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Understanding energy

How do I measure my energy use?

Energy monitor

Energy monitor

A good place to start is to find out where you are now. This can be done a number of ways. You could get an energy monitor. This tells you how much electricity your home or business is using at any point. It works by clamps on the wires going into your electricity meter. Most of them work wirelessly, so you can walk round the property with them, and see the impact of turning your various appliances on and off.

For more detailed monitoring you can get a plug-in meter that measures the amount of energy used by each appliance. Plug it into a socket, and plug the appliance into the meter for a period of time, and you can calculate how many kWh of electricity it uses per day, per wash or per boil.

Some electricity companies are giving out free energy monitors to customers. You might check with yours.  

It is government policy that everyone in the UK will have a smart meter installed by 2012. This should give the same benefits as an energy monitor, and will also be a live connection with your energy supplier, so they know what energy you are using, and won't have to visit to read your meter (or estimate bills). The programme starts in 2014, but British gas is already doing some pilot testing. Other companies are also offering smart meters, but these may not comply with the final specification when it is agreed.

How do I work out a building's energy performance?

Home energy check

Home energy check

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) tell you how energy efficient a building is. If you have moved house in the past few years, you will have been provided with one by the estate agent, seller or landlord. The EPC system assesses the fuel cost per metre squared of a property.

There are some assumptions involved in the calculation: occupation rates are estimated to be the standard for a property of that floor area; heating and electricity use are assumed; and fuel costs are the UK average.  Your actual fuel costs per square metre may be quite different, depending on how many people use the property, how high you have the thermostat, and how much you use the heating. However, it still is a useful tool to gauge how much your property will cost to run; and what potential savings you could make by installing various energy efficiency measures.

If you haven’t got a recent EPC, you can get a DIY home energy check from the Energy Saving Trust website. This is similar to an EPC (although it is not an official EPC). It tells you what your current estimated fuel bill is. It also makes recommendations for energy saving improvements, and gives guidance about how much they would cost to install, and what impact that would have on your energy bills. You can select whether your goal is an improved EPC score, lower bills, or reduced carbon emissions.

Where do I start saving energy?

The received wisdom is that you start with insulation. This is fine if you've got cavity walls and an accessible loft; less easy if your cavities are hard to treat, or you have solid walls and have recently decorated.

We prefer a more pragmatic approach based on advice from our regular bloggers greentomatoenergy:

"A good starting point is to set an energy strategy for your property. This can be done with or without the help of experts, but the experts can help you to model the savings to be achieved, provide you with specifications (so that you can compare installation costs properly) and check that things are doing what they are supposed to post installation.

First, set out your plans for the property.  Are you going to redecorate in the next two years? Will you be extending the property? Does your roof need retiling? Will you be selling up? When is your next boiler upgrade due? Potential energy saving measures then start to become obvious. For example, if you’ve got rotten windows and they need to be replaced anyway, that’s the place to start.

Then look at how much energy you actually consume. You need to keep an eye on your meters for a few months. This allows you to confirm that the anticipated savings have been achieved and you can compare your property’s performance against industry benchmarks.

Other things to look at are parts of the house which are too cold in the winter and/or too warm in the summer. The measures you would usually install to save energy usually end up solving these problems as well.

A planned approach means that you won’t end up feeling overwhelmed and that you will achieve most value for money." 

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