From cooking in a bag to wearing thermals, these four tricks helped cut our energy bills.
Trialling new ways to save energy
It’s a challenge to save energy in our home nowadays.
We have a four-bed house and we also have a three-year-old, so we’re at home a lot and the washing machine is constantly on.
We have installed many of the usual things, like loft and cavity wall insulation and energy efficient lightbulbs, plus we also have a good quality condensing boiler.
But I wondered what else we could do to save energy that might also be a bit different.
After doing my research I tried a few of them out – some quirky, others pretty common – and here’s what I learned.
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To start with, I wanted to get a better idea of how much energy we use day-by-day keeping our house warm, so I had a smart meter installed in December.
Most energy providers will do this for free.
While it is difficult to isolate exactly how much each appliance is costing you, the smart meter switches between electricity use and gas, shows real-time spikes in usage and allows you to compare different days’ usage.
We have also started using an Owl electricity monitor again which is a handy bit of kit (more on that later).
Heating and hot water account for 62% of household energy bills on average, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
In the cold-snap, I wondered what we could do to cut our bills.
The joy of thermals
Last week I started noticing the significant difference between the amount of gas we were using in the cold-snap and what we had used on milder days.
I’d been shocked by how much our lounge gas fire uses on full-blast – I actually thought I was saving money by using it instead of the heating!
Apparently, most gas fires are only about 50% efficient, as much of the heat gets lost up the chimney.
Condensing boilers, on the other hand, are 90% efficient.
Once, when we rented a freezing house, my husband got me into thermals.
Sexy they are not, but wearing them can really make a difference!
I wondered if digging out my thermal top (£12.50 in Marks & Spencer) and leggings (£16) might help, so I wore them on the next cold day we had.
This time I managed just to top-up the household heat up with a quick extra hour’s heating at lunchtime – our system allows us to do this without remembering to turn it off again – and without putting the fire on.
We didn’t put the heating on again until it came on automatically in the evening.
From the smart meter, we actually halved our gas bill that day by doing so.
We used 76 kilowatt hours (KWh) or £2.22 – the previous cold day we had used 151 KWh of gas, costing £4.27.
Of course, it’s easier to deny yourself heat but harder when you have children.
Luckily, my three-year-old is always much warmer than me and wanders about in a t-shirt most of the time.
Typically, cooking accounts for 13.8% of electricity use in homes, while on average freezing and cooling food makes up another 16.8%, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
I thought I’d try to find ways to cut down on this cost.
My friend Becca swears by her slow cooker and the time it saves her, as well as the low energy usage, so I decided to get one.
I picked the Morphy Richards 3.5 litre model from a review on BBC Good Food – said to be a good all-rounder and the right size for a family of three.
It cost me £22.99 from Argos in the pre-Christmas sale.
Slow cookers are designed to use the equivalent amount of energy to a light bulb or about 100 watts an hour versus 2,000 for a standard electric oven. Mine was a 163 watt.
I made a beef-in-beer stew, putting it on a medium setting, and left it to cook for seven hours – slightly longer than anticipated as my husband was late.
The stew was delicious – the flavours come through much stronger than with a conventional oven.
Just be careful not to add too much liquid as it doesn’t evaporate.
According to our Owl energy monitor, the slow cooker used 0.3 Kwh, costing us just 3.3p an hour.
So over seven hours it cost us just 23p, or 2.1 KWh, to cook dinner.
Usage versus a fan oven
As a comparison, I measured the output for our conventional electric fan oven.
This used 2.1 KWh and cost us 22p an hour.
And although the stew would only take about two and a half hours in our oven, it will still cost us 55p – more than twice as much as with the slow cooker.
As such, if used every day, it would pay for itself in three and a half months.
Another friend told me about a more unusual method of energy efficient cooking – the Wonderbag.
Developed by South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins, this portable slow cooker uses the residual heat in a pot to cook soups and stews.
My friend Vicky kindly lent me hers – they retail for £40 to £50.
That said, I was a bit dubious, so I made a vegetable broth rather than anything meaty.
I prepared it on our stove and then left it in the Wonderbag for two and a half hours, not opening it in case any heat escaped.
On opening it, I was amazed! The soup was steaming hot and all the vegetables were thoroughly cooked. It was delicious.
What’s more, we had used no energy at all in simmering it.
If you used a medium-sized one priced at £45 every day, it would pay for itself in three months.
It just goes to show that saving energy around the home needn’t be a hassle or involve too much expense, and there are some easy wins that can be achieved.
Lighting typically accounts for 15% of a household electricity bill, so it’s well worth trying to get the costs down.
We are most often in our lounge which, is 33 feet long and has a lot of light fittings, using 20 energy efficient light bulbs.
Using the Owl energy monitor, I found that having all our lounge lights on costs us 6p an hour and uses 0.58 kilowatts an hour.
We wondered if we could save money by watching TV in the dark in the evenings.
We found it was nice and cosy and gave us a more authentic cinematic experience – we’re lucky in that we have a good-sized telly.
What’s more, over the course of a two hour film, we saved an estimated 12p on our lighting bills.
Not much, but every little helps.
Over the course of a week, the saved energy (84p) could pay for three and a half slow cooker-made meals and would amount to £44 over a year.
The only downside was locating any mislaid popcorn in the dark – no problem for the dog!
Our next job is to replace all our household light bulbs with LED ones.
The price of LED bulbs has come down considerably, so swapping to them could save you a fortune on your bills.
According to engineer Rodney Birks, who recently changed all the bulbs in his home to LEDs, the payback is just 10 weeks as LED bulbs are 10 times more efficient than many energy-saving light bulbs.
He claims that lighting now just makes up just 1.8% of his bill, down from 18% and that many of the bulbs cost him just £1 – they used to cost £9.
We looked into replacing the bulbs in our lounge with LED ones but, as they need to be dimmable, many cost £3 each and we have 20 of them, so this is something we will do gradually as the older bulbs break.
What energy-saving techniques have you tried at home? Which have worked and which haven’t? Share your experiences in the comments section below!
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