When I was growing up, the sofa in our small living room had a summer place and a winter place. In winter, my mum moved the sofa six inches away from the radiator when she turned the heating on. Mum did to avoid blocking and absorbing the heat from the radiator by having heavy furniture directly in front of it. (On really cold days, we’d huddle up against the radiator in the convenient gap behind the sofa.) In the spring, when it was warmer, the sofa would be moved back to just in front of the radiator to give us more space in the tiny room.
Another sign that winter was coming, was that our curtains would get changed. Every night after dinner, the heavy winter curtains and living room door would be shut to keep the heat in.
I regularly talk about these and other steps people can take to keep their home warm in my role as Affordable Warmth Advisor with Changeworks. It’s almost four years since I joined the team and I recognise the dread the change in season causes for some people.
For some people, the winter means long hard months of cold and misery, trying to get by and afford to keep the lights and the heating on. For the 34.9% of Scotland’s population living in fuel poverty – the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 definition is when a person spends more than 10 percent of their household income on fuel use – this can be hard, even impossible.
Higher heating and electricity costs in winter are to an extent unavoidable. Heating costs alone make up around two thirds of the average household heating and electricity bill, currently over £1,000. We have to heat our homes to stay warm or else risk health problems and the danger of hypothermia.
There are things that everyone can do to try to reduce the costs of winter. I’ve highlighted a few below:
Keeping cosy, not stuffy
- Keep your heating between a comfortable 18° and 21°C, so the heating system runs efficiently. If you are elderly, have health issues or there are young children in the home, the living room temperature should be a bit higher at 23°C.
- However tempting it may be, don’t turn the thermostat up to 30°C! This will take just as long to heat up your house, but will cost much more to run at a higher temperature. Most people also find that after an hour of this, the house feels uncomfortably hot.
- Instead of leaving your heating on all the time, use the timer to ensure that the heating is on when you need it. The thermostat is not an accurate way to control your heating. It may still be running when you don’t need it, which will cost you more.
- Get your heating system serviced annually and make sure your radiators are bled when required. This will ensure that your heating system runs efficiently and helps avoid a breakdown during the cold months. If you live in a rented property your landlord will arrange a safety check for you
- Check that your home is fully insulated. Help and support is available from Home Energy Scotland, call 0808 808 2282
- Protect your home against draughts. Watch this video on draught-proofing your home (2 mins 34 secs)
- Although it is important to not let heat escape, you need to keep your home ventilated even in the winter months. Keep trickle vents open to reduce condensation or you may find black mould patches appearing.
- Keep an eye on electricity costs. Little things like switching off lights when you’re not in the room and turning off appliances when you’re not using them can help to save money on your electricity bill. Watch this video on how to waste less energy on household appliances (5 mins)
Managing heating and electricity bills
- Warm Home Discount offers extra help for those who need it. The Warm Home Discount is a government scheme that credits £140 to vulnerable customers, often people receiving benefits or on a low income who have health issues or children. To find out if you are eligible, contact your electricity or gas supplier directly. Move fast to avoid missing out as suppliers have limited funding.
- Don’t forget to top up your prepayment meters regularly, even when you are not using gas or electricity. Try to keep out of emergency credit. Many of my clients find that after a summer of not topping up their meter they “self-disconnect”. This means that the meter automatically collects missed payments of standing charge, and potentially debt, so people get very little gas or electricity and often find that they use their emergency credit a lot. To avoid this, use the warmer summer months to build up credit on the meter so that you have a buffer in the winter. Alternatively, speak to your gas/electricity supplier about switching to another payment method, such as direct debit to help you to reduce your bills.
If you’re struggling, support is available. As an Affordable Warmth Advisor, myself and my team mates provide one-to-one energy efficiency advice to tenants and home owners who want to save money on their gas and electricity bills. Our service is free, confidential and available for people who struggle to pay their bills in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Midlothian, West Lothian and the Borders. To contact us, drop us an email or call our colleagues at Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282 and ask to speak to a member of the Affordable Warmth Team.
Natalie Hancox is Changeworks’ Affordable Warmth Advisor