SMUG MONEY: I did it, ok, I switched the heating on

Written by Rebecca O'Connor on 19th Oct 2016

We can’t be the only household to have turned the annual act of Switching The Heating Back On again into a four-part Shakespearean drama.

The underlying tension can begin as early as late summer. You can’t imagine the day you will have to do it as it still feels so warm, but know there’s probably only a couple of months left of low energy bills. You think about maybe getting a refund on your overpayments, then glumly remember that actually, all that credit will probably get used up over winter.


Then it does start to get a bit fresh out. You know the moment will come soon. The build up lasts for days. It plays on your mind. “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” “Is it really cold enough?” Then you start to discuss it with your partner: “No it isn’t”, “yes it is”, “no it isn’t” etc.

Then one day, shivering in your cardi, which is underneath your jumper, after putting two pairs of bedsocks on your youngest child, followed by three blankets, you just do it. Triumphantly. And everyone in the house is secretly pleased, but outwardly judge-y. “We don’t need the heating on”, they say, knowing full well that you do.

You only do it for an hour at first, just to take the edge off. But after a day or so, you find you accidentally forgot to switch it off again and actually, you are glad, as the temperature in the house was just right. You start to whisper to friends that you have switched the heating on, expecting their judgment too but finding that they secretly did the same weeks ago. Phew, you think, they are weaker than you.

There is so much stigma attached to the heating being on. The person that wants the heating switched back on is weak-willed. A soft, Southern namby pamby who can’t take a bit of briskness when they get out of bed. The person that switches the heating on hates the planet and is profligate. A bad person, on to whom we pour scorn.

It’s a shame that I am an environmentalist because I love being really warm all the time in the house in winter. Some people say they like a bit of cold air. Not me. I want to feel permanently toasted. But this doesn’t sit well with energy conservation, unfortunately.

It’s sensible to be wary of switching the heating on. Heating is expensive and becoming more so (Brexit, cost of oil, etc).

Here is a graph showing my current and predicted energy usage from my supplier, Bulb (you can switch to Bulb too using this link to get £50 credit). You can see Bulb expects me to have switched on the gas central heating by now:


Heating in homes that are poorly insulated (not mine, fortunately, ours has a ‘B’ rating *smugface), leads to a large amount of heat loss and unnecessary fossil fuel burning. Poor energy efficiency of buildings in this country, especially domestic ones, is one of our greatest crimes against planet earth, but few of us have the £1,000s required to make the necessary changes.

If like me, you like being toasty, but want to feel less guilty about having the heating on, here are some things you can do:

  • Switch to a renewable energy supply. Goodbye carbon, goodbye guilt. Although it’s important to remember that central heating is usually gas-powered, so switching to wind and solar-powered electricity won’t make your heating greener, just your leccy. But Ecotricity and Good Energy are both investing lots in biogas, which would be a much better supply of gas than the fracked stuff the Government wants us to live off.
  • Check your meter regularly. Keeping an eye on your usage really does make you think about it more and therefore use less. To this end too, you might want to install a smart meter. The average saving is a relatively small £26 a year per household. But yours might be more and you don’t have to pay for them, so why not.
  • Get to know your thermostat. Opinions vary on optimum household temperature but I like 19c (too high for some). 1c can make a big difference on bills so have it as low as you can tolerate.
  • Ditto your timer. Start with the heating on for a very short time period only when you need it most and make sure your timer isn’t burning fuel at times you don’t really need it, like the middle of the day, when no one is home.
  • Foil type stuff down the back of radiators. You can get this quite cheap – about £12 a roll – from B&Q, Homebase, Wickes. It reflects heat back into the room and helps to stop it being absorbed by walls and disappearing outside. You can put it in other places too, but be wary of turning your house into a Star Trek set, tempting though that may be.
  • Double-lined curtains, thick carpets. If you are changing curtains and carpets, do the planet and yourselves a favour and get thick, insulating fabrics. If you are not planning to do this already, it’s hardly a cheap measure.
  • Have a family bath once a week. Not really. Good washing is essential. But you can do it in twos (so my mum always says).
  • Draught excluders. Super cheap, super effective. And sometimes rather stylish too, like the below dog, from John Lewis
  • Visit Energy Saving Trust for more ideas and adaptations you can make that will cost you a fair whack, but will pay you back over a few years.

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