Energy prices remain a concern for many as the cost-of-living crisis continues, and with colder months on the horizon – and Storm Babet bringing even more bad weather – you might be thinking: is now the time to take the leap and pop the heating on?
Energy bills are set to rise this winter, despite the Ofgem energy price cap coming down.
The energy regulator announced in August that the cap on a unit of gas and electricity would reduce the average bill from £2,074 to £1,923 for the three months from October 1 in England, Wales and Scotland.
The cap does not set an upper limit on actual bills, and households will pay more or less depending on how much energy they use.
Despite the reduction, the new cap will still be 50 per cent higher than pre-crisis levels, and the Government is yet to announce any financial support along the lines of last year, when the Energy Price Guarantee limited average bills to £2,500 per year and each household received a further £400 over six months to offset the soaring costs.
These measures brought the average monthly cost of energy down to £141 but this year, unless further support is announced, average costs from October to December 2023 will rise to £160.
When is the right time to put the heating on?
Knowing when your heating should go on is tricky. You feel freezing, but you know it’s only going to get colder. Do you want to spend that money now?
“There’s no exact time of year when you should turn your heating on,” explains Joanna O’Loan, knowledge manager at the Energy Saving Trust.
“Variations in how well insulated and draught-proof your home is, as well as how the cold affects you and your household, mean it’s a very personal choice. If the cold you’re feeling is becoming uncomfortable, it’s a good time to turn your heating on.
“According to the World Health Organisation, the lowest comfortable temperature for most people is between 18°C and 21°C, although someone with mobility issues or other health conditions may find they need their environment a bit warmer.”
So consider your health, how you feel, what temperature your thermostat reads, and go from there.
Should you leave your heating on low all the time?
Addressing the belief that it is more cost efficient to leave your heating on all day than turning it on when you need it, Stephen Hankinson, energy efficiency expert at Electric Radiators Direct, said: “Firing up your boiler and the initial stage of heating your home is the most energy-intense, and costly, period of the process. That has led some to speculate whether doing away with this and keeping the heating on all day – at lower temperatures – can reduce this cost.
“But – and there are a good few buts – it’s not recommended.
“Having your heating set to a low temperature – say 14o-16o – means it is not set to a level that you are likely to be comfortable in, so you’ll be turning it up at some point and spending more money.
“Plus having your heating on when you’re not in the home is a complete waste of money. You don’t put the oven on when you’re not cooking food, so why would you turn on the appliance designed to keep you warm when you’re not there?”
He also looked at four other ways you could save money on your energy bills this winter.
How to save money on energy bills
Turn your thermostat down
Stephen explained the easiest way to cut money off your bill is to turn your thermostat down.
He said: “If your thermostat is attempting to reach a temperature of 22-23o each day, you’re unlikely to notice the effect of dropping it a degree or two. In the coldest depths of winter, it may not even be possible for temperatures to get that high if your home has large, airy rooms.
“You’ll save more for each degree you can withstand taking it down by. Going by the latest average usage figures, dropping from 21o to 18o could save over £300 a year.”
Never heat empty rooms
“In a home with central heating, this is very easy to overlook if you have rooms that are not used regularly, as switching the heating on will activate every radiator around the house,” Stephen explained.
He added: “Turning radiator valves down will stop them from producing heat – and this can lower your bill if you live in an older property with an older boiler. But for newer homes and systems, this is counterproductive as the inefficiencies it causes in the system can actually increase your bill.
“In these cases, you’re better off trying to make your system more efficient by reducing the flow temperature of your boiler – but this is a tricky balance to strike as going too low can cause big problems for your boiler.”
Schedule your heating
Stephen said: ““Those who don’t work from home at all during the week should pay close attention to this one as there will be large parts of the day where you simply do not need the heating on.
“An hour or so in the morning, starting shortly before you typically wake up, should have you in comfort as you go about getting ready for the day. And keeping the heating off while you’re out for the day means you can set it to have the house nice and warm for you when you get back.
“Similarly, if you’re going away for an evening or a few days, make sure to change your thermostat to reflect this and ensure you’re not wasting money.”
Heat the person, not the space
This isn’t as simple as sticking a jumper on, Stephen said. Instead, he recommends that rather than reaching for the thermostat when you start feeling chilly, you can instead reach for a hot water bottle.
Boiling the kettle for a hot water bottle will cost around 6p, and be significantly cheaper than turning up the heating.
Stephen added: “If temperatures have really plummeted, or you just want more of a technological option, then a heated blanket is also great. If you spend three hours of an evening relaxed under one, the electricity will set you back about 9p even at full blast.”