Max visits 40 homes a day to help them keep energy bills down – here are the 8 errors he sees most often
MAX LAKER taps away at his tablet computer and points to some deep purple blobs on the screen. The colours, he explains, show precisely where hot air is escaping from the 1930s five-bedroom property in Brighton, on the Sussex coast, he has come to visit.
It’s immediately obvious that the windows at the back of the house are letting in a considerable draught.
For the homeowner, 59-year-old Stephen Bryant, the information from Max’s thermal imaging camera could make all the difference to the monthly energy bill he pays to Octopus, his supplier.
Max is one of a small army of specialist energy advisers offering households what is best described as an ‘energy MOT’. Every day, Max, who works for Octopus, knocks on 40 to 60 doors offering to use his thermal imaging camera and his wealth of knowledge to help identify easy ways customers can save fuel.
Since Octopus’s home-visit scheme was set up in October, its 115- strong energy helper team has visited 150,000 properties. Money Mail joined Max on one of his visits in the hope of discovering the most common mistakes homeowners make when trying to keep bills down.
Stephen has seen the energy bill for his five-bed home rocket from £150 to £600 a month since last winter.
His household is busy — the business consultant lives with his wife Tina and three children, Christian, 23, Meg, 19 and Billy, 14.
To help stem the heat loss from his windows, Max recommends inexpensive draught excluders. He says these alone could save Stephen £60 a year. Too often, Max says, we overlook easy fixes that could cut bills at a stroke.
So what has Max learnt about our energy habits as he approaches the end of a long, cold slog of a winter visiting thousands of people from all walks of life?
He says: ‘Some tips might seem simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know — and it takes me to enter the home and point them out.’
Here are the eight mistakes he sees most often and what you can do to put them right. 1 FAMILIES are bad for keeping devices switched on — especially games consoles, televisions and phone chargers.
Max recommends a smart plug, a socket to plug appliances into. They cost as little as £9.99 from
Argos. Users can track how much energy they use and turn devices off remotely using an app on their phone.
2 MAX says he’s been surprised by common mistakes people make with radiators. Wet clothes being dried on them stopping warm air flow; not cleaning radiator grooves for maximum efficiency; not being bled for years; left switched on in unused rooms; or bulky furniture placed in front.
He often tells customers to tuck their curtains behind radiators — ‘there’s no point heating the back of their curtains.’
3 POOR thermostat placement is another big no-no for Max. A fixed thermostat by a draughty front door can be tricked into thinking the house is cold, making it switch on and produce more heat than necessary.
Max recommends a wireless, portable thermostat in the room you use most — typically the lounge. Some models cost £50 and they can reduce heating bills significantly.
4 MANY people also wrongly use their thermostat like an ‘on/off switch’, says Max — and set it to a higher temperature thinking it’ll heat radiators faster. ‘you’ll use less by heating your home to the desired temperature and keeping it there, ahead of time,’ he says.
5 INADEQUATE insulation is one of the most common problems in homes, Max says. In Brighton — where Money Mail joined Max on one of his visits — many homes have single-glazed windows, including the 1906-built townhouse owned by Jo Edwards, 50. Max recommends secondary glazing film to her, which can be stuck onto an existing pane to mimic double glazing and typically costs just £10. For fighting against draughts, easy fixes such as resealing door frames and letterbox draft excluders can also bring down heating bills.
6 INVESTING in a plug-in drying rack, known as a heated airer, is a smart way to dry clothes quickly and fuel- efficiently, says Max. The advice is to use a heated airer in the smallest room, as it reduces drying time. Two hours typically uses 300W of energy, costing 20p.
7 THE boiler flow temperature — how hot the water gets before being sent off to radiators — is set too high in many homes. This is often due to the default temperature being higher than necessary.
It’s easy to diagnose if you have a combi boiler, Max says. If your hot water tap is too warm to keep your hands under comfortably while washing up, you need to turn down the flow temperature.
On a combi boiler, the boiler flow temperature can be turned down to 55c — check the boiler user manual, or visit the youTube channel of the department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which has a helpful guide. If you have a boiler and hot water cylinder, it needs to be hot enough to ward off Legionnaires’ disease, so set the boiler flow temperature to 63c and the hot water cylinder to 60c. Some users could save more than £100 a year doing this.
8 LASTLY,' Max advises getting back to doing the basics. For example, draw curtains before sunset; run the washing machine at 30c and use energy- efficient lightbulbs. He’s been surprised how many homes don’t do these things: ‘Little habit changes can result in big savings.’