Shopping around for the best deal on electricity prices is a possibility since deregulation has loosened up many of the state energy markets. However, the easiest way to save money, regardless of what deal you have, is the old fashioned way of using less electricity. There are dozens of ways to save electricity, from simply turning off appliances not in use, to buying more efficient ones, and even ensuring the house itself is as efficient as can be.
Installing insulation can lower your bills
Most people are comfortable in temperatures between 18 and 24 degrees Celsius, but in most parts of Australia the air temperature usually sits outside this range. Indoors, most people use either heating or cooling depending on the location and time of year. The energy required to heat and cool the inside of a home varies according to what the building is made of, its use of insulation, heating or cooling methods used, and how much the temperature needs to be changed.
Insulation can be a cheap way to improve the efficiency of a building, allowing you to use less electricity for heating or cooling.
Free standing houses with no insulation can lose up to 35% of their heat through the roof in winter, and gain a similar amount of heat in the summer months. Heat loss through windows accounts for around 10-20%, but heat gain in summer can be as high as 35%. Both heat gain and loss through walls is up to 25%, and heat loss through the floor can be as high as 20% according to the figures from this SEAV report.
Save on bills with insulation
There are two types of insulation materials used in buildings, reflective insulation and bulk insulation, which take a variety of forms. Reflective insulation is usually a film of some metallic material which reflects heat back into or away from the interior of buildings. Bulk insulation is more like a blanket which traps air in pockets and slows the exchange of hot and cool air. Both insulation types can usually be installed in existing buildings to help save heating and cooling energy costs.
When looking at moving or buying a home, the smaller the better as far as energy consumption goes. With heating and cooling being the major cost for energy in most houses, it makes sense that smaller homes use less energy for this purpose than larger ones. Free standing homes also use more energy for heating and cooling than those with shared walls or roofs (generally speaking).
House size affects energy usage
According to this article from shrinkthatfootprint.com, new Australian homes are the largest in the world, at 214 m2 on average, which is more than four times larger than the average new home in Hong Kong. This seems to be regardless of the size of families, as we also have the most space per person in our homes at 89m2 each. Given the long-term cost, household size is certainly something to consider when building. If you’ve got your heart set on a big home, though, even reducing the area of the house that’s actively heated or cooled can help lower energy use quite dramatically. Close off unused rooms at particular times of year to avoid heating and cooling ‘leakage’.
Using less energy around the home
For people who are renting or aren’t in the midst of choosing a property to buy, there are some easy ways to use less energy without making huge changes. Most are simply common sense, here are some of the best:
- Wearing warmer clothing may reduce the need to turn on heating on milder days. Natural fabrics like wool are warmer than synthetics most of the time, and wearing slippers and pyjamas is cheaper than warming the house.
- Good quality bedclothes are also a good investment, reducing the need to heat the house overnight while people are sleeping.
- Heaters and electric blankets in bedrooms can be put on timers so they warm up just before bed time.
- A bowl of ice in front of a fan could cool you down if you live in a dry, hot area – and it’s cheaper than air conditioning by a country mile!
- Sealing cracks around windows and doors is a simple and effective way to stop draughts, and having built-in or portable draught stoppers at the bottom of doors can slow down the amount of heat lost from a room.
- Curtains over windows are an obvious way to prevent heat moving into a room in Summer, and blinds on the outside of windows can further add to this insulating effect.
- Planting deciduous trees or vines to the north and west sides of buildings can help reduce heat gain in summer by shading the building. When they lose their leaves in winter, these types of plants can also allow in light and heat to warm up the place as well.
- In homes where electricity is used to heat water, having shorter showers can really have an impact on energy costs, as less water used means less to be reheated, which also means less electricity to do the job. You can also lower the temperature of the hot water system thermostat by a couple of degrees can to use a lot less energy.
- Washing a majority of your clothes in cold water rather than hot is another great way to conserve energy.
Reducing the age of your appliances can help you save
Replacing old household appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines that are in constant use in most homes can have a big impact on electricity use. Modern refrigerators can use less than a third or even a quarter of the electricity of older models of a similar size, and as they are left on 24 hours a day, this adds up quickly. In many cases, a new fridge can pay itself off in electricity savings in only a few years. Similarly, newer large appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers can be far more energy efficient than older models, especially where they have eco-functions which can also help reduce water use. The energy star rating system is a quick way to compare appliances for their energy use, so make sure you use it before making your purchase.
Other power hungry appliances
Other appliances around the home have not been around as long as the fridge and washing machine, but there may be electricity savings to be made there too.
- Desktop computers can use as much as 350 kWh of electricity per year as seen by the calculations here. Laptops or notebook computers are far more efficient than a desktop as they are designed to run on battery power. Tablets use even less electricity than a laptop, so choosing an appropriate device for whatever job you are doing is a smart move.
