Cold comfort: How to save money on your electricity bill this winter

heater

As temperatures get lower, power bills tend to get higher. But saving money on your electricity bill this winter is a cold snap. 

Winter usually leads to a spike in energy usage, as the cold weather causes us to stay in, turn up the heating and take long, hot showers. But with electricity and gas prices going up amidst a global energy crunch, it’s more important than ever to find smart ways to stay warm without heating up your bills. 

Here’s how you can enjoy a cozy and comfortable winter without an eye-watering bill to match. 

Switch off, don’t stand by

By all means, go ahead and rug up on the couch in front of the TV this winter – but just remember to switch off when the credits roll. 

Appliances like TVs, game consoles, dishwashers, microwaves, phone chargers, computers and printers are all soaking up electrical power as long as they’re plugged in and switched on, even when they’re not in use. In fact, stand-by power makes up about six per cent of the average home’s electricity use, so it’s always a good idea to switch appliances off at the wall when you’re not using them. 

You can use power boards to turn several devices off at the same time, to save you the effort of doing it for each item individually, and 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. 

Keep in mind, too, that fridges and freezers make up about eight per cent of the average household’s energy use. If you have a second fridge that you don’t really need (especially if it’s an older, less energy-efficient model, which second fridges usually are), now would be a great time to switch it off for good. 

Heat wisely   

Heating in winter is a notorious energy guzzler. If you need a heater, set your thermostat between 18°C and 20°C – every degree above that can increase your energy consumption by up to 10 per cent. 

Most air-conditioning units sold today are reverse cycle, which means they’re able to heat as well as cool – and they’re actually much more efficient for that purpose than a gas heater. (According to one report, using a reverse cycle air conditioner instead of a gas heater can reduce your energy costs by 45 per cent.) 

Keep in mind that the harder an appliance must work, the more power it will use. Close your windows, curtains, and doors so you’re only heating the room you’re using, and energy isn’t being wasted on heating empty rooms.  

Oh, and leave your oven door open after you cook – that’ll allow the heat to move freely throughout the room, reducing the need for artificial heating.  

Get insulated

Australian homes tend to be very ‘leaky’ – most of them were built before the introduction of energy performance standards in 2005, so they have a nasty habit of allowing thermal energy loss through poorly insulated walls, roofs, and floors. 

Installing insulation in the ceiling, walls and floors of your home will reduce the amount of heat flowing in and out, helping you to stay warm in winter without needing to rely as much on artificial heating to stay comfortable. 

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 will help to make an instant improvement. For instance, you can get door seals and door snakes from virtually any home improvement store to stop cold air getting in and warm air getting out through the gaps under your doors. 

Keep curtains and blinds open during the day, to let the sunshine in to warm your home, and close them when it gets dark to stop that winter warmth escaping through the window. You can also investigate double glazing your windows, or applying window film, which isn’t quite the same thing, but is less expensive. 

Make your appliances work smarter, not harder 

Smart metre

There’s no shortage of ‘smart’ appliances on the market today. You don’t need to rush out and replace all your household appliances at once, but when they reach the end of their natural lifespans, purchasing energy-efficient replacements will help you to make a dent in your power bills. 

Most appliances are required to carry an energy rating label which tells you how efficient they are compared to others of their type. The more stars it has, the more efficient an appliance is.

Don’t be fooled by the sticker price. Less efficient appliances might be cheaper on the retail floor, but you should use the Energy Rating Calculator to compare the total cost of an appliance, including the running costs over its lifetime. Suddenly that less efficient model won’t be looking so affordable. 

Every appliance you buy is likely to come with instructions to help you position and use them efficiently. Fridges should be placed as far away from ovens as possible, for instance, so they don’t have to work as hard to stay cool. Of course, most of us never look at these instructions, but you might pick up some helpful pointers if you do. 

Have a look at the settings on the appliances you already own, too. There’s a good chance they’ll have an eco-setting you can use to cut down on electricity consumption. 

Only use appliances when you need them. Wait until you have a full load to run dishwashers and washing machines, and only use the clothes dryer if there isn’t enough sun breaking through the winter clouds to dry your clothes in the open air. 

Use water wisely 

It’s obviously tempting to stay under a hot shower for as long as possible in winter, but excessive hot water usage is a guaranteed way to run up your energy bill. Having shorter showers – and replacing your showerheads with more water-efficient models – can lead to big savings in the long run. 

Warm water is more effective than cold water for washing clothes, but it’s not always necessary and it consumes more power. Washing in warm or hot water uses up to 50 per cent more energy than cold water if you have a front loader, and a staggering 85 per cent more energy if you have a top loader. For day-to-day laundry, cold water should do the trick. 

There is one instance where hot water can save you money, though, and that’s by using a hot water bottle instead of an electric blanket. Just fill it up with hot water, stick it near your feet or under the blanket, and leave the blanket switched off while you enjoy a warm sleep on a winter’s night.

Let there be LED light 

If you’re looking to lighten up a dark and dreary room this winter, consider making the switch to LED bulbs. While halogen bulbs are usually cheaper to buy, LED bulbs use around 80 per cent less electricity to produce the same amount of light, and last five to 10 times longer, so you’ll be saving money in the long run. 

If you can’t replace all your bulbs straight away, concentrate on the areas of your house where you have the lights on most often – usually kitchens and lounge rooms – to take advantage of the largest savings.

Avoid the peak 

If you have a smart meter, you can look into a contract that will charge you less for energy if you use it outside peak times. Because your smart meter tracks how you’re using energy at different times of day and provides this information to your retailer, you can opt for a flexible pricing plan, or time-of-use tariff.

With a flexible plan, you’ll pay a higher rate for using electricity at peak times (usually on weekdays in the afternoon and early evening), a lower rate during the shoulder period between peak and off-peak, and the lowest rate at off-peak times (usually overnight). 

If you switch to a flexible plan, check when your retailer’s tariff switches from peak to off-peak, and try to use energy-guzzling appliances like washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, hot water heaters and pool pumps during these off-peak times. (And if you’re buying one of these appliances, look for one with a time-delay capacity, so you can set it to run during off-peak times, even when you’re asleep.) 

Be aware, however, that switching to a flexible plan won’t necessarily be a better deal for you. If you run a business with inflexible hours, for instance, and can’t make significant changes to how you use electricity, you might not be able to avoid consuming electricity at peak times and paying higher rates. In that case, you’re probably better off with a flat rate. 

Layer up

It might seem obvious, but one way to cut down on the amount of heating you use in winter is to simply dress for the occasion. Start with a close-fitting undershirt; then add another layer of insulation, like a sweatshirt, vest, or sweater; and then, if you need it, throw on an outer layer, like a coat, jumper or jacket. 

Cold weather also restricts the flow of blood to your hands and feet, so make sure you have a pair of gloves and a thick pair of socks handy if you need them. 

Follow these steps, and you should be feeling snug and warm at home when your reduced power bill arrives…

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