It is fair to say that some of the tips for saving money and reducing our energy usage made by transport and environment minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan in recent months have not gone down entirely well with some members of the public.
Suggesting that people drive slower or less or have shorter showers or ease off on cooking and kettle boiling between 5pm and 7pm have been characterised in some quarters as “gaffes” made by an “out-of-touch” minister who has no understanding of the crisis being faced by the good people of Ireland.
[ Pricewatch: 25 money-saving tips for winter months ahead ]
But despite all the abuse and derision that was heaped upon his green shoulders, the reality is Ryan is not.
We might also argue that it takes a degree of cogitative dissonance to suggest that when it comes to advocating for a move away from fossil fuels and a lightening of our carbon footprint, the one party leader who has built his entire career in politics on that very platform is somehow out of touch with the harsh realities facing our world.
We digress. While lopping a minute off your morning shower will not keep the wolves from the door this winter and doing 110km/h on a motorway instead of a reckless 140 will not leave the Inflation monster coughing and spluttering in your wake, a series of actions — some big and some small — will go some way to offsetting the savage energy price hikes we have endured since this time last year.
To shoplift a phrase from a supermarket that no doubt spent millions on it, every little helps and sometimes the little things can help quite a lot.
Our Government and governments across the EU have recognised this and in recent days have been rolling out all manner of cost-saving measures from lowering the temperatures of Civil Service departments to a mildly bracing 19 degrees in this country to equally penny-pinching measures elsewhere.
Most Irish households will have to pay more than €2,000 more on heating and lighting their homes, cooking their meals, washing their clothes and themselves and generally going about their lives than they did in 2021
In Spain, shop window lighting is now switched off at 10pm — closing time for many shops there while limits on air conditioning and heating in public spaces are being imposed. German shops now have to close their doors to reduce the use of air conditioning and heating while illuminated advertising and monuments will have to go dark. In France energy inefficient swimming pools are to close and a whole lot more besides.
Tom Halpin of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland says, while many Irish people are already being put to the pin of their collars when it comes to cost-saving measures, there are many other households which could knock off, at least, a quarter of the cost of their domestic energy bills this winter by being cannier about how they go about their days.
[ Price hikes will leave many households €4,000 worse off by end of year ]
Many of us could save ourselves as much as €500 between now and next summer by becoming Domestic Energy Ninjas — a phrase Halpin sadly does not use even once when he talks to Pricewatch.
And yes, having shorter showers is one of the things we should all be doing.
“Home energy bills are clearly heading north and very fast and people are anxious and concerned,” he starts by saying. “It is an unfortunate set of circumstances, appalling even. We have the war in Ukraine that has pushed prices higher than we would have believed possible.”
He is not wrong when he says people are anxious and concerned and they are going to be more concerned as the winter electricity and gas bills land.
With energy companies rolling out multiple price hikes over the last 12 months most Irish households will have to pay more than €2,000 more on heating and lighting their homes, cooking their meals, washing their clothes and themselves and generally going about their lives than they did in 2021.
But money at that level will have to be spent if we take no steps to offset the price hikes. Halpin says many people will be able to knock over 20 per cent off their bills by being more energy aware and if we can save ourselves €500 then that level of awareness becomes less desirable than it is essential.
Many Irish people have grown accustomed to warmer houses than might have been the case in times past
“The first point for people to consider is where they’re using their energy,” Halpin tells Pricewatch. “Heating your home in general is about 60 per cent of your energy bill, heating hot water is about 20 per cent and electricity is about 20 per cent. There will be homes with better insulation or less efficient appliances but generally, it is a 60/20/ 20 split.”
So given that heating is the biggest drain on our resources — financial as well as natural — that is where Halpin says we need to start.
“The first thing we would we always say to people is; think about how you’re using your heating system first before you spend any money on measures such as better insulation. Think about how you’re using it and focus on time, temperature and location.”
He highlights the importance of “having the heating on when you need it and where you need it and at the temperature or the comfort level that you need. Even if a person has the most basic of timers and thermostats, it’s possible to do that reasonably. You need your heat on about for 30 minutes before you come in and then 30 minutes before you leave or go to bed, you can turn it off. So there’s an awful lot of potential to save.”
