How to heat your home for less: energy-saving tips
So you want to make your house more comfortable, cheaper to run and to reduce your carbon footprint. Where to start? It can all seem quite daunting, so we’ve broken it down into different levels, to give you tips on how you can start with some cheap and easy quick fixes and work your way up.
Level 1: Quick and easy
These are simple and relatively cheap energy saving measures which you can take to bring your bills down. You should consider doing these before looking at the more advanced measures.
Level 2: Medium cost, medium savings
These are more expensive and advanced than the level 1 measures, but also bring higher savings in terms of cost and emissions. They are commonly installed in UK houses, so it should be fairly easy to find an installer, and you may even be able to DIY to keep your costs down.
Level 3: Super insulation
These measures, sometimes referred to as “deep retrofit”, can be disruptive and have a high upfront cost, but can make a real dent in your energy bills. These kinds of measures aren’t very common, but are urgently needed across the majority of our UK housing stock to meet our legal climate obligations. If you are considering any of these measures, please get in touch – we’d love to help you get started on your retrofit journey, starting with a whole house assessment to identify the best improvements to suit your house and your lifestyle.
Level 0: Switch to a green energy supplier
This isn’t really an energy saving measure, but it will reduce your carbon footprint and might even save you some money! If you haven’t already, the first thing you should do is switch to a green energy supplier i.e. a company that sells electricity generated from 100% renewable sources. You may want to consider the following companies:
- Octopus Energy
- Good Energy
- Ovo Energy (make sure you go for the 100% green option though)
Other suppliers are now starting to offer green energy plans too, which is great, but not all of them are as green as they claim, so beware. You can’t go wrong with the above suppliers though (with a slight caveat for Ovo), and usually they come out at a similar price, or sometimes even cheaper than, non-renewable tariffs from other suppliers. Have a look – you might be surprised!
Level 1: Quick and easy
- Install a room thermostat and programmer
- If you don’t already have a room thermostat, usually found in the living room, you should get one right away. This will save energy by only turning on the heating when the temperature dips below a certain point, chosen by you.
- Most boilers come with a programmer so they only come on at certain times, so they don’t run all through the night when they are least needed, for example. Make yourself familiar with your programmer, or better yet, get a combined room thermostat and programmer so you can set a precise schedule of what temperature to aim for at each point in the day.
- If you want to get even more technologically advanced, there are now smart home systems that allow you to control all this from an app on your phone e.g. Nest, Hive, Tado.
- Turn down the thermostat
- Do you normally have your thermostat set at 22 degrees, or maybe even higher? Why not try turning it down a degree or two; you’ll probably find that your house is still plenty warm enough, but you’ll be saving money on your gas bill and reducing emissions!
- Replace light bulbs with LED equivalent bulbs
- Back in the day we had incandescent light bulbs, which did the job, but were incredibly wasteful in terms of energy and thus money on electricity bills. Then came the first generation of CFL energy-saving light bulbs. These needed a lot less energy to run, but they also took a while to reach their full brightness and had a tendency to leave people feeling dissatisfied. Now we have LED light bulbs, which use even less energy than CFLs, are often smaller (closer to the traditional bulb size and shape) and also instantly reach full brightness! Given that they are a similar price to CFLs, these really are a no-brainer for most scenarios. You can even replace small halogen spotlights with LED equivalents, using a fraction of the energy.
- Fit your radiators with Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs)
- Install a valve on each radiator in your house (except the one nearest to the thermostat), and then you can set a different target temperature for each radiator in the house. This lets you save energy by reducing unnecessary heating of certain rooms.
- If you are more technologically inclined, you can get smart radiator valves that work with smart home systems such as Apple Homekit, Google Home and Amazon Alexa, making it super easy to set a temperature for each room in your house from your phone or tablet.
- Get your boiler serviced and your central heating system flushed
- Gas boilers should be serviced every year by a qualified engineer (usually a plumber) to keep them running in peak condition and thus as efficient as possible, reducing wasted emissions. In addition to this, you should consider having your system flushed if it hasn’t been done in the last few years. This will clear the gunk out of your pipework and make it easier to circulate the hot water around the radiators in your house, reducing the amount of energy wasted heating your house.
- Install reflective radiator foil panels
- These should be used with any radiator that is standing against an external wall, to prevent heat from the radiator immediately escaping your house. The shiny foil reflects infra-red radiation from the radiator back into the room, reducing the amount of heat required from the radiator to get the room to the right temperature.
- Install draught-proofing measures
- Windows and external doors often have small gaps that let warm air out and cold air in. Often these can be dealt with using low-cost draught excluder strips and keyhole covers.
- Your loft hatch may not have a good seal and as a result may be leaking cold air into your house from the uninsulated loft. Make sure it is sealed up with draught strips.
- If you have a chimney that you don’t use (or just don’t use very often), there are various solutions for temporarily blocking it up e.g. a chimney balloon or Chimney Sheep.
- If there are any gaps in your masonry where pipes or wires are coming into the house from outside, the surrounding holes may need filling.
- Pipe lagging
- Anywhere that your hot water pipes go through unheated space, they’re wasting energy. Check that they’re properly lagged in the loft – and under your floors if you can – with good thick, continuous insulation. Patch up any gaps.
- Hot water tank jackets
- If you’ve a hot water tank in your house, make sure it’s well wrapped up. A lot of tanks are only covered with about 25mm of insulation – try to get this up to 80mm or more. Tank jackets are quite cheap and easy to fit.
