Your complete guide to home improvements in the UK
Borrower guides

The ultimate guide to an energy-efficient home

Climate change has hit the headlines recently, although not necessarily for the right reasons, as Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement in June. The long-term fallout from this decision remains to be seen, but, one thing is for sure: the issues of climate change and global warming are only going to intensify, as the need to safeguard the future of our planet becomes all the more pressing.

 

Section 1: Background in the UK

Energy efficiency in the UK

The UK remains committed to the Paris Agreement, despite rumours to the contrary in the wake of the Brexit vote. European emission standards set out extensive frameworks pertaining to various forms of emissions, with hefty penalties levied by the European Union on those who fail to comply. There was some speculation that the UK would lower their ambitions as a result of its impending departure from the EU. However, a week after the referendum, then-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd announced plans for the UK to reduce emissions 57% by 2030 (on 1990 levels). And foreign minister Boris Johnson ratified the Paris climate agreement last November, signalling the UK’s continued commitment to cutting carbon emissions.

Yet that isn’t to say we are world leaders with respect to eco-friendliness by any stretch of the imagination. One of the core EU statutes is the so-called Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which requires the UK to generate 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 – likely to comprise a balance of roughly 30 per cent of electricity and 12 per cent of heating-geared energy. While the UK has made significant progress in this respect (UK electricity from renewable sources jumped from 7 to 19 per cent from 2010 to 2014), many experts believe we are unlikely to hit these targets by the deadline in three years’ time.

A separate legal commitment obligates the UK to reduce emissions by 57 per cent by 2030, and at least 80 per cent by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels). This is in accordance with the Climate Change Act, and with UK emission levels now 38 per cent below 1990 levels, it’s fair to say that good progress has been made. Yet since the financial crisis, progress has stalled, with further reductions almost exclusively coming from cleaner electricity generation. This will need to be significantly extended to sectors such as transport, heat, industry and agriculture if the 2030 target – coupled with the Paris goal of net zero emissions in the second half of the century – are to be met.

Improvements needed at household level

Blighty’s numbers at household level make for grim reading, especially compared with our European counterparts. The average annual carbon footprint of a UK household is 10 tonnes per year, with households accounting for around 40 per cent of our total emissions. Factoring in emissions from aviation and shipping fuelled from the UK, the level of emissions per head is a staggering 9.1 tonnes.

A recent study, which looked at 177 regions of all EU countries (bar Croatia), found the South West of England to be one of the worst offenders in the whole of Europe in terms of carbon footprint, while much of the South East, Midlands and Scotland fared little better. Only Wales and the North East have levels of emissions vaguely in line with continental averages.

The above study factors in a multitude of different carbon costs such as food, clothing, transport and housing. However, energy use very much underpinned these results, and it is this particular facet of eco-friendliness which we Brits can do a lot to improve on at a micro level.

A corner looked to have been turned in 2013, as the Coalition Government launched the so-called ‘green deal’, whereby those interested in making energy-efficient improvements to their homes could benefit from loans repaid through their energy bills. However, due to poor take-up, the scheme was scrapped in 2015, thus forcing eco-conscious Brits to turn to mainstream financing to fund any improvements.

It’s something which effectively disincentives Brits to go green. That said, the past 12 months have been characterised by rising energy bills, with the average annual cost of gas and electricity in a medium-size house estimated to be £1,066. Although Government have floated the idea of introducing caps to energy bills, the likelihood is that costs will continue to rise vaguely in line with oil prices.

Is a totally green house a good investment?

So to what extent should we make our homes more energy efficient? An extreme example was the Wilkinson family, who last year spent just over £35,000 exclusively on high-specification, energy efficiency enhancements to their rental property. This included mass insulation to walls, doors and roof, triple-glazing for windows, a bombardment of sustainable design materials, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, low-energy fittings and a whole lot more. As a result, they expect to save around £860 per year on energy bills, which – excluding all other gains, such as increased property value- would mean it will take 41 years to recoup their investment.

This is, of course, an extreme example, and some thinktanks believe that an average of just £3,000 needs to be spent on Britain’s least energy-efficient homes to bring them up to average green standards. In the absence of Government subsidies in this respect, we as consumers can still do a lot to lessen our carbon footprint. It just needs a bit of savvy to determine the best value-for-money options. That’s where the below guide can be of assistance.

