Smart tech that can reduce your household billsadmin
With electricity prices always on the rise it makes sense to take action to keep your energy bills to a minimum. We offer a selection of tips to help you find out how much power your devices are using and how you can claw back costs.
How much do consumer electronics cost to run?
Kettle: 1.39p per boil
Smartphone: 0.23p per three-hour charge
iPad or tablet: 0.46p per three-hour charge
LED TV: 0.92p per hour
4K TV: 1.54p per hour
Games console: 1.39p per hour
Best energy monitors
Your first step should be to know exactly how much energy you are actually using each day. Energy-usage monitors – also known as home energy monitors or electricity monitors – are your friend. They inform you of how much energy you’re using within the home in real time, how much it’s costing – and how much you can save, prompting a change of expensive habits if need be.
Once you know how much you spend, you can make small changes that together will bring big savings – replacing old energy-draining appliances or taking mobile chargers out of power sockets. According to the UK government’s Energy Saving Trust energy monitors could help households save between 3 and 15 percent on annual electricity bills, an average £75.
Of course, just owning an energy monitor won’t save you a penny. You need to use its information to actively change your behaviour, to cut energy waste and reduce electricity bills.=
There are two types of energy monitor: hand-held screens that work alongside a separate unit, which can clip on to your electricity meter, or online house energy monitors.
We like the Efergy Elite Classic 3.0 In-Home Energy Monitor, which costs under £40 from Amazon. The Efergy e2 Classic 3.0 features a sensor that detects your electricity consumption and via the transmitter wirelessly sends information about the amount of electricity you are using to the display monitor and to software on your PC or Mac; see it on Amazon here. The display shows you real-time energy usage in kWatts and the respective cost per hour.
The Geo Minim electricity monitor alerts the user to unusual patterns of energy, and uses a CT clip around the mains incomer. It has an easy-to-read LED screen too. You can buy it from Amazon for £29.95 here.
Best smart meters
Energy monitors are different to smart meters, which automatically send out information on your energy use straight to your energy supplier using wireless networks, getting rid of manual reading and estimated bills. And, unlike energy monitors, smart meters measure gas as well as electricity.
While you can buy energy monitors online or from high-street shops, smart meters are provided and installed by your energy supplier. By 2020 energy companies will replace every meter with a smart meter in the UK. If you use the in-home display you shouldn’t need a separate energy monitor.
Smart meters will save energy companies from sending staff out to read your meter, but would you believe that all these savings will be passed back to you, the humble customer? Thought not. So smart meters will only save you money if you use and act on the information provided by your in-home display to reduce your energy consumption.
Why you should replace halogen bulbs with LED bulbs
Consider changing those flush-mounted halogen ceiling spotlights. They look great but use an enormous amount of electricity. If you have an energy monitor just turn on a batch and watch the energy spend rocket. Or simply feel how hot these bulbs get – don’t touch them, though, they will burn you.
LED equivalents give off very little heat – proving that they don’t waste energy in heat, just using energy for light. There are some ultra-efficient LED lights on the market, which are worth trying. These aren’t cheap but will save you money in the long run. LED bulbs can have a life of 50,000 hours and reduced energy costs up to 90 percent.
Look for GU10 or MR16 (GU5.3) LED bulbs if you use standard halogen downlights. 5W is equivalent to standard 35W halogen bulbs, but 4W should be efficient. If you need dimmable LED lights remember to check that the bulbs allow this. Dimmable LEDs cost more, so it’s worth replacing your dimmer switch with a standard switch if you can live without dimmable bulbs.
GU5.3 (also known as MR16) reflector bulbs have two thin pins. GU10 bulbs have stubby, fatter pins. Make sure you buy the correct type.
Don’t be tempted to buy dirt-cheap LEDs from eBay, as some can be dangerous. Go for a respectable maker such as Philips (its CorePro range is recommended), Verbatim, Panasonic, GE or others, and check for the CE safety branding. But don’t go out and buy 30 expensive LED bulbs. Buy one and check that you’re happy with the light quality first. If in doubt talk to a qualified electrician.
For more on switching to LED bulbs see: LED vs halogen – why now is the right time to invest in LEDs.
Keep lights and lighting fixtures clean, especially if you’re reducing the number of lights you use. Dirt absorbs light. Let lights cool before cleaning them and never touch halogen bulbs with your bare hands. The oil from your skin can greatly damage the bulbs. Use a small piece of paper to hold the bulb.
Best smart lighting
Any home or small office can have intelligent lighting that works only when a room is occupied. Unless you are determined to divest yourself of cash you should consider LED bulbs. Some key benefits to using LED rather than incandescent bulbs are that they use less energy, produce less heat, and last much longer.
But smart lighting for the different rooms in your house, be controlled from afar or scheduled to turn on and off at pre-set times from your smartphone or tablet, and even to function as an alarm, gently waking you in the morning. Some smart bulbs can even blast out tunes from your ceiling. And all will save you money if you calculate the cost over a long period.
Interested? Visit our best smart lighting round-up.
