It's no secret that the energy market has not been kind to customers over the last decade or so. As the poles and wires networks have been upgraded (and many would say gold-plated), consumers have borne the cost.
Electricity prices have risen significantly year on year, to the point where it's the primary cost-of-living concern for Australians, with no real relief in sight. It doesn't help that energy retailer marketing and promotional offers are all but impossible to decipher and compare.
About 80% of us have accounts with one of the big three, EnergyAustralia, AGL or Origin, even though there are many better deals out there. While we're waiting for the energy market to sort itself out - and in the interest of preserving the planet - reducing your household energy use (along with your carbon footprint) is a very sound strategy.
Unplug your appliances when they're not in use
Buy appliances with a good energy rating
The more stars, the better – but think about size first. Often it's easier for a larger model to be more efficient (and therefore have more stars) than a smaller one. However, since it is 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). Look for a model that uses a hydrocarbon, such as butane or pentane, as the refrigerant and/or blowing agent for the insulation foam. All fridges on the market are CFC-free, so don't base you purchase decision on "CFC free" labels. See our Fridge buying guide.
Insulate your roof or ceiling
This will help keep your home a pleasant temperature in summer and winter. It saves you money on energy bills and pays for itself over a relatively short time.
You can draught-proof your home by making sure doors and windows are properly sealed – you can buy draught excluders or window seals very cheaply.
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.
Avoid installing downlights
Besides using a lot of energy, they penetrate the ceiling and insulation, causing heat loss. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are a good option for lighting.
- Find the brands that last the longest in our CFL reviews.
Close all external windows and doors
Shade your windows
During hot summer days this will help to keep the heat out, and on cold nights curtains or blinds 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, pre-empt the heat rather than waiting until your home is already hot. (Similarly, start heating early when expecting a cold day.)
Look for programmable timer and thermostat controls. Set your air conditioner at the highest temperature setting at which you still feel cool enough; 25ºC is usually adequate. Each 1°C increase of the thermostat setting will save about 10% on your energy usage. See our Air conditioners buying guide.
Install ceiling fans
Ceiling fans are much cheaper than air conditioning and have less impact environmentally.
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme allows you to compare the water efficiency of different products – the more stars the better. Ratings are compulsory for all new domestic washing machines, dishwashers, showers, toilets, urinals and most taps.
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.
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 – contact your local council for advice.
Buy a water-efficient showerhead
These 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. Check with your installer. If you have a gravity-fed water system (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.
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 clean renewable sources such as the sun, wind, water and waste power, rather than coal.
Green power is available to all households and generally costs slightly more than standard electricity. What you'll pay depends on the percentage of GreenPower 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.