Level 2: Medium cost, medium savings
- Loft insulation to 270mm
- 270mm is currently the minimum thickness of loft insulation to meet building regulations in the UK. If you have 100mm or less, topping up to 270mm is one of the best and most cost-effective improvements you can make. To have this done by a professional should cost a few hundred pounds, depending on the size of your loft, and it is also relatively simple to install yourself, if you’re looking to keep the cost down – the insulation itself is extremely cheap but the job is pretty dusty and unpleasant. Note: it’s possible to go thicker than 270mm, but there are diminishing returns, and also you need to be careful about electrical wires running underneath the insulation, as they can overheat. If you’re thinking about going thicker, have a look at Level 3 first.
- Flat roof insulation
- Solid foam insulation boards can be fitted between the rafters of flat roofs and sealed in place – however to do this properly it will require care and may be quite disruptive.
- Cavity wall
- When done right, cavity wall insulation can save you a bunch on your bills by stopping heat from escaping through the walls of your house, but often the filling does not work properly and so does not deliver the intended benefit. The loss of ventilation through the cavity can also lead to unintended adverse effects. For this reason we do not generally recommend cavity wall insulation, but you shouldn’t necessarily rule it out. If in doubt, speak to a professional about it.
Level 2a: Double/triple-glazed windows
- We have added this as a separate category because high quality windows can deliver a decent level of energy savings, but the cost is much higher compared to other level 2 measures. You should probably only consider replacing your windows if you have single glazing or very old double glazing that is showing signs of failing.
- Replacing single-glazed windows with triple-glazed (or even double-glazed) windows can give you a decent improvement, provided they are high quality argon-filled windows with a “warm edge” spacer between the panes (as opposed to the traditional conductive aluminium spacer), and preferably a wooden frame. This will not be cheap! You will also need to re-coat the frames occasionally to keep them at their best.
- For older or listed properties, you may want to look at secondary glazing, where the existing windows are retained and an extra pane fitted behind them. The results will not be as good as replacing the windows, but it will still be an improvement. This can be done in a temporary way so the extra pane can be removed when not needed e.g. in the summer.
- One of the most important aspects of replacing windows is the installation process. Make sure your installer understands that you want a high quality installation with no gaps anywhere, which would undermine the energy savings you’re trying to make with the new windows.
Level 3: Super insulation
If you have done all of the above and are still keen to further reduce your emissions, then you will want to consider what is known as “super insulation” or “deep retrofit”. This is a series of more drastic measures to install insulation in your home, which will save you a huge amount on your energy bills, but will also cost a lot to install and may involve significant disruption. However, if you are serious about reducing your heating demand and thus your carbon footprint (as we all should be), this is the way to go.
When considering a deep retrofit, the first step is to contact us to discuss it and arrange for a professional whole house assessment. Every house is different and will require different solutions; there is no “one size fits all” approach here. Below are some broad ideas of the kind of things you can do, but they may not necessarily be right for your house. It is vital that you speak to an expert before attempting any of these, and ideally you should create a whole house plan to make sure that any work you do now is not going to conflict with some other work that you decide to do in the future. Measures may include:
- Thicker loft insulation beyond 270mm (but see warning in previous section)
- Floor insulation
- Internal wall insulation
- External wall insulation
- High quality triple-glazed windows and doors
- Aggressive draught-proofing/air-tightness improvements
An important thing to remember with these kind of improvements is that the more you insulate and reduce airflow through your house with draught-proofing measures, the more you allow moisture to build up in the house. This can cause problems with mould and damp, so a high level of insulation needs to be matched by extra ventilation as well. There are various kinds of ventilation, which can be discussed during your whole house assessment.
Another thing to remember is that these kind of measures often involve quite a lot of disruption during their installation, which may make your house difficult to live in for a short time. You should be prepared for this and make sure the people installing these measures explain the level of disruption to be expected. For this reason, it’s best if you can time these improvements to coincide with general decorating and/or renovation work, so you only have to deal with one round of disruption instead of two or more.
Extra credit: electric heating and cooking
Once you have super-insulated your home, you will have drastically reduced your heating requirements, meaning that you have to use your gas boiler a lot less to heat your home to a comfortable temperature. You may even decide that some sort of electric heating system now looks feasible in terms of running costs, for example an air source heat pump (or ground source heat pump if you have the space or are willing to drill a very deep borehole on your land). In fact, it’s probably best to factor the heating system into your whole house plan. It’s worth noting that heat pumps are not a particularly good improvement to install on their own without insulating your house first, because they tend to run at a lower temperature than the average gas boiler. At the very least you will need to look at installing larger radiators or an underfloor heating system, but even still, in a leaky house, most of the heat will be lost to the outside world before you are able to feel the benefit. For this reason, a heat pump should be seen as a companion to a well insulated home rather than an alternative.
For water heating, you can use solar panels (either PV or thermal) on your roof to heat up water stored in a tank. Solar thermal panels heat the water more efficiently and also qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive, so you can recoup some of the costs over time. However, solar PV (electricity generation) is more flexible as the electricity can be used to power the rest of your house as well. There are various smart water tank solutions available that allow you to use the solar electricity to heat up the water only when that electricity is not needed elsewhere in the house.
If you are using a heat pump for space heating, you can also use it for water heating.
In terms of emissions caused by using gas in the home, space heating is the main culprit, followed by water heating. However, if you want to reduce your cooking emissions as well, you may want to consider replacing your gas oven with an electric oven and your gas hobs with induction hobs. Remember though, not all of your existing pans may be compatible with induction hobs, so you may need to factor some new pans into your budget!