Saving energy in the home is one of my hot topics. I love this stuff!
Several years ago I worked as a volunteer home energy assessor in my local community where I’d go into the homes of people and basically go room-by-room and audit how they’re living and where they’re consuming energy and I’d leave them with a plan to reduce their home energy use . In most cases, the houses I audited where the people carried out suggested actions, were able to reduce their energy consumption by roughly 20% without doing too much.
This is pretty awesome stuff!
Obviously these were mainly houses where people were renting or the cost of solar panels was just a bit out of reach at the moment. They were really just trying to reduce their energy use as best they could. So a lot of the tips I’m about to share are delivered with that in mind. They’re small things you can do just around the home right now without necessarily spending a lot of money or basically what you can do in a home if you’re renting.
It’s really good to get an idea of where we actually use energy in our homes. Energy is one of those things that we can’t see; I like to say that energy use is invisible! When we get our power bill it isn’t itemized with consumption for various appliances i.e. fridge, TV and standby hours outlined in detailed kilowatt-hours for us. So it is beneficial to have a bit of an idea of where we use energy in our home.
In an average Australian home heating and cooling makes up just under 40% of our household use. So that’s really the cost of heating our homes in the cooler months and cooling our homes down in the warmer months. Water heating is the next cab off the rank taking up approximately 25% of your quarterly energy bills. This is the cost associated with heating water so that you can have a warm shower or if you’re washing your clothes in warm water that amount may even be higher. Thirdly it really comes down to other appliances, which are around about 16% and fridges and freezers at 7%. Lighting also at 7%, cooking at roughly 4% and stand-by power at approximately 3%. However, this is just the average energy use in an Australian home, so different portions may be higher in your house. Without a doubt heating and cooling is the largest area that we spend energy on in our homes. So let’s take a good look at that, it’s a good place to start.
HEATING AND COOLING:
In summer we want to stop our homes from heating up. In a nutshell that’s what we need to do to keep our power bills down. To do that we actually need to prevent the sun from heating our home and stop the cool air inside our homes from escaping. Bear in mind that in winter we want the reverse. We want the sun to heat our homes yet we want to stop the warm air inside our homes from escaping! Putting it simply, in summer time we want to stop the sun from hitting our windows. We can achieve this by using shrubs, eaves, blinds, awnings and shutters on our outside windows. These different options have different success rates depending on the orientation of your home. The direction that your windows face i.e. (north, south, east or west)!
The path that the sun tracks through our sky varies throughout the year. In Australia in mid summer it is overhead by noon, whereas in winter it follows a much lower path to the north. So this has the following opportunities and consequences for heating and cooling your home. If you live in Australia or New Zealand or in the northern hemisphere this will be different for you. If you have windows that face north you can use eaves that shade the summer sun. Eaves will still allow the winter sun to come in. If you have windows that face the south shading is not necessary as the sun practically never shines through south facing windows if you live in Australia and New Zealand. Your eastern window eaves will have little effect in shading the morning sun especially in summer. So external shading such as trees and blinds or even roller shutters, are needed to prevent summer morning heat gain. On westerly windows eaves will have little effect in shading the summer afternoon sun. External shading is also needed for preventing your home from heating up significantly in the afternoon. If you are living in Australia and New Zealand during summer you really want to have eaves on your East and West facing windows and think about having them on your northerly facing windows too. Eaves on south facing windows aren’t necessary in these countries.
So that’s how we can stop the sun from hitting our windows but that doesn’t necessarily stop all the heat from getting into our homes. In a typical heat wave you really need to look at cooling your home down as well. We can cool our homes down using passive methods such as ventilation or even insulation to a degree, or by using active methods such as ceiling fans, portable fans, evaporative coolers and refrigerated coolers. So if you are lucky to live near the beach and have a sea breeze you are probably already in the practice of purging your home in the late afternoon and evening to cool it down. By purging I simply mean opening your doors, windows and curtains at the end of a hot day to let the heat out and the cool evening breeze in. In addition to purging you can also practice cross-ventilation. Now cross-ventilation is around five times more effective as single sided ventilation in encouraging airflow through your home. Basically this means just having windows and doors open at opposite ends of your home to encourage the airflow to go right through your house.
