If you've heard of the phrase ‘heat or eat' you may also realise that for many people the dilemma is a very real one when the temperature plummets at this time of year.
Indeed this winter a survey by energy company npower found a million UK households expect to have to choose between eating or heating as many people struggle to meet the rising costs of staying warm and feeding their families. A third of those who were asked said they might have to think twice about switching on the kettle to make a hot drink, while almost half said they would have to turn down their central heating thermostat or heat just their main room to save cash.
The survey discovered more than half of pensioners and a third of people with children say they'll have fewer hot baths or showers to keep their energy bills down too.
Even if you have a decent income the arrival of winter energy bills can make a serious dent in your finances. But the good news is there are ways to take the sting out of your energy bills by saving energy around the home…
Deal with draughts
Gaps in your doors, windows and floors can let cold air in and warm air out. So try installing draught excluders on your doors and windows. You can use a suitable sealant, insulating strips, wooden beading or even rolled up pieces of newspaper. Rolled-up blankets make good draught excluders for under your doors too.
Floors with gaps and cracks are also responsible for heat loss, so check your floors carefully and consider having any gaps sealed with a silicone-based sealant (look for 1 that's designed specifically for draught proofing floorboards). Rolled-up pieces of newspaper can be used here too if you're on a budget, plus it can be removed when the spring arrives.
Watch out for other places that can let in cold air too, such as keyholes, letterboxes and cat flaps (keep these covered as much as possible during the winter months). But never cover air vents, as a covered air vent could increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Meanwhile if your windows aren't double glazed it's a good idea to close your curtains, blinds or shutters as soon as the sun goes down - but keep them open during the day, as the sun shining through your windows will help your room stay warm.
Avoid leaving appliances on standby
Try not to leave electrical devices such as TVs, DVD players, set-top boxes, mobile phone chargers and other appliances on standby. If they're on standby, they are still switched on - which means they're wasting energy. Instead of leaving them on standby, switch them off completely (you may have to unplug them). According to the Energy Saving Trust, you could save around £30 a year just by avoiding using your appliances' standby mode.
Insulate your home
There are significant energy savings to be made if your home is well insulated. For instance experts believe around a quarter of the heat from homes goes straight out of a roof that doesn't have proper insulation. You can insulate your roof, your cavity walls and even solid walls, and also put insulation under your floorboards, all of which can lead to lower energy bills as well as a warmer home environment.
There are grants and loans available that could help you with the cost of insulation - visit gov.uk to find out more.
Depending on the type of hot water system you have at home you may also want to insulate your hot water tank and pipes, as this could help keep your water hotter for longer. A lagging jacket for your hot water tank should pay for itself within a year, plus you can get relatively inexpensive foam tubes that cover the pipes between your hot water tank and your boiler.
Keep heating under control
Installing a room thermostat, timer and thermostatic radiator valves could save you around £75 a year if you use them efficiently, says the Energy Saving Trust. This means you can programme the timer to switch your heating on before you get up or before you come home, which saves more energy compared with turning your thermostat up to warm your house up quickly. Individual thermostat valves on your radiators can also give you control over which rooms you want to heat, and what temperature you want to heat them to.
It's also a good idea to bleed your radiators regularly, as trapped air in radiators can make them cooler and less effective. Plus try not to place furniture directly in front of radiators, as it could mean the heat will be absorbed into the furniture rather than heating up the air.
Smart heating controls are also worth considering. These are the latest innovation to help you control your heating remotely via a mobile app, so you can set your heating even when you're not at home.
Turn your thermostat down
Reducing your room temperature by just 1°C could cut your heating bills by up to 10%. According to the NHS if you're under 65, healthy and active, you can safely have your home cooler than 18ºC, if you're comfortable. But if you're not very mobile, you're 65 or older or you have a health condition such as heart or lung disease, heat your home to at least 18ºC.
You may also want to turn the thermostat on your hot water tank down to 60ºC, as it will save on water as well as electricity because you won't need so much cold water to make the temperature of your bath or shower nice and warm rather than too hot.
Switch to energy-saving LED bulbs
Replacing all your light bulbs with energy-saving LED bulbs may be an investment, but these newer energy-saving bulbs last much longer than non-energy-saving ones. Many have a rated life of up to 50,000 hours, which means if you used them 12 hours a day they would last more than 11 years. LED bulbs also use much less electricity than other bulbs.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the average household would spend £100 replacing all its bulbs with LEDs. But it would save about £35 a year on bills. So if you don't replace them for 11 years, you'll have saved a considerable amount. LED is still a relatively new lighting technology, but the price of buying bulbs has come down drastically in the last few years and is likely to keep dropping. Find them at your local supermarket or DIY store.
Also try to get into the habit of turning off lights when you're not using them. According to the Energy Saving Trust, switching a light off for just a few seconds saves more energy than it takes for the light to start up again, whatever type of bulb you're using. This could save you around £14 on your annual electricity bill.
Wash your clothes at 30°C
Unless you have a specific reason for doing so, washing your clothes at a high temperature isn't usually necessary these days, as most laundry detergents are designed to work effectively at 30ºC or even lower.
Using a tumble dryer may be a necessity during the winter months, as airing your clothes outdoors isn't effective when it's cold. But try to save on drying time by wringing your clothes out thoroughly before putting them in the dryer. You may also want to try using dryer balls, which work by lifting and separating your laundry when it's drying, reducing drying time by up to 25%.
Making sure your washing machine is fully loaded each time you use it can help save both electricity and water. You can also apply the same principle to your tumble dryer and dishwasher. Similarly, only fill your kettle with as much water as you need before switching it on.
Service your boiler
If you have gas or oil central heating, aim to have your boiler serviced every year by a qualified engineer to make sure it's running efficiently.
If on the other hand your boiler is getting old it may be worth replacing it with a more efficient 1 that could save you money in the long run and keep your home warmer. New boilers are expensive - typically around £2,300. But people receiving certain benefits may be eligible for a free boiler from an energy provider such as E.on, EDF Energy, npower or SSE.
The quickest way to find out if you qualify is to call the Energy Saving Trust advice service - call 0300 123 1234 if you live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or 0808 808 2282 if you live in Scotland. Or get in touch with the energy providers direct (you don't always have to be a customer).
You may also be able to save money by switching to a new energy supplier. For more information, read our article Household bills: why it makes sense to switch.
If you're worried about paying your energy bills this winter, have a chat with 1 of our Support Officers about our financial support services, which includes advice about benefits and budgeting.
Winter fuel payments
As the temperatures drop we know you might be hesitant to turn up the thermostat if you’re worried about how to pay the bills. That’s why we’re committed to providing a winter fuel payment to those who need it.
For more advice and information, call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 or chat to an advisor online 24 hours a day.