Winter lockdown ramps up fuel demand as householders brace themselves for an icy blast this week as Storm Christoph pulls away from the UK to be replaced by plunging temperatures across the country.
Some weather experts predict we may miss the very worst of the arctic conditions but that will be cold comfort for those people already battling fuel poverty and worrying about having to keep their home heating system on for longer periods of time.
According to the latest government statistics, 42% of households across Northern Ireland are currently living in fuel poverty. This is the highest in the UK and Ireland but it should also be noted these figures were released before the current restrictions which have come in the heart of winter when people are more reliant on fuel to heat their homes.
More of us are now spending longer periods in our houses after the government advised people to stay at home in an effort to combat the spiralling coronavirus rates.
Before the current restrictions only a minority of people were back to full-time working in the office. In September, a survey conducted by the Belfast Chamber of Commerce revealed that only 5% of office-based workers in the city were back full time with 35% still exclusively working from home. A large number of workers were either split between office and home or remained on furlough.
All of this adds up to significantly more people spending longer periods at home which increases the demand for fuel especially now during these winter months.
OFTEC, the trade association for the liquid fuel industry, is offering households advice on how to keep homes warm and costs low this winter:
- Only heat the rooms you are using.
Turn down individual radiators in rooms you are not using to save money. If you have thermostatic radiator valves these can be lowered to number one for low background heating. Also, in the rooms you use regularly, ensure radiators are not blocked with furniture as this reduces their effectiveness. The temperature in hallways and bedrooms should be cooler, ideally between 15 - 18 °C for persons in good health.
- Turn the thermostat down by one degree.
You can reduce your heating bill by up to 10% by lowering your room temperature by just one degree.
- Identify the benefits available to you:
The Government has introduced several schemes in the last few months to support those struggling financially. These include short-term financial help from the Finance Support Service and an emergency heating payment for those in extreme difficulties through the Warm, well and connected programme - search NI Direct for further information.
- Energy Efficiency Upgrade:
Check with your local council if you qualify for the Affordable Warmth Scheme that aims to assist those in fuel poverty with boiler replacements/upgrades and insulation measures. In addition, you can review the many grants that are available for energy upgrades as part of the NI Sustainable Energy Programme - this info can be found on the Utility Regulator' website. Any energy efficiency improvement will reduce heat loss and save you money.
- Speak with your energy provider.
Always speak with your distributor and agree a payment plan for your energy needs. Many suppliers are prioritising vulnerable groups such as older people, families with small children or those with underlying health conditions. We would always recommend you use a Member of the NI Oil Federation as their members have signed up to the Consumer Council's Customer Charter which gives consumers a vehicle for redress should an issue arise.
- Check in on isolated neighbours:
A socially distanced check in on elderly and isolated neighbours could be a lifeline for people struggling this winter.
OFTEC Ireland Manager, David Blevings said: "At OFTEC, we continually highlight the serious situation of fuel poverty, support those in need and be a catalyst for change.
"Living in a cold, damp home has a massive impact on quality of life and is a contributory factor in underlying health problems which is of particular concern during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We welcome the recent publication of the Department's research into a future energy efficiency programme which includes recommendations to develop a range of financial incentives to support energy efficiency activity and establish a 'one-stop shop' to support consumer energy efficiency decision-making and oversee the end-to-end supply chain.
"Key to improving energy efficiency is having well-funded schemes that are available to all home-owners who wish to reduce their carbon footprint and reduce their fuel bills.
"As part of the energy strategy debate, we have put forward our plans to introduce a liquid biofuel into the home heat market; a 100% biofuel offers a seamless transition for existing liquid fuel users and a simple option for government to minimise carbon emissions by up to 90% in the off-grid sector at least cost for consumers immediately."
For more information on how to heat your home with biofuels, visit our Future Heating section.