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5 ways to reduce your household's energy use

Reduce your carbon footprint, help save the environment and save money to boot.

green leaves forming a house shape
Last updated: 26 May 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Electricity prices have risen significantly year on year, to the point where it's the primary cost-of-living concern for Australians. Prices are fortunately expected to fall a little in most parts of Australia in the years up to 2022/23, due to lower gas prices and cheaper renewable energy entering the market. All the same, energy bills are a big chunk of most household budgets, and it doesn't help that energy retailer marketing and promotional offers are all but impossible to decipher and compare.

A majority of Australians have accounts with one of the big three – EnergyAustralia, AGL or Origin – even though there are many better deals out there. However, their dominance is reducing as more people switch to other retailers for better deals, which in turn has forced the big three to improve their offers too. If you haven't switched energy retailers recently or at least called your current provider for a better deal, give it a go – you may save hundreds of dollars per year. If hunting for a better deal is too much of a hassle, try an energy switching service who'll do it for you. 

Regardless of who you buy your electricity or gas from, reducing your household's energy use (along with your carbon footprint) is a very sound strategy.

 1. Appliances

Switch off your appliances when they're not in use

Your TV, computer, microwave and even some washing machines have a 'standby' mode, which means they're still using energy even when they're not in use. Turn them off at the power point to reduce their energy consumption (you don't have to unplug them).

Buy appliances with a good energy rating

The more stars, the more savings – but think about size first. Often it's easier for a larger model to be more energy-efficient (and therefore have more stars) than a smaller one. However, since it's bigger, its overall energy consumption is usually higher.

Pick the right washing machine

Although they usually cost more to buy, most front-loader washing machines save you money over time and are kinder to the environment because they use less power, water and detergent than top loaders. See our washing machine reviews for the most energy-efficient models.

Choose an energy-efficient fridge

Your fridge and freezer is working non-stop and the energy it consumes adds up quickly. All new fridges sold in Australia must meet Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), so look for a model with a good star rating (the more stars, the more energy-efficient it is). All fridges on the market are CFC-free, so don't base you purchase decision on "CFC-free" labels. 

2. Heating and cooling

Insulate your roof or ceiling

This will help keep your home at a pleasant temperature in summer and winter. It'll save you money on your energy bills and will pay for itself over a relatively short time. For more tips, read our guide to keeping your house cool naturally.

Draught-proof your home

You can draught-proof your home by making sure doors and windows are properly sealed. This can be done cheaply with draught excluders or window seals.

Seal your chimney with a damper

This will help to keep heat from escaping in winter – assuming the fireplace isn't in use – and help stop hot air from coming in during the warmer months.

Switch to LED lights

LEDs are the most efficient type of light bulb for most uses – you've probably already got a lot of LED lights in your home, as they've become the standard in recent years. But if you still have any old halogen downlights, consider swapping them out for LEDs instead. You might need to get an electrician to replace the drivers (transformers) as well, since even though LED downlights will often work with an old driver, they will run better and last longer with a proper LED driver.

Downlights penetrate the ceiling and insulation, potentially causing heat loss (in winter) or gain (in summer), which can mean more energy gets used for cooling and heating. Choose downlight fittings with an IC or IC-F rating, as these can be covered with insulation. Other downlights shouldn't be covered with insulation as the trapped heat can be a fire risk.

Close all external windows and doors

This is especially important when your heater or air conditioner is running.

Shade your windows

During hot summer days this will help to keep the heat out, and on cold nights curtains or blinds will help to keep the heat in.

Turn on the air conditioner early

If you have an air conditioner, try to use it only on really hot or humid days, and if you expect a hot day, turn on the air conditioner early and close up the house. This helps the air conditioner cool the house before it gets too hot inside, which uses less energy, and will help keep it cool. Likewise on cold winter days, start warming early and don't let the warm air escape. This only works when your home is well insulated and sealed, otherwise you'll be wasting a lot of that air conditioning energy.

Many air conditioners can now be controlled remotely by an app on your smartphone, which is a great way to turn the air conditioner on remotely so the house is cool when you get home, rather than having to leave it on all day. The apps also let you turn the air conditioner off remotely (if you accidentally left it running) and even check how much energy it's using. You can also use the air conditioner's timer function to make sure it comes on at the right time.

Set your air conditioner at the highest temperature setting at which you still feel cool enough (24 or 25ºC is usually adequate). Each 1°C increase of the thermostat setting will save about 10% on your energy usage. Try the Economy mode if it has one. The same applies in reverse for heating in winter – settle for the coolest indoor temperature you can and rug up with a jumper rather than just cranking up the heat. Our air conditioners buying guide will help you choose the right air conditioner for your home.

Install ceiling fans

Ceiling fans are much cheaper than air conditioning and have less impact environmentally. And when winter comes, switch the fan to reverse or winter mode if it has one, which will help mix the warm air more effectively through the room. 

 3. Transport

Even if you have a fuel-efficient car, whenever possible it's a good idea to leave it at home and walk, cycle, catch public transport or car pool.

 4. Water

Pick products with a good water rating

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme allows you to compare the water efficiency of different products – like the energy stars on a fridge, the more stars the better. Ratings are compulsory for all new domestic washing machines, dishwashers, showers, toilets, urinals and most taps.

Use rainwater

Collected rainwater is ideal for watering your garden. Contact your water authority and local council for advice on how to install and maintain a rainwater tank.

Use greywater

Recycled greywater from showers, laundry tubs and washing machines can be stored for use on the garden (or even in toilets and washing machines), or it can be diverted to the garden with a plumbed-in diverter. Conditions may apply in the area where you live, so contact your local council for advice.

Buy a water-efficient shower head

Water-efficient shower heads are great water-saving devices for daily use. However, if you have an instantaneous hot-water system, the flow rate of a low-flow shower head may not be enough to start it, so check with your installer. If you have a gravity-fed water system (where the water flows from your tank to your taps without being pumped), make sure you buy a shower head that's designed to cope with low pressure.

5. Green power

The average household emits around 14 tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, half of which is from electricity generation. This contributes to climate change and global warming.

One simple and relatively cheap way that we can all start to make a difference is by switching our electricity to "green" power. This means using power generated from renewable sources such as the sun, wind, water and waste power, rather than coal or gas.

Green power is available to all households and generally costs slightly more than standard electricity. What you'll pay depends on the percentage of green power and the retailer you choose. Use one that's accredited by the GreenPower program, an initiative of the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia governments.

Of course, a great way to ensure you're using green power is to install a solar panel system on your roof. Follow the four steps to going solar and use our Solar Estimator to get quotes from solar installers.

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