 

Section 2: Insulation

The advantages of home insulation

There are few countries where insulation can make such a significant difference to energy consumption as the UK. Such is the nature of our harsher-than-average climate that, for nine months of the year, staying warm is the ongoing priority. Powerful heating systems are one way to go about it, although ample insulation is a far more eco-friendly alternative.

Heating accounts for nearly 20 per cent of the UK’s emissions. If the UK is to meet the targets laid out in the Climate Change Act – and indeed EU requirements adapted from the Paris Agreement – then it is estimated that roughly 7 million homes will need insulation to their walls and/or lofts by 2030, and up to 25 million by mid-century (a rate of 1.5 homes every minute). Good for the political classes if it happens, and good for households too, given that this would cut energy demand for heating by around 15 per cent, thus saving families a lot of money in bills.

Walls

It is estimated that more than 30 per cent of heat lost in an uninsulated home escapes through walls. There are two kinds of wall insulation: internal and external. Particularly when doing extensions, having either/both put in can be very cost effective; not to mention that there is a subminimum with respect to the standards laid out by the Building Regulations in England and Wales (or Building Standards in Scotland) anyway.

Most modern homes have cavity walls, which comprise two walls with a gap in between. These tend to retain heat relatively well. If your home has solid walls (typical of homes built prior to the 1920s), insulation can knock £200-plus a year off your heating costs, as they haemorrhage roughly twice as much heat as equivalent homes which have cavity walls. If you live in a detached, or even semi-detached home, this number could easily double. To give you an idea of the reduction in carbon footprint, such a saving would cut carbon emissions by nearly two tonnes.

In terms of costs, it will depend heavily on whether you opt for internal and/or external insulation. Internal insulation is generally cheaper (usually between £250 to £500), and can be done either by fitting insulation boards to the walls, or by building a stud wall that is filled in with substances such as mineral wool fibre.

External wall insulation involves attaching an additional layer of material to the exterior of your walls, and then plastering the outside with a specific type of render. It will likely cost anywhere between £500 to £700, although savings on bills can be prolific, and there are also full and/or partial Government grants available.

In both cases, you can generally cut costs by incorporating the installation with other improvements or renovations. Both also have their advantages and disadvantages. External wall insulation can be installed without disruption, nor with any impact on floorspace. It also increases the life expectancy of your walls. That said, it can be expensive, and shouldn’t be done if your walls are not structurally sound.

Internal insulation is a cheaper alternative, and very effective. However, it will reduce floorspace and cause disruption when being put in. It also worth noting that any rising damp will need to be fixed first.

Roof (and loft)

Another fun fact: around a quarter of all heat is lost through the roof in homes that aren’t properly insulated. Scarce wonder then that insulating roofs, lofts and attics has grown in popularity. Flat roofs are better off being insulated from above, courtesy of a board placed on top of the roof’s weatherproof layer. For the sake of cost efficiency, the best time to do this is when your flat roof needs replacing.

Loft insulation is normally quite straightforward, provided it is easy to access, and that there are no existing problems with damp and condensation. Mineral wool insulation works well if the loft joists are regular, and, if you are an experienced DIY, should be simple enough to negotiate without having to get a specialist in.

If you prefer to get someone in, then, according to estimates from the Energy Saving Trust, you’ll be in for £250 to £400 (depending on the size of your home, and required depth). Savings on bills could range from anywhere between £10 to £250 per year. But, given the relatively small outlay, it is often worthwhile, and you may be able to apply for a Government grant to help the cause too.

Alternative insulation options

Putting insulation under floorboards usually costs between £1,000 and £2,000, and can save between £40 to £60 on bills each year. Yet even by simply filling gaps around flooring and skirting boards with sealant you can improve heat retention. There is also no need to insulate upstairs flooring which lies above heated rooms.

Insulating pipes, tanks and radiators are all nice, easy DIY jobs which are inexpensive. For example, you can buy a jacket for a hot water tank for as little as £15 (you’ll pay a bit more if there is no existing insulation), and save £20 a year (or more). Similarly low costs can be expected for insulating pipes, and it should be an easy job if they are accessible. Inputting radiator reflector panels behind your radiator (and on external walls) is another cheap energy saver.

Another low-cost winner is draught proofing. Draughts are deemed to be uncontrolled ventilation, and allow excessive damp and cold into your home. Remember, air will always move from hot to cold, so it’s vital to block up any and all unwanted gaps so that you can keep the warm, dry air in for longer. By simply draught proofing your doors and windows you can easily knock upwards of £25 off your bills each year. Professional draught proofing will cost anywhere between £100 to £300, although this is very much a potential DIY job, which would be much cheaper.

