Slash the cost of your energy bills
Save hundreds of pounds a year by following these easy tips.
We may be basking in the end of summer but the days are already drawing to an early close. And that means winter - with its short days and high household bills - is just around the corner. The colder weather will see savvy money-savers spring into action and take steps to dramatically cut their gas and electricity costs - and you can join them.
Even though the pace of price increases has eased in the last couple of years, our bills burden is still at an all-time high. Research from insurers Bright Grey shows that one in four of us are already struggling to cover the cost of our essential household outgoings - and that a total increase of just £155 could plunge the average homeowner into an acute financial crisis.
Fortunately, now's the right time to take charge of your household energy bills - and the potential savings available can far exceed £155. Here's how it's done.
Your gas and electricity bills
Recent cuts in the wholesale price of energy have seen our gas and electricity bills dip slightly this year. But the rate of price falls has some way to go before wiping out the massive 42% average increase UK households suffered during 2008. High prices will be more keenly felt over the winter months, which means the first thing you should do is shop around to find a cheaper deal.
The good news for consumers is that there are two new energy companies to choose from - and both have launched tariffs undercutting most of those offered by Britain's 'big six' energy companies. Both First Utility and Ovo Energy have launched online payment plans that promise typical annual bills of £967 and £978 respectively - far lower than the £1,243 average annual combined gas and electricity bill. Unusually, the price of the Ovo tariff is fixed for one year.
The emergence of fresh competitors has also seen our established energy giants finally move to cut their rates. Scottish Power is the latest supplier to join in an online energy price war - its new Online Energy Saver 7 promises a typical annual bill of £975. And with wholesale gas prices continuing to fall, its rivals will be under pressure to issue fresh price cuts of their own.
Changing the way you use your electricity could help you save even more - if you switch to an 'Economy 7' tariff. This deal sees you pay more for energy used during the day but gives you half-price energy at off-peak times. Consumption is calculated with a special meter that measures off-peak consumption. So if you're happy to leave major appliances, such as washing machines, running in the small hours, you could see your bills shrink in size.
Time for action!
Thousands of homeowners who switched to cheaper one-year fixed tariffs will soon be coming to the end of their deals - once these fixed deals come to an end, their provider will transfer them onto an alternative deal which will most likely be the most expensive standard package.
The message is clear - take advantage of the cuts now by switching to the best rates or be sorry when prices rocket just in time for winter. Your first step, even if you've switched suppliers before, should be to visit our price comparison service. Bear in mind it typically takes four weeks to move from one package to another - which means a month of more expensive bills. So, the sooner you start the process, the better!
Always remember that all of the cheapest deals are 'dual fuel' packages that are only offered online and that payment by monthly direct debit will help you avoid any costly payment premiums.
Smart energy-saving tips
Changing the way you pay isn't the only way to help bring down your bills. Simple energy-saving measures could help save as much as £400 a year, according consumer body the Energy Saving Trust. Here are five of the best:
1) Cavity wall insulation. This save you as much as £120 every year. Otherwise, you'll lose around a third of the heat in your home through the walls.
2) Insulate your loft and fit double-glazing. This reduce your heating bill by up to 25%. The cost for insulating the loft of an average family home starts from around £200 which could be subsidised by an Energy Saving Grant and recouped in less than two years. Fitting double-glazing and door stops could help you save even more.
3) Replace your old appliances. Buy new, less energy-sapping new ones to ensure ongoing savings. The introduction of the Energy Saving Trust's 'Energy Rating Label' for white goods has done a lot to improve energy efficiency in recent years. A new fridge-freezer is around a third more efficient than an old one, knocking around £20 off the typical £65-a-year running cost.
4) Get a new TV. And if you intend to spend the cold winter months snuggling up in front of the TV, it could prove costly if you have an older cathode ray tube or plasma screen model. A typical 32-inch plasma screen TV viewed for six hours a day uses 474 kwh per year, adding £60 to the typical energy bill. In contrast, a low energy LCD model will typically use just 308 kwh per year, adding less than £38 to your bill. And by turning your appliance off at the mains rather than leaving it on standby, you'll save even more.
5) Make sure your boiler is in good shape. Lastly, it's worth getting a tradesman to take a fresh look at your boiler too. You can cut the cost by shopping around for a stand-alone service, rather than just accepting your energy provider's costly support package. Around 60% of the energy use in an average home is for space heating, and a further 25% is for hot water - so get it maintained now!