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Rich People’s Problems: Big houses mean power struggles

The energy price cap is set to smash through the £2,000 barrier in April. But that’s just for the “typical user”. The bigger your house, the bigger the likely bills.

I am worried about the escalating cost of heating and powering my home(s). My energy company has already raised the monthly direct debit at my seaside abode, projecting my annual gas bill will rise from £2,944 to £3,676 next year. They’ve not told me about my electricity costs yet, but I’m assuming a similar rise is to be expected.

Of course, I recognise that the cost of living crisis is having a devastating impact on household budgets up and down the country. We are supremely fortunate that we won’t have to worry about whether to heat our homes or eat. But this is the Rich People’s Problems column, so you will be expecting me to have a bit of a whinge — even if it’s accompanied by the world’s smallest violin.

I’ve been trying to look on the bright side. Perhaps I should be pleased that I don’t live in a stately home or a castle.

Last year, the energy switching website Uswitch estimated that the Royal household was shelling out £2.5m a year to power its top 10 residences, including Buckingham Palace (an estimated £1.1m energy bill, including £28,000 for lighting) and Windsor Castle (a more modest £394,000).

By the website’s reckoning, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has annual energy bills in the region of £32,000 for his Elizabethan country house in Essex, with an Aga and swimming pool contributing to the running costs.

Big bills. But they’re about to get a whole lot bigger. We will find out next month how much the energy price cap will rise by in April, but it’s expected to be 50 per cent.

If you live out in the sticks, there’s a good chance you’re one of the 1.5m people not connected to the gas grid who have to rely on heating oil — which is not protected by the price cap and has soared in price.

For those of us with draughty mansions to heat, all of that extra money is going to have to come from somewhere.

Some friends of mine who live in the sort of property the rest of us drool at on Instagram have said their annual heating bill will rise by about £6,000. To economise, they’ve decided to delay buying new carp for their ornamental fish pond.

For the more practical among us, the obvious factors are how high you set your heating, the appliances you have and whether you own a swimming pool, hot tub, wine fridges, an electric car, security lighting or an Aga.

Growing up in the 1970s, my father was forever telling off me and my brothers for leaving the fridge door open, or leaving the garden door ajar (prompting the inevitable cry of “We don’t need to heat the whole of north-west London!”)

He prowled the house to turn down the thermostat to 18C (not 20C) and only switched on the heating if there was ice on the inside of the windowpane. He grew up during the second world war and the hardship he’d endured was imposed on us. This possibly explains why I like to have the heating at 20C, turn it on when I feel like it and happily leave the fridge door open while I cook.

This also, perhaps, explains my somewhat blasé approach to energy use. I have no idea how much a fridge costs to run. Nor have I ever cared. Recently, I installed a new fridge in the pool house. My criteria included if the device made ice (it does), would it keep enough fizz nice and chilled (check) and that it had an electric shelf that can be adjusted according to the height of bottles (it does this too). I never once considered the running costs. Now I’m almost too scared to find out.

Technology now dominates our lives, all the more so if you work from home with a range of gadgets, computers, screens and tech whirring away. Goodness only knows what electricity costs they’re racking up. But they need to be on standby unless you want to wait forever for them to power up and log in again.

And there’s my electric car. Some say it costs £5 to recharge its batteries. I have no idea. What I do know is that when I used a petrol car for longer journeys, I spent about £3,000 a year on fuel, and probably another £1,000 on filling myself up with Haribos (my new diet means I’m making a saving there). So, spending £300 to £500 a year to charge my car seems like relatively good value, even if prices do rise.

Until recently I wasn’t aware of “Aganomics” (the cost of owning and running an Aga). If you have one of these wonderful range cookers, you’ll understand the snobbery that exists between owning a simple three-door and the more extensive and expensive five-door (you can guess which one I have) and the inevitable difference in running costs.

More importantly, the most delicious thing in the world is a baked potato cooked in one. The next best thing is that no matter how much mess you make with spitting oil and fat, the hot box just burns it off, cleaning itself like magic.

I keep mine on from September to May because it also heats the radiator-free kitchen. Oh, just watch the gas meter whizz round when it’s fired up! Are there any economies to be made? I wouldn’t dare muck about with the heat setting. Mine’s gas and I keep it on “5” to ensure the oven is roasting hot, not nuclear. I’m guessing I bin over a grand a year to keep it running.

More economic Aga models have been produced in recent years but the expense of purchasing (up to £16,500) plus installation and disposal of the old unit mean any savings would be erased.

When it comes to making economies, I could switch off a few lights or reduce the hours the outside lighting is on (done). Turn down the thermostat from 20 to 19 (also done) and lag the pipes (done). But what else can I do? I’ll certainly not be sticking solar panels on a period property, so I guess I’ll just have to earn some more money, or cut back elsewhere.

Perhaps I should hold off booking a summer holiday until there’s a sign that energy prices might stabilise. Regardless, I’m still going to bake potatoes in my Aga. Obviously, I’ll also need to burn off all that carb consumption. And where better than in a nice warm swimming pool?

James Max is a radio presenter and property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter: @thejamesmax

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