There’s nothing quite like an Australian summer. It’s that time of year when our footpaths become frying pans, our suburbs become saunas, and most of us start reaching for the air-con remote – and racking up expensive energy bills.
But if you follow these tips, you can beat the heat this season and put the savings towards your next summer holiday.
Improve your conditioning
Your air conditioning, that is. Did you know that the optimal temperature for your air conditioner in summer is between 25 and 27°C? Every degree you go below that can add between 5 and 10 per cent to your running costs.
If you’re buying a new air conditioner, look for the Zoned Energy Rating Label (ZERL). The ZERL provides a seasonal efficiency rating for both heating and cooling for three distinct climate zones (hot, average and cold) – the higher the star rating, the more energy-efficient the air conditioner is.
Remember that the harder an air conditioner has to work, the more power it will use. When you’ve got the air conditioner on, close your windows, curtains and doors so you’re only cooling the rooms you’re using. At night, try giving the air conditioner a break and opening curtains and windows to let cool breezes in.
You don’t have to default to air conditioning, either. Ceiling and pedestal fans are much cheaper to run – even a portable battery-powered fan can keep you cool at close range, and should only cost you a few cents an hour to operate.
Don’t wait, insulate
Australian homes tend to be very ‘leaky’, which means they have a nasty habit of allowing thermal energy loss through poorly insulated walls, roofs and floors.
Up to half of the energy used to cool an uninsulated home can be lost through leaks, so installing insulation in your ceiling, walls and floors is a great way to reduce your cooling costs. Better yet, it’ll also stop heat from escaping your home in winter, so you’ll be saving money all year round.
You can have a NatHERS assessment undertaken for your home, which involves an experienced assessor suggesting ways to improve its thermal performance. But if you want to get started now, sealing up gaps and cracks around the house with weather strips, door seals and door snakes that are available from virtually any home improvement store will help to make an instant improvement.
Flip the switch
Heading off on holidays? Make sure you switch off electrical appliances like televisions, consoles, microwaves, kettles, phone chargers and dishwashers before you hit the road. These are all soaking up electrical power as long as they’re plugged in and switched on the wall, even when they’re not in use, which means you’ll be paying for nothing while you’re away.
(Make sure you leave the fridge switched on, of course, or you could be in for a nasty surprise when you get back.)
Even if you’re just staying home and watching the cricket on the couch this summer, make sure you switch the TV off on the wall at the end of the day’s play.
You can use power boards to switch off several devices at the same time when you’re not using them. If you know you simply won’t remember to switch off, you can pick up a smart power board to stop stand-by electricity usage for you.
Let nature be your dryer
If the forecast is for clear skies, then leave your dryer switched off and take advantage of all that summer sunshine by drying your clothes in the open air.
When you do have to run your dryer, or other appliances like your washing machine and dishwasher, check their settings – there’s a good chance they’ll have an eco-setting you can use to cut down on electricity consumption.
Ditch the second fridge
Fridges and freezers make up about eight per cent of the average household’s energy use – and that’s partly because some households have a second fridge they don’t really need. Often, these second fridges are older, less energy-efficient models, so if it’s not necessary, now would be a great time to switch it off for good.
You might not be able to do without the beer fridge over the holidays, but you might also find that an esky will do nicely in its place.
You can also reduce the power consumed by your fridge by placing it as far away as possible from your oven, so it doesn’t have to work as hard to stay cool. Similarly, you should let hot food cool down before you put it in the fridge, and repair loose seals on your fridge door so the cold air doesn’t leak out.
Use the pool pump outside the peak
Australia has over a million residential swimming pools, and for those homes, pool pumps can be notorious energy guzzlers, making up around 18 per cent of their energy bill.
Many Australian homes now have smart meters, which digitally measure how much electricity you use and when you use it, and send that information to your retailer for billing. If you have a smart meter, you may be able to switch to a flexible pricing plan – also known as a time-of-use tariff – that’ll charge you a lower rate for using electricity at off-peak times.
That way, you can save money by using energy-intensive appliances like pool pumps – as well as washing machines, dryers and dishwashers – at off-peak times. And if you’re buying one of these appliances, you can look for one with a time-delay capacity, so you can set it to run during off-peak times, even when you’re asleep.
Have a lightbulb moment
Let there be light – LED lights, specifically. If it’s time to replace your bulbs, consider opting for LEDs, which emit less heat, use around 80 per cent less electricity to produce the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer than halogen bulbs.
If you can’t replace all of your bulbs right now, concentrate on the rooms where you have the lights on most often – usually kitchens and lounge rooms – to take advantage of the largest savings.
Keep your cool
Your body has eight main pulse points – the back of your neck, behind your elbows and knees, the inside of your wrists, the top of your feet, the insides of your ankles, your inner thighs, and your temples. Cooling these areas down will help to lower your body temperature.
That means you can give yourself an instant cool-down on a hot day by draping a wet towel or cloth around your neck, for instance, or wetting your wrists.
Wear loose, lightweight clothing made from breathable fabrics whenever possible; hit the pool, the beach or the local watering hole when you can (but make sure you slip, slop, slap first); and most importantly, stay hydrated.
Drinking plenty of water will help keep your body cool and your energy levels up on those days when you just want to melt into the couch in front of the air conditioner.
Follow all these steps, and you should be able to avoid your temperature rising when that next electricity bill arrives.