8 Ways to Increase Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
No matter where you get your news, there’s no escaping the nationwide cost-of-living crisis. On top of rising food costs and increasing interest rates, Australian homeowners are now in store for even higher energy bills too, with energy costs in NSW, QLD, VIC and SA expected to increase by at least 20% from July. With all of these extra expenses, now’s the time to take stock of what you can do around your home to help reduce costs and ultimately save dollars. One major way to help reduce electricity usage at home is maximise its energy efficiency.
Maximising energy efficiency is important for several reasons. Firstly, it helps to reduce your overall energy consumption, which both lowers power bills and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, energy-efficient homes can sell for up to 10% more than standard homes. According to a report by the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council and ClimateWorks Australia, homes with energy-efficient features such as solar panels, insulation, and energy-saving appliances not only had higher resale values but also attracted more potential buyers.
But how do you start ensuring that your home is as energy efficient as possible?
1. Conduct an energy efficiency audit
An energy audit involves a complete investigation of your home, including its appliances, heating and cooling systems, lighting, insulation, and air sealing.
It’s extremely helpful to know which areas in your home waste energy. By conducting an energy audit, you’ll be able to see how electricity is being used in your home, where energy is being wasted, and what steps you can take to improve energy efficiency and reduce power costs.
Conducting your own energy audit isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Start with a basic walkthrough of your home and identify any areas where energy might be wasted. Unlike most of the world, Australians are usually more concerned with keeping cold air in, not out, especially at this time of year – so look for drafts around doors and windows to see if you can find any gaps or leaks. Now’s also a good time to check whether your roof cavity is insulated. It’s also worth checking your appliances and electronics for signs of energy inefficiency, particularly checking for energy rating labels and energy-hogging devices that don’t have a standby power mode.
If this sounds somewhat daunting, or you have no idea where to start, there are professional energy auditors that can provide a detailed energy efficiency report.
2. Look at your lights
Are you familiar with the type of lightbulbs in your home? Most (if not all) newly built homes come standard with LED bulbs, which produce light by passing an electrical current through a semiconductor material. This is a far more energy-efficient way of generating light than incandescent bulbs which heat a filament to create light. LED bulbs use much less energy to produce the same amount of light, making them an extremely easy way to save money.
Whilst LED bulbs may have a more expensive initial cost, they also have a much longer lifespan than incandescent bulbs, meaning they need to be replaced less frequently. LED bulbs can also last between 25,000 – 50,000 hours, which is far longer than the lifespan of an incandescent bulb, which typically lasts around 1,000 hours. A win for a home’s energy efficiency, and should help to lower energy costs.
3. Pass the garlic, it’s time to fix your vampire power!
Standby power, vampire power or phantom power may all sound pretty cool, but they all mean the same thing – electricity drawn by an electronic appliance that isn’t even being used.
While devices and appliances – such as televisions, computers, or game consoles – may consume only a small amount of standby power individually, their combined energy use can be significant over time, ultimately leading to higher energy bills. In fact, recent research has found that standby power can account for up to 10% of a household’s annual electricity usage.
An easy way to cut down on your vampire power consumption is to use power boards, which have several benefits for energy efficiency.
Firstly, power boards allow you to turn multiple devices on or off at once, allowing groups of devices to be turned off at once. This is a great option for an entertainment area where a large cluster of devices (such as televisions, games consoles and DVD players) are housed.
Secondly, you can also use a power board to protect expensive or sensitive equipment from power surges, as many power boards come with surge protection inbuilt.
By remembering to switch off devices when they’re not being used, an average 4-person household with a $420-a-quarter power bill could save around $170 a year!
4. Out with the old and in with the (more energy-efficient) new
It may sound counterintuitive to spend money to save money, but many older devices are a lot less energy efficient than their newer counterparts. There are two primary reasons for this inefficiency.
Outdated technology is one of the main reasons why older models are not as energy efficient as newer energy efficient technologies. For example, older refrigerators tend to use more energy because they lack the modern insulation and compressors found in newer models. Similarly, older washing machines can use more water and electricity than newer ones that have more advanced features, such as variable speed motors and water-saving technology.
Wear and tear is also a big reason why an appliance’s energy efficiency reduces. Over time, older appliances may become less efficient and require more energy (and money) to perform the same tasks. For example, a worn-out fridge door seal may cause it to work harder to maintain an optimum temperature, using more energy in the process.
But what should I look out for when purchasing energy efficient appliances?
Look for the Energy Rating Label, which is mandatory for most household appliances in Australia. It provides a visual indication of the energy efficiency of the appliance on a scale of 1 to 10 stars, with more stars indicating higher energy efficiency. When shopping for an appliance, look for one with a high star rating. Similar ratings exist for water usage, so for washing machines, tapware and toilets, you could also check an appliance’s WELS rating.
You should also consider the size of the appliance you’re looking to purchase and whether it is appropriate for your needs. If you’re a small two-person household, you may only need a smaller-sized dishwasher or washing machine, compared to a larger blended family. A smaller appliance will be more energy-efficient if it meets your requirements, as it will consume less energy than a larger one.
