The leaves on the trees are turning brown, the temperature’s dropping and the driving rain has returned. I’m looking forward to a delicious roast lunch, cooked in my Aga.
There’s nothing better. The hot box oven puts a tasty seared edge around a piece of beef. Get your timing right and it will be succulent and pink in the middle. The roast potatoes will be crispy outside and fluffy inside. Then there’s my signature apple and blackberry crumble.
But the Aga is off — cold and unused — as testament to an energy crisis that’s biting into the hardiest household budgets. There’s been a quantum shift in Aganomics. Should I keep it switched off or stuff the cost and get cooking?
With a gazillion devices consuming indeterminate amounts of energy at different times of the day, navigating an energy bill is like trying to read a takeaway menu without your reading glasses. Smart meters aren’t, frankly, that smart. They just tell you the total bill. I hide mine under the sofa. I have no idea how much my electric car costs to run, how much cash my tech is munching, the financial impact of working from home or whether I really need a third fridge for cooling drinks.
Would it even make a difference to my bills if I added more insulation or fitted double glazing to my 1911 period house on the Essex coast? It’s already insulated but for £15,000 I could add another layer. But why would I change the leaded light windows set in teak for a plastic alternative at a cost of £60,000? I won’t. No matter what savings might apply.
I recognise that for some this energy crisis is a choice between heating or eating. Soaring energy bills will have a profound impact on living standards up and down the UK, in spite of the latest round of price caps. But even those of means are debating what they can do to save money.
Many of my friends are stocking up on wood for their open fires and stoves. A tonne and a half of seasoned logs — costing £150 — should see me through the winter. The fallen tree in my garden that I’d usually have taken away has been neatly chopped, with the logs seasoning for next year. Like insurance, it’s a precaution. But I’m unlikely to start cooking on my open fire, unless it’s marshmallows. However, if I’m to save money, surely I need to understand the basic metrics?
Does anyone really know what a kilowatt hour actually does? In 2019 I paid 16p per kWh, a unit of electricity, and 2.8p for a unit for gas. Shell Energy has informed me that the new capped electricity rate will be just under 36p a unit and for gas it’s 10.2p a unit, not including daily standing charges that have more than doubled.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or mathematician to see the folly of using energy without economising. My direct debit used to be £500 a month and they’re now demanding £1,500. That’s £18,000 a year.
Yes, you can break out the tiny violins. But the current drain on finances isn’t sustainable. Not if I want to go skiing next year.
So, what should I switch off? The swimming pool has done its work for the year and merely uses a pump for a couple of hours a day to circulate the water. I don’t want to find green sludge when I take off the cover in spring.
The wine fridges hold precious cargo, so they’ll continue to whirr. And the chest freezer purchased during lockdown is stuffed to the gunnels with beef joints, garden produce and amazing two-for-one deals from my favourite purveyor of cheap ice cream, Farmfoods. I’ll happily turn off lights I’m not using, but I don’t intend to sit in the dark, with only a flickering candle to read the paper.
Perhaps I need to turn to my childhood for energy saving tips. In the 1970s my father stomped around the house, berating us for leaving lights on, insisting that the heating only went on if ice formed on the inside of the windowpane and, then, was set at a maximum of 18 degrees Celsius, not the 20C to which I’m accustomed. Extra blankets, a pullover or hot water bottle at night would deal with any cold weather, he said.
It’s the cost of running an Aga that has really shocked me. These days, I’m less smug about my five-door version because it uses even more energy. According to Aga, it gets through 527 kWh of gas a week. That’s £53.75 before standing charges but after VAT.
Given I use it for six months a year, that’s a whopping £1,397 to keep the old thing hot. Arguably such devices fall into the “if you have to ask what it costs to run, don’t have one” category. But it wasn’t a choice. It came with the house; removing it and redecorating comes with a big price tag.
I should use my standard oven instead. Analysis by comparison site Uswitch found a standard oven uses just under 1 kWh an hour. A typical roast, if you have the oven on for 1.5 hours, costs 54p. Not bad compared with the Aganomics of £7.68 for the day, as they’re either on or off.
On the plus side, the chancellor has just handed me a wad of cash with his tax cuts. I fixed my mortgage for seven years at 2.68 per cent. I’m working harder to bring in more money and my energy bills are fixed for this winter.
However, I am still going to economise. I’ll wait for two months before switching on the Aga and use the £466 saved to buy my flights to the mountains and eat out instead.
My tennis club is serving a two-course roast Sunday lunch for a very reasonable £23 a head. And they throw in the heating of the room for free.
James Max is a property expert, TV and radio presenter. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax