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7 February 2012

Ten tips for saving electrcity

Our solar panels at front and the solar hot water system further back.

We have had a solar hot water unit for about 30 years. We had one on our old house and installed a new one when we moved to our home here. Solar hot water units still attract a government rebate in Australia and as hot water is one of the highest components of the electricity most of us use, it's a worthwhile exercise to save up and install one. Information about solar hot water for Australians is here. I would love you to add comments about rebates in other countries. Half way through last year we went a step further; we had some money, and with the assistance of the government rebate, we had a small solar unit - 1.5 kW, installed. We got excited about it and had visions of working our way towards saving money on our electricity bills. Here in Australia, and probably all around the world, the cost of electricity, gas and water have been rising a lot. We thought that with prudent use of our appliances and by keeping a careful eye on what we were producing with the solar panels, we'd slowly work our way towards a credit balance on our electricity bills.

That didn't happen. We were in credit on the first bill. Yes, $55 credit! I can still see it now. Hanno and I don't use a lot of electricity but we were not always like that. We slowly learned how to conserve this precious resource and we cut our electricity bill back to about $130- $150 per quarter, before our solar panels. In Australia most of our electricity comes from coal-fired plants so not only were we saving money if we cut back, we were saving carbon emissions too.

Some of our strategies might help you and if you contribute to this conversation in the comments, we might come up with a pool of great ideas that will help people all around the world. I am aware that many of these things are common place, but it's worthwhile repeating them because a lot of this about about developing habits - and that comes from repetition.

1. Get into the habit of turning off appliances at the wall. Standby power drains about 10 percent of your power over the course of a year. See if you can rig up your TV, DVD etc, to one power board and turn that one board off every night. Yesterday I read that these are the yearly stand by costs for:
  • Printer/ Broadband Modem / Telephone all on standby but not used - $61.
  • Home computer with printer on standby - $20.
  • LCD TV, with DVD and PVR in average use and always left on standby - $45.
You can read that article about electricity costs for the average Australian home here.

2. Read the manuals that come with your electrical appliances, especially those with cooling or heating elements, and use them according to the recommendations. For instance, the best temperature for cost effective cooling a room with an air conditioner is 24C / 75F.

3. During extreme heat, and depending on security in your neighbourhood, keep some doors and windows open at night to let the cooler air in and close them during the day. This works really well if you're home is insulated.

4.  If you live in a country with a cold climate, make some window quilts to help keep the cold out and the warmth of the fire in.

5.  Hang clothes outside in the open air instead of using the dryer.

6.  Use the washing machine with full loads and in off peak times.  Here is a general idea of peak and off-peak times. For more accurate times, google you home state's household electricity peak times.

7.  When we have to replace an appliance, we look for the energy star system. We recently had to replace our fridge and after a lot of research we bought an Electrolux two door - fridge above, freezer below. We've been very happy with it and I have no doubt it helped us with that $55 credit.  Info about energy stars her for USA, UK, Australia and NZ, Canada  I tried to find European Union information but all I found were regulations (very frustrating). If you have a European site to share, please do so.

8.  When you're baking, bake several things at once, or one after the other. That allows you to use the heat you've generated without letting the oven heat up and cool down for once batch.

9.  I live in Queensland, and here we have a government program called Climate Smart. It is probably in every Australian state so google the name with your state's name to get the full details. At the moment, the service will provide the following for just $50, it's a wise investment:
  • 4 standby eliminators and remote control
  • Household power assessment by qualified electrician
  • A wireless power monitor - you set this up in your home and it will show you how much electricity you're using at any time. This alone will help you save energy - you can see how much your washing machine is costing you and how much it goes up when you dry clothes in the dryer.
  • 5 power saving light globes
  • A hot water system adjustment, if yours needs it.
  • Water and power saving shower head.
  • A customised power and water-saving plan.
Hopefully a similar service is provided in other countries as well. Please let me know what government incentives are available in your country.

10.  Replace your old light globes with compact fluros. These can be expensive but well worth the investment. If you're on a tight budget, buy one a month until you have all your lights covered.