Many Irish people have grown accustomed to warmer houses than might have been the case in times past. Children of the 1970s and 1980s — and earlier — will recall that houses were not heated to semi-tropical levels year-round and huddles round the fire or storage heaters were not uncommon while people were frequently sent to bed with hot water bottles because bedrooms were Baltic.
Halpin does not suggest we go back to those times but does think there is room to manoeuvre. “A temperature of 20 degrees or even 19 degrees is comfortable,” he suggests. “We don’t for a moment advocate that people be uncomfortable in a cold house, particularly if there are elderly ... or unwell people there.”
He says zonal heating is also crucial. “If you have the ability to control where you heat with electronic zones, or manually controlled zones, or even just with a small radiator valve to turn off the heating or turn it right down to just a trickle in rooms that are not in use it will make a difference,” he says. “If there’s a home office that you leave at six in the evening, don’t heat until the next morning.”
He suggests that once people have “been really judicious about how they get heat into the home they should look at how do they keep that heat in the home.”
[ Energy bills: Ten ways to save money this winter ]
There has been much talk in recent times about the grants available for deep retrofitting and heat pumps and solar panels but they will be of cold comfort to anyone looking at ways they can keep the lights on this winter. All these measures will save people money and make life more comfortable in the long run but with an initial outlay of many thousands of euro, it is ludicrous to point to such moves as money-saving measures in the short term.
It is a different story when it comes to the SEAI attic insulation grant, which, Halpin says, will cover around 80 per cent of the total cost of insulation and lead to a payback very quickly.
“The return investment time is a year or two years,” he says with the SEAI covering €800 for the insulation of an apartment rising to as much as €1,500 for a larger detached house.
Des Bishop did that great hatchet job on the immersion and he was right. It terrorised us as much as Peig Sayers did in the 1980s
He encourages people to apply to the SEAI online for the money and says grant approval is fast. “Then you just need to schedule the work, get the forms filled in by the contractor and an updated Ber rating and the claim is paid within a couple of weeks of the full documentation being sent in.”
Many people reading this will comfort themselves by saying they had their attic done in the 80s or 90s but the reality is that the technology has improved and having it redone should yield better results.
When it comes to hot water, Halpin suggests keeping an eye on the clock rather than trying to fiddle with the temperature and use your immersion at your financial peril.
“Des Bishop did that great hatchet job on the immersion and he was right. It terrorised us as much as Peig Sayers did in the 1980s. But it is the same story today. If you have your immersion on for longer than your need it, it is a little like boiling your kettle over and over again because you think you might have a cup of tea at six o’clock.”
And then there are the appliances. “If you can avoid heating water or heat it for less time then it is going to be better so use the sink not the bath, the shower not bath and shorter showers are all good.”
What are the savings? Halpin says getting the timing, temperature and location of our heating right will see around 10 per cent knocked off our energy bills.
“You could probably save 10 per cent on the energy by being more careful when heating water,” he adds.
Another 5 per cent could be saved by the simple but essential step of servicing a boiler - once a year for an oil burner and once every two years for a gas boiler. “Soot is a great insulator unfortunately and if there is a lot of soot then any system will work inefficiently.”
Savings of 25 per cent are not to be sniffed at. “If someone said instead of paying €1.95 for a litre of petrol or diesel we could pay €1.75 we would bite their hand off but people don’t tend to watch the unit price of gas or electricity or consume energy in that way but maybe that needs to change.”
10 tips to save
1. We have said it before and we will say it again — If you haven’t switched energy provider in the last 12 months — or ever — do it now. Moving from the standard unit rate you are on now to the discounted rate available to you as a new customer with a different company will save anywhere between €500 and €1,500 over the next 12 months. Use bonkers.ie or switcher.ie to save you time and effort.
2. Insulating or re-insulating your attic should see your energy costs over the winter ahead fall by more than €100.
3. A Home Energy Saving Kit available free from your local library will help you see where the energy in your house is and allow you to plug any leaks.
4. Never heat an empty house and give rarely used rooms a trickle of heat and get into the habit of turning off lights in every room you are not in, the amounts you save will be small but they will add up
6. Turning the thermostat down by just two degrees you will see your energy bill for the winter fall by as much as 10 per cent.
