Seven free or low cost energy-saving ways to make your home greener and cheaper to run (and why green boilers spectacularly failed)

The Renewable Heat Incentive scheme, set up in 2011 to fit green boilers has failed homes and businesses, a group of MPs said this week.


Subsidies are expected to cost £23billion to taxpayers, but the scheme saw just 60,000 boilers installed in the past four years, compared with 6.2million gas boilers in the same time, the Public Accounts Committee said.


But while this project was a dud, there are a number of schemes available for free and low-cost energy efficient measures to be installed. And now is the right time to start thinking about making your home ready for the colder months. 




In the damning report, the Public Accounts Committee said forecasts of take-up by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy were 'wildly over-optimistic'.


The main reason for the low take-up, was the high upfront costs required with installation of the green boilers along with the 'hassle factor' of installing the equipment.


But making your home greener and cheaper to run doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. 

Here we've listed the major freebies on offer, and how you can get your hands on them.


Free cavity wall and loft insulation


Around a third of your home's heat is lost through the walls and with cavity wall insulation you can cut around £145 per year off your energy bills, according to the Energy Saving Trust.


Similarly, a quarter of heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home, and having roof insulation fitted can cut £130 a year from your energy bills and it's meant to last for at least 40 years.

The cost of having both of these installed can be around £700 for the average home, but some energy providers will install both for free.


In some cases you need to be an existing customer with the energy firm, and you may need to be receiving certain benefits to apply for the freebie.


With Eon and Npower, for example, anyone can apply as long as your home meets the eligibility requirements.


Green Deal loans are once again available for energy efficient measures for your home


While with EDF only existing customers can apply and for SSE only consumers receiving certain benefits can apply.


Contact your energy firm and ask if you're eligible, if not it's worth speaking to all of the big six providers to check if any will offer you it for free.


Get a free boiler installed


Heating costs make up just over half of your annual energy bills so having an efficient boiler can make a big difference.


In a semi-detached house, for example, you could save £200 a year if replacing an older boiler with an energy efficient model, according to the Energy Saving Trust.


The cost of replacing a boiler is around £2,300 and some suppliers offer free replacements to people receiving certain benefits such as tax or income-based benefits.


The amount you can get varies depending on your circumstances and the energy provider but the cost of the new boiler and the installation is usually included.


This is available to those in the UK who own their own home or rent from a private landlord, but if you are living in a housing association home you'll need to speak to it directly to see if you can get help.

To find out if you're eligible contact any of the Big Six energy suppliers. Most have online forms where you can apply and list the eligibility criteria.


Apply for low-cost loans to install energy efficient measures


The Green Deal was launched in 2013 and it was the Government's flagship scheme offering cheap loans to consumers for energy efficient measures for their home. It closed in 2015 due to a low take-up but was relaunched by private investors last year.


If you generate your own electricity you may be able to get money knocked off your bills


It's now called the Green Deal Financing Company and it provides loans for a range of energy efficient measures including boilers, draught-proofing, heating systems and insulation.


Instead of paying for the measures upfront, they are paid back through the consumer's energy bills over a set amount of time – with the idea that the savings they make from the measures in turn pay for the cost of having them installed.


There are only a limited number of Green Deal suppliers carrying out the work at the moment, but on the website you can apply for the services you would like and if there is availability in your area you will be contacted with details about how to apply and the associated costs.


Free water saving tools for your home


There are a wide-range of freebies on offer from the water companies, which should help you cut back on the water you use and possibly reduce your bills too.


The website Save Water Save Money lists all the freebies on offer and if you enter your postcode it can list those you are eligible for and arrange for these to be sent out.


The freebies on offer include: a flowpoint round shower head or a shower regulator, both of which regulate the amount of water used to eight litres per minute compared to the average 15 litres per minute; a four-minute shower timer; a cistern bag designed to save 1.2 litres of water with every flush; and tap regulators, which regulate water to five litres per minute compared to the average 10 litres per minute.


What you can apply for will depend on your supplier and the potential savings for using just one of these devices could be significant.


For example, according to the Energy Saving Trust, if a family of four replaced an inefficient shower head with a water efficient one, they could knock around £75 off their gas bills and around £120 off their water bills (if they have a water meter) each year. Some energy firms, such as Ovo, pay up top 3 per cent interest on account balances



Earn interest on your energy account


Some energy providers, such as Ovo, pay interest on the balance in your energy account. This means if you have a surplus in your account, which is normal at certain times of the year if you pay via direct debit, you can earn money on this.


Ovo pays 3 per cent interest, which is higher than any of the market-leading savings accounts at the moment, on anything extra you have in the account.


A spokesperson said: 'Ovo Interest Rewards reward customers for their loyalty, while keeping their account in credit too.


'It is only available to customers paying in advance by Direct Debit and is payable on balances up to the maximum credit balance for the Interest Reward (£1,000). Over 72 per cent of customers have benefited from the OVO Interest Reward.' 


Save money on your energy bills with solar panels and a battery pack


If you generate your own electricity, with solar panels or a wind turbine for example, you may be able to get money knocked off your energy bills through a feed-in-tariff.


A quarter of heat is lost through the roof in an uninsulated home, and having roof insulation fitted can cut £130 a year from your energy bills.


Solar panels cost thousands of pounds to install so this is a good way for households who install them to recoup some of the costs. However, the savings available are a lot less than they used to be. 


Another area of the market where you may be able to cut your energy bills is through a battery storage system. A number of providers have launched these, including Ikea and Ovo, and they work by storing the electricity generated in a home through solar panels.


These systems allow consumers to store more of the electricity created which would otherwise be wasted. Any excess energy can also be sold back to the grid.


At the moment the cost of these systems is still expensive, around £5,000 for the battery pack and a further £6,000 for the solar panels. But over a lifespan of at least 20 years, it's estimated homes could save around £12,000 with one of these.


Free home improvement services for some


There are a number of free and discounted home improvement services for elderly people, those with disabilities or vulnerable people.


You can apply for help with a wide-range of things, from having energy efficient measures installed in your home, arranging for homes to be adapted after people come out of hospital and odd jobs around the house.

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