The Ultimate Guide to an Energy Efficient House
Energy Efficiency Tips and Tricks
Who wants to waste energy? None of us really want to pay for energy we don’t need. And wasting energy just adds to the problem of climate change. So we’ll go through all the energy saving tricks out there so that you can have an energy efficient home and a clear conscience.
Doors and Windows
Even if you have only the vaguest interest in energy efficiency, you must surely have stumbled on the hoary old advice about closing doors and shutting the curtains on chilly nights. If you find the concept of shutting the door or drawing the curtains to keep in warmth or coolness novel, you are definitely at the beginning of your energy efficiency journey. But let’s face it. You’re not. You are reading this to confirm what you already know and to see if we have anything new to say. So read on.
You also know that having insulation will make your house much easier to warm or cool. What else could it be for? The Australian government didn’t start handing out free pink batts during the GFC because they were no good. They thought they could kill two birds with one stone and both stimulate the economy and increase energy efficiency by insulating thousands of houses. So catch up and insulate your home if you missed out on the largesse of the Rudd administration. It works. It’s not so hard to get batts installed in the ceiling, but it’s generally too expensive and disruptive to retrofit wall insulation. But if you want a truly energy efficient home, you should get wall insulation when you are building or extending. In terms of energy efficiency, the more insulation, the better. Just keep in mind that that efficiency is compromised by draughts coming in under the door or from around the windows. A draughty house is an inefficient house!
Energy Efficient Home Appliances
To continue checking off what you probably already know, you can improve the energy efficiency of your home by selecting energy efficient appliances. There’s no point spending up big insulating the ceiling and then going out and buying the least efficient heater. You know the deal – 1 star bad, 3 stars better, 5 stars best. The same thing applies to all home appliances. The washing machine, dishwasher or fridge you select should consume the least amount of energy possible to deliver the results you are after, such as clean clothes, sparkling dishes or cold beer.
Hung out to Dry
If you take the notion of energy efficiency at all seriously, then I’m afraid that you have to seriously consider doing without the clothes dryer. In energy efficiency terms they just don’t cut the mustard. It’s much more energy efficient, and is in fact a venerated Australian tradition, to hang your clothes on the clothesline to dry. In winter or during the Wet, a cheap (or even an expensive) clothes horse or clothes airer does the job. That rare circumstance where you must quickly dry some clothes can be resolved by popping into the laundromat with a handful of gold coins. But your clothes should be dry after a night inside a properly insulated and efficiently heated home.
Using Energy Efficient Home Appliances Efficiently
You might have acquired the most energy efficient washing machine but those green brownie points will be squandered if you use it to wash only half a load or less. The same goes for dishwashers. Be energy efficient and only do full loads to maximise the minimal amount of energy expended by your 5 star whitegoods.
But don’t do full loads with inefficient appliances like kettles or clothes dryers (if you have a dryer, which you shouldn’t if you want to be energy efficient). Filling the electric kettle to the top and boiling all that water for a single cup of tea is surprisingly wasteful and won’t help with your energy bill. It’s more energy efficient to boil the amount of water you need as you need it. That kettle full of hot water slowly cooling on the kitchen benchtop is not the hallmark of an energy efficient home. Measure out the amount of water you need with a spare cup if you are not sure if you’ve got the right amount in the kettle. On second thoughts, it’s even more efficient to use the cup you are planning to drink out of to fill the kettle. You’ve got to think of energy efficiency whenever you use an appliance and say to yourself, “Is this wasteful?”
Energy Efficient Home Lighting
If you think that compact flourescent lights (CFLs) were the last word in energy efficient lighting, we have news for you. It’s time to change that brittle curly bulb with its trace of toxic mercury. The latest and greatest in energy efficient lighting is unquestionably LED. LEDs cost only a fraction of what conventional lighting costs to run. The figures vary, but you can be confident that when we say ‘fraction’, we mean less than half and often less than a quarter. The savings can be significant.
It’s well worth checking all the lighting in your home to see exactly what you’ve got. Any surviving incandescent bulbs should, as they say, be consigned to the dustbin of history. There are LED replacements for pretty much any sort of bulb you’ve got, including those faux chandeliers with candle bulbs. You can even get replacement LED versions of fluorescent tubes. Often the LEDs are not only cheaper to run, they are brighter as well. You can transform a gloomy shed into a well lit workshop and save on energy bills at the same time.
These days the LEDs are as good if not better than old school lighting in terms of the light quality. And because they come on and off instantly and don’t have to warm up, they are ideal for motion sensors. They can only come on when you are in the room and switch off automatically when you are not without wasting any energy.
Really the only downside is that they so effectively cut home energy use that you might be tempted to put in extra decorative lighting or just leave the lights on more than usual. Don’t. That would compromise your energy efficiency.
Gas or Electricity?
The most vexed question when it comes to the energy efficiency of heating and cooling is whether you should be using gas or electricity. It all comes down to how much you pay for electricity and how the electricity is generated. If your power is mostly renewable energy such as wind generated, you are not helping the environment by burning a fossil fuel like gas. Besides that, with a highly efficient energy star rated reverse cycle air conditioner you are very likely to be paying less to heat your home than with a gas heater. So the standard answer that you should use gas because it is cheaper than electricity and not as damaging to the environment doesn’t always hold true.
Free Renewable Energy
The need for gas diminishes even more if you install solar panels to harvest renewable energy. In summer the peak cooling time for your high energy star rated air conditioner coincides with the sunshine, so you can generate the power to run your AC and keep cool for nothing.
Ultimate Guide to Energy Efficient Hot Water
This brings us to what is the other big user of energy in your home besides heating and cooling, hot water. The usual advice is that electric storage hot water systems are the worst performers because they use a lot of energy to keep a big tank of water piping hot. That’s true if your power source is the main grid, but if you have solar panels, it is more energy efficient, not to say cheaper, to have electric storage over gas continuous or gas storage. You heat the water during the day with free sunshine and the insulated tank keeps it nice and hot through the night. The electric storage units are the cheapest on the market and have the added bonus of delivering that hot water at mains pressure.
But if you take solar panels out of the equation, the best option in your pursuit of an energy efficient home is probably a gas continuous hot water system. These just heat water as you need it and don’t waste energy keeping a reserve of water heated. The bonus of going for a gas continuous system is that you don’t run out of hot water.
Solar Hot Water
However, if you are not troubled by the higher installation cost, a solar hot water system is the most energy efficient. Using renewable energy from the sun for the exclusive purpose of heating water makes a big difference to your energy bills. For gloomy winter days there are back up gas or electric boosters, so you are not sacrificing your comfort for an energy efficient home with solar hot water.
Energy Efficient Home
So, an energy efficient home has good insulation, 5 star rated appliances, solar panels, a clothesline, no draughts, good curtains and an empty kettle on the kitchen benchtop.