HOUSEHOLDERS are being crippled with rocketing fuel bills despite using less energy than ever before.
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) said average household consumption fell by 18pc between 2006 and 2011, and that 4pc of average disposable income is spent on utility bills.
However, despite reducing usage, families face a winter of record-high energy costs with average annual bills expected to hit €2,200 for gas and electricity.
This follows a series of price hikes approved by the Commission for Energy Regulation, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) has also warned that fuel prices are set to rise over the coming years.
The SEAI said that reduced consumption has arisen because of improved efficiency in new buildings, coupled with changes in consumer behaviour including turning off appliances, not heating unused rooms and turning off lights.
Head of Low Carbon Technologies Kevin O'Rourke said that fitting homes with more efficient boilers and insulation has also reduced consumption. He said that making these changes would help reduce the impact of expected price hikes over the coming years.
"From the analysis of the data we can attribute about half the savings to structural improvements, and half to behavioural changes," he said.
"It's about the choices people are making in how they use energy. Since 2006, we've reached a turning point and a steady economy is emerging in terms of energy use.
"While we've reached a turning point, we're under no illusions. There remains a compelling need for the focus on retrofitting to extend and deepen.
"One of the reasons energy policies are important is because of the global demand for fossil fuels. The IEA said we're in for fossil fuel increases, and these (retrofits and behavioural changes) are the best insulation against price rises."
The 'Residential Energy in Ireland 2013' report shows that more efficient homes have resulted in the average spend on energy falling by 2.3pc between 2006 and 2011, even though fuel prices increased during this period.
Residential electricity prices are 7pc above the EU average in real terms, but when the cost of living and other factors are taken into account it is 1pc below.
For gas, when cost of living is included, we are 10pc below the average.
The report also shows:
* Homes account for 27pc of all energy usage and associated carbon dioxide emissions.
* A new home will consume less than one-fifth of the equivalent home built in the 1970s.
* Average carbon dioxide emissions from homes were 6.4 tonnes in 2011, a fall of 40pc since 1990.
* Some 250,000 homes have ben upgraded, or retrofitted, which resulted in annual energy savings of €56m.
SEAI also said one-in-five properties has a required energy rating, showing how efficient the property is.