 

Section 3: Solar panels

Are solar panels a viable investment?

Although there are a number of ways to enhance the efficiency of one’s home, solar panels have grown in popularity over the years. It is also another area where government rowed back on plans to incentivise eco-conscious homeowners, as they slashed the so-called feed-in tariff (for those who generate solar-powered energy) by 65% at the beginning of 2016, which has seen solar panel installation rates plummet ever since.

Despite this, solar panels are still a far more potent source of energy than many people think. There are two main types of solar panel:

PV solar panels: Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels harbour the sun’s energy, and convert it into electricity, which in turn powers household goods and lighting. This is the more common type of solar panel.

Solar thermal panels: Solar thermal technology also uses the sun’s energy, but for the purposes of transferring heat – rather than power – from a collector to a tank via a separate circuit and a heat exchanger. This is most commonly used to heat up water, although it can also be used to power heating/cooling systems.

It is via PV panels that you can take advantage of earnings via the feed-in tariff – not to mention cut down your electricity and gas bills. As such, we’ve put together a list of considerations to help you decide if a solar panel is the right option for you:

  • The sun (or lack thereof) – you don’t need to have Ibiza-esque sunshine to get the most out of PV panels. The key, in fact, is daylight - not sunshine. Thankfully, given the UK weather, this means panels will still do a job for you on overcast days.
  • South-facing roof – to maximise the amount of energy you create, it is best to have a largely south-facing roof. A west-facing roof will also do the trick, but, failing that, you’ll struggle to garner enough energy to make it worthwhile.
  • Energy grade – for the purposes of benefiting from the full feed-in tariff (4.07 p per kWh), you will need to have at least a D rating on your Energy Performance Certificate (roughly three quarters of UK homes with an EPC rating are classed as D or better). If you’re rated E or lower, it may be worth making the advised improvements – not only to gain from the feed-in tariff, but also to save money on regular bills anyway.
  • No planning permission – it is unlikely you will need planning permission to install PV panels. It may be necessary to consult your local council’s building control team, but approval is usually a formality.
  • Low maintenance – other than changing the inverter every 10 to 20 years (about £800 to £1,000), there shouldn’t be much in the way of maintenance required with solar panels – provided yours is of decent quality, and is properly installed. Even damage through extreme weather should be covered by buildings insurance.
  • Get the timing right – another way to maximise the level of energy you can coax from solar panels is to set the appliances efficiently. Run them when there isn’t much daylight, or during the depths of winter, and the amount solar power generated will be more than offset by the power you take from the grid. Ensure that you set them to run when it is light outside, and even stagger the timings to boost savings.
  • House value – the impact of panel installation on house value has been mixed, with energy efficiency occasionally eclipsed by a negative effect on aesthetics. It may be worth checking in with local estate agents to canvass their expert opinion based on other installations in your local area. Either way, PV panel installation is a sizable investment, so probably best to avoid it if you plan to move in the near future.
  • Region – there are significant differences across different parts of Britain when it comes to the amount of electricity generated by PV panels. For example, a 4kWp system can generate 3,800 kilowatt hours a year in London and the south east, while in Scotland this average drops to around 3,200 kilowatt hours. For those living in Wales or the north of England, the average will likely to be somewhere in between.
  • Size – the larger the system you put in, the more it will cost. However, the savings will likely be greater too. As a rule of thumb, larger systems tend to be more cost-effective

Cost/benefit analysis

Depending on your levels of conviction pertaining to the greater good of eco-friendliness, an important aspect of the decision-making process will be to establish at what point solar-panel installation becomes a cost-saving exercise.

We’ve already discussed the variable of house price value gains above, but let’s now take a look at the costs involved. Including installation, you can expect to pay anywhere between £5,000 to £8,000 for a solar panel system. It’s worth noting that prices have dropped off over the last few years, thus taking some of the sting out of the cuts to feed-in tariffs. Either way, it’s still a hefty outlay, and I’m sure you’re keen to know what the typical financial gains are as a result of the energy efficiency solar panels bring.

As you may imagine, there is plenty of scope for variance depending on your usual household energy consumption, the size of your solar panel system, where you live and more. However, the Energy Saving Trust suggests that, with a 4kWp system, you can expect to save in the region of £70 to £80 per year.

