As the winter weather starts to kick in and radiators get switched on, the prospect of the resulting sky-high energy bills can be a real worry.
While we all know that there are steps that we can take to make our homes more energy efficient (double glazing, loft, floor and cavity wall insulation to name just a few) these do require a fairly substantial outlay. Although there are now grants available that will go some way in helping you cover the cost, if times are tight they may simply not be an option.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, a home without loft insulation loses a quarter of its heat through the roof. Installing loft insulation yourself is a relatively straightforward task, and once laid down will be effective for about 40 years. It's estimated you could save around £150 per year on your heating bills by insulating your loft.
You can find out more about how to insulate your loft yourself on the Energy Saving Trust website, or visit your local DIY store, where you should be able to buy a relatively inexpensive guide to insulating your loft.
An estimated third of your home's heat escapes through the walls, but this can be reduced significantly if appropriate insulation is used. If your walls have a gap between them you'll need cavity wall insulation, which simply fills in the gap to stop heat escaping. However, if your home has solid walls, you'll need to insulate either the external or internal sides of these walls to keep the heat in.
Cavity wall insulation should be carried out by a registered installer and involves drilling small holes, then blowing either foam, wool or granule insulation into the gap between your walls. You can find a suitable insulation installer at the National Insulation Association, Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, or the British Board of Agreement.
If you have solid walls you'll need to have insulation fitted to the outside or inside of your house - you can find an installer at The Insulated Render and Cladding Association.
You can improve the heat retention of your home by installing mineral wool insulation underneath your floorboards. This will usually have to be carried out by a registered installer; however there are plenty of things you can do yourself to insulate your floor.
A simple tube of sealant such as silicon from your local DIY store can be used to fill gaps in your floorboards or skirting boards. It can also make a significant difference to have a thick carpet laid down with proper underlay.
If your home is draughty or if certain areas always feel colder than others, you can fit draught excluders to gaps around your windows, and cover draughty letter-boxes to help solve this.
Fitting foil behind radiators is also a good way to keep more heat in the home, because it reflects heat back into the room rather than letting it escape through windows and walls. You can either use everyday kitchen foil or special foil from a DIY store.
It's also worth making sure that sofas or other heavy furniture isn't placed directly in front of your radiators, particularly when they are switched on, as they will absorb the majority of the heat.
Additionally, it's important to properly insulate your hot water tank as this can lose a lot of heat. If it isn't already lagged, you can buy an insulating jacket from any DIY store. Hot water pipes, especially those that run through the loft or under the floorboards, should also be properly lagged to prevent loss of heat.
If you're elderly, disabled, or receiving benefits you could be eligible for a Home Improvement Grant from the HIA (Home Improvement Agency). You can find out about how to access a grant on the Foundations and Turn2us sites.
Even if you think you may not be eligible for a grant, it's still worth checking to see what you may be able to claim, or what insulation projects you may be able to get free help with.
If you find that you aren't eligible for a grant, it's still worth having insulation fitted as you're likely to find that within a year or two the works have paid for themselves, as a result of the reduction in your energy bills. Some of the less expensive insulation measures you might want to get started on if you can't afford the big measures yet include lagging your hot water pipes, and buying some quilting blankets for your loft.
You can check how much energy you're using and how to reduce it by entering your details on the Energy Saving Trust site - you may find that you're using more than you expected in which case your home will certainly benefit from insulation.
We share our top 10 tips to help you to cut the cost of heating your home this winter.
Turn your thermostat down by 1 degree - You're unlikely to notice the difference in temperature but could cut your heating bill by £65.
Close your curtains - Drawing your curtains at dusk will help keep the heat from escaping and will make a big difference even if you have single glazed windows. Generally the thicker the curtains the better.
Bleed your radiators - This will release any trapped air and help to make them more efficient.
Don't heat empty rooms - Only switch radiators on in rooms that you frequently spend time in, make sure you shut the doors though to keep the rest of the house warm.
Remember radiators aren't washing lines - Although hanging clothes on radiators will mean you get them dry quicker it also means that you're stopping the heat getting to the rest of the room.
Say goodbye to drafts - By using draft excluders or fitting curtains on external doors and making sure letter boxes and keyholes aren't letting out heat unnecessarily you'll be able to make indoors feel much warmer.
Put on an extra layer - Before you switch the heating up a notch make sure you're wrapped up warm. Putting on a pair of slippers and a jumper and sitting under a blanket will help you to stay toasty without any extra cost.
Use the timer - Heating the house while you're out is nothing more than a waste of money. However, if you don't like to come home to a cold house it's a good idea to set the heating to come on just before you arrive home. This way you won't notice any difference in temperature but will notice a big difference in your bill. The same applies to night time, set the timer for just before you get up so that you're not heating the house while you're tucked up in bed.
Get the tin foil out - Fitting foil behind radiators will help reflect the heat back into the room instead of being absorbed by the wall. This works particularly well on exterior walls and while you can buy special radiator foil, tin foil works just as well.
Check your energy plan - Taking a few minutes to make sure your current energy supplier is offering you the best deal will make a big difference to your heating bills this winter. Read our guide 6 ways to save on your gas and electricity for more information.
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