As the first leaves fall signalling the start of autumn, homes across the country will start to crank up their heating systems to combat cooler temperatures. While there is nothing better than cosying up in front of the fire on the cold, dark evenings, the resulting heating bills come the springtime are not quite so welcome.

Energy prices are still on the increase, despite the ‘Big Six’ energy bills promising frozen rates and fixed terms for their customers. Unfortunately, those who are most vulnerable are the most affected by price hikes and looming energy bills each quarter, and indeed the worry about the impending charges can cause thousands to go without heating this winter. Those most at risk are the elderly, infirm and low income families with young children, and inadequate heating can cause damp in the home which can trigger asthmatic conditions, as well as lowering the body’s temperature leading to a compromised immune system.

There is no question that all UK homes will need some form of heating during the winter months, however there are some very simple ways to combat high heating bills. The first and most important is to understand your energy usage. By using a smart meter in your home you can easily identify what you use most and how often at a glance, in order to reduce your energy consumption. Most people have no idea how much it costs to run a hot bath, enjoy a shower or switch on the gas fire, so these meters provide fascinating facts that will help you to plan and budget for your energy usage. The information provided by smart meters can even be linked directly to your computer, smartphone or tablet to give a more detailed breakdown of your energy consumption. These meters are often provided for free from major energy companies and they can make a big difference to cutting your energy bills.

Another good tip is to spread the cost of your energy bills by paying a fixed fee each month throughout the year. This way you can manage your budget and by overpaying in the summer months when you don’t need as much energy for heating, you will have a welcome buffer for the winter months when the boiler clicks on. Also make sure that your boiler is in good working order with regular servicing, and if it is over ten years old replace it with a new model that is more energy efficient. Low income homes, or benefit recipients who have a boiler that is older than ten years may be eligible for a free replacement boiler as part of the Government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO).

Of course there are practical tips that homeowners can follow to help save energy around the home, including installing loft insulation, using draught excluders on doors, keeping doors closed to trap heated air in and having lots of warm blankets in the main living areas. And finally, don’t underestimate the importance of winter clothing and hot meals and drinks to keep you warm and toasty this winter, one pot casseroles can be made easily and cheaply providing a hot, nutritious meal for all the family to enjoy.