When we use so much energy and money to heat and cool our homes it only makes sense that we want to keep as much of it in as possible. Insulation really is the most important factor in reducing your home energy use. By effectively maintaining the temperature within your home you’re less likely to turn your heater or your AC on. Insulation can be placed in the roof cavity, in the walls and even in the floor. So if you don’t have insulation at all in your home it’s one of those things that is definitely worth investing in. The more insulated, shaded, draft proofed a house is the smaller the cooling unit needed and the less energy it takes to run. Saying that, in many areas in Australia, including where I live, summer is unbearable without air-conditioning. Rather than having our units running 24/7 the trick is to get smarter with how we cool our homes and to know the hierarchy of cooling.
The 3 main methods of mechanical cooling are: fans, evaporative coolers and air conditioners.
Fans are basically the cheapest cooling option to run and they have the lowest green house impact. They really should be the first choice for mechanical cooling. Although fans don’t reduce the temperature or the humidity of the air the airflow created by a fan provides a similar environment to comfort by reducing the temperature in the room by approximately 3 degrees Celsius. So this benefit is only actually felt when you are in the room as the air is moving over your skin. Only have your fans running in rooms that are occupied. A fan running in an un-occupied room is simply wasting energy with no home cooling benefit. Fans also come in handy on the super hot days when you have your air conditioner on. By running fans in conjunction with your air conditioner you are able to increase the thermostat by a couple of degrees and save a heap of energy in the process. Every degree higher that you raise the thermostat on an air conditioner reduces its energy usage by roughly 10% – 20%. The energy used by the fan will be more than offset by the reduced air conditioner running cost.
Evaporative coolers work best in climates with low humidity such as where I live, and should be your second choice for mechanical cooling. Evaporative coolers work by cooling the air to just above the wet bulb temperature and they use the evaporation of water as a cooling mechanism. Check with your local council prior to installation for any water restrictions in your area that may have an impact on your ability to use evaporative coolers.
Refrigerated coolers are the next best choice and they are the ones that pump out really nice icy cold air. Naturally speaking, they do consume more energy and create more greenhouse gases than fans and efficient evaporative cooling systems, unless of course, the building and air conditioner are very energy efficient. So use them as a last resort to cool your home.
Air conditioners are available as portable, wall, window, split and ducted systems and for best performance ensure your air conditioner is correctly sized by having an expert calculate the cooling load prior to purchase. Get it regularly serviced every 2 years to ensure it is running efficiently and make sure you clean out your filters and do so at least annually because they do get clogged up with fluff and dust. If your filters are full your unit is forced to work much harder.
With ducted air conditioners I encourage you to install a zoning system so that only the rooms, which you wish to cool down, are being cooled rather than the entire house. Avoid leaving air conditioners running when no one is home. It’s actually cheaper to cool the house down when you arrive home or set a timer so that the house begins cooling shortly before people return home.
It’s a common myth that by leaving your air conditioner running at a lower level for the entire day and then coming home to a cooler house that you’ll use a lot less energy than cranking your air conditioner on a lot harder. Air conditioning units actually work a lot more efficiently when they are running at full capacity which means you’ll be able to cool your house down a lot quicker without the cost of keeping it cool all day. Always aim to set the thermostat as high as possible, between 24-27degs is ideal in summer. As mentioned before, any degree cooler than this will add approximately 10% to your cooling bill. Fans are much more energy efficient than air conditioners. Use them first but only in rooms that are occupied as fans only cool your skin, not the air.
Whilst cooling our homes is the biggest user of household energy in summer there are some other areas that work harder and use more energy at this time of year as well.
