Beware the gadgets that are a waste of energy

An array of devices promises to reduce power consumption and give households respite from rising costs. But some work better than others

Gina Caro and Phil Warne moved to a more energy efficient house (Jim Wileman)

HOUSEHOLDS reeling from high energy costs are being tempted with a plethora of gadgets aimed at reducing bills, but some can cost more than they save.

Laboratory tests by the consumer group Which? show that some devices fail to cut bills, while others end up using more energy than the equivalent non-eco products.

The analysis, published last week, shows that devices such as eco kettles, which boil only the amount of water you want using two separate chambers – one for storing water and another to boil – expend more energy than traditional kettles. Voltage optimisers, which are meant to reduce the energy used by electronic devices, in some cases actually increased the amount used.

Which? said: “Some eco products can save you cash, but we also found that some do not live up to their claims.”

Household energy bills are up about 40% over the past three years, resulting in a growing market for energy-saving devices.

Eco kettles are some of the most popular, according to the online retailer Nigel’s Eco Store. The firm said it sold about 2,000 last year – up 2% from the previous year. It also reported a 44% increase in sales of door draught excluders and a 16% rise in “radiator boosters”.

Hive, a company that allows households to control boilers via a mobile phone app, said that almost 100,000 homes – up 20,000 in three months – had installed its device.

The Energy Saving Trust (EST), the advice service, said that the best measures can be cheap and easy to install.

It said: “It does not cost much to significantly improve the energy-efficiency of your home. Some of the most cost- effective measures are less than 100 and you can recoup savings within a year.”

A household taking advantage of these measures could save about 650 over the course of a year with typical costs adding up to about 450.

A full list of recommended eco products can be found on the Which? by clicking here.

Eco products worth the money

Eco shower heads: You would think that showers were less energy-intensive than baths but some power showers can use more water in five minutes than it takes to fill a bath, according to Which?

A family of four could save about 65 a year on energy bills by installing an eco shower head, according to the EST. These lower water consumption by incorporating air into the water flow or making the water “pulse” rather than streaming water continuously. The Mira Eco shower head costs about 30. The Which? test found it reduced water flow by 30%-40%.

Water meters: You can ask your water supplier to install a meter if you do not have one already. This is normally free in England and Wales unless big adjustments are needed to your house pipework. If you have been thinking about how you can switch your water supplier because you are not happy with your current service, then you will want to take a look around and see what is available in your area to get you ready to switch and speak to them about installing a meter.

The Consumer Council for Water suggests that those who use a meter cut their bills by about 100 a year.

You may not save with a meter, though. As a rough rule of thumb, if there are more bedrooms in your house than people, a meter should save you money.

Energy monitor: The monitors, costing about 30, allow you to see how much energy you are using and also what it is costing. The savings, which are based on household members having a greater awareness of their usage, is 20 to 75 a year, according to Which?.

Remote-controlled heating: You can take control of your heating bills by using devices such as Hive Active Heating. This is basically a thermostat that can be controlled remotely by downloading a mobile phone app.

The kit costs 199, including installation, and is available from retailers such as Currys, PC World and Apple.

Analysis by British Gas, which has worked with Hive, claims that customers using the device have made savings of about 150 a year.

Eco plugs: Households are losing out on 227m a year by leaving electrical appliances on standby, according to figures from the online comparison service, published last week.

One way to tackle the problem is to use Ecobutton Halo, which costs 10. The device plugs into a USB port on your computer, and it flashes to remind you to press it when you take a break. It then puts your computer into its most efficient energy-saving mode.

Which? users liked the screen, which shows how much money and carbon you have saved each time you start using the computer again. It estimates savings of about 18 a year for a typical user.

Eco light bulbs: The majority of the 650m light bulbs in UK homes are inefficient filament bulbs. Replacing these can make a significant difference to our national energy consumption, according to the EST.

There are two types of energy-saving bulbs. LEDs can replace halogen spotlights, while traditional bulbs can be swapped for compact fluorescent lamps (CFL).

The EST It said that if the average household replaced all its remaining old-fashioned bulbs with more efficient ones, it would cost about 110 to do but save, on average, 45 a year.

The energy efficient bulbs typically cost between 5- 10 each and should last about 10 times longer than the old filament ones.

Radiator boosters: These are white telescopic tubes that sit on top of your radiator. A fan draws the heat trapped behind the radiator and distributes it more evenly around the room, allowing you to reduce your thermostat setting.

Which? tested the Radiator Booster RBI-707-TT, and found that its test room heated up 15% more quickly, meaning the thermostat needed to come on less often and energy consumption dropped.

A booster costs about 25 and savings are typically about 150 a year.

Radiator reflectors: A cheaper option, which can be used alongside the booster, is a radiator reflector. These are foil-like panels that fit behind your radiator to reflect back any heat that would otherwise be lost through your walls.

Annual savings are estimated at 8 and the typical cost is about 6 for a roll that covers 18.8 square metres – enough for a typical three-bed semi.

Chimney balloon; If you have an open fireplace that you do not use, a chimney balloon can be used to prevent warm air from your home disappearing up a chimney.

It is simply a bag of air that rises and blocks the gap. The costs start at about 22 and the savings are about 19 a year, according to the EST.

Eco products to avoid

Voltage optimisers: Which? tested the 9 Ecotek Energy Wizard, which is meant to cut average electricity bills by up to 10%, so about 60 a year. However the laboratory test carried out by the consumer group showed that the device did not reduce the power used, and actually increased it when it was linked to a plasma TV, a hi-fi system or an energy-saving light bulb.

Which? said: “Most new TVs and hi-fis are designed to consume minimal energy when they are on standby, so a voltage optimiser is unlikely to make any substantial saving.”

Eco kettle: An eco kettle, which can cost up to 35, can store up to 1.5 litres of water in its reservoir chamber and then transfer only as much as you need to its boiling chamber when it is time to make a cup of tea. This can help to remind you not to boil more water than necessary.

However, the Which? test found that some non-eco ones used less electricity to boil water.

“It would be a much better idea to keep your standard kettle and boil only as much water as you need, rather than filling it up completely every time,” said Which?

Standby savers: The Which? team tested the SMJ triple remote control plug set, costing about 22. This allows you to switch off appliances at the mains using a remote control.

It claims savings of 30 a year by turning off your TV, DVD player or satellite box when they are not in use.

However, Which? points out that you are just as likely to forget to use the remote control – although it is useful for turning off plugs in places that are difficult to reach.


Case study: We’re taking the tech route to make our home a cosy one
Gina Caro, a writer, and her partner Phil Warne, a recruitment officer, recently moved from a draughty old house to one that is more energy efficient in order to cut their power bills. They have also installed measures such as water-saving shower heads and multiple thermostats to control the temperature in different parts of their home.

The couple, from Newton Abbot in Devon, also have an energy monitor to check their usage and they are planning to install a Hive Active Heating device to control their boiler while away from home. They are pictured with their children, Henry, 5, and Lowenna, 3.