How much does working from home add to your energy bills?

Early in August, MailOnline reported that those working from home could end up paying an additional £139 for the privilege in November, rising to £142 in December and £191 in January.

On 31 August, the Telegraph said that home workers will pay £209 more a month, which it claimed would “kill the work from home dream”. And on the same day, Sky News published an article on its rolling news page which put the monthly figure at £131.

So, are they right? And how does it stack up against commuting costs?

Do the numbers add up?

All of these stories are based on analyses by the energy comparison company, Uswitch.

As some of them note, Uswitch says that someone working from home will use 75 per cent more gas and 25 per cent more electricity than a person who works out of the home.

We asked Uswitch why it assumed this in its calculations.

Uswitch told us that it expected people working from home would have their central heating on 24 hours a day, while those who went out to work would only use it for 14 hours. That’s a difference of 71 per cent, which Uswitch said it rounded up to 75 per cent to account for additional hot water use.

But is it really the case that the average household has the central heating on for the entire time there’s someone at home?

Uswitch was unable to provide us with any data to back up this claim. And we’ve found figures that point in a different direction.

According to the latest government survey of household heating use, homes where everyone is working away from home during the week have the central heating on for 6 hours a day on average during the winter.

In households where someone is in all day (which includes home workers), the figure is 8.5 hours.

Combined with weekend heating (8 hours a day according to these stats), that means the average full time home worker uses 58.5 hours of central heating a week, compared to 46 hours if they went out to work.

That’s a difference of 21 per cent – not 75 per cent as Uswitch has assumed.

Can we put a figure on it?

We think a better approach is to calculate the cost of that extra 12.5 hours’ heating each week.

FactCheck spoke to Jerry Whiteley, technical manager at the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering.

He explained that a boiler will use a lot of energy when it’s first switched on, but once the target temperature is reached, it will tick along at a much lower rate.

Mr Whiteley gave the example of a 12kwh boiler, which he said you might find in a standard semi detached house. He estimated that the “ticking along” rate for a 12kwh boiler might be 2 to 3kwh, though said the exact figure would depend on many factors, including how well insulated the home is.

Rob Bennett, technical service manager at Pimlico Group, told FactCheck: “It really is a grey area as it depends on the brand of the boiler also. If we were talking about Vaillant, I would say that the 12kw boiler will modulate down to 4kw when it has reached its operating temperature.”

So we tentatively estimate that, for someone with a 12kwh boiler, having the heating on for an extra 2.5 hours would add about £1.50 a day to gas bills – or £30 a month – from October.

What about electricity?

Assuming someone working from home runs a laptop for 8 hours, boils the kettle four times and uses the microwave once during the workday, we estimate they’d add 85p a day – or £17 a month – to their energy bills from October. (We’ve calculated this using figures from the Centre for Sustainable Energy.)

How do the bills stack up?

Every household will be different, and there’s no reliable way to accurately predict how much extra energy the average home worker will use this winter.

But, based on the evidence we’ve seen, we estimate that between October and December, someone working from home can expect to add around £50 a month to their energy bills. This is a lot lower than the figures quoted in many recent news articles.

And for many, it’ll be lower than the cost of commuting.

The average UK worker spends £66.31 a month getting to work, according to figures compiled by Lloyd’s Bank in 2019. The same research found that it’s even worse in the East of England (£78.93 a month) and London (£76.49).

Though workers in the East Midlands may find it’s a harder call – average commutes there cost £45.51 a month.

FactCheck verdict

A number of news outlets have run stories claiming that working from home full time could add well over a hundred pounds to monthly energy bills this winter.

But FactCheck has questions about the way these figures were calculated by the energy comparison site, Uswitch.

Using the limited evidence available, we tentatively estimate that working from home would add about £50 a month to energy bills between October and December – though the precise amount will depend on a range of factors.

If our calculations are right, workers in many parts of the country may find the extra energy bills are still lower than the cost of commuting to work.

A spokesperson told FactCheck: “During the energy crisis we have done our best to explain to consumers how soaring wholesale costs affect household bills, and it is indisputable that the cost of working from home is rising.”