The warmer weather doesn't need to mean higher energy bills. Mike Watson shares easy ways to save energy around your home.
Fans: the classic choice
Fans are still cheapest and most energy-efficient active cooling choice for hot, humid climates, whether you are using ceiling fans or pedestal fans. Unlike air conditioners, fans don’t actually lower the temperature of the room but they make us feel cooler by evaporating the sweat on our skin. According to tests by Canstar Blue, the latest generation DC (Direct Current) fans deliver greater efficiency and lower running costs than the older technology AC (Alternating Current) fans, though AC fans are not a bad choice by any means.
If you are shopping for ceiling fans, you’ll find a ridiculous amount of choice these days which is why there are online shops devoted solely to this category. But don’t despair, as the Australian Consumers Association’s magazine CHOICE has an excellent article on choosing ceiling fans to help you narrow down your shopping list. You’ll have to use an electrician to install them, so do some planning for your home and buy multiple fans to save on the total install cost.
Be smart about air conditioning
Once a luxury, air conditioners are now common in Australian homes, partly thanks to a lower cost to both buy and run. “Inverter” technology is now the standard and is much more energy efficient than the old cranking non-inverters.
But power bills can still vary greatly depending on how we install and use our air con. If you’re about to buy, consider ducted versus split systems. Ducting every room in the home and cooling with a single large unit is convenient, but if you are already taking other measures to cool your home, is a ducted system really needed? Retailer blog Green Efficient Living weighs up the pros and cons of each type, including potential costs. Both types can be energy efficient, depending on how you use them.
Already have air con? Set the temperature between 24 and 26 degrees to hit the sweet spot for comfort versus cost. And when a hot day is forecast, switch on early, otherwise your air con will work twice as hard to try and reach the target temperature, using a lot more electricity in the process.
For every degree you set your thermostat away from the outside temperature, there is around a 10 per cent increase in the energy used by your air conditioner. Not only will setting your temperature between 24 and 26 degrees save you money on your energy bill, but you could save up to 0.5 tonnes of carbon each year.
Big windows, big heat
Do you have large west-facing windows? That’s a major source of heat transfer in summer if they are not shaded or protected in some way. The easiest and cheapest option is medium-coloured curtains/drapes with a white plastic backing, which Forbes magazine reported can reduce solar heat gain by as much as 33 percent if left closed during hot months. That means a cooler house and an air conditioning unit that needs to work less hard, or even not be switched on at all.
Window shutters are also effective and look great, though they are a lot more expensive than drapes and not an option if you are renting. Ditto awnings.
LED is the new black
Sure, switching lights off is good, but installing LED lights is way better. The Federal Government’s Energy Rating website spells out the cost benefits of LED lights, taking into account the cost to buy and run, as well as how long they last. Just to give you an idea of how far the technology has come: an old-style 75-Watt light bulb costs about $23 per year to run in the average home, whereas a quality 6-Watt LED produces the same amount of light and costs less than $5 per year to run.
LED light retail prices continue to drop, especially if you shop around because the differences can be huge. My last random price check in Brisbane in 2018 found the same branded 11w LED ceiling light in a supermarket for $11.99, in a hardware store for $9.99 and a national online retailer for $6.50. In 2021, I did a similar check and found the same branded 9w LED ceiling light (now just as bright as the old 11w model) in a supermarket for $8.95, in a hardware store for $7.50 and a national online retailer for $4.95.
Hint: when buying LEDs for indoors go for “warm white” colour temperatures (look for 2700-3000k on the packet). A “cool white” colour temperature is the default for LED lights but it casts a cold, harsh light that many people dislike, more suited to a carpark or stairwell than a home.
And a few more tips…
If you own a house, think about installing solar panels in time for next summer so you use less electricity from the grid for cooling. One of the most credible independent buying guides in the business is the Solar Quotes website run by engineer and solar guru Finn Peacock.
Mind the clothes dryer
Common vented dryers use loads of electricity and the alternatives for drying cloths are not as inconvenient as you might think, especially in summer. Read this Queensland family’s story about what happened when they looked at their clothes dryer habits. If a dryer is must in your household, and you can afford a heat pump dryer, this dryer type is much more energy efficient than vented ones.
Run energy-saving cycles on your appliances
Specifically, your washing machine (cold wash) and your dishwasher (economy cycle).