7. Only run your washing machine or dishwasher when full and on lower temperatures and don’t leave any electrical goods on standby and spend just one minute less in the shower every morning.
8. Service your boiler.
9. Make sure your hot water tank is properly insulated.
10. Don’t turn on your immersion — or if you do, don’t leave it on all day unless you have won the Lotto and don’t care about the future of the planet.
We asked readers for their best energy-saving tips, here are just some that came back to us
1. Buy an airfryer, smaller than an oven but does exactly the same and uses less energy. Bought my Mam one and she loves it. Steph Coe
2. Block up your chimney to stop the heat from being sucked out, if you have an open fire but won’t be lighting it because of the fuel costs. Sinead Deutrom
3. A pulley clothes line in a narrow passage — never needed a tumble dryer and no tripping over a clothes horse. Mary Healy
4. Get an extension lead with an on/off switch for TV etc. Turn it off when going to bed and on holidays. The “always on” cost will reduce on your bill. If you have a smart meter, choose the weekend rate. I charge my car, do all laundry, vacuum etc on Sundays. Bernadette O’Reilly
5. I wash my clothes after 11pm and put them out on the clothesline regardless of weather. I take them in when dry and air them off on the clothes horse in the bathroom. I have never had problems getting them dry. Another thing we insisted on is sockets with lights and on-off switches. Jo Heavey
6. If I’m using the oven I’m going to try to batch cook meals. So if I’m making a shepherd pie I’m going to cook a chicken as well. I can freeze what I want to save for later in the week. Dolores
7. If you drive for a living charge your phone while driving and also buy a power bank charge that while you’re driving and when you get home plug your wife’s phone into that. Bernard Fitzsimons
8. Buy meats when on special & batch cook & freeze. Saves huge energy costs when cooking. Steep porridge the previous night, it’s quick to cook the next day. Boil kettle in morning and fill two flasks. Betty Kehoe
9. Bought a fleece with a hood in Dunne’s Stores for €20 to wear when watching TV and save from putting heat on — looks very cosy. Anne-Marie Diffley
10. I don’t know how much it saves but a dehumidifier under the clothes horse helps hugely in drying them if you have no washing line and don’t have (or don’t want to use) a dryer. Niamh B
11. Turn your oven off 10 mins before the end of cooking but don’t open the door! What’s in the oven will continue to cook (this is a rough estimate but 10 mins is about right I think). Suzanne Rodgers
12. If you’re using the oven, try to cook two or three dinners at a time and keep them in the fridge when they’re cooked, easy to reheat in the microwave and saves you turning on the oven at peak times for a few days. Janet F
13. Move your light switches up 3ft (91cm), that way the kids can’t turn on every bloody light in the house. Philip Fitzgerald
14. If you’ve cash in the bank and your roof is suitable, install solar panels. I saved about €300 on my electricity bill last year. It’ll be proportionately more this year. It’s a far better return for your money than leaving it in the bank. John Molloy
Penalising non-online orders
“I am sure you are inundated with emails etc in the current climate regarding electricity and gas prices,” starts a mail we received last week from a reader called Bernice. She was contacting us on behalf of her mother.
“My Mum is 80 and on a state pension,” she says. “She does not do online banking so her credit card works in-store or over the telephone. She was ordering heating oil today, a number of the oil companies accept online ordering which is dreadful but we found one that would take an order over the telephone.”
“The online cost of 500 litres of kerosene with the company in question was €679. After my Mum had given all relevant details including her card number the gentleman on the telephone said that will be €719. She queried the price difference of €40 and the gentleman said that online prices are special. She was horrified that a telephone call/order was costing €40. The gentleman proceeded to tell her that he agreed it was terrible that he had spoken to his employer numerous times about the difference and basically got the deaf ear from them.”
Bernice says she is “furious for my Mum and anyone else, old or young that does not have a banking app and that need to order heating oil, €10 difference maybe but not €40 I would be very grateful if you could highlight this and possibly stop companies taking advantage. Basically charging €40 for a telephone call and penalising anyone to such an extent for not ordering online.”
Bernice did not identify the company but it is a practice that seems abhorrent to us. Times are hard enough without penalising vulnerable people without any justification whatsoever. If you have come across anything similar — or indeed any other examples of energy companies or providers ripping people off we would like to hear more about it.