15 December 2014

Saving electricity, money and greenhouse gasses

The end of the year is a good time to think about electricity, gas and water usage and how you can manage your usage. Work out what you pay, on average, see if you improved your usage figures during the year, or if they still need work. We're a mixed bag here. We are really good with electricity and gas but we struggle with keeping the water usage down. We're still under the local average for water usage, but I want to be better than that.

The spike in our usage during the August period was when our inverter broke down and we had no solar power to use.

Don't think about your electricity as one single block. Divide it up into hot water, lights, cooking etc, depending on what your appliances are, and it should be easier to manage it.

  • Turn off electricity when you leave the room. It will soon become a habit. Yes, it's only saving a fraction but if it becomes a habit and you do it for the rest of your life, the savings, in dollars and green house gases, will add up. 
  • Buy energy rated when upgrading appliances. 
  • Have groups of appliances on a power board and turn the board off at the wall at night. 
  • Electric ovens - bake more than one thing at a time, turn power off a few minutes before the food is cooked and allow it to finish cooking in residual heat. 
  • Use a slow cooker in the winter.
We have a solar hot water system and seven solar panels and our last bill was $26.32 in credit. Our bills have been up and down lately, due to a broken solar inverter, so I find it easier and more accurate to go on the average usage figures instead of the amount. Currently we use 5.9 kWh, which is half the average of one person in our area. If we were using what most people use, we'd be on 13.8 kWh.  We're not experts but we always seem to be very frugal in our usage or electricity, so let me share a few thoughts with you. 

If you're going to invest in solar power, buy a solar hot water system first. Hot water uses about thirty percent of our total energy. A solar hot water system is a smaller investment than electricity photovoltaic panels so you'll be able to save that thirty percent without such a large investment. When you have enough money for panels, your hot water is already catered for, so all the energy you produce can go towards your electrical appliances and you probably won't need to install as many panels.

Think about home insulation. I have to confess, we're a bit obsessive about it. We have good insulation through the house and roof and a few years ago, Hanno painted our steel roof with solar-reflective paint. That made a big difference. Now it's consistently six degrees cooler inside the house, without turning on even one fan or the air conditioner.

We have two internal rooms - a bathroom and the laundry - with no windows, so we installed skylights in those rooms. We also have one in the kitchen because after we added the front and back verandahs, we found the kitchen was too dark, unless we had a light turned on during the day. The skylights provide daylight into those dark rooms and after the cost of installation, there are no further charges.

Think about the kind of light you're using. If you can change your ordinary light bulbs to LEDs, it will cut your costs.  These are an improvement on the compact fluros many of us installed a few years ago. According to Beacon Lighting website:

LED lights are super energy efficient, using approximately 85% less energy than halogen or incandescent lighting – meaning significant savings on your power bills. LED lights also have a much longer lifespan than other types of lighting - see the table below.

Lighting technologyEstimated lifespan
LED30,000-50,000 hours
CFL8,000-15,000 hours
Halogen1,000-5,000 hours
Incandescent1,000 hours

Security lights outside - LED on movement sensors.
If you're watching TV at night, try it without the light.
Turn off the Christmas lights when the children go to bed.

Water heating - if you have a regular water heater, reduce the temperature so that the water isn't on the verge of boiling all the time. According to Smart Blocks website
Storage hot water systems
To save energy it is recommended that the temperature of the storage tank is set at 60 degrees Celsius
A minimum of 60 degrees Celsius should be maintained to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria.

Instantaneous hot water systems

Domestic hot water should be supplied at a temperature lower than 50 degrees Celsius to avoid accidental scalding

This will lower running costs and extend the life of the tank

Unless there is something in particular that needs a warmer wash, wash with cold water.
Buy the best quality washing machine you can afford and make sure it has an energy-saving high rating

I'm not going to preach to you and say you should only use your airconditioning when absolutely necessary. What you do is your own decision. We have airconditioning here - the energy efficient and rated kind - but we never automatically turn it on when it's hot. When I get up in the morning, I open the front and back doors to let in the fresh air. Later, when the air coming in is warm, I close the doors and because the house is so well insulated, if I can keep the cool air in, the house is noticably cooler if kept like this for a few hours. But there comes a time when I have to cook something or the air feels stale and I turn on the air con. I have it set at 24C and on an average day in the middle of summer, I'd have it on while I cook lunch and wash up. I turn it off around 3pm, depending on that days temperature. If it's very hot, the air conditioning stays on until later in the afternoon.

