Energy challenge: Looking back

It’s deepest darkest November and my month long energy saving challenge has now come to an end. So over the weekend, with some trepidation, I took my final meter readings and looked at previous bills to see how our gas and electricity usage over the month compared with our normal usage.

Curiously the results were pretty mixed. Our electricity usage was broadly the same as it was during the summer months. We used around 65 khw of electricity per week during the challenge, which was the same as we used between May and August, according to our bills. Initially I was pretty disappointed, until it occurred to me that we use our electric lights and tumble dryer much more in the winter and I compared our usage against electricity bills for last October and November. I found that we used 92 khw of electricity a week during that period, so by turning off items on standby and lights around the home, and trying not to use the tumble dryer, we actually cut our winter usage by 29 per cent. However, there’s still plenty of room for improvement and it’s high time we switched to energy saving light bulbs.

But despite my attempts to do without the central heating as much as possible and turn the thermostat down, we were shameless gas guzzlers, using the same amount of gas as we did in January and more than in October last year. Talk about disappointing! I’m mortified! True, compared to last October the weather has been unseasonally cold. But our gas usage evidently needs tackling, and perhaps our inefficient c1980s gas boiler, as well as our habits, is to blame. Richard Lloyd from the Energy Saving Trust said he thought we could cut our gas bill by a third if we changed to a condensing boiler. Although, on the downside, this would cost about £1,500. I also think we could trim our bill further by making more use of the gas fire in our lounge instead of relying on the central heating.

During the challenge I was a bit shell-shocked by the expensive up front costs for introducing renewable energy sources into the home. Ultimately this will probably make the biggest difference both to climate change and the amount of cash people are forced to spend each year on fuel. But until there is a more coordinated approach it will only be within the grasp of the wealthy, which is a terrible shame. Unless you’ve got £10,000 spare to spend on heat pumps etc., cutting home energy usage and insulating is the most practical and frugal approach to trimming bills.

On the plus side, though, I feel I’ve learned an awful lot both from talking to the Energy Saving Trust, Friends of the Earth and reading all your great tips and comments about your own experiences. Thanks everyone.


By the way – during the energy saving challenge a few of you contacted me wanting to know what were the most efficient appliances or energy sources to use for cooking and heating. So I put these questions to Richard Lloyd at the Energy Saving Trust and he came back to me with the following answers from the energy boffins there:

1. What is the most efficient form of cooking, gas or electric?

Richard says: “This question is indeed a bit wide! It really depends on what you intend to cook. But microwaves are the most efficient device for cooking and we encourage people to investigate how they can make use of their microwave more frequently. The problem is that they’re not suited for cooking everything.”

Otherwise, he suggests that to reduce the energy used in cooking food, you follow these tips:

– Cook with the lids on and turn the heat down when it reaches the boil.

– Make sure you have the right pot for the right flame. Ensure the flame is under the pan rather than up the sides.

– Small pieces of vegetable will cook quicker than large pieces.

– Microwave vegetables where possible.

– Defrost foods naturally before cooking or take tomorrow’s food out of the freezer tonight and put it in the fridge where it will defrost during the next 24 hours.

– Cook too much and freeze it. That way you only have to reheat it rather than cooking a whole meal again.

– Use a toaster rather than a grill to make toast.

– Use a pressure cooker. High pressure means that the water boils at a higher temperature so the food cooks quicker.

– Keep the oven door window clean so you don’t need to open the door to check on the food.

– If you have a fan assisted oven make sure the fan is switched on.

2. Which is more efficient; boiling a kettle on a hob or using an electric one?

Richard says: “We have done some basic research on this which suggests that the order from best to worst in terms of both CO2 and cost is as follows:

Gas hob (pan with lid on), electric kettle, electric hob, microwave.”

3. For a three bed semi, would it be best to heat the whole house with gas central heating for an evening, or use an electric fan heater just to heat the lounge?

Richard says: “We don’t have data on heating single rooms and there are lots of variables (how large is the room, how many hours do you need the electric heater on for etc) so it’s a bit difficult to provide a definitive answer to this.