Bear in mind too that increases in electricity costs will also make solar panels more appealing, and the latest 12.5 per cent increase by British Gas could set off a concertina effect of the other electricity firms.

Ikea has taken the lead by becoming one of the first wholesalers to sell solar panels in UK stores – suggesting that they expect significant take-up from British consumers.

Then there is the feed-in tariff itself, which, in spite of the dramatically reduced yield, should still bring in around £150 to £200 a year, according to the same organisation. It’s income tax-free, and is paid quarterly by energy suppliers. It also rises with inflation, and is guaranteed for 20 years – so you can rest assured that these savings will endure for the long term.

As a cherry on top, any unused energy you generate is sent back to the grid, and, via the export tariff, you will be compensated at a rate of 5.03p per kWh. It is harder to generalise the savings in respect of the export tariff, but somewhere between £50-£100 per year is not an unreasonable expectation.

Jot the numbers down, work the calculations, and you’ll note that it will take somewhere in the region of two decades before your investment begins to bear profitable fruit. If you’re after a more accurate estimate, give the Energy Saving Trust’s solar calculator a go.

Solar panel installation

The first step of the solar panel installation process is to find a suitable local company. It’s always advisable to get at least three different quotes, just so that you have a good idea of fair costings. When you get the quote, it’s best to check that the total price includes things like scaffolding, all roofing removals and repairs, internal wiring, agreement with your energy supplier regarding the connection and a generation meter. It’s also important that both the system they are installing and the installers themselves comply with the standards laid out under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).

Once you’ve made your choice, the process of installing the panels shouldn’t take much longer than a day or two – albeit that there will invariably be a few weeks’ lag time. Be sure to take this into account when registering for feed-in tariffs.

Speaking of which…you can register for feed-in tariffs once you receive your MCS certificate from the installation company. You then need to complete an application form, which must be sent in conjunction with your MCS and Energy Performance certificates, proof of purchase and ID to your (licenced) energy supplier. This can usually be done by email or post.

New rules for electricity generation

In July 2017, Government announced a plan to make major changes to the way electricity is made, used and stored. The changes will lie in making it easier for people to generate their own solar power, with Ofgem suggesting it could save the British consumer up to £50bn by 2050. Those with solar panels who import electricity, or export it back to the grid, will see their tariffs reduced, or possibly scrapped completely. The government has also pledged to establish a ‘battery institute’ to fund firms specialising in battery research and development. This should give a boost to those with household batteries. All details are not yet clear, but as these plans develop over the coming months, the specifics of how those with solar panels can benefit should come into view.

 

Section 4: Other energy-efficient home improvements

There are many other ways to make your home more energy efficient

While solar panels are synonymous with household eco-friendliness and the push for renewable energy, there are many other home improvements which, if done optimally, can boost energy efficiency. Often the benefits will extend beyond merely reducing energy bills and your carbon footprint too.

Lighting

It’s probably more of a bolt-on for existing or planned renovations, but installing the most energy-efficient lighting is a no brainer. The best of the bunch at the moment are LED lights, which have developed immensely since their early days in terms of both efficiency and the quality of lighting they produce. You can pick LED lights with varying brightness, colours, shape, style and even burning temperatures to suit your preferences, and they are also compatible with most fittings.

To give you an idea of costs, the Energy Saving Trust has put the average purchase price of a 100W replacement LED bulb at roughly £9, compared with just £2 to £3 for a comparable 77W Halogen. However, assuming each run for two hours per day, the latter would have an estimated running cost of roughly £35 more per year across an average-size household.

Heating enhancements

If you’re expanding or extending your home, inevitably you will require greater amounts of heating. Aside from incorporating the above measures such as insulation and draught proofing, a big long-term saver is to consider upgrading your boiler to something more energy efficient. After all, heating accounts for 60 per cent of average household energy consumption in the UK. Often for the sake of both cost cutting, convenience and coordinating aesthetics, it makes sense to replace your boiler during renovations.

Having heating controls as part of your household heating system is also a good idea. Electricity is the costliest fuel for heating, so regulating its usage will save you pennies and pounds. But you still need to use it efficiently! Many people incorrectly believe that constantly leaving heaters on at a low temperature is the best way to go. In fact, it is far more efficient to simply have the heating on as and when you are in the room. Thermostatic valves are a cost-effective way of gaining manual control of how much heat each room get, and thus minimise waste.

