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How to cut energy bills as the winter season approaches

As the consequences of Putin’s energy warfare begin to be felt by ordinary Europeans, the Poland-based interdisciplinary think-tank Forum Energii published a guide for European households on cutting energy bills in time for the upcoming winter season.

The report, published on 28 September 2022, proposes over 30, low-cost or costless energy-saving measures that can help in effective room temperature control, improving heating systems, hot water saving, electricity-saving, effective low-budget thermal insulation of houses and provides additional measures for multi-family homes. As part of this, it offers an illustrative complexity and cost estimate range of each measure – from “complex task” to “very easy to do yourself”; and “cheapest (up to 50 euros)” to “modest (up to 500 euros)”.

Taking control of room temperature

One of the costless and very simple room temperature control measures is adequate ventilation of rooms in winter, which can approximately save around 5-8 per cent of energy for every 1°C lower in a single room. To adequately ventilate your premise, the above scheme ought to be followed:

1) Turn down the radiator thermostats a few minutes before opening the window.

2) Ventilate in a rapid and intensive fashion.

3) Re-do the thermostats once windows have been closed.

More complex (may require professional assistance) and costly measures, although still ‘relatively cheap’ (up to 100 euros), includes installing automatic temperature control devices on the radiators to optimise room temperature. As stated in the report, the optimal temperature varies between different rooms. For example, in the kitchen, we can make use of heat from cooking, baking, washing dishes and so on and as a result, the temperature should not exceed 20°C.

This measure, similarly to the costless example above, saves approximately 5-8 per cent for every 1°C lower in a single room. Additionally, whilst more costly, optimal temperature control can also provide additional benefits such as preventing excessive dampness or frost on walls which results in fungal growth.

Savings in water heating

In an average EU household, about 24 per cent of the heating costs are consumed by water heating. Fitting an aerator into the tap can be a great, cheap (up to 50 euros) and DIY (for most taps) method to reduce energy usage. The aerator ventilates the water flow from the tap, enabling the impression of high water pressure to be maintained with significantly lower water consumption. As a result, between 10-50 per cent of the energy required to heat the water stream is saved, whilst significantly limiting water usage (up to 90 per cent) at the same time.

Other hot water savings include optimal use of washing machines, which can be done by washing only with a full drum and/or at the lowest possible temperature (adequate to a given type of material and soiling). This simple and cost-free method can save up to 35 per cent of the energy required to heat the water, in comparison to two wash cycles with an incomplete insert and similarly to the above, saving water usage.

DIY home insulation

Whilst generally more expensive, adequate insulation of the house is an important part of comprehensive thermal modernisation – and in most cases, very easy to install. Starting with the lower end of the budget, sealing windows and external doors can approximately save around 15 per cent in a building with poor external insulation standards. This saving figure is also dependent on the total proportion of heat loss through the entire building envelope (external walls, windows, external doors, roof and soffit, basement ceiling, foundations and floor on the ground).

In terms of complexity and cost, following the manual carefully, this measure can be installed without an expert’s help. Insulation tapes are typically the cheapest solution – however, the total cost depends on the sealing method and the size and number of windows and doors.

Alternatively, insulating an unused attic ceiling can be a more effective option – saving up to an estimated 35 per cent of energy (the type of the building is a key factor in the amount of energy that can be saved). However, in comparison to the previous example, taking steps to prevent heat from escaping to unused heating areas can be a costly investment – as the final price largely depends on the size of the area that needs to be insulated.

Key facts to consider

As outlined in the report, heating dwellings and water account for 78 per cent of the average household energy consumption in the EU. Moreover, many homes in the EU remain highly energy-intensive, due to inadequately functioning ventilation systems and poorly thermally insulated buildings.

Going forward, comprehensive and deep retrofitting (thermal modernisation) is by far the most effective solution. However, due to the financial and labour costs, the authors of the report recommend starting with simple and cheaper methods, which can have a substantive contribution to the continent-wide cost of living crisis.

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