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Four clever ways to use tech to cut your energy bills

Find out how to reduce your energy payments with the help of household gadgets and apps

Many of us are looking for ways to keep our gas and electricity bills in check. Changing some of your daily habits is a good start, but there are also clever gadgets and apps that can help you make further savings around your home.

We’d usually recommend you switch to a cheaper energy deal to save money. But energy deals are in short supply right now and, for most customers, switching provider isn't going to lower your monthly payments. However, if you're currently on a variable tariff, the approach of the next energy price cap means you should be considering whether now is time to fix an energy deal.

But no matter what tariff you're on, your energy is likely to be costing you more than ever before. In order to keep a handle on your utility bills, it's worth making sure you're being as efficient as possible with your usage. 

Our experts have already found that by changing the way you use your appliances, there are some surprisingly good ways to reduce energy use around the home, and big differences in how much energy kitchen appliances use

Now, we're looking at the technology designed to keep control of your electricity usage. Read on to find out how smart tech can help keep costs down, sometimes at a relatively low up-front cost.

Ease the squeeze on your household bills with our latest cost of living advice and tips 

1. Smart thermostats and heating

Person altering smart thermostat

If you've not yet got a smart thermostat, it's worth considering one before we get into the winter months. They give you close control over the temperature of your home, whether you’re in it or not. You can use them to turn your heating off or down remotely using your smartphone, and programme them very precisely to suit your schedule so that you are only ever using central heating when you need to.

Heating makes up a big part of most people's energy bills. Turning your thermostat down by just one degree can drop energy bills by 10%, according to estimates by the Energy Savings Trust. 

But for a much more nuanced approach, smart thermostats can save you energy (and money) by responding to trends in your behaviour and lowering temperatures automatically when you’re not in. Most will connect to a smart home network such as Google Home and/or Amazon Alexa and come with a variety of functions.

Popular smart thermostat brands include Google (which owns Nest), Hive, Netatmo and Tado, but there are many others on the market – and prices vary considerably. 

Find out more about how they compare in our guide to Google Nest vs other smart thermostats.

You can also install smart radiator valves (also called smart radiator thermostats) to give you precise control over your radiators. Through your smart thermostat, you can use these to set different schedules for different parts of your house. For example, you might want the radiator in your living room to turn on when you come home from work, your bedroom to stay cold until later in the evening, and your kitchen to warm up in the morning. Just make sure all the kit you buy is compatible with the rest so that you can use it most effectively.

If you want better control over your heating with a less digital approach, you could opt for thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) so that you can turn down the radiators in rooms you're not using.

We test smart thermostats in our lab to find out how easy they are to use, how well the thermostat functions and how their features work. To see which models we've named Best Buys, you'll need to be a Which? member. Read our smart thermostat reviews for more information.

Or for more general advice, head to our free smart thermostat buying guides.

2. Smart plugs

With smart plugs, you can turn your devices on and off from your smartphone and set them up on scheduled timers. Smart lightbulbs work in much the same way. They connect to an app, smart home assistant, or other smart accessories. Most are controllable from anywhere in the world, as long as you've got an internet connection.

The most touted reason to use smart plugs is to make your lamps, TV or radio come on occasionally while you’re away from home, to give the impression somebody is still in. 

Some smart plugs have built-in energy monitoring features as well, so that you can see how much power your devices are using. Want to know how many kilowatts your kettle uses? Connect it to your smart plug, fire up the accompanying app and you can find out.

Most have separate apps for Android and iOS users, and many are compatible with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. Other models work with different virtual assistants such as Siri and Google Assistant, or smart home hubs like Hue Bridge or Hive Hub.

You’ll find smart plugs being sold for as little as £5, while the most expensive we’ve tested could set you back more than £40. There are some decent models on the affordable end of the scale. 

Smart plugs with features such as scheduling, voice commands and energy monitoring can be found in the £10-15 range, making this a good price to start your browsing at. The more expensive models are usually designed to connect up with other smart home products – like security systems, lighting or thermostats.

We test smart plugs in our labs, and have made some of them Best Buys. Which? members can unlock our smart plug reviews.

Alternatively, head to our free smart plug advice, including 10 genuinely useful things you can do with a smart plug

3. Energy-saving apps

Whether you’re more focused on saving money or helping to save the planet, there are several options available when it comes to energy-saving apps.

Understanding your energy bills and how much it's costing you to use your household appliances is really important if you're trying to make meaningful savings. Some apps will give you a much clearer view of your general energy use. You can also get creative in using smart apps to make sure you're being as efficient as possible.

Energy company apps: If you've not yet downloaded an app to engage with your energy company, find out what yours offers. Some energy company apps will give you detailed information about your usage, particularly if you're using a smart meter.

Smart home apps: If you have a smart home thermostat such as Hive or Nest, make sure you know your way around their apps to make the most of them. Other smart home companies also offer innovative energy saving help - Samsung's SmartThings app, for example, is based around its SmartThings hub and will give you detailed energy use information about your connected appliances (more on these below).  

Timer apps: It might sound obvious, but setting a timer for things like showers and dishwashing can really help you understand how long you're using your hot water for. You could challenge yourself to keep your showers under five minutes or to only run the hot water tap for a set amount of time while washing-up - good for the planet as well as your bills. You'll find dedicated 'shower timer' apps out there, but a standard smartphone stopwatch will work just as well. 

Energy Cost Calculator: This is a simple app designed to give you a clear understanding of exactly how much energy your products use. Enter the energy consumption of the appliance in kWh (this should be on its packaging or specs that you can find online), how many hours you run it for and how much your electricity costs per kWh. The app will then generate a cost per usage by day, month or year, along with the CO2 emissions produced by the item. It's available for iOS and Android. 

Meter Readings: If you're struggling to make sense of your meter readings from your utilities providers, this useful, no-nonsense app could help you get a handle on what you're using in real time. You start by inputting your tariff details for your electricity, gas and water (if you have a metered supply). You then upload your meter readings as frequently as you wish to, and over time the app will generate detailed graphs showing you how much you've used and how much it's cost you. You can export these into spreadsheets if you need to. Find it on the Apple App Store.   

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4. Smart and eco appliances

The appliances you use in your home make up a big chunk of your electricity usage, so if you find you need new ones, it can be really worth making sure you're picking models that will reduce your energy usage over time. 

Depending on size and energy efficiency, washing machine running costs can vary from £15 to £70 a year, for example. 

Find out which are the most energy efficient dishwashers, washing machines and tumble dryers - and get details about all of our Eco Buy appliances.

Regardless of whether you're buying new or using your existing appliances, make sure you're using them efficiently. If they have eco settings, use them where you can, as they can make big savings on your bills. 

Read more: tips on how to use your appliances efficiently.

Smart appliances

Smart appliances are still relatively new, and they're not cheap to buy. That means they're not necessarily the right choice for everyone. However, if you are interested in them, they can come with some clever energy saving features as well as the things you'd typically associate with a smart product, such as remote operation. 

Some smart washing machines, for example, will weigh the load of laundry, and use just the right amount of water and energy. Some can also auto-dose detergent based on the weight of the load, so that it always uses just the right amount. 

Many smart products will tell you exactly how much energy they are using in real time via their apps. If you've already got a smart appliance but aren't making use of these features, it could be worth familiarising yourself with the app to see whether it could be helping you with your day-to-day energy use.

Find out more about how smart washing machines work with our advice guide.

Looking for more ways to reduce your energy bills? Here are 10 ways you can make some savings