Jeff Howell: Understanding Economy 7 and Kitchen Taps

METER FRUSTRATION

Q

Our all-electric bungalow is wired with a two-rate meter to take advantage of cheaper Economy 7 electricity. Our night-storage heaters are controlled on the "night" circuit by our electricity supplier via a radio timer, currently set for 10.30pm-12.30am and 2.30am-7.30am (checked by observing the neon light on one of the heaters). I wish to make maximum use of Economy 7 for the immersion heater, washing machine and dehumidifier, so have asked Scottish El ectricity if the low-rate times are the same on the "normal" circuit. Their answers have ranged from "Don't know", "can be varied by the supplier", to "12.30-7.30am". They do not answer my email enquiries. My neighbours and I are frustrated that we are purchasing a product which the supplier will not fully explain, and which we may not be using in the most economical manner. Can you help?

NT, Lancaster

A

Economy 7 ("off peak") electricity is the cheapest fuel for readers with no mains gas supply. It can be difficult to get suppliers to tell you which times the off-peak rate kicks in and out, but this is often because they don't know - the switchover times are determined by the electricity generating companies, not the retail supply companies (a result of the convoluted way in which the electricity industry was privatised in the Eighties).

The only sure-fire way of knowing is to observe the neon switch lights on your storage heaters, as you already know. If you use timers on your washing machine and dishwasher, or any other appliances, then it is worth keeping an eye on these times, as the generating companies can shift them by five or 10 minutes either way without notice, to even out the switch loadings within a region. They don't want all the storage heaters in one area to switch on at the same time, as this would create a surge and possibly blow transformer fuses.

On the Level: Jeff Howell

On the Level: Jeff Howell's home advice

On the Level: Jeff Howell's home advice

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On the level: Jeff Howell's home advice

On the level: Jeff Howell's home advice

Having established the Economy 7 times, you can then be sure that all your electrical appliances will be cheap to run during those periods. As long as you have only one electric meter, then all your consumption will be coming through that. Your storage heaters will be wired through a dedicated consumer unit that gets the power supply switched to it during the off-peak periods. But there will be a fused spur that also directs this off-peak electricity back through your "normal" consumer unit, so all the power circuits and lighting circuits are switched to the cheap rate at the same time.

Most Economy 7 users have a special hot-water cylinder fitted with two immersion heaters. The lower heater is wired to come on automatically every night, on the same circuit as the storage heaters, and the upper one can be switched on manually during the day-rate period if needed for a boost.

UNDER PRESSURE

QWe need to replace our kitchen mixer tap, which has been in use for 30 years, and which now leaks badly at the neck swivel joint due to our hard water and despite re-washering. When I look at websites for replacements, I find there are high and low-pressure units on offer. The hot water supply at the sink is, at the moment, from a tank in the airing cupboard upstairs and the cold is from the mains. Does it matter whether the new fitment is high or low pressure?

JW, by email

A If I were you I would fix the existing tap and keep it. It probably just needs properly descaling, and the correct-sized O-ring(s) fitting.

If you want to buy a new tap anyway, and you have indirect ("low") pressure hot water, then you will need a low-pressure tap. Many readers have reported problems with regard to this, often with European imports which have only 8mm or even 6mm copper "tails" to connect to the incoming water pipes. If you then find the mains cold water flow is too fierce, you can always fit a pressure-reducing valve to the cold supply only.

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