How to make your home more energy efficient

Small changes around your house or apartment can lead to big energy savings. These are the key steps to take.

Becoming energy efficient doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing your creature comforts. “Residents can reduce their energy use without compromising their lifestyle, there’s no doubt about that,” said Holly Taylor, Senior Advisor, Policy and Partnerships at the Energy Efficiency Council.

“Think of it this way: energy efficiency is about getting more out of each unit of energy, rather than not using energy full-stop.”

Energy efficiency and rooftop solar

If you’re planning to install rooftop solar, consider implementing energy efficiency measures beforehand. The best time to do this is before you install. This is because reducing your energy use may mean you can install a smaller – and therefore cheaper – solar system.

But don’t worry if you’ve already got solar up and running: reducing your electricity use is always a good idea, particularly if it leaves you with excess solar energy you can sell back to the grid.

Take heed of star ratings

“In Australia, we have an Energy Rating scheme that’s featured on every appliance – anyone who’s bought a TV or a fridge would be familiar with it,” Taylor said. “Those stars show consumers how energy efficient each appliance is.”

Purchasing energy efficient appliances may cost a bit more upfront, but you can save hundreds of dollars a year in electricity. “A big part of energy efficiency is simply investing in products and appliances that are energy efficient,” according to Taylor.

Energy-rated appliances are also labelled with their typical consumption, so you can calculate exactly what each one will cost to run.

Check your hot-water system

It’s often overlooked, but a home’s hot-water system typically uses more energy than any other single appliance (up to 20% of your total bill), making it a key part of any energy efficiency plan. Check your system’s star rating and, if it’s low, consider upgrading. You can also adjust the amount of preheated water that the system holds at any one time – consider reducing this amount to save energy. And make sure you’re not heating water to a higher temperature than you need.

Consider insulation

Heating and cooling are the single biggest energy expenses in most households, and taking simple measures to insulate your home can have an outsized impact.

Whether you own or rent, consider:

  • Keeping the sun out, or keeping warmth in, with black-out curtains

  • Installing external shutters or shading (or asking your landlord to do so)

  • Double-glazing your windows (or asking your landlord to do so)

  • Adjusting your climate-control system by 1 or 2 degrees.

If you own your home, you can potentially make big savings on your heating and cooling costs by insulating roofs, walls and windows (known collectively as the “building envelope”). This kind of improvement can pay for itself within a few years.

Switch to LED lighting

Perhaps the simplest energy efficiency action you can take at home is to swap your incandescent or halogen lightbulbs for LED bulbs. “A modern LED lightbulb can deliver the same light as an incandescent lightbulb while using 90% less electricity,” Taylor said. “That’s genuinely doing more with less.”

Previously, the light from a typical LED lightbulb was cold and harsh, but today there are warmer options available that are well-suited to home use. And LED bulbs are now almost as cheap as standard incandescent bulbs. (Even if you pay a bit more initially, you’ll more than recoup your investment through energy savings).

Common areas in apartment buildings

If you own an apartment, one of the most important energy efficiency steps you can take is to reduce electricity consumption in common areas. Speak to your strata committee about conducting an audit that takes into account heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (known as HVAC) and lighting. Switching to timed, energy efficient lighting and making sure your HVAC pumps and fans aren’t running excessively can make a big difference.

A great example is the Botany Cope building (just a 15-minute drive from Sydney), which has 30 residential lots and four commercial. It upgraded lighting in its internal common areas, fire stairs and garage and achieved a 42% reduction in energy consumption, recouping its $9000 investment in less than 3 years.

Support for apartment owners

If you’d like to find out exactly how your apartment building is using energy, consider applying for the City of Sydney’s ratings and assessment grant which helps organisations undertake energy ratings and audits for the first time.

Alternatively, apply for a building operations grant to help with the cost of implementing energy efficiency measures. You can also apply for the Smart Green Apartments program, which helps residents take action to improve energy efficiency in their buildings.

Optimising your solar setup can save you even more money

One of the best ways to reduce your energy costs is to make sure your solar system is operating efficiently. To learn more about optimising your rooftop solar system, check out this article.

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