Doors and windows

Minimum Building Regulations set out certain standards with which external doors and windows must comply. But often it is worth going the extra mile in order to ensure your home is as insulated and draught-proofed as possible. Triple glazing your windows, for example, will do wonders for reducing energy consumption – never mind reduce noise pollution too. At the very least, A+ rated double glazing can save you between £75 to £100 a year, dependent on the size of your home. Given that uPVC case double glazing (the most popular kind in the UK) retails for about £500 per window, it represents a decent return.

Insulated doors which are properly fitted will also do wonders to retain heat. You can further enhance this by fitting draught-proof strips around the edges – a cheap and easy DIY job which can save £20 to £30 per year.

Kitchen and bathroom improvements

If you’re upgrading your kitchen or bathroom, why not go green? Opting for energy-efficient appliances can save you plenty. Topten UK set up a comprehensive list based on extensive research and reports to show which products within each appliance category lead the way in terms of efficiency, so you should be able to get an idea of the best names to look out for.

In the bathroom, meanwhile, managing water usage should be the priority. This can be done by simply fitting more efficient showerheads, which potentially save up to £100 per year in water bills, and, in turn, £50+ on gas for the purposes of water heating. On a different front, if you have heating such as towel rails or underfloor, ensure that they can be controlled so that any waste is minimised. 

 

Section 5: Costs and Financing

The best way to finance your home improvements

Above, we’ve provided some costs for the various energy-efficient home improvements as we’ve gone along, but, as a favour from ourselves to you, we thought we’d put together something a little more comprehensive. Below is a table of selected eco-friendly home improvements which we believe to be the most cost-efficient:

Home improvement cost-benefit comparison

*Figures are estimates based on data from Energy Saving Trust for England and Wales on gas-heated, semi-detached, three-bedroom homes, and are subject to change depending on the size of your home, supplier of choice and other reasonable variables. The above should merely be used as a reference before conducting deeper analysis.

Financing energy-efficient improvements

Every individual is different, and in the case of eco-friendly home improvements, the balance between a desire to ‘go green’ and to save money will vary. Either way, the numbers in the above table show the significant gains that can be made on both fronts from adjustments big and small. And with respect to finance, it should be born into mind that some of the above home improvements can also add value to your abode should you wish to sell up in the future, thus adding further benefit to the immediate savings.

That said, it’s clear from the above that some energy-efficient enhancements can be quite costly, and with a hefty initial investment required. Unless you have the savings to hand, the question then becomes: what’s the best way to pay for it all?

Credit card

One popular option for payment is a credit card, and for understandable reasons. It’s a convenient form of credit, and provided that limits allow, you can fund significant home improvements by this means of payment instantly. Added to that, using a credit card to pay for things like solar panels will also afford you cover from Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act should anything go wrong, or if there is no delivery of the specific product. This applies whether you pay for the panels (or any other purchase) in full or part on your credit card. The only subminimum is that the cost of the transaction must exceed £100.

However, there is a lurking danger to using a credit card; namely, excessive interest charges. Recent analysis by Moneyfacts showed that average APRs on UK credit cards has escalated to 21.6 per cent, which represents an all-time high. So unless you are able to clear the balance of your purchase within the same month – or if you are using a 0 per cent credit card – it is likely that your cost of credit will be very expensive.

Remortgage/second charge mortgage

A second charge mortgage allows you to use equity from your existing home as security on any investments in home improvements, and basically sits on top of your existing mortgage. Second charge mortgages are usually gained from a separate lender, and this type of lending has reached its highest levels since 2008 according to data from FLA. It indicates a willingness among Britons to add to their secured debt, but is it the optimal way to go?

One could argue that remortgaging is preferable – both from a convenience standpoint, and the likelihood that you would get a decent rate from your existing lender if you have been reliable with your mortgage repayments. However, sometimes refinancing a primary mortgage can be detrimental. For example, if you have a low lifetime base rate tracker, you could potentially relinquish this benefit if you remortgage. A similar issue could arise for those on interest-only mortgage deals, who may be forced to convert to a repayment mortgage.

Either way, secured loans such as the above have obvious benefits; the most noteworthy of which is that you are likely to extract a good rate, provided your credit file is in good order. That said, it isn’t all smooth sailing. For starters, application processes for remortaging and second charge mortgages are typically cumbersome, and it can take weeks to secure the funds. Also, repayments tend to be inflexible, with penalties often levied on overpayments and early repayments.