Concentrate on your big energy appliances first - dryers, heating, cooling etc. Moves towards reducing your electricity consumption are usually slow and it's one of those things that takes time to see improvements. But if you can make a plan to cut your usage, it will pay off because it looks like these charges will continue to rise in the future. Yesterday many of you shared your wonderful ideas by commenting. Please do so again and see if we can help others save both money and carbon emissions.


  1. I searched for EU information and I think I found it: for general explanation.
    This website is in Dutch, but it lets you click on all kinds of appliances:
    This one explains also a great deal and lets you choose your country (click the flag in the bar at the top of the page):
    Basically, you are best off buying appliances with A or A++ or even A+++ labels.

    My tip on saving is simple: turn off lights and heating in rooms when you are not there. :) Also, you can look into LED lighting.


  2. I found that turning down the thermostat on our electric hot water heater saved us quite a bit of money. When we moved in it was up quite high (from memory 65 degrees Celcius). We dropped it back ten degrees and it makes no real difference to us. We could probably go another ten.

    Also, we try and us fans to keep us cool and only use the air conditioner when the temperature gets to be unbearable.

    Jen - Sydney

  3. I didn't know that there were peak and off peak rates for general electricity. We have our hot water work at off peak.
    I'll probably have to check that out .. so thank you for the tip!! :)

  4. I have have out Homesmart visit booked for 23rd of this month. We live in a new home with florescent globes etc so it will be interesting to see what difference it can make but I'm looking forward to having the 'standby eliminators'. I will blog about it once it has happened and I know more. Rhonda I would be interested to know why the solar panels are not giving you a credit. We are looking into installing them soon and there is so much conflicting information out there.

  5. Chez, I think you misread the post. We were in credit on the first bill.

  6. Great post Rhonda, I am yet to get a credit on my bill, but we are working towards it. Well done!

  7. Hi Rhonda,
    I found a german website for the NEW EU -(and old german) energie label:

    Here you can find all new EU-Labels (before I didn't know that we have new labels since the end of last year!!) for every kind of electrical appliances!

    Thank you so much for sharing the "Old-Time Window Quilt" link... we live in an very old house with lots of high and big windows.... and it's really cold here at the moment (between -12 and -15°) in the night... so I will see to sew some of them the next weekend!!!

    All the best for you an Hanno from nothern Germany... (between Bremen an Hamburg)

    Hugs Britta

  8. That's a great site, Britta, thank you.

  9. On #3: In Arkansas (USA) it is way too hot and humid in summer to open windows at night. The humidity you would draw into the house would cause the A/C to work overtime and just wouldn't pay off, besides you'd get a terrible night's sleep. But, in the early Spring, opening windows mid afternoon on warm days can help warm the house, then close them when the outside temp is down to about 2 degrees higher than inside. In late Spring, opening windows at night and closing them in the morning helps cool the house. Keep the house pretty well shut up over the summer and reverse the window use for Fall.

    Thank you, Rhonda, for reminders. I could brag about my Spring and Fall utility use. Though, I keep finding little tricks to help in Summer and Winter, it's nothing to brag about yet.

    brenda from ar

  10. I have spent the last few years dramatically reducing our households electricity use and have written up our story here - I hope this can be of use to every one else!

  11. Rhonda we have recently installed a 2kw system and on the first bill we saved 66%.. I think this is great as we are a household of five. There are four adults and one child. The young end are 18 and 15 and despite constant nagging etc it is difficult to get them to take short showers etc. We also use the air con a lot as it is so humid right now and dad cannot cope with temperature extremes now. I am one of those horrible people who tell her family to put on another cardie in winter, or where some socks and in summer you know you would be better off in natural fibres etc.

    OUr 66% percent saving was two fold. We had used significantly less power as well as generating power. As you pointed out Queensland uses coal and like you I have a similar thought pattern about the carbon etc.

  12. Thanks Michael.

    Suze, great work. Keep telling them about the cardies.

