When the temperature drops outside, we all want to be able to switch the heating on. But with government figures showing rises in domestic fuel and heating bills almost every year since 2004, keeping warm can be costly with people spending an average of around £88-140 a month on fuel bills.

There are two clear ways of reducing those bills:

1. Reduce the cost you buy in energy  

2. Reduce your consumption

To reduce the cost you buy in energy, you can look for the best energy deals on independent energy comparison websites, such as our own Which? Switch. The Which? money-saving guide has lots of tips and ideas to help you switch supplier. Which? Elderly Care has lots of tips on how to keep older people warm in their home too.

How to use less energy

We can all put on an extra jumper and make sure we turn the lights off when we leave the room but to really make a difference to those bills, we need to make our homes as energy-efficient as possible. There are some simple steps we can all take:

  1. Make sure our doors and windows fit properly - 7-12% of heat loss in homes occurs around doors and windows. Draft-proofing around windows and doors can save £25-50 a year according to the Energy Saving Trust, and keeping the heat in means you may be able to turn the thermostat down, which could save you significantly more.  Which? Trusted Traders has glaziers, carpenters and builders who can help in your area now.
  2. Plug any external holes where cables or pipes enter our home. These will be sealed but caulk degrades over time and may need repairing
  3. Ensure your house is effectively insulated. Many councils offer grants to help with insulation.  
  4. Use the sun to your advantage - even when it’s freezing outside the sun’s rays still bring some free heat into your home. Keep your curtains open during the day, particularly on the south side of your home and clear any branches or shrubs that block the light to your windows. Close the curtains at night to cut down on drafts.

Get your heating system up to scratch

The other side of the equation is making sure the way we heat our home is as efficient as possible. It’s often possible to update heating systems, without needing a complete overhaul. We talked to Which? Trusted trader, Tom Sullivan from Active Plumbing and Heating Solutions who suggested the following:

1. Install thermostatic radiator valves

Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) are controls on your radiator which allow you to control the flow of water through the radiator. They don’t control the boiler itself.

The benefit of installing TRVs is that they allow you to ‘zone’ areas of your home. You may, for example, wish to have the bedrooms cooler than the living area. To do this, you would simply adjust the TRV, usually by turning a dial, to a cooler setting.

2. Use a seven-day, programmable thermostat

Programmable thermostats are cheaper than ever and can be easily retrofitted to an existing system. Because these thermostats account for different routines on each day of the week, they save energy by only heating the home when it’s necessary. They can turn down the temperature when you are out or asleep. You could, for example, allow for a regular Sunday morning lie-in or the evening when you aren’t at home until late.

These are a better alternative to mechanical thermostats which don’t allow for as much fine-tuning and can cut your heating  bill by 10% or more.

3. Try weather compensation controls

Weather compensation controls account for the weather via a thermostat on an outside, north-facing wall. The thermostat sends feedback about the external temperature to the boiler and this, in turn, modifies the temperature inside the home.

A weather compensation system is a different way of heating your home and doesn’t suit everyone – the radiators don’t get very hot, for example, as the boiler maintains a steady temperature indoors as temperatures rise and fall outdoors. Some find it a more comfortable way of heating the home, though.

4. Use your controls effectively

Most central heating controls have to be configured to suit your routine and lifestyle.

While a boiler engineer can install all sorts of devices, they’re only effective if you learn how to use them.

Spending an hour or two mastering your thermostat now, for example, will save money over the course of the lifetime of the boiler or thermostat.

5. Ensure you have the right boiler for your home

If you’ve got more than one bathroom, a standard combi boiler may not be the most efficient way to supply your bathrooms with hot water.

Ask a boiler engineer about whether a pressurised hot water cylinder system as this might be a better alternative.  

6. Give your system a regular check-up

It’s a good idea to service your boiler annually to keep it ticking over. Ask your plumber to give your whole system a once-over - rusted pipes and air-filled radiators aren’t going to heat your home properly. 

If you want a review of your heating system, contact a Which? Trusted Traders central heating specialist in your area. A small cost upfront can take pounds of your bills over the rest of the year.

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