Make the most of your fuel finances

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Well over half the money spent on fuel bills goes towards providing heating and hot water in a typical UK household.

So in these times of ever-increasing costs, having an efficient and cost-effective heating system is vital – and it’s one of the main steps you can take to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions.

Some householders may be put off by the initial costs but can be assured they will soon recoup the outlay which will continue to pay dividends in the future.

The Energy Saving Trust says the first step to saving energy from heating is to understand your system.

Nearly all homes have either a central heating system – a boiler and radiators – or electric storage heaters.

Central heating is the most common where a boiler heats up water that is pumped through pipes to radiators throughout the house, as well as providing hot water to the kitchen and bathroom taps.

Most boilers run on mains gas but in areas where it’s not available, the boiler can run on oil, tank gas, coal or wood. Mains gas is usually the cheapest and has the lowest carbon emissions, apart from wood. Some boilers also have an electric immersion heater as a back-up.

Gas and oil boilers may be combination (combi) boilers, in which case they heat the hot water as it is needed and don’t need to store it. Otherwise, the boiler heats up water and stores it in a cylinder that feeds the taps.

If you have this systems, the Trust advises a number of energy-saving options:

* Replace your boiler with a newer, more efficient model

* Fit better controls for your space and water heating – and use them to make sure your boiler only provides heat when you want it

* Switch to a cheaper or lower carbon fuel or technology

* Make any insulation and draught-proofing improvements that you can

* Use chemical inhibitors if you have an older system

Nearly all gas boilers fitted in Britain since 2005 are condensing boilers which have are able to recover more heat from the burning gas, making them more efficient.

You can tell which one you have by checking the flue – flues made of plastic are condensing while metal ones aren’t. Condensing boilers also have a plastic pipe coming out of the bottom, through the wall and into a drain.

Trust experts advise householders to consider replacing your boiler with a newer, more efficient model if they don’t have a condensing boiler.

Whether to opt for a combination or regular boiler really depends on your lifestyle and needs.

A regular boiler is actually more efficient than a combi at producing hot water in the first place but some heat is inevitably lost while the water is stored in the cylinder, so a combi may be more efficient overall.

Electric storage heaters which heat up overnight using cheaper off-peak electricity, giving out heat during the day are more common in flats, rented property and homes without mains gas.

One of the most expensive heating options around, it also emits more carbon dioxide than most and is harder to control than radiators, especially with older systems.

If you have storage heaters, you will probably have a hot water cylinder heated by one or two immersion heaters. In this case, the Trust advises replacing the entire lot with an efficient boiler system where possible; installing new, more controllable storage heaters, fitting thermostats and controls to make the system more efficient, and looking into insulation and draught-proofing improvements.