Personal loans

Increasingly popular are personal loans for the purposes of home improvement, which are a convenient alternative. At a time of record-low interest rates, unsecured online loans have become increasingly cheap, and the gap in average cost of credit between these and secured loans has largely been bridged.

The application process for home improvement loans is usually very quick, and leading online lenders generally provide an outcome within a couple of working days - with quick payouts if you are approved too. You’ll have the flexibility to choose the loan term over which you’d like to pay the money back, while many unsecured lenders will not charge for overpaying or settling early.

Choose your lender wisely, and be wary of hidden charges (the APR should incorporate your entire cost of credit). But, for a simple, swift and affordable solution to home improvement finance, you may not need to look too much further than personal loans.

 

Section 6: Conclusion

Our final thoughts on energy efficiency

We hope the above guide has helped to give you a clearer idea of what the most effective home improvements are to reduce your household’s carbon footprint, and how best to go about implementing them. Certainly it’s clear that there is ample scope for improvement among all of us, with even small gains being achievable with very little input or effort.

The reality though is the biggest savings of all come from improvements which cost a lot of money, and it can take many years before they are financially profitable. For all the goodwill there may be out there, financial resources will dictate to what extent you are able to reduce consumption of fossil fuel-sourced energy. Home improvement loans provide valuable support for those seeking major undertakings, although it is quite discouraging to see that Government has reduced its financial backing towards initiatives like solar panels.

However, despite the inertia of politicians, there can be no doubt that the voices for change are growing louder, and that safeguarding the long-term future of our planet is moving its way up the priority list among populations in first world countries such as the UK. And as the above has shown, you don’t need to spend a fortune to make a difference. The path to destruction of the environment is not a preordained one. Together, if we all pull in the same direction, and incorporate even a few of the suggestions listed above, a greener future may well lie ahead.

 

Section 7: Energy-saving FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

There are all sorts of theories when it comes to household energy saving, although not all of them carry much weight. Below we answer questions which often crop up to help you become an expert, whilst hopefully busting a few myths in the process…

What is the feed-in tariff rate for solar panels?

The full feed-in tariff, or ‘higher rate’ feed-in tariff, for PV solar panels with a capacity of under 10kW is 4.07 p/kWh, while if your capacity is between 10-50kW, this rises to 4.29 p/kWh. However, this only applies if your home has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) with a rating of D or higher. For those without an EPC, or one with an E rating or lower, the lower rate of 0.43 p/kWh applies. There is also a middle rate of 3.66 p/kWh (or 90% of the higher rate) which applies to those with a total of 25 (or more) FIT-registered PV installations.

Is it better to leave the heating on low constantly, rather than short, sharp bursts?

One of the great myths is that leaving the heating on low all day, even when you’re out, is more efficient than putting it on full blast as and when you need it. To varying extents, every home will leak energy, so while your heating is on, you will lose both heat and money. It is far better to make use of a timer instead, and minimise the number of minutes and hours your heating is on for.

Does putting clingfilm on windows work as insulation?

Believe it or not, this one is a go-er. Any material that is both transparent and airtight can act as a second layer of glazing, thus providing handy insulation. Of course, how good clingfilm is for the environment is a separate debate in itself…

Should I have the hot water boiled constantly, or turn it on only when in use?

Whether you have a gas or oil system, it’s always going to be cheaper to have it on timer. The only exceptions are electrical immersion heating systems, where it can be cheaper to heat your water overnight. This usually applies to systems with an Economy 7 or 10 tariff.

Are electric heaters cheaper than radiators?

Rule of thumb: electric heaters are almost always more expensive and energy consuming. You can’t beat a gas central heating system with a full set of thermostatic radiator valves for energy (and cost!) efficiency.

Do plugged-in mobile or laptop chargers use energy if not connected to devices?

According to data from British Gas, they do! Small amounts, sure. But, as with light switches, it is best to have them switched off (or unplugged) when not in use.

Is it beneficial to individually set thermostats on radiators instead of using a central thermostat to control them all?

The view of the Energy Saving Trust is that having multiple controls will save both energy and money, particularly if you are able to install thermostatic radiator valves. Using a thermostat to control heat in your primary living space(s) is fine, but by turning radiator valves on and off in rooms you use less often, you could potentially make savings upwards of £100 per year – depending on the size of your home.

Does closing doors really help with heating?

Yes! Panel heaters, radiators and convection heaters all build up heat by way of convection currents ie: hot air rises, travels around the room, and then sinks to be reheated. By closing doors, you’ll ensure that this current remains within the room, and concentrates the heat on a smaller area.

