Practical steps to slashing your power bills

07 Jul 11 07:00AM EST
Post by John Ashes
Power illustration

We’ve all noticed our power bills creeping up over time, in part due to the increased number and types of goods and appliances we all have, but also due to increasing energy costs.

To date most of these costs are related to increased commercial and infrastructure costs, as well as the renewable energy target. This could be just the start what with the wrangling in Canberra over a carbon tax and the like. However no matter which political spin you put on it, even the most optimistic amongst us would agree that we are going to pay a lot more for energy in the near future. So what can a family household do to limit costs?

Meter check

There are several things. Firstly, check what type of meter you have. If it’s a smart meter then be smart. Electricity suppliers are not stupid, they know that most people use most energy at home in the afternoon and evening and hence smart meter charge very high tariffs then up to 36c/kwh during the period of maximum consumption. So where you can, program appliance use to less expensive times of the day and night and turn off that old second fridge. Don’t run your pool filter or wash/dry clothes then, do it later or earlier. Better still air dry clothes if you can.

Change stand-by habits

Secondly, turn off appliances when not in use. A PC type computer system can use a lot of power even when not in use. A lot has been said about stand by power. Several years ago standby power accounted for about 12% of a household energy bill. Things have changed, sensible government legislation requires some household items to use 1w or less now, but that will only be with new appliances, as older ones often had appallingly high consumption on standby.

Once appliances get down to 1w it doesn’t make much of a saving turning it off. Clearly if you turned it off and unplugged it, it doesn’t use any energy, but then there’s the convenience factor. Certainly it’s good practice if you’re going away to disconnect appliances from the power point - unexpected power surges from storms can damage appliances, let alone the unnecessary energy use.

Efficient heating and cooling

Thirdly, make sure you house is insulated if you can. Heating and cooling costs are major contributors to high energy bills. Try only to use efficient heating and cooling appliances. A good tip is to run them a few degrees warmer in summer and cooler in winter - you will save money but you have to be prepared to dress appropriately.

Some resistance electric heaters can be quite expensive to run, so only purchase ones with a thermostat and preferably use time clocks to make sure they aren’t accidently left on as happened in my house last week!

Appliance check

Finally, look at your appliance selection. There have been dramatic improvements in efficiencies in some of them recently, especially TVs and fridges. Again mandatory government legislation has required it. If your flat screen TV is older than two to three years it’s likely it’s very energy inefficient. It’s the same with fridges over five years; they cost a lot more to run and you could consider replacing them in due course when the price of electricity inevitably soars.

Calculate running costs

When choosing a new appliance look at the energy rating label. The more stars the better. Also check the box under the star rating, it will tell you how much energy that appliance is likely to use per year. Simply multiple that by the cost of electricity you typically pay i.e. currently 20c or thereabouts and that will tell you how much a year it will cost to operate.

Choose the right size appliance

Also look carefully at the size of the appliances you purchase. Don’t over buy. A large fridge, TV or washing machine will cost more to run than a smaller on of the same star rating. Most household appliances actually run more efficiently when fully loaded and in the case of washing machines clean perfectly adequately when fully loaded as well, as they’re required to do as part of the energy labeling. Weigh a few loads first to get an idea of what a full load looks like. While talking washing machines, use a cold wash if you can, the major cost of operating them is the water used on some programs. Most people wash fairly clean clothes so you probably won’t notice the difference in the wash. For heavy soiling, soak them first or use a stain remover.

Choice is campaigning for a more consumer-friendly energy sector, including to help limit some of the cost increases in the future. But one thing we can do right away is help you select good cost effective energy efficient appliances, helping reduce your bills and effect on our precious environment.


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