Managing rising energy costs and potential blackouts/brownouts

04 December 2022

We recognise people's concern about rising energy costs and that you may wish to explore lower-cost ways to heat and light your properties.

Image of two pairs of sock-clad feet in front of a log burner

However, you may unknowingly increase the risk of damage to your property or its occupants, and extra precautions may be required. The following recommendations may help protect your property and keep people safe.

1. Central heating

If you’re planning on localising your heating to just a few rooms in your home, it’s worth bearing a few things in mind. Lack of heating can cause damp and mould to form in unused areas.

Most modern radiators are fitted with thermostatic valves that control the heat output giving better energy efficiency. We recommend turning the valve down to a lower setting in unused areas to help keep the area damp free rather than turning heating off. This will also significantly reduce the risk of water pipes bursting. Water leaks can cause major property damage and enormous inconvenience. Radiators in occupied areas can be set at higher temperatures, as desired for comfort.

Some more valuable or personal items, such as paintings and rugs may be susceptible to damage in colder conditions. These items should be relocated to warmer parts of the property or suitably protected by appropriate coverings where there is a risk of damage.

2. Portable heaters

The use of portable heaters may be considered as an alternative. If you are considering using portable heaters we recommend the following checks before usage:

  • Before purchase, check the heater is not included on published recall lists. Defective heaters are a known common cause of fires and even death.
  • Use of portable gas, paraffin and other flammable liquid heaters should be avoided. They significantly increase the risk of fire.
  • Ensure heaters are maintained as recommended by the manufacturer and kept in good working order. Only a competent person should undertake servicing or repairs.
  • Heaters must be kept away from combustible items including clothes, furniture and curtains.
  • Ensure you have adequate fire detection in areas where portable heaters are being used.
  • Before moving any heater ensure it is turned off and has cooled down.
  • Do not leave portable heaters operating unsupervised.

3. Open fires & log burners

The use of open fires and log burners are increasingly popular, not just for aesthetics but as a source of heat. To minimise the risk of a fire occurring it is important that the following points are observed:

  • Always keep chimneys and flues clean and well-maintained.
  • An accredited specialist e.g. a member of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps (NACE) should sweep the chimney at least annually (please note, chimney sweeps get very busy in times of recession so worth booking in early).
  • For log burners fit carbon monoxide detectors in the vicinity of the equipment as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • For open fires ensure a fireguard is fitted to protect against any flying embers and sparks.
  • Keep watch for pets and children who may be attracted to burners and open fires.
  • Before retiring for the night ensure fires and any embers are under control and guarded.
  • Store logs well away from the log burners. Radiated heat from the burner can cause the logs to burn.

4. Candles

Candles are not recommended as an alternative form of lighting. Battery-powered torches or candles that are pre-charged should be considered as an alternative. If candles are used they should be kept in holders designed for purpose and sited well away from furnishings, especially curtains. They must be extinguished before leaving a room.

5. Cooking

Using alternative cooking appliances such as camping stoves or barbecues indoors is not safe and must be avoided. As well as a significantly increased fire risk there is a real risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

6. General resilience planning

There have been some suggestions there could be shortages in energy supplies in the future, especially electricity resulting in power cuts.

  • If you are aware of impending power cuts, charge up portable equipment e.g. mobile phones, laptops and portable chargers to help ensure continued usage.
  • Keep a supply of replacement batteries for portable electrical equipment.
  • Limit the opening of fridges/freezers to help preserve low temperatures for as long as possible.
  • In the event of an extended power cut, any security or fire alarm systems in your property may cease to operate. You should review your fire safety and security arrangements accordingly. You may need to consult with your property insurer if the use of fire and intruder alarm systems is an insurance policy condition.

7. If you are operating a business:

  • Review your business continuity plans, especially supply chain challenges that could affect your service capability. Take early action to minimise interruption to your business.
  • If feasible, consider purchasing alternative power sources e.g. backup generators to maintain electrical supply to key areas and equipment.
  • Where generators are being considered:
    • Seek professional advice on the type, size and location of the generator required to meet your needs
    • Use suitably qualified professionals to install and maintain generators
    • Only operate generators in line with the manufacturer's guidelines
    • Avoid operating in wet conditions
    • Protect the generator from the elements wherever possible
    • Safe storage of the fuel supply is vital from both a fire and potential pollution perspective
    • Make sure generators are turned off and cool before fuelling
    • Your Fire Risk Assessment will need to be reviewed to reflect the use of the generators.

Key message

By planning ahead and taking sensible precautions, it is possible to reduce energy costs and minimise risks to your property and its occupants, avoiding the enormous inconvenience and financial impact of property damage.