An energy saving challenge

Last September, on a particularly glorious late summers’ day, my colleague James here at TheGreenAge made me a particularly challenging bet. After more than one beer, he suggested that I couldn’t halve my energy bills this winter compared to last year. The prize – a summer of free kebabs from our local restaurant! That is quite a challenge, and anyone in their right mind would have turned him down, but perhaps it was the beer talking – I was going to give it a go.

Six months is a long period of time to cut the bill by that much. It was going to be a real challenge. My property is a smallish mid terrace 1950s property in the London suburbs.

Warm vs cold winters

The first thing I realised having sobered up a little was that the amount of energy we use is actually really dependent on just how warm or cold the winter is. If I was unlucky with the weather, I would probably have to turn the heating up and lose the bet. Writing this in April, I can reflect and say that the weather was actually pretty mild, and (luckily) that meant there was a lot less pressure to have the heating on.

What could I do to get my bills down?

Having so far only been through one winter in my home, I actually hadn’t done some of the more simple things that can improve the thermal performance of a property. It only had a 50mm covering of insulation in the loft, and the cavities were not insulated, so I got on to one of our partner companies and had them sort our insulation out pronto. I felt a little warmer already!

We also were having new doors and a couple of the windows replaced as well, so that was going to make a bit of a difference. But these things on their own were unlikely to halve the bill. After all, much of my energy usage was actually spent cooking and running all my appliances, rather than heating. I pleaded with James to let me do the bet based only on the gas bill, as this is the way I heat my home, but being the cold-hearted man he is, he denied my embittered pleas.

How was I going to get that electric bill down? Well, we were fortunate enough to have bought some new A+ rated appliances shortly after moving in, so that would be of some help. But I would still have to be vigilant with some of our more highly-powered gadgets. It’s lucky I don’t drink tea or coffee, as kettles can be a big energy sapper.

January – The half way mark

In January, I took a meter reading and checked it against last year. Last year I managed to use £523 of gas and £245 of electricity from October to March. Things weren’t looking that good. I had used around 65% of my limit already, with still 3 months to go. The total bill needed to be less than £384, and by my calculations I had hit £251.90 already.

I decided to take a few more drastic actions. We have a couple of rooms in the house that barely get used – these would have to be sacrificed to win my free kebabs. The radiators were turned off in these rooms and the doors permanently shut. I managed to sneak a few draught excluders from TheEcoStore to help stop any draughts getting through them.

I also resorted to having microwave dinners on a regular basis, knowing that microwaved food takes a lot less energy to cook than a gas oven. The waistline may have suffered a little here – I know you can get some very nutritious microwavable food but I think the cold got to me a little!

The thermostat by this stage was set to 17, and I wrapped up with lots of thermals and jumpers when sitting in the house. I had a really thick duvet with my usual summer duvet thrown on top to add extra warmth.. This was actually too hot, if anything!

The Day of Reckoning

So the day of reckoning finally arrived. On the 31st of March I took my meter readings and did my calculations. The result was heart-breaking – I had gone over my 50% of last year’s energy by just £2.35.

It was a painful loss that I had half expected but had hoped for the best. Despite my comments here, doing all the little things mentioned was actually really easy. Sure, there were a few moments when I would have liked to bump the heating up a little – and perhaps I would have without the threat of paying for all those lunches – but all things considered I saved over £350 by just taking a little extra care with how I used my heating and my electricity.

I consider it an interesting experience that I have learned quite a bit from. Perhaps you can see how much you can slash from your bill next winter!

See 100 ways to cut your energy bills here.