  13. I was also wondering about air conditioning and if it's needed in your area? That is our single largest electricity expense, even more this past summer where we had record days in the 100's (F). I try to conserve elsewhere so we can use the AC guilt-free as needed.

  14. Oh yes I see, oops. You thought you would have to work up to getting a credit but it happened with the first bill. That's terrific. I got a timely brochure in the mail about solar power today and how the Government rebate is decreasing by 33% again in July this year. Time to act I think.

  15. In south Africa we are expecting another increase in power costs of 53 percent in the next few months. We are also looking at more ways to cut our usage. Thanks Rhonda!

  16. I do not think what we have done to save on electricity would work for a family perhaps, but being just the 2 of us now, it works great!! We began turning off the hot water heater (at the box) easy to do, just flip the switch. I try to run the dishwasher and do laundry on the same alternate days. I want the water fairly hot when it is on because I do hand wash some things. It works best for us during the summer because it will stay hot enough on the days it is off for us to have our showers and not have to take quick ones necessarily either. Our daughter who took long hot showers moved out and then we began turning off the hot water heater...we think it saves close to half. I cook mostly stove top, and some crock pot and electric skillet, focusing on 1 dish meals much of the time. When I do oven cook, I try to fill it up. You have shared great ideas, Rhonda!!
    Elizabeth in NC

  17. My quick tip if you have a dishwasher is to stop it when it's finished the washing cycle. The heat of the machine is enough to dry the dishes without using the extra electricity.

  18. Unfortunately here in Tassie it doesn't matter what time of the day it is, the "power & light" tariff is the same, so my washing costs me the same to do during the day as it does at night :(

  19. I'm so jealous of your solar panels and solar hot water heater. I've looked into both, but the cost is just so enormous, it would probably cost more than the house did! My dad actually ran the numbers for a solar hot water heater and figured it would take close to 50 years to make your money back! (There's some regulation here in Colorado that I didn't completely understand which makes them REALLY expensive to install - something about welding.)

    Anyhow, heat is by far the thing that eats the most energy here. I've been fantasizing about either making or buying a solar space heater, but I'm just not sure it would be worthwhile. Anybody got any experience with those?

  20. You identified one of my pet peeves - little red standby lights. The other is digital clocks on appliances. In our bad old days anything that had a clock on it was left on; the range, the microwave, the hi-fi, the DVD and video. First we did to save money was switch them all off and the second was put up a (rechargeable) battery operated clock on the wall in the hall.

    We still have a mains operated digital alarm clock after a battery operated one let us down a few times, but that's it.

    One tip to save electricity if you cook using it rather than gas, is to consider a halogen oven. It's running costs are equivalent to a lightbulb and it cooks things much quicker. I switched a few months ago - not to save electricity though, to save gas - and it cut my gas bill by 25-30% compared to the same time last year.

  21. We turned down our off peak hot water from 70 degrees to 60 degrees and notice no difference. Its a bit contraversial, but if you go below 60 there could be problems with bacteria growing: but 60 seems uniformly recommended as safe. I finally stopped washing in warm water rather reluctantly, but again notice no difference! LED lights will reduce consumption by almost half CFCs, but although the initial cost is high, they are rated to last tens of thousands of hours if you buy good quality LEDs. If you have lots of downlights and don't wish to buy LEDs, you can use one or more standard lamps ( I mean a floor lamp) with CFC globes instead.


  22. We had solar panels installed in December 2011. These were supplied as part of a government initiative. The company installing the panels get the price of the feed-in tariff from the government for all the power that our panels generate and we get free electricity. It has not cost us a penny to have the system installed and as we live in Cornwall (the most south-westerly county in England) and have a south-east facing roof, we're doing very well. All the servicing, repairs etc. are free and we have 4kw of panels. This scheme will no longer be available after the end of this month, so we were glad we got involved in time. Added to this, we also have water solar panels that we had installed ourselves. We like to be green and we need to save money, so both boxes are ticked in this case.

  23. One of the things that has kept me from looking too seriously at solar panels is all the hail Texas gets. During thunder storm season we get pelted often. Wont that destroy the panels?