- Early game consoles used relatively little electricity, as they had less sophisticated hardware than their modern contemporaries. Consoles from the last few years, however, are effectively powerful gaming computers and can make a huge dent in electricity consumption, especially when combined with large screen TVs and other peripherals such as surround sound systems. Energy consumption varies widely, from 0.04 kW per hour to 0.19 kW, depending on how much the console is used.
- Australians watch an average of 3 hours of television per day. Plenty of time nowadays is spent watching content on computers, tablets, and phones, but the conventional TV still gets a lot of use regardless. LCD televisions are typical in lounge rooms, and CNET Australia notes that a modern, 55 inch OLED watched for five hours a day would cost about $45 a year to run. Even though the average Australian should end up spending less than that, it’s still worth keeping in mind.
Is standby power costing you?
Standby power is a reasonably new thing, with newer appliances being the major culprits. Most things we plug into the wall socket are using power as long as the switch is turned on at the wall, sitting ready for action in “standby” mode. This so-called ‘vampire power’ can comprise as much as 10% of the electricity use in the average home, but it’s reasonably easy to avoid the cost by switching things off at the wall rather than using the power toggle on the appliance itself. When buying new appliances, such as microwaves, look for models with no clock face or other “resting” display so even these can be switched off when not in use.
For overall energy use, the five biggest consumers of electricity are as follows, along with some tips for cutting the amount they cost.
- Air conditioners
Air conditioners are the most energy intensive appliances in most houses. The best way to save electricity, in this case, is not to turn them on and keep the house cool in other ways:
- Shut curtains during the day
- Keep doors and windows closed as soon as the sun rises
- Seal up any gaps under doors and around windows and pipes
- Outdoor awnings and carefully planted shade plants can make a huge difference
- Set thermostats at a warmer but comfortable temperature to reduce energy use
Electric heating elements are among the most electricity-hungry devices in the home. Like air conditioners, avoid turning them on until absolutely necessary by keeping warm in other ways:
- Seal up all the gaps
- Close off unused rooms
- Put on warmer clothes
- Open curtains during the day and close them at night
- Use the lowest heat setting that’s comfortable
- Gas powered heating can be more efficient and cheaper than electric heaters.
Old fridges are typically less efficient than more recent models, so upgrading will usually save money on electricity: here are some further tips
- Check door seals and replace if necessary
- Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the fridge and freezer
- Adjust the thermostat to the warmest setting that keeps food fresh
- Position the fridge in a cool spot out of direct sunlight
- Water heaters
Some tips that can save energy on heating water:
- Adjust the thermostat so water is not overheated
- Insulate hot water pipes that lead into the house
- In smaller households, move to on demand hot water systems
- Investigate solar boosted hot water systems
- Use low flow shower heads and taps to reduce the amount of heating required in the tank
- Gas heaters especially on-demand systems may be more efficient than tank heaters
Due to the size of an oven, it can waste a lot of energy, but there are ways to reduce that consumption:
- Think about whether the microwave or grill might be a better option
- Avoid using the oven in summer, if it has to compete with the air conditioner
- Try “time stacking” your meals to cook several courses – as it heats, at its peak, as it cools
- As with fridges, oven seals should be checked and replaced if necessary
As with other kinds of heating, gas is a cheaper and more efficient way to cook and should be seriously considered, especially if replacing an old oven.
If you’re looking for a more extensive list of tips, here is a good place to start:
- Evaporative coolers use much less electricity than refrigerative air conditioning
- Fans are even cheaper than air conditioners and still effective
- Freezers use a lot of electricity; fridge only units can save power in the kitchen
- Keep windows and doors closed in extremes of temperature to stop air flow
- Insulation is just as important in the workplace as at home
- Roof space can be used for solar energy capture, either for hot water or electricity
- Hot water systems should be well insulated and serviced regularly
- Consider diverting grey water from kitchens or bathrooms to garden or lawn areas
- Turn it off: lights, heating, computers and appliances not in use can be switched off at the outlet, this is especially true at the end of the day and over break periods.
- Close off unused work areas to make heating and cooling more efficient
- Take public transport to work, ride a bike, or walk to save on fuel
- Think twice about printing emails or other documents, only do so when necessary
- Wash reusable cups, plates and cutlery when finished to produce less waste
- Use rechargeable batteries in wireless keyboards and computer mice, etc.
There are numerous ways to save electricity in your day to day life. Thinking carefully about the way you use electricity and whether those uses are efficient or even necessary is a good start to cutting down how much gets used at home and work. Some changes require little money and effort, but in some cases, investing wisely in the right technology and hardware can save far more in the long term than it costs in the present. Try giving your home an energy audit to identify the areas where your time and money is best spent to cut your energy use. Finally, the less energy you use at home, the more money you save on your electricity bills.