And of course it sounds obvious but get everyone into the habit of turning lights off when no one is using a room. If you leave the lights on for security, connect them to timers.
Best smart heating
You’ve probably seen the adverts for Hive with its quirky song about how great it is to control your heating from a laptop, smartphone or tablet. And yes, it is – pun intended – a cool thing to be able to do.
But more than that, smart heating is likely to be a key part of every home going forward. As fuel costs rise and supplies run dry the ability to heat our homes in an efficient way will stop being a nice bonus, and will become an essential part of every home’s economics. You can find out everything you need to know about smart heating in our piece Best smart heating systems and thermostats.
Every degree of heat turn down on your thermostat could save you £60 a year. Experiment with heat to see if you’re setting it higher than necessary.
Get a more efficient showerhead
The average shower in the UK lasts eight minutes, and in that time around 60 litres of water is used, water that uses energy to heat. With an efficient shower head, you’re restricting the volume of water coming through.
The Ecocamel Jetstorm Plus can be used with all shower types, including electric showers, and offers three spray patterns. The showerhead injects air into the water stream so you use less water.
A laptop that is also your desktop and a tablet is more than just a cool gadget and a way to work on the hoof. Hybrid devices mean one computer instead of several: and that has the potential both to save you money, and to save precious resources.
The most energy a computer will ever use is in the construction of its parts, so being able to use a single laptop or tablet wherever we are is a huge efficiency.
And – obviously – buying one device rather than three is a good way of saving money, even if you will have to shell out to get a decent hybrid. You can find reviews of all the best laptop tablet hybrids in our piece: Best 2-in-1 laptops.
Keep your old PC
Not unrelated is the value of keeping your existing computer rather than giving in to the constant upgrade cycle. Computers these days last longer than once they did, in part because of the greater reliability of components, but also because once you have a sufficiently fast system with enough storage, there really is no need to upgrade. Reader, we are at peak PC.
This can lead to inefficient power usage, of course. But the laptop that lasts for five years is better for the environment than replacing it with a brand new and more efficient device every year or two. We all change our phones far too often, too.
You can elongate the life of most tech hardware without having to replace the whole thing. Replace that inefficient spinning hard drive with an SSD. Displays can be replaced or upgraded, as can power supplies.
If you do have to buy a new phone or PC, be sure to recycle your older kit, either by donating it, selling it or passing it on via a freecycle site.
Minimise your PC’s power usage
Check the power settings on your PC or laptop. Most have energy saving options on them. This is a great way to reduce power consumption because it’s a one-off thing and can be really effective.
Keep your computer peripherals (printer, scanner, speakers etc) turned off when you’re not using them.
You will want to keep your internet router turned on when you’re at home during the day, but there’s no realy reason for it to be on when you’re asleep. Some routers offer a power schedule which you can program to make it turn on and off automatically.
Don’t leave devices on stanby
The average household spends around £70 per year keeping household electronic devices on standby. That’s over 10 percent of a house’s total electricity consumption. Think about those TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players, PCs, audio systems and games consoles. Do you really need to leave them on standby through the day and night?
Obviously it makes sense to leave a Sky or Virgin box on standby if you have scheduled programme recordings, but aside from that items can be completely switched off.
Invest in a solar charger
So you’re saving energy on your big home gadgets, but what about the small gadgets that still need charging every night? Why not investigate a solar charger, which just requires the power of the sun in order to charge your smartphones, tablets and cameras.
Save energy in the kitchen too
You can’t turn off your fridge or freezer at night to save money but you can cut down these devices’ electricity usage.
• Keep the inside of a fridge between 0-5°C.
• Defrost food in the fridge, as frozen food helps to cool the fridge.
• Keep your fridge and freezer at least three quarters full – you could use bottles of water to take up space. But beware over-filling, which will stop air circulating round the compartments properly.
• Washing clothes at 30ºC as opposed to 40ºC, uses 40 percent less energy and is generally as efficient, according to the UK’s Energy Saving Trust. Look for Eco cycles to further cut power.
• Don’t pre-rinse dishes before putting them in dishwasher. This can save a significant amount per year. If you have a water meter letting the dishwasher do all the cleaning is more efficient than putting stuff under a running tap.
• Use your dishwasher only when it is full, maybe every two days.
• Adjust the water level on your washing machine to match the load size, especially when using hot water. Always use a cold rinse. Also, clean the lint filter regularly.
• Try not to use a clothes dryer. Tumble dyers and the like are incredibly energy greedy! Which? calculates that one load in a C-rated electric tumble dryer costs around 49p, compared to just 14p per load in an A-rated heat pump dryer. Switch to the old outside line method when possible or use a dry room and allow a bit of extra time for the clothes to dry. If you have to use the dryer use the auto sensor function if you have one to conserve energy by not over-drying your clothes.
• If you must use a tumble dryer wring out or spin clothes before putting them in.
• Don’t overfill your kettle, just boil the amount of water you need. Check how much energy a kettle uses with an energy monitor. You’ll be shocked at how much electricity is used making a cup of tea. And keep it descaled, as all that limescale makes the kettle work harder to boil.