In October The Guardian asked readers for their tips on cutting energy bills.
They were contacted by a retired 66-year-old retired academic who worked at a London university. She spent half her working life caring for her children and doing voluntary work, which reduced her pension, so she now makes an effort to keep her heating bills down. She has taken rationing her energy use to a new level, and she wanted to share her methods.
"People talk as if very high energy bills are inevitable, whereas often these could be cut a little or a lot, and in ways that can improve our quality of life. I've just had my quarterly bills: electricity £7.44 (+ VAT + standing charge = £12.89) and gas £7.88 (+ VAT but minus dual fuel discount = £4.75).That's how our academic cuts her costs. Saving that much money clearly takes a lot of effort, so would you be willing to go that far in the name of smaller utility bills?"If you asked me to score my quality of life from one to 10, I would definitely say 12 plus.
"I am a pensioner, at home and with the computer on most of the time, who pays well under £100 for my annual, total, combined gas and electricity bills. I have worked out gradually how to do this, and now find it so easy it is automatic.
"Although I am very lucky in my housing and neighbourhood, at least some of my savings could be made by anyone. A few ideas are fairly costly to set up, but they could be paid for many times over in savings on later annual bills – especially given that carbon fuel prices are only going to keep rising.
"Three years ago I moved house, and chose an end-of-terrace home with a south- and west-facing living room, and no nearby tall trees or buildings. The living room has patio doors and even in deepest winter, on sunny days, it heats up to more than 20C. If you have any blank walls that face east or west, but preferably south, could you possibly put in a double-glazed window? The larger the better. Patio doors heat up rooms much more than ordinary windows do.
"Insulated cavity walls and roof increase the winter warmth. I have carpets here – much cosier than the laminate floors in my last home – and cream 'blackout' curtains which give excellent insulation.
"I do not use central heating. Instead, I use the warm living room almost all the time in winter. Okay, the other rooms are chilly. But does that matter as long as you only need to use them briefly during the day, and you have one really warm room, or two for larger families?
"My main heating is a wood-burner, and for that you have to have a chimney or some kind of wall outlet. My burner, with installation by a plumber, cost about £500. Even a large room is fine with a small burner, and they last forever.
"The other expenses are logs – about £200 a year. So that does bring my fuel bills up to nearly £300, and you do need somewhere to store the logs without having to carry them far. There is very little ash, which only needs clearing out into a small bag about once a month. The annual chimney sweep costs about half the price of checking the gas boiler.
"You can get burners with in-built boilers, which heat radiators and water tanks. Instead, I always keep a filled kettle on my burner, and add that hot water to pans or to an electric kettle whenever I need boiling water. I slow-cook stews on the burner, after heating them on a hob, and you can hang clothes around for very quick drying.
"My glass-fronted burner is a beautiful companion. Throughout the year, I collect twigs and lumps of fallen wood in nearby parks to use for kindling and to start a quick blaze in the morning.
"For unheated bedrooms you can use one or two – or three – hot water bottles (from the burner kettle) and lots of warm covers. It can be more pleasant to sleep in a warm bed in a cold winter room than in a hot summer bedroom where you cannot control the temperature.
"Maybe you are thinking about the misery of cold kitchens and bathrooms. During winter I prepare food, and the hot water for cooking and washing up, in the living room – so need to spend little time in the kitchen. Jackets and jerseys are handy for longer spells in the kitchen. Living in inner London I have shops near by. I use them as my main larder, so I can do without a freezer, and I turn on my fridge only briefly to cool white wine, or occasionally for the grandchildren's ice-cream. Food keeps well in cool kitchens.
"I buy milk every other day, and keep the carton in a jug of cold water. Shopping every day or two ensures that food is fresh and varied. Another advantage is not having a fridge full of stuff near its end-of-shelf life, which helps to reduce overeating and throwing away stale food.
"The bathroom is the other great energy consumer. Older people will remember how in the 1940s-1950s we tended to have a bath once or twice a week. Advertisers have lately persuaded us that it is unhealthy and disgusting to shower less than at least once a day. Yet a quick wash, with water from a kettle, is fine for most days – or a leisurely wash in front of the burner. Baby wipes are a great invention, and I can guarantee no one will guess if you haven't had a shower for five days.
"Maybe you are thinking that a good quality of life demands several warm though hardly used rooms, plenty of hot water on tap, and lots of electric equipment on standby. But think about all the things you could buy instead of burning money on fuel bills."
While her ideas seem to do a great deal to reduce fuel bills overall and the idea of using a woodburning stove to provide the main heat for a room is a great idea. Especially when using a Stove fan to help circulate the warm air around the room.
However it seems to me that her determination to cut energy bills is driving the cost of general living up, for example I think it would be cheaper to pay for the cost of heating water for a shower every day or every other day rather than a constant supply of baby wipes!
Also the cost of running a modern, energy efficient Fridge Freezer also would be less than the cost of buying food on a daily basis from a local shop, which can often be more expensive than a weekly or half-weekly shop from a supermarket.