  24. I have looked into time of day energy use here in Nova scotia. The only people that benefit have the thermol heat pumps in their homes for heating and cooling. I am not about to spend money having that done. SO will try to save in small ways.
    Personally i think the power plants aroundhere are just full of greed and costs keep rising. Leaving the middle and lower class out in the cold. Just my opinion. ---Krystal

  25. Hello Rhonda,
    Fortunately we built our house. We were thus able to design it ourselves (after months of observation, getting a feel for the land and scratching many plans) and then got it structurally certified by an architect so that it would be okayed by the housing authorities.
    As we live in the Caribbean, our goal was to keep the house as cool as possible.
    The first thing we did was position the house on the property so that the wind would blow through the greater part of it.
    We divided the house in 2 sections. One part is an open-plan area that houses a kitchen, dining and tv/living room with french doors that open a whole side of the house to a balcony whilst another side opens onto a small courtyard (8x10feet)in the middle of the house that holds a fish and plant filled pond.
    This courtyard in turn borders the other section of the house which is slightly higher (as per the lay of the land) and holds bedrooms, bathrooms and a study.
    Thus the breeze passes right through the house, up from the sea during the day and down from the hills during the night.
    We installed louvres to the sides of our windows to allow ventilation even when the windows are closed.
    Our roofs are tall and at a sharp angle.
    We were also mindful of the colours we chose when painting the house. This can also influence the absorption or reflection of heat.
    Our water tanks are situated higher than the house and in its shadow so that we can use gravity to feed us as well as reduce evaporation rates.
    We have also planted many trees on the property so that the surrounding environment of the house aids in keeping it cool.
    They are all little details to consider but they make quite a difference to an electric bill over the years.
    In fact they have worked so well that in the cooler months we joke about needing a fireplace =)
    Our bill is only generated by appliances. We use the oven to cook in bulk. We use the washing machine on the weekend after accumulating enough items over the course of the week. All our bulbs are compact fluros.
    The government here is now offering some incentive for solar hot water units. Generally however, solar is not very popular at all because the cost is extremely high for most consumers as compared to the cheaper electrical option.
    Our family consists of 4 people.
    Our bill is TT$150 a month. Which is approximately US$24.

    Trinidad & Tobago

  26. Just came across your it! My husband thanks you for this post...even though he doesn't know it yet :) Lots of simple but great ideas here. Thanks!

  27. hi all. one tip i have is to get rid of your alarm clock and use yoru moblie insted. you charge it anyway and it uses the power overnight so you may as well use it as a alarm clock. another idea i have used is i have solar xmas lights in my kiten with the pannel in the window (it gets alot of day sun) and this guides me to the back of hte house without leaving a light on .
    another tip is if you work allwase charge up yoru moblie at work if possible or if your a uni student there are usualy power ports at teh uni libary that you can use. same with chargeing your laptop if u have one. another big thing ppl dont do is trun there laptop off. usualy it will go into standby mode if u hit shutdown and then close the laptop wait till the laptop is fully off before closing it. (this one drives me crazy) im working on getting a solar battery charger for items like remote batterys or my wii battery.

    i hope some of this is helpfull.

  28. Hi Rhonda
    thank you for the post. We live in Melbourne where most power is generated by burning coal from the Latrobe Valley. We installed our panels almost a year ago. So far we are $299 in credit and have not seen a power bill since the panels went up. It is lovely to not have the burden. We estimate out total savings to date to be just over $800.

    Before installing the panels we spent years being frugal with electricity use. Everything is switched off when not needed and new appliances are purchased on basis of how much power they use. We still use the air con when needed but have reduced its use by installing fans and opening up windows and doors at night. All halogens went in the bin and have been replaced by LED lights. Now with the solar panels in place we make best use of cheaper tariffs on weekends when washing laundry, ironing etc is done. Our goal is to put on more panels as soon as we can afford them.

    The best part of our energy saving measures is that we have control. Prices can go up as much as they want and not affect our quality of life.

    from Jane


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