In the wake of increasing energy prices and with another winter of economic uncertainty ahead, the UK care home industry faces a unique set of challenges. Energy prices have been on an upward trajectory over the past five years due to a confluence of factors, including increased global demand, reduced energy supply, rising gas prices, carbon pricing mechanisms, and a shift towards renewable energy infrastructure. Supply chain disruptions and geopolitical tensions have further exacerbated the situation, leading to a surge in energy costs for consumers and businesses alike.
Care homes are particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices due to their round-the-clock operational demands, providing essential services such as heating, cooling, and medical equipment. Many homes house vulnerable residents, requiring constant, stable climate control. Furthermore, a care home’s fixed budget makes it challenging to absorb higher energy costs, potentially impacting the quality of care provided and jeopardising financial sustainability. As a result, any significant increase in energy prices disproportionately affects care homes, forcing them to divert limited resources from resident care to cover escalating energy expenses.
A 2021 study by carehome.co.uk found that a care home with 50 residents could spend an average of £50,000 a year on gas and electricity, a sum which has no doubt increased with the global turbulence over the intervening period. In March 2023, Care England reported that a third of care homes in England have considered closing during the past year because of “financially crippling” running costs, with care home heating bills soaring by 500% in the past year. While Ofgem’s October 2023 price cap announcement will offer some relief to embattled care homes, energy prices remain at an historic high as we approach the cold winter period.
While Ofgem’s October 2023 price cap announcement will offer some relief to embattled care homes, energy prices remain at an historic high as we approach the cold winter period.
How to reduce your care home’s energy usage
There are several ways for care home managers and owners to reduce their energy consumption and associated cost. Here are the four most effective methods to consider:
If your care home is housed in an older building, your loft and wall cavity insulation may not retain heat effectively.
Insulation keeps a building warm by reducing heat transfer between the interior and exterior. It acts as a barrier that slows down the movement of heat, preventing it from escaping during cold weather. Insulation materials, like fiberglass or foam, trap tiny pockets of air, which are poor conductors of heat. This minimises heat loss and helps maintain a consistent indoor temperature – imperative for a care home.
An annual inspection of your loft and cavity insulation should ensure that it remains effective, preventing heat from escaping and keeping your home feeling warmer for longer.
If your care home relies on the use of radiators and heaters, you may be able to reduce energy consumption by optimising your use of timers. Consider the timetable of your residents and staff and adapt your heating schedule to match. For example, if a particular communal area or room is only used at certain times of day (e.g., mealtimes) use timers to heat that area during (and perhaps for the hour or so preceding) the period of use.
Timers on radiators and heaters reduce energy usage by allowing precise control over when heating is active. They enable you to schedule heating to operate only when needed, such as during occupied hours or colder periods, and automatically turn off when unnecessary. This prevents continuous eating, which can be inefficient and wasteful. Timers help optimise heating to match actual usage patterns, reducing energy consumption and associated costs while ensuring a comfortable environment
3. Staff training
As a care home manager, it is important that you share your goal of reducing energy consumption with your staff. Encouraging best practices like switching lights off when exiting a room, turning down heating when appropriate, and generally being aware of the goal of reducing energy use can help bring down energy usage significantly. Methods to improve employee engagement include:
• Education: Provide training on energy-saving practices and the importance of conservation.
• Incentives: Create a rewards program for staff who contribute to energy savings.
• Feedback: Regularly share energy consumption data and highlight improvements.
• Equipment Upgrades: Invest in energy-efficient appliances and systems.
• Policy Implementation: Enforce energy-saving policies and procedures.
• Engagement: Involve staff in decision-making for energy-related initiatives.
• Monitoring: Use energy management systems to track usage and identify areas for
• Recognition: Acknowledge and celebrate staff contributions to energy conservation.
4. Install energy efficient lighting and equipment
If your lighting systems haven’t been installed in the last 10 years, it is likely that the lightbulbs are not as energy efficient as they could be. If your care home uses incandescent or halogen light bulbs, consider replacing them with more efficient fluorescent or LED lightbulbs. While the return on investment (ROI) for an LED lightbulb can vary depending on factors like the initial cost of the bulb, your local electricity rates, and the number of hours the bulb is in use, they are generally considered a cost-effective choice due to their energy efficiency and long lifespan. They typically use significantly less electricity compared to traditional incandescent bulbs and can last many times longer. This results in lower electricity bills and fewer replacement costs, ultimately leading to a relatively short payback period, often within a year or less. Over the long term, the savings in energy and replacement costs can make LED bulbs a highly economical choice.
Electric heaters are also a huge contributor to high energy bills, as they are much less energy efficient than central heating. Instead of using electric heaters or stand-alone heaters, try to increase the insulation in rooms by fitting double glazed windows, using thermal curtains, and closing doors to keep the heat from radiators trapped inside the room.
Our team of expert care consultants is committed to helping care homes improve. Whether it’s supporting care management teams in implementing new procedures for their staff, creating a better quality of care for residents, providing strategic guidance to care home providers and owners, or identifying innovative solutions to help them reduce their energy usage and lower costs, we are here to help.
If you are a care home manager or provider who needs expert advice on how to manage your energy usage, or other energy saving recommendations, get in touch with our friendly team today, or read our previous insights.