Australians love their summer. We pull out the shorts and dresses, go for evening walks or spend the twilight hours on the deck or by the barbeque, and we keep that air-conditioning cranking its life away – because the Aussie sun can be scorching. Consequently, summer get expensive, and energy bills can come as a shock.
It certainly doesn’t have to be that way, though. By being more conscious of our usage, we can potentially save a small fortune that can be put to much better use. Since heating and cooling can account for around 40% of our energy costs, this is the obvious area to target. We sometimes cannot do without our ceiling fans and air-conditioners, but there are ways to use them judiciously and ultimately save.
Using your gadgets
If you have an air-conditioner with a programmable thermostat, make use of it. Plan ahead and set the times to coincide with your daily schedule. Set it to kick in about half an hour before you arise, or if you wake quite late, have it come on before the sun gets too high and hits the windows. If you’re away for the entire day, make sure it’s switched off until you’re due to come home, but if you’re darting in and out of your home, it’s probably wise to keep it going at a low setting. When you’re ready to retire for the night, consider having it turn off after you’re likely to be asleep – that way you can drift off in comfort without worrying about the energy usage.
If you can compartmentalise your system by using a zoning option, you can potentially save up to 50% off your cooling costs. Try to restrict the cooling to the living area during the day and the bedrooms later at night.
Use your appliances sparingly. A drinks fridge is a ubiquitous Aussie luxury, but we often forget about it when it’s not in use. Whenever you’re not entertaining, turn it off altogether and save. As for your clothes dryer, forget it exists for a few months. Buy a good clothes rack and use it indoors if it’s raining, or place it on a deck or balcony if you don’t have a conventional clothes line.
If you’re considering installing a new air-conditioning system, don’t automatically go for the most powerful one unless you have a large space that really requires it. A modest space will be well-serviced by a smaller system, and anything larger is a waste. When your condenser unit is in place, consider shading the area. The savings here are likely to be modest, but hey – a saving is a saving.
Fans and thermostats
There is little point in running ceiling or standing fans in any room that is not occupied, but they’re still cheaper to run than your air-conditioning system. Reach for the fan switch first and see if it’s enough to keep you comfortable. We should consider our own ability to adapt when we use the thermostat: in winter we may warm our homes from 18 to 22 degrees, but in summer we can feel perfectly comfortable at higher temperatures. Try cooling to between 23 and 26 degrees – you should be able to carry on as normal without feeling like you’re being refrigerated.
Maintain your home
By keeping up with general maintenance on your property, your time will soon equal money. Start by cleaning out the filters in your air-conditioning unit, or even change them entirely. This can have your system running more efficiently. Check them every month to assess the build-up.
If you have external shades, adjustable awnings or other window coverings, put them to good use whenever uncomfortably hot weather arrives. Check the forecast each evening and if a scorcher is predicted, pull them into place the night before, so the sun doesn’t beat you to it. If you don’t have specialised coverings, consider planting mature deciduous trees near large windows that receive direct sun exposure. They’ll cool the area in summer, and let the light in during the winter months.
A staggering 87% of the heat in your home enters through your windows, so consider double-glazing them, particularly if you’re embarking on a renovation, or building from scratch. Double-glazing is expensive in Australia, and therefore it’s not the default option of many builders and developers, but it’s an investment that will eventually pay off. They will help to insulate your home from the summer heat and they will retain heat in winter. They have the added bonus of shielding you from street noise, meaning the local traffic and the neighbour’s dog will have an instant volume button.
Get into not-so-hot water
Who wants to wash dishes in scalding hot water during summer? Turn down your water thermostat to around 45 degrees, so your hot water system doesn’t have to work so hard to heat the water. Take slightly cooler and shorter showers and use water sparingly. Most people hardly notice the cooler water temperate in summer, and you’d be amazed how much energy it saves. If you’re going away, turn the system off altogether – there’s no need for a supply of hot water when there’s no-one about to use it.
Oh, those summer nights!
They’re coming, folks – relentlessly hot summer nights that keep you awake and uncomfortable. Use a fan at the foot of your bed, or a ceiling fan if you have one. A damp hand towel draped over bare skin can be a novel way for kids (and big kids) to handle the heat.
For ways to save on energy all year round, take a look at our all-seasons energy guide. If you’re thinking about switching to a new provider, compare the market first and take a close look at peak rates and non-peak rates. Consider which plan will best suit the needs of you and your family and watch your energy bills shrink before your eyes. Happy summer, everyone.