected to a 4-way extension lead). This saves about 10W, and based on the hours we have them turned off we save approx £4.50 a year. OK, so not much, but a timer costs less than £4 (at least on eBay) so I intend to put more things on timers. 
  • Change energy suppliers and maintain a positive balance; one of the biggest savings we made was paying off all arrears and switching suppliers to a joint bill (we were with two separate suppliers)
All of the above (OK, most of them) were very easy to achieve, it just took time. Our challenge now is to save even more money, which is becoming hard because;
  • We are not spending all that much anyway; anything we do now will only produce a small monthly saving, leading to an extended repayment period (of course some energy-saving stuff we can do will improve house value through a EPC)
  • We have done all the easy stuff, so anything we do now will be quite disruptive
I shall keep you updated on how we do.