Is a heated airer cheaper to use than a tumble dryer?

Absolutely yes! Tumble dryers are one of the biggest energy guzzlers in a household, so an airer will always be better. Ideally, you will want to hang your clothes up so that it coincides with when the heating is on. But, better yet, pop them outside on the line if/when the weather permits.

Is double glazing my windows worth it?

Double glazing isn’t a cheap exercise. You’ll probably be in for about £500 per A+ rated double-glazed window to do it properly. Then again, given that you can make savings of up to £100 per year, it becomes a lot more attractive. Added to that, if you ever want to sell your house, it’s a key selling point. Plus, it will keep you cosy in the meantime!

Should I put reflective panels behind my radiators?

Radiator panels can save energy in certain cases, but the gains are very marginal, truth be told. The science behind it is that any heat moving towards the walls from radiators is then redirected to the heart of the room. But, in truth, external (and internal) wall insulation is a far more effective alternative.

What about painting my radiator black?

This one is open to debate, but our research tells us that this has little – if any – impact.

How long does it take for solar panels to become profitable?

As we discuss in depth in Section 2, Government slashed feed-in tariffs for solar panels by roughly two thirds from February 2016, which has sadly made solar panels less affordable to homeowners. You’ll be looking at an initial outlay of between £5,000-£8,000 for a PV solar panel system (the most common in the UK), with an average saving of roughly £250 per year (inclusive of feed-in tariff gains). So, assuming Government does not revisit the structure of feed-in tariffs, it will take about 20 years before your annual savings exceed the cost. That said, solar panels may well add significant value to your home, and there is unlikely to be much in the way of maintenance costs – if any.

And of course, Government may yet increase feed-in tariffs in future as pressure mounts to meet the targets of the Paris accord. If the feed-in tariff rate was doubled, for example, this would bring the date of profitability forward by about 5-7 years on average in today’s terms.

Is wall insulation worth it?

In our opinion, external insulation of cavity walls (typical of post-1920 houses) is one of the most cost-effect energy savers in the business. For as little as £500 worth of work, you can knock £150 off your energy bill each year – and that doesn’t even factor in the potential for Government grants. There is little to no disruption while the work is being carried out too, nor is there any reduction in floorspace. An all-round winner!

Are LED lights worth the extra money?

LED lights are undoubtedly more expensive to buy, sometimes as much as quadruple the price of their halogen counterparts. However, the savings are significant enough. Although there is much scope for variance, you should be able to make back your money in energy savings before the first year is out.

Is draught proofing expensive?

The short (and long!) answer is no. In fact, blocking up and filling unwanted gaps is a nice, easy DIY job that will barely cost a pittance. For as little as £50, and not a great deal of your time, you can quite easily trim your energy costs by £20 or so per year. And that’s not even factoring in the benefit of a warmer, more comforting home.

Can showerheads make a big difference?

Don’t you just know it! High-end showerheads are able to make you feel like you’re enjoying a power shower, when in fact you aren’t using much water at all. When it comes to energy reduction, water and heat effectively work in tandem: cut down on the one, and you cut down on the other, as there is less water to heat. It depends how much you are willing to spend – some shower heads cost hundreds of pounds. But if yours is energy efficient, expect to make some hefty savings.

Should I replace my boiler?

Heating eats up a huge chunk from the household energy budget – upwards of 60 per cent, in fact. At the heart of this is your boiler, so, as you can imagine, the efficiency of this device will go a long way to determining what your annual bills will come to. Gas boilers will always be cheaper than electric ones (although oil heating is currently even cheaper on average), but that’s only half the job. If your boiler breaks down a lot, or is highly inefficient, it may well be time to get a new A-rated condensing boiler that’s a bit more eco-friendly. You’ll be in for about £2,000 – probably a bit more if it comes with thermostatic radiator valves. But you’ll save hundreds of quid each year, and also do your bit to make our beautiful earth that much greener.

In fact, if you find yourself with a household income of under £16,010, you may even be in line for a free boiler under the Energy Company Obligation scheme. You can call the Energy Saving Trust advice service on 0300 123 1234 to find out more.

Michael Todt

Mike joined Lending Works in early 2015 with a background in marketing and journalism. Having long held a passion for economics, he is now the chief contributor to the Lending Works blog, and regularly writes about all things peer-to-peer lending, fintech and personal finance.