At a time of rising energy costs, it pays to know how you can save money and make your home as energy-efficient as possible.
This is where the Energy Company Obligations (ECO) scheme can help, offering free home insulation and boiler grants to eligible households.
What is the Energy Company Obligations (ECO) scheme?
This is a government scheme designed to help people cover their fuel costs and cut carbon emissions.
The scheme focuses on people with lower incomes who are struggling with rising fuel costs, as well as those who are vulnerable.
The energy companies can choose which kind of energy improvements and how much financial support they offer, so it can be quite complicated to find out if you’re eligible.
What does the ECO scheme offer?
The ECO scheme offers thousands of pounds in grants and support, but is only available if you receive certain benefits and have an income of £16,960 or less.
The scheme includes:
You can get a grant towards replacing an old or broken boiler, which will reduce the cost to £200-£400.
It’s a significant saving when you consider that a new boiler can easily be £2,500.
Do you qualify? If you own your own home – or occasionally if you rent from a private landlord – and someone living in your property receives a benefit such as universal credit, pension credits or a carer’s allowance, you could qualify
Who offers a boiler grant? Most of the ‘big name’ suppliers offer a boiler grant. These include British Gas, EDF Energy, E.on, Scottish Power and Ovo. Smaller providers like Octopus Energy, Shell Energy and Utilita are also involved. You can check the Ofgem website to see the full list with contact details
How do you apply? Your first step is to make sure you qualify. You can use the Simple Energy Advice eligibility calculator for England and Wales, Home Energy Scotland for Scotland, and Energy Saving Trust’s advice on support and grants for Northern Ireland. Next, simply contact your chosen participating supplier. You’ll probably need to phone, as most companies don’t have any provision for online applications
How long will the process take? Most energy companies suggest that it takes around 12 weeks from your first application to a completed installation. The actual fitting should only take a few days, depending on your property
Loft and cavity insulation
Effective cavity wall and loft insulation can reduce your energy bill by up to £570 a year.
Participating energy companies are offering it for free, as long as you’re eligible and your home is suitable for the applications.
Professional loft and cavity insulation costs up to around £1,000, so is an excellent money-saver, as well as being environmentally efficient.
What exactly is involved? Cavity wall insulation can be applied to most homes built between 1920 and 1990, because they were designed with a gap between internal and external walls. Once this gap, or cavity, is filled with insulating material, cold air is kept out and warm air is kept in. Loft insulation simply involves laying mineral wool under the rafters and can be very effective. Up to 25 per cent of your heating can escape out through the roof
Do you qualify and how do you apply? The qualification criteria are just the same as for boilers, which we’ve mentioned above and the application process is also the same. To find the companies who are offering free loft and cavity insulation, you should use the same eligibility calculators that we mention above for boilers, then contact your chosen supplier in the same way
What about potential problems? Some properties are not suitable for cavity wall insulation, and there have been well-publicised problems. These centre around the formation of damp after installation, leading to expensive repairs and even health issues for homeowners. Poor-quality installation has been one cause, but interestingly, your location is also a major factor. Issues seem to arise much more frequently on the west side of the UK, such as in the south-west, north-west, Wales and north-west Scotland, where ‘wind-driven rain’ is common. Always check that your property is of the right type before applying though, even if you don’t live in these areas. You will need unfilled cavity external walls with a cavity that’s at least 50mm wide. Masonry or brickwork should be in good condition, and your home should have been built before 1990, because most newer houses are built with insulation from the start.
Some further tips for saving energy and staying warm
There are plenty of effective changes you can make yourself around your home, to keep heat in and cold draughts out.
Here are just a few:
Close your doors: This helps your heaters to keep rooms snug. Most radiators and panel heaters create a circulating convection current, where warm air rises and then sinks as it cools and returns to the area of the heater again – this works far better in a space where the door is closed
Make a draught excluder: Lots of heat can escape through the gap between doors and floors. A homemade draught excluder – like the classic ‘sausage dog’ type, using old socks, tights and other warm stuffing – can really help
Line your curtains: Thicker curtains keep your warmth in during the winter. Rather than buying new sets of curtains, why not line your existing ones? – even inexpensive fleece material does the job well
Try putting shelves above your radiators: A carefully placed shelf can prevent heat from rising and heating higher parts of the room. Be sure to leave a little bit of breathing space between the two, or heat could become trapped and not circulate properly
Don’t forget the chimney: Open, uninsulated chimneys can lose a lot of heat. One solution is to use a Chimney Sheep, which is a felted wool draught excluder that’s naturally breathable and lets moisture pass through. An alternative is the chimney balloon, which is an inflatable pillow designed to block the chimney. Both designs are inexpensive at around £15-£16. Remember to unblock your chimney if you plan to use it!
Making your home well-insulated and energy-efficient can improve your quality of life, reduce your carbon footprint and save you money – especially if you can take advantage of the ECO scheme.
Now could be the right time to see if you can.