SEALING DRAFTS IN YOUR HOME:
It might sound obvious but heat enters and escapes our home through our roofs especially if they aren’t insulated. Also through our windows, walls, floors and cracks and gaps. You really want to be sealing up those drafts by using door snakes or by purchasing sealants.
FRIDGES AND FREEZERS:
A second fridge, which is pretty common in Australian homes, typically adds around $200 to a household’s annual electricity bill. Given that many people still use old inefficient fridges as second fridges, this figure can easily be a lot higher especially if your seals aren’t up to scratch. If you run a second drinks fridge consider keeping a small supply of drinks in your main fridge and just top it up as required. Do you really need an entire fridge full of drinks on standby? Maybe you might decide to turn off your second fridge and run it only when entertaining? Are your fridges and freezers working harder than they need to be? That’s also a good question at this time of the year.
Fridges and freezers work much hard if they are sited in warm locations or don’t have adequate ventilation around them. This doesn’t necessarily have to be outside. If you have your fridge on a veranda in direct sunlight that’s a bit of an issue but it can actually still happen inside the home too. For example if your fridge is located directly next to your oven or stove, or even if it is boxed into a small space i.e. if it is next to a warm source or if the ventilation around doesn’t let it cool down. Can you improve where your fridges and freezers are located?
If your fridges seals are damaged cool air will escape and your fridge and freezer will be working harder to maintain a cool temperature. A very quick way to check this is to put a money note in the door of your fridge and if it holds in place or if you have to tug at it a little bit for it to slip out your seals are in great condition. If it just slips down or comes out very easily, it might be time to replace the seals on your fridge.
Back yard pools feature in around 12% of Australian households so they are worth covering here. For a typical home, maintaining an in-ground pool alone can count for up to 30% of a households energy use. The pool pump in particular can be the largest user of electricity in a home, using more energy than your washing machine, clothes dryer and dishwasher combined. Swimming pools primarily use energy for pumping water through the filter to keep the water clean. Other functions such as heating the pool, cleaning appliances, pool lights and chlorine or salt water sanitation treatment systems also require energy to run. We go into pool pumps in detail in my Greenhouse program, but some tips to reduce energy consumption include:
- Opting for the smallest size pump for your pool or spa. Check in with the manufacturer or a pool specialist to determine the best size for you. You should consider a multi or variable speed pump, as these are more efficient than single speed pumps. This is because they can run slower for filtering and can be sped up for pool cleaning. Also try and purchase a 5 star energy efficient pool pump. Although costing more upfront you’ll save considerably over the long term in running costs.
- When using your pool or spa pump depending on your climate and pool usage, it’s usually enough to pump the entire volume of water through the filter once, or twice daily. Again consult the manufacturers instructions or pool specialist for advice on how long you should run your pump. In most cases 6 hours in summer and 4 hours in winter is all that is required. You don’t need it running continuously. Reduce your pumps energy use by running it at the lowest recommended speed to maintain pool hygiene. Regularly clean your skimmer and pool pump baskets, pool filter and intake grates. This will dramatically reduce the load on your pump, therefore using less energy again.
So there you have it! Some home energy tips to help you get started in reducing your home energy consumption over the warmer months this year.
Now I know the topic of home energy consumption might be a little bit full on, but energy use in our homes really is an important issue! We do need to think about it a little bit more.
Energy use is invisible; It’s not one of those things that we can constantly see. It is however, constantly reminding us to give it a little more attention. The energy use in our home is directly linked to our greenhouse gas emissions, which as we know, is one of the main contributors to climate change, the greatest environmental issue of our generation. So just by putting a little bit more attention into energy use in your home you can actually feel pretty good that you’re starting to do your bit for climate change!
If you’re really keen to learn more I’d love you to check out my greenHOUSE Home Energy Blitz 21-day program where I take you step by step through every room in your house. Much like if you had a home energy auditor beside you. I basically tell you all the tips, tricks and little tweaks you need to make around your home to help you save heaps of energy and money!
If you’re not quite ready to jump into greenHOUSE I also have a FREE 5 Day Home Energy Challenge to get you started!