12 tips to save money on energy bills
As energy companies continue to increase their rates, it's becoming even more difficult to stretch out your student loan to foot bills. But we're here to help!
While no one wants to be freezing their butts off, there are a number of ways you can help reign in your energy costs without having a bust-up over who left the heating on, or feeling like you live in an igloo.
This is especially relevant during the frostier months, but there's no excuse not to be energy conscious all year round.
Not only will it do wonders for your monthly budget (giving you a bit of extra cash to play with), but you'll also be doing your own bit to help protect the environment too – it's a win-win all round!
How to save on your gas and electric bills
Wrap up warm
We'll get this one out of the way first, since you're probably sick to death of being told to "just wear more clothes" when you're cold – no matter how rational that advice may be!
It can be tempting to just crank up the heating when it gets cold, but take a second to work out if you'd be more comfortable with an extra layer or two on.
If you're walking around in a t-shirt and shorts mid-December, we can tell you now: you're doing it wrong.
For those who really tend to feel the cold, we'd recommend investing in some seriously cosy slippers (we recommend some boot slippers, as these are extra warm), as this is where you feel heat loss most when you're relaxing. Oh, and grab yourself a hot water bottle too! Problem solved.
Even reducing your heating by as little as 1ºC can cut your annual bills by up to 10%.
(Ab)use the library
As handy as the library is for reading books and going on Facebook while you're 'studying', it's also a great place to use the free electricity!
Before you head home for the night, make sure you charge everything you own: your phone, your iPad, your laptop, your... well, you get the picture.
It's also pretty good for your academic performance to be hanging around the library (provided you actually work while you're there), and there shouldn't be any arguments about having the heating on there, either!
Always submit meter readings
You'd never let the cashier at the supermarket guess how much your shopping is going to cost, so don't let the energy companies guess what your bills might be!
It will take less than two minutes of your time to check the readings of your gas and electricity meters and give them to your energy company, so do it every month to ensure you only pay for what you use.
Even if they're under-estimating your usage, it's worth giving them the actual readings.
Eventually they'll find out how much you're actually using (either when someone comes round the check the meter, or when you provide the mandatory readings when you move out), and you'll have to pay up then. Save yourself the fright of a massive lump-sum payment by paying what you owe, when you owe it!
Better still, by 2020 all energy providers should have offered all customers a smart meter. These will give them a running update of your usage, meaning there are no estimates and no meter readings required. Contact your energy company to see if they'll provide you with one (if they haven't already!).
Consider paying a fixed fee
This option is different from a guesstimate – you agree on a fixed monthly rate which means you don't have to worry about bills fluctuating, and often you'll get a better rate this way.
While you might end up paying slightly over what you use during the summer, you'll save this back in the winter when you're using slightly more energy than you're paying for. Swings and roundabouts!
Shop around and switch energy company
We really can't stress enough how important this one is! So many students think that you can't switch energy provider when you move into rented accommodation, but you absolutely can – even if your landlord tries to tell you otherwise!
Even if you already knew you could switch, it can be tempting to just stick with the supplier you've got because... hassle and stuff.
However, comparing prices these days takes so little effort and could save you literally £100s every year – so it's a bit ridiculous to not even check what the going rates are elsewhere. AND we've even got a handy tool to help you find the best deal.
Use a dishwasher instead of washing up
There aren't enough win-win situations in life, but this is one of the few. Using a dishwasher actually uses less energy than washing up, thus not only saving you money, but the hassle of manually washing dishes too!
But how? Well, washing dishes by hand doesn't just use hot water when you fill the bowl – it also requires a near-constant stream of water to rinse each and every dish.
Admittedly there are a couple of caveats to a dishwasher being the cheaper option. For one, the dishwasher must be full (or close to full), otherwise you're using just as much water for fewer dishes.
What's more, heavily soiled dishes should probably be hand-washed anyway, as dishwashers tend to struggle with them. Even on the highest setting (usually the most expensive one, too), some chunks of food or grease won't budge, and need to be got at with a brush or scourer.
But in the majority of cases, if you've got a dishwasher in your student house, fill it up and avoid washing up.
Use energy-efficient products
Chances are you've probably seen things on sale with energy ratings. But have you ever actually let them influence your purchases? Well, you should!
With products receiving a ranking from A++ all the way down to G, it's well worth bearing in mind the money you could save by going further up the alphabet.
While an A++ piece of kit is likely to cost more, it will save you a lot of money in energy bills later on down the line.
For example, did you know that an energy-saving light bulb could save you up to £60 over its lifetime, and last up to 10 times longer than its standard bulb cousin? You do now!
And as for leaving things on standby, why not invest in an energy saving plug? These save you the hassle of switching things off in the wall by automatically doing it for you when it's safe to do so. Then, when you turn the device back on, just press the power button on the remote as normal. Ideal!
Use your washing machine efficiently
We all know how annoying it is when your favourite shirt is in need of a good scrub before a night out. But that doesn't mean you should blow the household energy budget by washing a couple of items at a time.
You've probably heard your parents going on about washing whites and colours separately. But while we don't want you to end up with pink shirts, if you wash at 30ºC and use a colour catcher you should be ok.
That said, if you (and your flatmates, if you're comfortable washing your clothes with theirs) have enough whites to justify a dedicated whitewash, feel free to do that. But again, wash at 30ºC – nowadays detergents work just as well at lower temperatures!
But whatever approach you take, the point remains: you should never put on a half load. Either wait until you have enough laundry to make up a full load, or share with your flatmates.
Oh, and avoid using tumble driers at all costs. They cost an absolute bomb to run and are generally pretty superfluous – a simple airer will dry your things just as well, and there's no risk of shrinking your clothes.
Even if you need clothes to dry quickly, the tumble drier is still a pricey option. Put the heating on for a couple of hours and it should do the trick (for as much, if not less, money), as well as giving the whole house a toasty treat.
Make your own insulation
You'll obviously be limited in what you can do to insulate a rented property, but there are some little tricks you can use to to keep your place warm.
For example, if you have single glazed windows, try taping some bubble wrap across the window. This might sound weird, and look even weirder, but you'll still get daylight shining through the bubble wrap – and it does make a big difference (if you like looking out of the window, save this method for the really cold winter nights).
A staggering 20% of house heat is lost through poor insulation, so even little things like using a draft excluder at the bottom of any external doors can make a massive difference.
Keep an eye on flatmates
We're not suggesting that you should hide around the house and watch your flatmates like a hawk – you don't want to be that guy. But if they're always leaving the lights on, or cranking an electric heater in their room, make sure you speak up about it!
If everyone else is pulling their weight and keeping costs to a minimum, it's not fair that one person is pushing up the bills for the rest of you.
Make sure 'extras' pay their share
It happens far too often: one flatmate gets a significant other, and then all of a sudden it feels like the house has acquired a new flatmate.
Aside from never being able to sit on your own sofa, they're significantly pushing up your bills, too.
Don't feel like you're being rude by asking them to pay their way. If they're there more than three nights a week, they should be chipping in. You're not running a free hotel!
Think smart and use less
Aside from making sure all your windows and doors are shut tight, it's generally a case of just trying to use less – even a small reduction can save valuable pennies.
Turn the lights off when you're out of the room, only boil as much water as you need in the kettle and turn down your thermostat. And turn those plugs off at the mains!
Make sure you keep furniture away from heaters as they'll prevent the room from warming up, and similarly, keep the oven door open after using it to warm up the room.
If all else fails, ditch the personal boundaries and snuggle up to your housemates.
For more hints and tips on how to reduce your energy bill, check out episode one of our podcast, No More Beans.