It’s distinctly possible that if you only need to heat a single room then an electric heater might be a better option financially (although we’d probably recommend a thermostatically controlled oil filled electric radiator rather than a fan heater) but we can’t say for sure. It is also relatively unusual to do this as people tend to move around the house.”

Interesting stuff. Hope that’s been of some help. I’ll be trying to make more use of my microwave I think and boiling water on the stove instead of the kettle.

Have you changed the way you cook to save on fuel? Has it made a difference to your bills? What do you think is the most frugal way to combat climate change? Leave a comment and let me know.

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10 Responses to Energy challenge: Looking back

  1. Christine says:

    Helping the climate requires a lot more than changes to your use of heating, cooking and use of water. It means looking at what you drive, how far you drive, whether you need to drive, the flights you take for your holiday, where you go on holiday and the CO2 emmisions that you create whilst on holiday (the car again), the cleaning materials that you use, food miles, the implications of buying local or buying where food is grown in a more suitable climate, how food is grown and produced, whether you should be buying fair trade or organic clothes, reusing and recycling most of what you now consider to be waste in your house, consuming less stuff, looking at whether a composting toilet be better for the climate than a flush one. And that\’s just some of the things that you can do. It may be that there will have to be compulsion to do more to tackle climate change – this is being shown already in new housing regulations but we need a lot more help and investment to make green technology available to all (cost) and a normal part of our everyday thinking and living. Then we have to move on to the business situation and the pollution caused in the work place – which again may need government legislation in order to make the required changes happen. There\’s an awful lot of campaigning going on to get action by NGOs like Friends of the Earth and an interesting amont of information at the Green Alliance website (well worth a read as it covers different areas from homes and communities to transport and international aspects). To protect the environment we need a lot of investment as well as a lot of action at personal level.

  2. Unknown says:

    Energy is the single most important challenge facing humanity today. The second most important is agriculture. It used to be that agriculture was almost everything, but agriculture is now only half of energy. All of Defense, both in the United States and around the planet, is only $0.7 trillion.Energy would have a tremendous impact if you could solve it make it cheap, make it abundant, find a new oil. Miracles of science and technology in the physical sciences are primarily what enables this. ———————-GillberkSocial Bookmarking

  3. paul says:

    I bought a SLANKET, off Amazon, it is a nice warm fleece blanket with sleeves and so big it covers your feet to, you wear it back to front, and trust me it so warm and comfy you do not need your heating on, you can also buy this item on QVC. I have an electric hob, and when my veg comes to the boil I switch off the hob and let it keep heating my veg while cutting the meat, etc, and then the veg is cooked just right, nice and crunchy, but not raw full of flavour and goodness.
    Hope these little tips help you not only save money bu keep you warm, but the SLANKET has saved me a fortune in fuel bills.

  4. William says:

    Energy challenge tipHere\’s an easy way and verified to reduce central heating costs. Put Heatkeeper reflector panels behind radiators on external walls. Apparently a lot of heat can go straight out through the walls, and these reflect some, saving up to 20% off bill. Didn\’t take me long to fit, and slot behind existing radiators OK.  You can feel the difference just holding one against the wall and putting your hand in front. Ours walls are solid, so we\’ll get most benefit.  But I think even with cavity insulation they\’d be worthwhile.  It\’s design is also supposed to help divert the warn air out into the room instead of up to the ceiling.  As we tuck curtains in behind radiator, we don\’t get this effect. Shop around – prices vary hugely.  Have seen £30 asked for 2 panels.  I bought 20 for £30 here 11 to do 4 radiators, rest are for my mum\’s….

  5. Peter says:

    Does anyone know if its best to heat the whole house all the time or switch the heating off at night and start agian in the morning. Equally whats best with heating the water. Have heard people argue for both.

  6. says:

    so good

  7. Kimberley says:

    I use an energy monitor from Current Cost. I bought it for £45 and over six months I have managed to save £225. I know what my \’baseline\’ is and I try and keep as close to that as possible. I would highly recommend using one.

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