Way back in October, tensions were running high in our household. The weather was freezing, yet the news was all about energy price hikes. And so a bitterly cold war of attrition developed between me and my wife.
She was very firmly in the “Let’s Turn the Heating On To Stop Our Kids Dying of Hypothermia” camp, whereas I stayed frozen to my guns with my “No Heating Until November” campaign.
But finally, my wife’s icy glare and even colder shoulder won the day and I relented. The heating went on. The bills shot up. And two months on, the atmosphere is just as frosty between my wife and I – because we’re now saving every penny for when the Final Demand drops through the letter box.
Fortunately, I work from home, so the thermostat is under my jurisdiction for a large part of the day. As I write, I’m layered in a vest, a T-shirt, a jumper and a fleece, like a tiny-headed Michelin Man. If it gets too cold, I’ll head down the pub. They don’t charge for heating, not yet anyway.
It shouldn’t have to be like this. All over Britain, couples like us are emptying their jars of change to afford their fuel bills. In our house, each of our three kids goes to bed in a vest, pyjamas, socks and has two duvets to keep them warm at night. It might seem shocking, but it’s nothing like the shock I got when I calculated how much our energy bills will be for the coming year at our current level of consumption - £1,715.
It is, as Secret Affair once sang, "Time for Action". And there’s no better time to act than this week’s Big Energy Week.
From now until Friday January 21, organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau, energy suppliers, switching sites and Government agencies are working together to let consumers who are struggling with rising energy bills know about all the help that is available.
The supplier in my area – London – is Southern Electric, whose parent body is SSE Energy. On its website, it has a number of initiatives to help save money on energy bills as well as helping the environment, including an iPlan tariff, which is designed to help you save on your day-to-day energy expenses, with a free smart energy kit – which includes an energy usage display screen that can be linked to an online account to help you plan your energy use to suit you, and track how much money you save.
But what interested me most was its energy efficiency survey, designed to find out where we might be going wrong – and right – in terms of how cost-effective our home is. Why not? I thought. In for a penny, and I might save a few pounds. We live in a flat in a converted 100 year-old end-of-terrace house. It is a rather leaky flat, heat-wise. I don’t need an expert to tell me that. It is often colder inside than out, due to the wonderful refrigeration properties provided by our thick brick walls. Which is great in summer; not so toastie in winter. I don’t mind it so much – I’ve got a couple of fleeces and a nice wife to cuddle when it gets especially bitter. But it’s the kids, see – whining on about their blue toes turning black and their toenails falling off. Whinge, whinge. Kids today, eh? Don’t know they’re born. When I was growing up in the Seventies, we didn’t have central heating, just a three-bar fire in the living room. My dad would tuck us into bed so tightly we couldn’t move our arms until he released us the next morning. What’s the phrase? Ah, yes: “Character building!”
But back to the survey. It only took a couple of minutes, and I answered as honestly as I could, with my fingers crossed that my approach to keeping our fuel bills as under control as possible was the right approach. But I have to confess, I was shocked by the waste. The bottom line is, we’re setting fire to £430 a year – that’s the amount we could save if we took some preventative measures.
Here’s how it broke down:
On a scale of A being the highest/best and G the lowest/worst, our home has an energy rating of E –costing us £850 a year, according to the survey (it’s actually more than double that! Terrifying, isn’t it?).
We also spew out 6.5 tonnes of Co2 emissions a year. Not quite in the league of a coal-fired power station in China, but still not great. But if we took some simple steps, we could reduce our bills by £430 per year and slash our Co2 emissions to 2. 9 tonnes per year. Good for the planet; good for my wallet.
But how? Here’s Southern Electric’s advice….
• Upgrade roof insulation with 250mm mineral wools laid between and across roof joists Annual saving: £57
• Upgrade solid wall insulation with 50mm equivalent of internal wall insulation Annual saving: £330
• Double-glaze single-glazed windows Annual saving: £43 If all these recommendations were carried out we would have a new energy rating of C. So what are we going to do about it?
Well, we don’t have any spare cash to make these upgrades just yet, but there are Government grants available, which I’ll investigate. You can check out here. This time next year, Rodney, we’ll be warmer-than-toast millionaires!