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.
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.
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 usage 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).
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’.
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:
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 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.
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 users of electricity are as follows, along with some tips for cutting the amount they cost.
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:
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:
Old fridges are typically less efficient than more recent models, so upgrading will usually save money on electricity: here are some further tips
Some tips that can save energy on heating water:
Due to the size of an oven, it can waste a lot of energy, but there are ways to reduce that usage:
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:
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.