Smart Consumer: Want to save on energy bills? Put the heat on your provider!
When you receive your next energy bill, you may well get a fright. Chances are you've turned the heating on at this stage, so you will expect your bills to rise.
But there's more to it than that; energy prices have all gone up.
Bord Gáis and Airtricity already increased their electricity rates in August and September by 12% and 12.3% respectively. On October 1 all other standard rates for gas and electricity went up. ESB Electric Ireland's electricity tariff rose by 14.8% and Bord Gáis's regulated gas tariff increased by 22%, which was followed by the other operators.
At least the Government has reduced the PSO (Public Service Obligation) levy (the one you see itemised on your bill since October last year) so that will now be €3.65 instead of €6.20, but that won't go very far in offsetting the other increases.
So what can you do? There are two things. Firstly, switch to make sure you're getting the best deal and secondly, find ways to save on energy use in your home.
So, who do you switch to for the best deal? Well actually there isn't a straight answer to that one.
"It's getting like car insurance now where eligibility is a significant factor", explains David Kerr MD of comparison site bonkers.ie. "You have to know if you can avail of the best discount; for example, you may have to be a new customer.
"On top of that you need to ask yourself three questions," continues Kerr. "How happy am I to pay by direct debit? Do I want to receive my bills online or by post? And should I sign up for a one or two-year contract."
If you do sign up to a one or two-year contract, remember that you will be penalised if you leave before the contract period ends. And don't forget that the percentage discount you're getting is coming off a moveable tariff; a tariff that can change during the contract period, and just has. So don't just think "10% off", ask "10% of what?"
Once you come to the end of the contract your provider will move you to their standard rate, which will be higher, so if you're in a fixed-period contract know when it ends and then move to a better deal.
For anyone not stuck in a fixed-period contract, decide how you're willing to pay and get your bills, as you'll get the best discounts for e-bills and paying by direct debit. And then take a look at your recent bills.
Check if you are on an urban or rural, day or night tariff and what it is, so you can compare against the advertised rates.
Check the standard charge you pay and bear in mind that some good tariffs come with higher standard charges than others, which may not suit you if you have low consumption.
Know whether you use more gas or electricity so you can determine whether a 'dual fuel' deal is best for you. There is no point in signing up for cheaper electricity and not-so-cheap gas deal, if you use more gas.
Once you've waded through all that and made your choice, you should look at ways to reduce your energy use at home.
As 60% of our energy bills are made up of heating costs, here are a few tips for cutting down.
•Buy a screw-on draught excluder for your front door and one for the letterbox for about €5.99 each at a hardware store, so your heat doesn't go out the door.
•Plug holes with silicon sealant (under €20) and put adhesive insulation tape inside windows -- approx €4.99 from your hardware store.
•Buy a chimney balloon to stop your heat escaping. Available widely from €21 depending on size.
•Buy a radiator reflector panel to ensure heat is reflected back into your room and not out the wall and save between 8% and 15% in energy. Pack of five for €29.92 on purchase.ie or pack of 10 for €42.95 at esbstore.ie. (Approx 2 panels per radiator.)
•Turn down the heat and save 10% for every degree. Get a thermostat to control the temperature. A fancy wireless one costs €89.95 at esbstore.ie.
•If your attic isn't insulated you lose 30% of heat through it, so if you can afford it get it insulated (approx €650). Grants of €200 toward the cost are available from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
Useful websites: l To compare electricity and gas charges www.bonkers.ie l For energy saving tips and grant information: www.seai.ie Useful Apps: l SEAI Home Energy manager (iPhone only) Free. l ESB Electric Ireland appliance calculator. Free. l Eco-Bulbz -- calculates savings from changing to energy saving bulbs. Free for basic App (€2.99 for iPhone advanced version/Android version 99c).