I encourage you to think about your usage and try to work our a routine for using your air conditioner that keeps you and your family comfortable, without using too much electricity and without you feeling guilty for using it. The decision to use it and how long you use it for is yours, don't let anyone tell you you're not doing it right. Just be prudent and turn it off when you can.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket - don't be an all-electric house. Mixing it up with a small amount of gas and solar will probably serve you better. Of course this may not be relevant in your region so please do your research before you invest your hard earned money. Overall though, if you can get yourself and the kids into the habit of turning the switches off, you'll reap the rewards. It just comes down to common sense.

I should add that we've been living here for 18 years. All the above didn't happen straight away. We added what we could as we could afford it. And it's fine to do that. Just reduce what you can in the meantime and change what you can to improve the future when you have the cash for it.  What changes have you made in your home that have made a difference to your electricity consumption?



  1. All good points Rhonda. We try to go without using our air-conditioner as much as possible. In the late spring when the weather started to really heat up I changed my schedule so that I now spend the mornings at the back of the house while the sun is beating down on the front of the house. And when the sun moves to the back of the house I move to the front of the house. I still get the same amount done, I just do it differently. After we had ceiling fans installed in the lounge and dining rooms several years ago, we found we really reduced the use of our air-conditioner. We now have ceiling fans in all rooms except one. We also have solar hot water, the current system is only a few years old and the one we had previously lasted over 20 years.

  2. Thanks Rhonda, we are renovating our new (old) house at the moment and these are the current issues for us to think about long term as we work on the place.
    More food for thought!

    Blessings x

    1. All the best with the renovation, Michelle. It's such a worthwhile thing to do.

  3. I think the LEDs are a good example for the conflicts arising when you want to do something for the environment. Yes, they save energy - a lot. On the other hand, they are complicated electronic devices. They need a lot of energy for their production. They contain rare earths, which are - well, rare. When they break, they are hazardous waste and need to be disposed very carefully, not just dropped in the garbage.
    And they possibly cause a lot of electric smog, their light has a spectrum very different from the old, simple light bulbs and there still is research about the influence of this light on the human organism, especially the hormone system.
    I often feel that the more you think about what you are doing, the more you get aware of the problems and the harder it gets to come to a decision.

  4. There are some good ideas there, Rhonda. The bit where you say how pleased you are to have your house six degrees cooler than outside made me smile, as we work so hard to keep our houses warmer inside, most of the time! If we could just work out how to even out your solar gains with our heat losses, we could solve the world's energy problems...

  5. We are good with electricity and gas as well, but since having a vegetable garden we have struggled to keep water consumption down. In the next few years, our goals are to have a water tank installed, and to switch over from gas- to gas-boosted solar water heating. It's going to be a marathon for us though. Being on a single wage does have its compromise after all. Since moving to this house a few months ago, we've only been able to change the toilets and add a small solar power system.

  6. We have changed every light bulb we can to the new energy efficient ones. We have gas heat, hot water heater, and cooking. What makes me mad is something our gas company started doing last Jan. Now there is an $18.00 fee on your bill each month for what they call their fee for being in business. Our meter is read by computer and we do not get a bill in the mail, now tell me what is that fee going to except to line their company pocket. We changed electric companies a few months ago for a better rate. It is a 12 month plan at a low rate. I have it marked on my 'to do' list to call and extend the plan just before it expires. We are looking into solar panels on our roof. Our friends have had them put on their roof and it cost them more than $18,000.00 to do.
    I wash most loads in cold water. I line dry our clothes. We just our first NEW car. We have been married 33 years and always brought used cars or trucks. Our nephew is the general manager of a big dealer here. He gave us a chance to buy a 2015 Chevy Equinox at his cost with zero % interest.....Yes, we do have a car payment now, but it is no extra money out of our pocket. It lets me leave the money in our interest bearing account a little longer than if we had paid cash for the car. This car gets great mileage.
    We have a vegetable garden. We plant almost year around. We have rain barrels. We use them most of the time. Almost never use the hose and the water from town.