Finally, look for advanced features such as smart controls, automatic shut-off, and power-saving modes on your appliances. These can help reduce energy consumption, improve energy efficiency and save you money on your energy bills.
5. Is your home insulated?
Insulation is simply a material that blocks the flow of heat energy. And much like your trusty thermos flask, it knows when to keep things hot and things cold.
In summer, insulation works to keep your home cool by reducing the amount of heat that enters your home from outside. When sunlight hits your roof and walls, it heats up the air inside, causing the temperature to rise. Insulation acts as a barrier to the transfer of heat, preventing it from entering the building. This means that the air inside the building stays cooler for longer, reducing the need for air conditioning and lowering your energy bills.
The same is true for winter, where it keeps cold air from entering your home, meaning you can reduce your heating bills and keep your home more comfortable during the colder months.
If your home is already sufficiently insulated, it’s beneficial to check for any holes or gaps and signs of moisture as these can reduce the effectiveness of your insulation.
If your home isn’t yet insulated, it’s worth speaking to a professional who will be able to guide you through the process. Going into that conversation with knowledge is beneficial to maximise your energy efficiency. Knowing whether your home is single-glazed or double-glazed, making note of where any drafts and gaps are, and researching the types of insulation available in Australia (batts, blown-in or reflective foil) to see which type suits your home, location and most importantly, budget.
Heating and cooling your home uses a large amount of power and therefore is one of the biggest costs. The amount of money you can save by insulating your home will depend on various factors, such as the size of your home, the type of insulation you use, and your local climate. However, according to the Australian Government’s YourHome guide, on average, homeowners can save between 10% and 45% on their energy bills by properly insulating their homes.
6. Here comes the sun! Let’s talk solar.
One of the most effective ways to improve energy efficiency in your home is to install solar panels. Solar panels can generate clean electricity to power your home, reducing your reliance on the grid and lowering your energy bills.
An impressive 3.2 million Aussie homes already have rooftop solar installed. This makes sense, as most cities in Australia receive at least 2,300 hours of sunshine a year, with cities like Perth receiving 3,212 hours of sun annually.
With the rising cost of electricity, generating your own solar allows you to avoid paying for electricity during the day, with the added benefit of possibly being able to export any unused solar back to the grid for credit to use when the sun is down.
Modern solar technology is continually improving, and gone are the days where only north-facing homes could benefit from rooftop solar. Installing solar panels on an east- or west-facing roof can still generate as much as 85% of their north-facing counterparts. And although the initial costs for installing solar are not cheap (a 10kW system can cost between $7,500 – $10,000 to install) new research from Domain has revealed that homes with solar are valued on average $125,000 higher than those without. This coupled with far cheaper quarterly power bills and nationwide solar government grants and rebates are making solar an easy choice in increasing a home’s overall energy efficiency.
Plus, if you want to further improve your energy efficiency, electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more affordable and reliable. Homes with solar installed can benefit from being able to charge their electric vehicles for practically free – the perfect antidote to rising petrol prices.
7. Store power for later with a home battery
A post-pandemic world has seen many companies embrace the benefits of a hybrid work model, but the truth is, many Australian homes are still left unoccupied during the day – when solar power generates most of its electricity.
The amount of credit you receive for excess solar generated during the day (known as a feed-in tariff) depends on your energy supplier and is usually far lower than the rate you purchase your electricity from your provider for.
If you were able to store that energy, you wouldn’t need to purchase electricity at night at a higher rate. This means that not only can you save even more money on your power bill, but you can improve your home’s overall self-sustainability, removing your reliance on coal-generated power. Plus, once your battery is full you can still export your excess electricity to the grid – still gaining credits from your energy provider.
A battery is a long-term investment, but the benefits also include protection from grid blackouts, and if Western Australia’s recent power shortage has shown us anything, it’s that Australia’s power network is becoming less reliable.
8. Have you thought about a solar pump?
A solar pump is a water pump that is powered directly by the sun, allowing you to transfer water from a remote area without using mains power. This allows homes a constant water supply all year around, especially in regional areas. Solar pumps are becoming increasingly popular as an energy-efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional water pumps.
One of the primary benefits of solar pumps is that they are powered by the sun, which means that they don’t require any electricity from the grid. This can result in significant cost savings over time, as you won’t need to pay for electricity to run the pump. This is especially beneficial for larger families who use more water.
A solar water pump is also a more sustainable way of providing hot water, reducing your carbon footprint – improving energy efficiency for your home.
Since solar pumps only operate when the sun is shining, they are more efficient than traditional pumps, which may run continuously even when not needed. Additionally, solar pumps can be designed to optimise water usage, which can reduce the amount of water needed to achieve the same results.
If you already have solar, then many manufacturers also offer a relay function, which can help power your hot water heater only using the power of the sun – making it another one of your home’s low-cost energy efficient appliances. You can read about Karen’s story here.