With such high energy bills, if you can afford to turn on your heating this winter, then you’ll want to do so as cost-effectively as possible.
But you may be wondering, is it best putting the heating on for lower and longer? Or should you pump up the temperature in bursts?
This topic is a source of heated debate. But what do the experts say?
HEAT YOUR HOME IN BURSTS…
The Energy Saving Trust, an independent organisation that provides advice on energy use, is unequivocal on this point. It says that keeping your heating on all day uses more fuel and so is more costly.
Typically, the most energy-efficient approach is to use a timer to make sure your home is heated when you need it.
Ideally, if you have room thermostats or a smart heating system, then you can begin to really take control of your usage. Using a smart heating system means you can set rooms or areas to heat up at certain times, and to specific temperatures.
…OR KEEP YOUR HEATING ON LOW
On the other hand, some specialists argue that you should keep your boiler on a constant low setting, with your radiator valves on maximum. This is to prevent condensation forming in the fabric of your walls, which happens if your radiator frequently flips from hot to cold.
Having condensation in the walls is inefficient in terms of heating. The reason is twofold. Firstly, when the heating is switched on, it uses energy to evaporate the moisture. Secondly, having moisture in the walls makes them less effective as insulation. This is because heat can pass through more easily (known as thermal conductivity), rather than being trapped.
SO, WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
The most accurate way to find out which approach works best for your home is to test it. If you have a smart meter, this will make the job easier.
You could spend one week having the heating on a constant low temperature, and the next heating the house in bursts. Obviously, the test will be fairer if the weather and outside temperature is more-or-less the same for both weeks. Take a meter reading at the beginning and end of each week and compare results. Then you’ll have a good idea which is the most energy-efficient approach for your home.
Whatever you decide to do, beware the risk of frozen pipes. If the outside temperature goes to 0°C or below, water in your pipes can freeze, which runs the risk of damaging them.
Read our tips on how to prevent frozen pipes
INSULATE TO STOP HEAT ESCAPING
To make the most of that precious warmth, you need to stop it escaping. One of the major factors affecting your heating costs is insulation, so it’s a good place to make any improvements you can. And if you’re thinking about selling your home, this is also among the most commonly recommended areas for improving your EPC rating.
If your home has a loft, about 25% of the heat will be lost through the roof. In a semi-detached house with an uninsulated loft, buying and installing insulation should cost you about £640 on average, according to the Energy Saving Trust. This could lead to an annual saving of as much as £355 on your energy bills. In other words, it should pay for itself in less than two years. The insulation itself should last about 40 years, so this could be a great way to save money in the long-term, if you can afford the initial outlay.
You could also consider insulating the walls, if they aren’t already. For a cost of approximately £1,000, based on a semi-detached house, getting cavity wall insulation could reduce your bills by up to £395 a year (4). If you have an older house with solid walls, getting them insulated could generate an annual saving of up to £540, but installation can be very expensive, at around £12,000 for external walls (5).
The government has recently announced the new ECO+ scheme (7) when grants made available from next April, designed to encourage home owners to improve energy efficiency.
USING ELECTRIC HEATING
You may not have a central heating system. For example, if you live in a flat, rented property, or home with no mains gas connection, you may have electric heating.
The most common type of electric heating is storage heaters. These are designed to be paired with electricity tariffs that typically supply electricity at cheaper rates overnight. Some are also fitted with convector heaters, which are intended to boost your heating; but the Energy Saving Trust advises against using these too often, as it’s normally cheaper to use the stored energy bought at cheaper rates overnight.
Other electric options, such as panel heaters and electric radiators, are often more expensive to use than central heating, but can be useful if you need to heat one room for a short time.
HEAT THE HUMAN, NOT THE HOME
Some great advice if you can’t afford to turn on the heating is to heat the human, not the home. This means keeping your and your loved ones at home warm, even if your property remains cold. It’s an idea that has been made popular by money saving expert Martin Lewis this winter. His tips to stay warm at a low cost include using:
- Hot water bottles – when you sit down, try sitting in a sleeping bag with a hot water bottle in there. Make sure you check it hasn't expired first - see below.
- Electric blankets – and other plug-in options, like USB gloves, heated insoles or an electric heat pad.
- Slippers – particularly those that enclose your feet.
Layered clothes - don't forget your thermal socks too.
Top tip: Did you know Hot water bottles have an expiry date?
Make sure you check yours is still safe to use. Here's how:
- Every bottle has a daisy wheel symbol on the funnel, which signifies the manufacture date. It should feature a circular segment in the middle, surrounded by 12 sections, which represents the 12 months of the year.
- The visible number in the centre section of the daisy symbolises the year of production. If it says 22, the year of manufacture is 2022.
- There should be small dots in some segments; depending on which segment the dots end, it represents the month the hot water bottle was manufactured. If the dots are only on eight sections, it means that the bottle was made in August.
- The number of dots in each section signifies the exact week, so three dots means the third week of the month."