Cutting Down Our Electric Bill: A Case Study

Although not trying to live a self-sufficient lifestyle, when Mike took voluntary redundancy, he decided that, as they’d be living on less money, he should look at where the money was going and try and work out if costs could be reduced. Energy, especially electricity, took a large proportion of their income so he started there.

‘They are four of us – me, my wife, our student son and his girlfriend – living in a large four-bedroomed house and I was shocked when my initial research on the internet showed that our electricity bills for a year were significantly higher than average.’

Check your consumption

The first thing Mike did was to dig out all the old electric bills for the last 3 years. It soon became apparent that the increase in their costs was more than could be put down simply to inflation or rising prices.

‘We’d had a new kitchen and bathroom in the course of the last four years, which seemed to suggest that some of the increase was somehow down to those rooms.’

Because the electric meter was in a locked shed several of the readings had been estimated and when Mike checked he realised that the electric supplier had under-estimated the usage. ‘We’d been undercharged for most of the year – which wasn’t a good discovery to make at the start of our economy drive.’

By checking back through the bills Mike could see that year on year the kilowatt hours (the amount of energy needed for a 1 kilowatt fire to run for 1 hour) they’d used had gone up. ‘I could only guess at some of the things that were causing this increase. In our new kitchen we had a dishwasher for the first time in our lives. We also had a number of downlights throughout the house (in the kitchen, bathroom, two of the bedrooms and study). While they look attractive, they can be very expensive to run.’

So what can you do to reduce your electricity consumption and save money?

Invest in an energy monitor

Although this doesn’t save electricity or money as such, the information it provides is very useful in the fight.

‘We bought a monitor for about £35. It was easy to fit and, at any moment, can tell you how much electricity is being used in your home.’

The monitor is connected wirelessly to a display meter, which sits on the kitchen worktop and provides instant information about how much electricity you’re using in kwh. It also converts that to cost and can provide greenhouse gas emission information. This data is stored and can be downloaded to your computer where, using graphs, you can view your electricity usage over the year, month, week, day and even two-minute periods. ‘It means you can see how much electricity it takes to boil a kettle, run a dishwasher and so on. Most of the appliances we use are fairly new and comply to high energy efficient standards.’

Look for cheaper suppliers

‘There are many comparison websites that will tell you the best buy for energy suppliers in your area.’

And it can mean a significant difference. After researching the alternatives, Mike arranged to change to a different supplier. ‘This simple action should save us about £300 a year.’

Change light bulbs

‘We were already using low energy bulbs in most of our standard light fittings but not in the new downlights. After researching the difference I decided to invest in diodes. Although these are much more expensive than the normal low energy lights, they last much longer and should pay for themselves within 2 years.’

A normal light bulb will last about 2,000 hours while low energy ones last about 10,000 hours; a diode lasts for approximately 50,000 hours.

  • Ask yourself if you need such bright lighting in a particular room. ‘The light in the bathroom was very strong and quite harsh so I reduced the wattage. The lower watt diodes were cheaper and no-one’s noticed the difference in brightness.’

Don’t standby

‘I noticed that, even when nothing was apparently in use our electric consumption was still quite high. Then I realised that most things – like the television, digibox, dvd player and so on – were on standby mode. I found timer switches on special offer of 50p each in one of the large DIY stores and bought a basketful! This way, if we forget to switch things off, they won’t run interminably.’

  • Appliances that include some sort of timing device shouldn’t be switched off at the plug or by a timer. ‘We discovered this to our cost when we arrived home after a week away and none of the programmes we’d set the digibox to record had been saved as it had lost all the timings!’

Switch appliances off when not in use

‘We’re trying to change our habits and switch things off when we’re not using them. I always used to leave the coffee machine on even though I only use it at breakfast; now I switch it off at the plug after use.’

And finally

  • Look out for special offers. In a bid to reduce the nation’s energy use, suppliers often give away or offer a low price on energy saving devices.
  • If your roof insulation is less than 10” thick you may be eligible to have extra fitted cheaply, and, if you’re over 60, it’s even cheaper.
  • Visit the government’s energy website for lots more information about grants, saving electricity and reducing costs.