Making Cents: Keeping tabs on the cost of home heating in winter

The extra hour in bed was appreciated on Sunday morning but it also meant the start of the long winter nights, writes Gráinne McGuinness

Making Cents: Keeping tabs on the cost of home heating in winter

According to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) home heating typically accounts for about two thirds of annual household energy bills, with most of that cost coming in the next few months.

But despite it being a major drain on our finances, many of us repeat simple mistakes that drive those bills up.

Tom Halpin, Head of Communications with the SEAI, told me about the most common mistakes Irish households make, and how to correct them and make major savings.

“What we are trying to do is help people be smarter with their home heating. If they are smarter with their heating they will be more comfortable, use less energy and have lower costs — and they will also benefit the environment.

“The first way people waste energy is by overheating their home.”

Mr Halpin was keen to emphasise that elderly people, the infirm and those with young or ill children may have different heat requirements.

“But for the general population, indications are they are setting the temperature a little higher than they need.

We advocate 20C as being a comfortable temperature for most living spaces. A lot of people set their heat at 21C in the hope that it will heat the home faster but that doesn’t happen. It gets to 20C at the same speed it would have anyway.

Then it gets to 21C and is a little too warm, and Irish people tend to either open a window and let that heat out or turn off the heating and let the temperature go down. That one degree difference equates to 10% of your heating bill.”

The SEAI calculate that lowering your thermostat by that one degree could save around €150 in a typical family home.

The second frequent mistake he sees is people overestimating how long it takes their home to warm up.

“Say you’ve to get up at seven to have a shower and then leave for work at 7.30am. People will put the heating on at six or even 5.30am to make sure there is enough hot water and that it is warm. 30 minutes is enough to achieve that, so turn it on at 6.30am. And if you are leaving at 7.30am, turn it off at seven, there will be enough heat left in the house.”

He advises the same principle in the evening, setting the heat to come on for 30 minutes before you are due home and off 30 minutes before you go to bed.

Mr Halpin’s other main piece of advice is one we have all heard but many of us tend to ignore — get the boiler serviced annually.

“If people don’t service their boiler it is running inefficiently. Much like the engine of your car, parts get a bit worn and grimy. If you clean it, you are likely to recover the cost of the service and a bit more in your bill. It is also likely to be more reliable and safer.”

The SEAI also have grants available for wall and roof insulation, as well as home heating upgrades. Insulating your attic and walls could save you 30-40% on your home heating bill and Mr Halpin said there is still time to get work done this year and reap the savings.

“If you apply online, provided you have your meter reference number, which is on your bill, approval is virtually instantaneous. There is also a postal option and that will take a week to 10 days to get approved.” Visit the grants section at for full details.

While open fires look beautiful, they are a real waste of energy with more than 75% of energy going up the chimney. They are also damaging to air quality, so the SEAI recommends homeowners choose a more energy efficient option.

“If you particularly want the appeal of a flame in a fireplace then a closed wood pellet stove would be far more efficient, it can direct more of the heat in the home. Nowadays there are homes being built without a chimney and that is going to become more common. There are far better options than an open fire and energy you have paid for being wasted.

“Energy is too expensive to be letting it go out the window or up the chimney.”


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Customers can also avail of up to €120 free credit when they buy online and switch to Three, depending on how frequently they top up.

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