Keeping warm in the winter is becoming a luxury. Across the UK the energy giants are raising their prices to reflect the fact it’s winter and that consumers have little choice if they hope to keep the big (or not so big) chill at bay this year, but to pay up. The major suppliers argue that their prices reflect the rising cost of raw materials – and to be fair to the energy companies there is some truth in this. In fact, as much as we’d like to argue otherwise, the reality is that many firms ‘absorb’ these rises as far as possible throughout the year, leaving them with little choice but to increase prices when (coincidentally) demand is at its highest. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this annual argument, domestic energy consumers continue to find the cost of heating their homes a challenge. For those who rely on non-mains supplies, the situation is arguably worse. The main fuels in use in homes not connected to gas are electric heating, oil, coal and in, some cases, wood or bio-fuels.
The Price of Freedom
Freedom from the obligation to pay the demanding prices of major suppliers is not however, a particularly desirable freedom. Wood fuel and bio-fuels are sourced, by and large, from sustainable sources and this can mean that they are amongst the cheapest forms of heating. Yet, in both cases but particularly wood storage is an issue. The amount of wood that an average wood boiler requires, compared to other fuels, is large and bulky, requiring either available storage on site, or regular deliveries. Given the fact that most off-grid properties are rural and can become inaccessible during bad weather, relying on regular and frequent difficulties can be problematic. Those using coal for their central heating face the worst of all worlds, in that the price of the raw stuff is rising rapidly and, like wood, reasonable storage needs to be available.
Green and Unpleasantly Costly Solutions
The greener alternatives for those living without mains heating fuels offer considerable benefits, but are not necessarily the answer for all customers. Ground source heat pumps and solar heating systems can offer ‘free’ power and heating; in this case “free” if you discount the considerable installation costs. These costs are not affordable for all individuals but for those who can take advantage of electricity generation or heating there are incentives in the form of payments from the Feed in Tariff Scheme (FIT) and Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme (RHI). Costs for installation range from around £5000 up to £15000 for some of these systems. For those with cash to spare, they offer a sensible, renewable and long term solution to the rising cost of domestic heating. Bio-oil, for domestic heating systems, has yet to become widely available. For those with domestic oil systems bio-oil may offer the most cost effective solution. Switching can be subject to the suitability of your existing domestic oil tank and boiler, but bio-oil should require low (if any) conversion costs and offer a considerable reduction in the price of heating your home.
Making the Most of Your Existing Boiler
For those with existing domestic oil boilers, and for whom the opportunity to convert to a renewable system is not currently an option, there are a number of steps to ensure that you are making the most of your cash. A number of organisations can offer help and advice to ensure that your property is as energy efficient as possible. Local authorities will offer help, advice, and possibly grant assistance, while the Energy Savings Trust is one of the key national bodies for advice on saving money on your domestic heating. Adequate insulation can help to make the most of the heat you generate, while upgrading your boiler to the most modern and efficient system will make a considerable difference. For those classed as falling into vulnerable groups there may be grants to aid with replacement boilers and energy efficiency measures.
Countryside Cost Cutters
The most significant problem faced by those on any of the non-grid options is the up-front cost and rising cost of domestic oil prices per litre. Unlike the larger energy companies, coal, wood and domestic heating oil suppliers rarely offer direct debit options. One of the last bastions of the ancient cash on delivery culture, this type of fuel supply requires ready cash in advance and for many consumers, particularly those on lower and fixed incomes, this can be a difficult bill to manage. However oil clubs are springing up around the UK and can offer the simplest way in which to cut the costs of domestic oil. Joining an oil club in your area allows you to access the bulk purchase price of oil – in addition offering suppliers the convenience of one large order and the lower costs of one delivery.
While domestic energy costs are continually rising, those who rely on boilerjuice to heat their homes can save money by joining or creating oil clubs and taking advantage of grants and loans available to make their properties more energy efficient.