With many of us spending more time at home again, we're using more electricity. We’re cooking most of our meals at home, working on computers during the day and streaming films and TV in the evenings. Plus, there’s the ever-growing army of devices we’re charging. And with energy prices rising, we have more incentive than ever to keep costs down.
According to research released during the first lockdown by Compare the Market, energy bills were forecast to rise by over £32 a month per household during our time indoors. For many people, that number may still be increasing. Here’s what you can do to help lower your bills this winter.
If you don’t have an energy monitor and don’t want to buy one, this article can still show you how to calculate the average electricity consumption of your appliances and provide advice on how to minimise power usage while you’re at home, so read on.
1. Find out your current (heh) usage
The first thing to do is find out where you are in terms of your energy usage. Read your meter (or meters, if you have both gas and electricity).
2. Send your readings to your supplier
If your meter readings aren't taken automatically, it's time to get on this as you've probably been using more energy than usual. It’s best to let your supplier know as soon as possible, so they can recalculate your payments. It’ll help you spread the cost over a longer timeline.
3. Keep an eye on consumption with an energy monitor
It’s easy to waste money on electricity when you can’t see what it’s costing you. But what if you could see what every boiled kettle and charged phone costs in real time? With an energy monitor, you can.
If you have a smart meter, you may already have an in-home display (IHD). It’s a screen that will let you see how much energy you’re using – and more importantly, what that translates to in cost. Here are examples from electricity suppliers Ovo and EDF Energy.
An IHD will allow you to see your current energy use or your use over the last few days, weeks, months and so on. You’ll also be able to set a daily budget and it will alert you when you reach your limit.
If you already have one but haven’t set it up, sort that out. It's much simpler than you think. Once it’s switched on, it should display a tutorial on how to use it. If it doesn’t, you can find out how on your supplier’s website.
If you don’t have an IHD, don’t worry. You can buy an energy monitor for about £40-£50 from Amazon.
We'd recommend Efergy Technologies’ Elite Classic 4.0 monitor. It costs £39.95. It’s a wireless, battery-operated device that will show you your energy consumption in real-time (it updates every few seconds). You can also use it to find out your daily, weekly or monthly data (in cost, kWh and CO2).
4. Find out what individual appliances cost you to run
Most people’s electricity bill is made up of two parts: the standing charge and the electricity unit rate. The first is a fixed daily charge, which you can only affect by switching suppliers. The second part is where you can save money, by cutting down energy use.
Check your bill and find out what your electricity unit rate is. It’ll be a cost per kWh (which is a standard unit of energy use). Mine is 20.76p per kWh. Once you have this figure, you can use this calculator from the Consumer Council to find out what your appliances should cost, on average, to run.
But it’s possible that you have an appliance isn't running normally and is draining more power than it should. Appliances that are older, or malfunctioning, can wind up costing you in higher electricity bills.
For under £20, you can get a plug power meter, like this one, which costs £16.99 from Amazon.
You can plug it into a wall socket and your appliance into the device and it’ll show you how much power the appliance is consuming. If you compare this to what the appliance should cost to run, you’ll get a good sense of whether or not it would be more cost-effective to replace it.
5. Find out your base load
Once your energy monitor is set up, go around your house and unplug anything non-essential.
Your fridge-freezer, any medical devices, appliances with electric clocks and some set-top boxes must be left on but most other items can be switched off.
The cost to run these necessary items is your household’s base load. You can only reduce the cost of the base load by using more energy-efficient appliances.
But by changing some household habits, you can save money on every other electrical item you plug in or use regularly - and this can add up to a lot.
6. Change your household habits
Any device that has a transformer or a standby light will be drawing power whenever it’s plugged in. If you leave your TV on standby for a year, it can add roughly £10 to your bill. If that doesn’t sound too bad, consider how many devices around your home are remote-ready or have a transformer. Even the most energy efficient of these will cost you about £1 a year.
Use a power strip or smart plugs
If it seems like too much effort to go around switching off every device, plug these devices into a power strip and only switch them on when you need them. If you use smart plugs, you can also set a schedule so that standby items are ready when you're likely to pick up the remote and off when you're not.
Consider smart heating
Investing in a smart heating system will help you to keep an eye on how much electricity you're using and ensure you're not wasting any. You can schedule heating, adjust the temperature easily and zone heating.
But bear in mind that it will still take you a while to recoup your initial investment. To find out more, check out our article on whether smart heating can help your household to save money.
And for our recommendations on the best smart heating we've tested, read our round-up of the best smart thermostats.
Try smart TRVs
If an entire system is too expensive, you can buy individual smart thermostat valves, which replace your traditional radiator valves and give you much greater control of the heat. You can use these with an app or in conjunction with a home assistant.
And finally, try these tips
- Turn off the lights when you leave a room. It's obvious but we all forget.
- Swap your light bulbs for energy-efficient ones.
- Don’t let devices charge overnight. Plug them in when you're around and set a timer to remind yourself. Unplug them as soon as they’ve charged.
- Only ever do a full load of washing. Wash at 30 degrees instead of 40. It’ll make your clothes last longer as well. Wherever possible, let your clothes air dry.
- Descale your kettle and only boil as much water as you need for each use.
- Defrost your fridge and freezer regularly. If you regularly empty your freezer between shopping trips, fill the empty space with plastic bottles of water to make it run more efficiently. If you let it empty, it’ll have to work harder to remain cool.