Twenty Ways to Cut Your Energy Bills
Twenty Ways to Cut Your Energy Bills
By Tim Forcey (first published in the Conversation)
Cover photo from wikybrew.com
Winter is here. While many Australians opt not to heat their homes to the point of complete comfort, many of us nevertheless will soon receive a nasty surprise once the energy bills arrive.
When it comes to thermal performance many Australian homes are a little more than “glorified tents” due to our historically cheap energy, old housing stock in many areas, mild climate and frequent emphasis on low building costs.
Here is a list of twenty two ways you can do to enhance your home’s energy performance – some cheap, some free, and some can even make you some money up-front as well as reducing your bills. Needless to say, to reach the ultimate goal of a home heated and powered by 100% renewable electricity you still have to install some solar panels on your roof, but why not consider the following actions first?
1. Ensure you get the maximum discount on your energy bills. Although not available in all states, in Victoria discounts of up to 38% are available on gas oand electricity. Call your retailer and just ask, or threaten to switch, or better yet seek out a retailer that doesn’t treat their discounts like state secrets.
2. Run your hot water system off-peak. If you have a resistive-electric hot water storage tank, make sure it heats up at night, when off-peak power rates apply. In some areas, “time of use” rates are available.
2. Power usage monitoring. The use of a “smart” electricity meter or in-home electricity display will come handy. This real-time (or near-real-time) information is more useful than the monthly data commonly printed on energy bills. It can help pinpoint appliances that have unknowingly been left on or those that draw excessive power when in standby.
4. Ditch your ‘garage fridge’. It can cost thousands of dollars annually to run an inefficient 20-year-old fridge, especially if it’s in a garage that hits 50℃ in summer.
6. Use a modern showerhead, such as those designed with double-impinging jet technology that use only 5 litres of water per minute. Old showerheads can pass up to 35 litres per minute. Why not grab a bucket and stopwatch and test yours?
7. Insulate exposed hot water pipes, which includes the pressure-relief valve on your hot water tank. Ensure hot water pipes do not run uninsulated straight into the soil in your garden. Use good quality insulation on electrically heated storage tanks where it is safe to do so.
8. Check your space heaters and air conditioning. Gas heating systems should be checked at least every two years by a qualified tradesperson,to keep poisonous carbon monoxide gas at bay. All heating or cooling system filters should be cleaned regularly to improve energy efficiency and enhance air quality.
9. Examine your ducts. Poorly installed or deteriorated duct can lead to massive energy losses, which may go unnoticed for decades. Make sure that small children or animals have not damaged your ducts for gas heating. Inspect that air returns are properly “closed-in”. Ensure they do not suck air from the wall cavity instead of from the living space. However, cleaning the interior of your ducts is not vital for energy saving, and risks damaging them in the process.
10. Banish drafts, by plastering over those omnipresent wall vents – relics from the days when homes relied on unflued heaters or gas lights. Seal off unused chimneys and fill cracks, gaps or holes around doors, windows, skirting boards, floorboards and architraves. Remember to close air-conditioning ceiling vents in winter. Ventilation should be controlled by opening windows, not by having permanent holes and gaps in the walls.
12. Install downlight covers over all downlights that protrude into accessible attic spaces. Not only does this reduce fire hazards and keep out insects, but it will also reduce air flow through the roof.
13. Replace regularly used lights with LEDs. LEDs use a tenth of the energy of halogen or incandescent bulbs, so will pay for themselves in just a few months (even less in places where free replacement is on offer). Replace less regularly used bulbs with LEDs as and when they burn out, and vow never to buy a non-LED bulb again.
14. Insulate your attic…. If you don’t have roof insulation, get some. If you do, check it meets the recommended “R value” for your climate. Ensure all vertical attic surfaces (walls, skylight tunnels) are also insulated, and include a layer of aluminium in your attic space. Thermal imaging can be used to identify existing flaws, such as gaps or sections of insulation inadvertently moved by tradespeople working in the attic.
15. Cover your windows from the inside… with drapes, curtains or blinds. This will keep in heat at night and on cold winter days, and keep out the sun in summer. Cheaper or do-it-yourself thermal window treatments such as plastic films or even bubble wrap can be applied in some situations (just don’t expect to win any design awards).
16. …and the outside. Trees, plants, external awnings, blinds or shade sails can all keep out the summer sun and stop windows getting hot. Remember that significant heat will reflect onto windows from sizzling decks, paved areas and walls (but not lawns). It’s better to keep out the sun in the first place rather than try to cool your house down.
17. Double glazing for windows cuts out noise, improves security and saves energy too. For many Australian climate zones, I recommend that homeowners never buy a window in future that isn’t double-glazed. Retrofit options options such as “secondary glazing” are also available.
18. Use reverse-cycle to heat your home…. If your home has reverse-cycle air conditioning (also known as a heat pump), this may be the cheapest way to heat, especially as gas prices rise. On heat mode, reverse-cycle units harvest free renewable ambient heat from the air outside your home and pump it up to the toasty temperature you need inside. Having installed high-efficiency reverse-cycle units, I can heat my own home for one-third of the cost of ducted gas heating.
19. …and your water. If your hot water system is nearing its use-by date, consider replacing it with a heat pump. This is an especially good option for homes that already have solar panels and low feed-in tariffs.
And then there is solar…
You won’t be paid much money for selling your electricity back to the grid these days. However, it is still worth to install solar if you consume most of the energy yourself, by running your pool pumps, appliances, space heating and cooling devices, hot water system and even an electric car with solar electricity harvested during the day.
In the near future, as electricity storage batteries get cheaper, there will be more economic reasons to have solar panels on your roof.
This article doesn’t list every possible behavioural trick or home improvement. Unfortunately, some homes will never be fantastic energy performers without significant modification. Hopefully there are a few things on this list that will work for you – even if it’s only a case of finally getting some curtains, covering that drafty doorstep, or giving your rusty creaky “beer fridge” a proper retirement.