  7. Thanks for the food for thought. We are doing little things slowly an surely as house ownership can be daunting and if not checked crazy on the cash flow. Right now we are concentrating on changing out lightbulbs for more energy efficient ones. I try to keep oven use to a minimum and not have the lights on during the day if at all possible.

    I want to get solar panels eventually but with the long list of other home improvement things we have to do it might be a while. Oh, well. We'll get there.

  8. Definitely replace downlights, so fashionable recently, from halogen to LED- the heat is a big factor with halogen. We generally don't use the downlights at all, we have a few table and floor lamps.

    Our Christmas lights are solar, we run the cable out the door!

    Cross ventilation, ceiling fans and pedestal fans for us in summer, we have aircon installed but have not used it!

    We have a very small fridge, compared to family and friends. It means that we can't really buy more than a weeks worth of perishable food at a time, but it means we eat what we have, vegies don't get wasted and we are not paying to run something that is empty. It is never full to over flowing, so I don't understand why people have such big fridges- and of course we don't have a 'drinks' fridge running, that's another big waster!

    We probably tend to freeze things straight away too, rather than sit them in the fridge. The freezer is in a cold dark corner, and we monitor the temp so it is not too cold or too hot, thus saving running costs.

    We place a bucket under the sink to catch the cold water when waiting for hot water to come through, this then becomes the dogs water.

    I am a big curtain opener and closer, in summer and winter, ensuring we capture the right temperature internally. We have good eaves now, but previously we had some shade cloth on all external windows in summer.

    Plans for the future are solar hot water and a sky light in a room that we will change from a storage room to a bedroom when we have children.

  9. What a comprehensive list. Reading it has been a great reminder of how far we have come with our home and how 10 years ago it all seemed like such a long journey. Thank you.

  10. A great list! We too have come a long way in the twelve years we have lived in our house. Like CharlotteP we are always trying to ensure we don't have heat loss rather than trying to get rid of it! We have insulated everywhere in our house including under the floors. We have a wood burner which heats our water in the winter. We have an open plan house so it does a good job of keeping the house warm too. It has helped to reduce our gas bills along with the solar water panels we have on our roof. We don't have any more roof space or land for any more solar panels we are considering a small wind turbine instead, we have far more wind year round than sun! We have insulated our fridge which can help reduce the running costs of that it doesn't have to work as hard.

    Like you we would love to reduce our water consumption we are considering a waterless toilet, they are expensive so we are saving our pennies to have one installed some day. Small steps add up to big ones as you so rightly say!

  11. That was an absolutely wonderful post Rhonda! Sage advice on diversifying energy sources! I encourage people to get on the web and see/read about the many different options there are for alternative energy. For those who will be building, I cannot encourage you enough to read, read, read and understand the many passive designs (with their advantages and drawbacks) and placement options (choosing room layout, airflow, heat loading, directional orientation, etc) available to have a comfortable home with reduced energy use and options for upgrading or adding more efficient technology. The investments will more than pay back for themselves in comfort, reduced bills, and ease of mind and in maintenance in your older years.

  12. We collect water from our roof and store it for home use. The energy of falling water can be harvested via a small turbine to generate electricity. This energy can be stored in a battery (as one stores solar energy.) For many years I have been looking for a DIY set of design instructions for an appropriately energy harvesting water turbine online, but have yet to find one. It would be nice to be able to have a multifunctional system: collect water into vat, reduce runoff, and generate electricity. Rain water is nicer to wash with, too!

  13. ) For those designing their own homes, it might be possible to put in a very small methane/biogas digester in place of a septic tank. This will produce methane gas that can be used to cook or to produce light. The waste from livestock can be washed/placed into the system., also. The methane gas harvested can be used as supplemental cooking fuel and be piped into the kitchen. The expended waste can be removed, dried and added to cropping areas for improving soil tilth and nutrient availability.

  14. Our power consumption for a family of four adults is around that of a family of two. I am very tight about electricity usage. However, I cannot cope with the summer heat. We run our main unit around 24 to 26 and keep the bedroom slightly cooler overnight. I still need a fan to circulate the air around me or I am visibly uncomfortable. I am working on it.

    We recently changed to a heat pump for our hot water. It now costs less than $40 a quarter for our hot water and we have never run out. I am very pleased with our new system and would recommend it.


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