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Energy-saving tips: tools and gadgets

With energy bills as high as they've been in recent memory, it's important to do everything possible to keep your usage as efficient as possible. Read on for tips and advice on tools and gadgets that could help you with saving energy in our guide.
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Person draught-proofing a door gap

Here are 16 energy-saving gadgets and tools to help you save money on your heating bills:

1. A digital thermometer

Digital thermometers that record the maximum and minimum temperature since last being reset can show you just how warm or cold different parts of your home are. This is a basic tool that will help you to identify specific rooms in your home that need attention.

2. A plug-in thermostat

If you use an electric heater without thermostatic controls, your heater will continue to generate heat and use electricity even after a room is warm enough, which is a waste of energy and money. A plug-in thermostat can solve this. You plug the heater into the plug-in thermostat, which is in turn plugged into a power socket, rather like plugging an electrical device into a time switch. You can then set the temperature you want on the plug-in thermostat and once it hits that temperature, it cuts off power to the heater.

3. An electric blanket

Electric blankets can be a way of compensating for a chilly bedroom. Most electric blankets are designed to fit below the bottom sheet and they are typically used to pre-warm a bed. During this pre-warming phase they have a relatively high power consumption, around 100 watts for a double sized bed. Once you are in bed, an electric blanket must be turned down to the sleep setting. This setting uses about a quarter of the electricity, typically around 25 watts, which is equivalent to a couple of mid-power low energy light bulbs. However, many people turn the blanket off altogether once they get into bed.

One alternative to an electric blanket is a hot water bottle, although this is not necessarily more energy efficient, especially if you do turn the blanket off once you get into bed - which is a good habit to get into. Neither option should be a substitute for sufficient bedding, or an appropriately warmed bedroom. It's important to ensure that any bedroom is not too cold, especially if the sleeper is elderly, unwell or a young child.

4. A brass radiator key

A brass radiator key is a useful investment for bleeding your radiators, which releases the gases caught in a radiator causing it to be cold towards the top, and reducing its efficiency. It is worth paying extra to invest in a brass key, rather than buying a pressed steel one, as the latter tend to be easily broken. Many modern radiators don't have the standard square valve head — if that's the case you'll need a screwdriver as well. You can also fit an automatic radiator bleeder.

5. A radiator shelf (yes, a shelf)

A radiator shelf just above a radiator helps to throw heat forward from the radiator into the room, rather than letting it rise up to the ceiling. You can buy purpose-made radiator shelves, which clip easily onto most radiators.

6. Radiator reflector panels

Radiator reflector panels can stop heat being wasted from the back of a radiator into an external wall. They are especially useful in older homes where the walls are solid, which rules out the option of cavity wall insulation. You can buy radiator reflector panels or radiator foil, or you can make your own by cutting a piece of cardboard to size and covering it in the type of aluminium foil you use for cooking. You'll need a long stick and double-sided tape to attach them to the wall behind the radiator.

7. A radiator booster

A radiator booster sits on top of a radiator and helps circulate the heat. It can be used if the heat output from your radiator isn't enough for the size of the room, or the radiator isn't in an ideal position - for instance where furniture obstructs the 'convection' flow of air around it. If you can't easily replace the radiator or reposition it, then the booster can push warm air out more quickly. The booster will only come on when its thermostat detects that the radiator is warm. If the radiator is on an external wall, particularly a wall without a cavity, losses through the wall should be reduced.

8. A carbon monoxide alarm

Getting rid of draughts and unnecessary ventilation is a key way of reducing wasted heat, saving money on your energy bills in the process.

A carbon monoxide alarm isn't energy-saving in itself, but you need to invest in one before you make any changes to reduce draughts or alter the ventilation in your home. This is in case you block a source of essential ventilation by mistake, such as for a fuel burning device that doesn't have a balanced flue, for example, an old boiler. It's a good idea to have an alarm anyway; carbon monoxide (CO) is highly toxic, but impossible to detect without an alarm as it is colourless, odourless and tasteless.

9. Expanding foam

There are a number of simple solutions to draughts. Expanding foam, which comes in an aerosol can, is useful for filling holes in brickwork. For example - if you upgrade your boiler, any new boiler will have a balanced flue, meaning you no longer need an air-brick in an external wall in the area where the boiler is sited. The obsolete air-brick can therefore be filled with expanding foam. One word of caution, though: many gas fires still don't have balanced flues, so don't assume you can block up a room vent just because you are upgrading a gas fire. It's also important to keep clear any ventilation in roof spaces or under the level of floorboards.

10. Papier-mache

Another heat saving measure is to fill medium-sized gaps in floorboards with papier-mache - this is easy to make, you just mix wet wallpaper paste with torn newspaper - which is easy to press into the gaps. It's a very effective and inexpensive solution, assuming you're not intending to expose the floorboards as a feature.

11. Sealant

Smaller gaps that allow draughts can be filled using a tube of sealant. You may need a simple steel caulking gun, or the sealant may be packaged so you can use it without one. It works well to fill gaps around skirting boards and window frames.

12. A letterbox flap

A letterbox flap to keep out draughts at your front door is another inexpensive investment, especially useful if the outer flap doesn't fit or return to its position very well.

13. Draught seals

Ill-fitting doors and windows can be a source of draughts. There are a variety of draught seals or sealing strips that can be used around doors and windows in order to reduce draughts and stop the unnecessary loss of warm air.

14. Curtains

Windows and doors will also benefit from heavy or lined curtains, especially if they're only single glazed.

15. A chimney balloon

A chimney balloon blocks the cold air that falls down a chimney, as well as preventing internal warm air from being drawn up the chimney when it is not in use. The balloon can be deflated and taken out of the fireplace as and when you need to use it. If you are looking for a more permanent solution, and don't have plans to use your fireplace at all, it is best to get a qualified tradesman to cap the chimney at the top and shut it off at the bottom, as this will be more energy-efficient.

16. Download Utrack by Uswitch

Utrack is Uswitch's free mobile app. It connects to your smart meter and provides insight into your energy usage throughout the home. Once you know where you're using energy, you can see where you can save and keep bills at a more manageable level.

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More energy saving tips

Use the government-endorsed Simple Energy Advice site to find out what energy saving tips are adapted to your home.

Find out if you're eligible for one of the country's energy efficency grants.

Visit the Energy Saving Trust's website for more top tips on keeping your energy consumption low.

Use our tips for energy efficient cooking to save energy in the kitchen.

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