Cut energy bills: Five ways under £20

energy saving lightbulb©iStock.com/iPandastudio

WE all know that big changes - switching energy supplier or investing in efficiency measures like insulation or a new boiler - can make a big difference to our energy bills.

For those on a low income, since the Government stopped funding the Green Deal finding money to make major improvements has become much tougher.

But there are a lot of small and relatively cheap ideas that can be used throughout the home to conserve energy and save money.

These small improvements won't break the bank and they're all easy to achieve.

Keep reading for five quick ideas, all for less than £20.

1. Radiator reflectors

When a radiator gives out heat, this heat not only goes into a room but also hits the wall behind the radiator.

Any heat that is given off behind the radiator can be lost through the wall. This is particularly a problem when the radiator is positioned against an outside wall.

To protect against this heat loss and increase efficiency, some people recommend installing shiny reflective sheets behind radiators.

These reflective sheets literally reflect the heat back into the room and can reduce heat loss by 45% for a radiator that is positioned against an outside wall.

The idea is that by reflecting heat back into the room radiators can be switched on for less time and at a lower temperature in order to warm the room, saving money and heating spaces more efficiently.

Tesa Radiator Heat Reflector Foil

SuperFOIL Radiator Heat Reflector Foil

To make radiators as effective as possible, also keep them clear of obstructions like curtains, furniture or clothes hanging over them.

Installing a reflective sheet is a simple DIY process. The sheets tend to be hung from the existing radiator wall brackets, so they can be set up in minutes. Alternatively, some come with adhesive stickers to attach to the wall.

Prices start from about £10 so this is a cheap energy saving solution for anyone with radiators positioned on outside walls.

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2. Hot water tank jackets

When hot water is collected in a hot water tank, a lot of heat can be lost if the tank does not have an insulating jacket.

Even if there is already a jacket on the cylinder, it's worth checking how thick it is. A British Standard jacket is at least 80mm, but a lot of older jackets are just 25mm thick.

British Standard jackets cost about £15 and will easily pay for themselves within a very short period.

Annual estimated saving
(according to the Energy Saving Trust)
No jacket to insulated £85 (payback over three months)
25mm insulation upgraded to 80mm £20 (payback over nine months)

Although the savings are lower for upgrading insulation, in both circumstances homeowners can easily recoup the cost of the jacket in less then a year.

Installation is easy too: make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions, but installation involves simply putting the jacket around the hot water tank.

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3. Smart plugs

Leaving devices on standby has always been considered a classic waste of electricity. But with the proliferation of gadgets and technology in UK homes, there are more and more devices that are left plugged in and forgotten.

The Energy Saving Trust say that the average UK household spends between £45 and £80 each year powering equipment that's in standby mode.

Their research has also found that 78% of people admit to regularly leaving at least two items on standby and that almost half of people leave their TV on standby simply because it's more convenient than switching it off at the plug.

To help combat this, EU regulations state that all electrical products sold after 2013 must have standby usage of no greater than 0.5 Watts.

Additionally, many modern devices are connected to the internet when on standby mode, such as games consoles and digital TV boxes, and this uses more energy.

So from January 2017 onwards EU rules state that internet-connected devices must use no more than 3 to 12 Watts when on standby, depending on the product.

Tests carried out by the Sustainable Girton community energy project compared the energy used by the following common living room devices when turned on and when left on standby:

Usage in Watts when onUsage in Watts when on standby
TV10010
Mobile phone charger51
DVD player127
Digital set top box65

For many people, the problem can easily be solved with a smart plug.

Smart plugs are basically a switch that is plugged into the wall like any other plug. Connecting plugs that are attached to devices are connected to the smart plug, rather than being plugged directly into the wall.

The smart plug is 'intelligent' - meaning that it connects to our smartphones and tablets over wi-fi - allowing us to use an app to switch the plug on or off. They also allow users to pre-set times for plugs to be turned on and off and monitor each device's energy usage.

Smart plugs cost from £20 upwards, so they're not cheap enough for most people to use throughout the home. However, they could be a good option for one or two appliances that it would be helpful to control remotely.

There are also some more basic smart plugs on the market which are used for so-called 'slave sockets' - those which support many plugs - like TVs, DVD players, set top boxes and modems.

When the main device is turned off - usually the TV or computer - the plug powers down all the other items that are connected to it.

Some of them come with one 'permanent on' socket, which is ideal for a router or set-top box that needs to be kept on at all times.

This type of plug is cheap, costing as little as £2 but usually not much more than £6.

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4. Eco shower heads

With more water companies keen to move us across to metered water, an eco shower head could be a good way to conserve water and save some money.

It's really simple for anyone to work out whether or not they could benefit from a water-saving shower head. Anyone who can fill a two litre container in less than 12 seconds using their existing shower head will save considerably.

These shower heads use smart design to reduce water waste. Some aerate the water flow - which means that they suck air into the shower head to maintain the pressure but reduce the amount of water required. Others cut usage by pulsating the flow or by simply restricting the water flow.

The cheapest water saving shower heads start at about £10 but some of the better known brands - Mira, Pulse Eco and Ecocamel - start from about £25.

Of course it's also worth noting that in addition to buying an eco shower head we can all save water and money by taking shorter showers - generally less than 10 minutes - and by not leaving the shower running before we get in.

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5. Exclude drafts

Most homes have draughts - little unsealed areas and gaps that let cold air in and warm air out. Draughts tend to be found around windows, skirting boards and pipework, among other areas.

The Energy Saving Trust say it's possible to save around £25 per year by sealing up these small gaps - and doing so also keeps our homes warmer and more comfortable too.

There are a number of different draft excluding options that are suitable for different situations and budgets.

For example, let's take a quick look at the three examples listed above:

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