Max Laker taps on his tablet and points to dark purple spots on the screen.
The colours, he explains, show precisely where hot air is escaping from the five-bedroom 1930s property in Brighton, on the Sussex coast, which he came to visit.
It is immediately apparent that the windows at the back of the house let in a considerable draft.
Super Saver: Octopus Energy’s Max Larper (pictured) uses a thermal camera to find simple ways for customers to save fuel and lower their bills
For owner Stephen Bryant, 59, information from Max’s thermal camera could make all the difference to the monthly energy bill he pays to Octopus, his supplier.
Max is part of a small army of specialist energy advisors offering households what is best described as an “energy WORD”.
Every day Max, who works for Octopus, knocks on 40-60 doors and offers to use his thermal imaging camera and wealth of knowledge to help identify easy ways for customers to save fuel.
Since setting up Octopus’ home visiting program in October, its team of 115 energy assistants have visited 150,000 properties.
Money Mail joined Max on one of his visits in hopes of finding out the most common mistakes homeowners make when trying to lower their bills.
Stephen has seen the energy bill for his five-bed home rocket rise from £150 to £600 a month since last winter.
His house is occupied – the business consultant lives with his wife Tina and three children, Christian, 23, Meg, 19 and Billy, 14.
To help stem heat loss from his windows, Max recommends inexpensive door draft excluders. He says these alone could save Stephen £60 a year. Too often, says Max, we overlook simple solutions that could reduce bills all at once.
So what has Max learned about our energy habits as he nears the end of a long, cold winter by visiting thousands of people from all walks of life?
He says: “Some advice may seem simple, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t know it – and I need to come into the house and point it out.”
Here are the eight errors it sees most often and what you can do to fix them:
1. Families are bad at keeping devices on, especially game consoles, TVs, and phone chargers.
Max recommends a smart plug, a socket to plug in devices. They cost as little as £9.99 at Argos. Users can track how much energy they use and turn off devices remotely using an app on their phone.
Tip: Journalist Tilly Armstrong with Max Laker of Octopus Energy at the company’s office in Brighton, East Sussex
2. Max says he was surprised by the common mistakes people make with heaters. Wet clothes being dried on it, stopping the flow of hot air; do not clean radiator grooves for maximum efficiency; not be bled for years; left lit in unused rooms; or bulky furniture placed in front.
He often tells customers to place 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 near a drafty front door can be tricked into thinking the house is cold, turning it on and producing more heat than needed.
Max recommends a wireless portable thermostat in the room you use the most, usually the living room. Some models cost £50 and can significantly reduce heating bills.
4. Many people also mistakenly use their thermostat as an “on/off switch,” Max explains, and set it to a higher temperature thinking it will heat up radiators faster. “You’ll use less by heating your home to the temperature you want and maintaining it 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 townhouse built in 1906 and owned by 50-year-old Jo Edwards.
Savings: Max advises Stephen Bryant, who has seen the energy bill of his five-bed household rocket ship £150-£600 a month since last winter
Max recommends secondary window film, which can be glued over existing window pane to mimic double glazing and usually costs just £10.
To combat drafts, simple solutions such as sealing door frames and mailbox draft excluders can also reduce heating bills.
6. Investing in a plug-in dryer, known as a heated dryer, is a smart way to dry clothes quickly and in a fuel-efficient way, says Max.
The advice is to use a heated dryer in the smallest room, as this cuts down on drying time. Two hours typically consumes 300W of power, which costs 20 pence.
7. The boiler flow temperature – the temperature of the water before it is sent to the radiators – is 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, says Max. If your hot water tap is too hot to keep your hands comfortable while washing dishes, you need to lower the starting temperature.
On a combi-boiler, the boiler flow temperature can be lowered to 55°C – consult the boiler’s user manual or visit the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology’s YouTube channel, which contains a helpful guide.
If you have a boiler and a hot water tank, it needs to be hot enough to prevent Legionnaires’ disease, so set the boiler flow temperature to 63°C and the hot water tank to 60°C. Some users could save over £100 per year by doing this.
8. Finally, Max advises getting back to basics. For example, draw the curtains before sunset; run the washing machine at 30 c and use low energy light bulbs. He was surprised at how many households are not doing these things: “Small changes in habits can lead to big savings.
Hourly rate for smart savings
Although it’s just around the corner, Jo Edwards’ Brighton home is markedly different from Stephen Bryant’s.
It’s much cooler than Stephen’s, partly because it’s an older building without the same level of insulation.
The kitchen also has an open design, making it more difficult to keep warm, and the windows are single glazed.
Water currents: Jo Edwards’ home in Brighton is an older building without the same level of insulation
Since December, Jo, a surveyor, says his energy bill has risen from £262 to £502 a month.
The 50-year-old mother-of-two says her 15-year-old son plays football almost every day, which makes the washing machine a real energy consumer in his home.
Jo uses a heated tumble dryer rather than a tumble dryer to cut costs when the wash is done – a tip Max recommends to many of those he visits.
He advises Jo to switch to a new tariff that lowers her costs if she runs the devices at night rather than during the day.
Known as an hourly rate, users can get a cheaper unit rate for a seven-hour period overnight, when fewer people are likely to be consuming power.
This means that Jo could run the heated dryer, dishwasher and washing machine at a lower rate.
There is however a catch. To sign up for the agreement, she must have a smart meter.
These devices track your usage in real time and send regular readings to your provider.
You get a digital display to put in your home that shows how much energy you’re using throughout the day. Currently, Jo and her husband Richard, 51, do not have a smart meter but would like one if it saves them money.
Max promises someone will be in touch to arrange an installation. The current wait time is approximately two weeks. A few days after Max’s visit, Octopus contacted them to get the ball rolling.
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