If you're one of the many people who are now working from home, either full or part time, you may have noticed some changes in your household expenses.
Working from home is likely to save you money on transport, takeaways and possibly even office attire (it's OK, we all wear pyjama pants for Zoom meetings). But you're almost certainly spending more on your energy bill, with the cost of heating and cooling, lighting and running your home office tech equipment during your workday now coming directly out of your pocket.
CHOICE experts weigh in with their tips on saving energy (and money) while working from home.
Unplug your devices once they're charged.
If you thought that all that extra tech equipment running from your home office was one of the major costs of working from home, think again. CHOICE tech whizz Steve Duncombe says tech devices will likely only be making up a fairly small percentage of your total power bill.
However, there are still some little tricks you can use to save on powering your home office devices.
Don't leave devices charging all day
When you're sitting right next to a power outlet, you may be tempted to leave devices like your laptop and phone plugged into the charger, but according to Duncombe, this isn't a good habit.
"Unplug your devices as soon as they're fully charged. Leaving them plugged in will not only waste power, it can also degrade your device's battery."
Check the settings on your devices
Most modern devices will enter a power saving mode when they're not being used, but Duncombe says it's worth checking to see if they can be adjusted to be more efficient.
"Check the settings to see if you can reduce the period of time the device remains on when unattended before switching to sleep or standby mode," he advises.
"Desktop computers, printers and monitors are the most power-hungry devices in your home office, so pay special attention to them."
Try a USB desktop fan
Duncombe says desktop fans that plug into your computer's USB socket can be a very cheap and surprisingly effective way to stay cool while you're working.
Choose a workspace that harnesses natural light.
Climate control and lighting are two of the biggest hidden costs of working from home. But according to CHOICE expert Chris Barnes, a few simple tweaks can save plenty of energy.
Work with nature
Barnes says choosing a workspace that harnesses natural light and breeze is always a good idea.
"Choose a well-lit, breezy room or even consider working at least part of the day on the balcony or in the garden to make the most of the natural light and air," he suggests.
If you do need to turn on the lights when you're working, Barnes recommends switching to more energy-efficient LED bulbs in your home office, or even just using a desk lamp to shed some extra light on your workspace.
Heating and cooling is where most households use the bulk of their energy, so it's an area where you can make big savings. Barnes's top tips for saving energy on climate controlling your home office:
- Make sure your home office is sealed off from the rest of the house before you start heating or cooling the room – use a door snake or draught stopper.
- In summer, try using a fan and opening the window before you opt for the air conditioner.
- In winter, try some woolly socks, a cardigan or even a heated chair pad before wheeling out the heater.
- Use your reverse-cycle air conditioner for heating rather than a plug-in heater, as they are usually more efficient at heating a room.
- If you are using your air conditioner, set it to a moderate temperature. The greater the difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the higher your running costs.
Get some fresh air and save on energy by hanging out the washing.
One way to offset the increased energy costs from running your home office is to take advantage of being home in the day to save energy elsewhere – and your washing and drying is a great place to start.
CHOICE Whitegoods Team Leader Ashley Iredale weighs in with his expert energy-saving laundry tips.
Skip the dryer
We all need to take little breaks throughout our work day, so why not make the most of them? Iredale suggests getting some fresh air and sunshine during your workday by taking 10 minutes to hang your washing out instead of using the dryer.
"Just keep an eye out for rain and make sure you take the washing off the line in the afternoon, before the evening drops below dew point," he warns.
Wash less often
Iredale says you can probably reduce the frequency of your laundry a little when you're working from home.
"I'm a huge fan of personal hygiene, but let's face it: you can get away with sitting about in your trackies for a few days if nobody is going to see you below the waist."
He even has a laundry saving tip for Zoom meetings:
"Throw on a business shirt or blouse for the occasional Zoom meeting then take it straight off again so you don't need to wash it every day."
While it may not be your primary office space, your kitchen will likely get a good workout during the days you work from home, with meal prep, tea and coffee making and of course plenty of staring aimlessly into the open fridge. Our home economist Fiona Mair shares her expert tips for saving energy in the kitchen.
Bulk cook lunches
There's no doubt that switching from your usual takeaways to a home-cooked meal is likely to save you money and it's much easier to achieve when you're working from home. Mair suggests making use of your slow cooker for the best value meals.
"Slow cookers use very little energy, and cooking in bulk also saves on energy, so try making a big batch and freezing individual meals for the week."
Multitask with your oven
Pre-cooking your weekly snacks in the oven can also be a clever use of energy, according to Mair.
"Use all the trays in your oven to cook some cookies, muffins or mini quiches all at the same time to save on energy and make workday snacking simple."
Keep a full fridge
Iredale says there's plenty of perks of having a fully stocked fridge to cater to all those home-made meals.
"A full fridge is more energy efficient than an empty one because of the higher thermal mass," he says.
"Plus, if you're turning over your fridge's content more frequently there's less risk of food spoiling and going to waste."
Capitalise on your solar
Working from home is ideal for people with solar panels, because it shifts the energy load of the house to the daylight hours, meaning you're using more of your own solar power.
Barnes says you should aim to maximise on this benefit when working from home.
"Start running your washing machine and dishwasher during your workday as part of your daily routine," he suggests.
Switch to more energy efficient appliances
Pretty much all your appliances will be getting an extra workout when you're working from home, meaning an inefficient product will end up costing you even more.
Prioritise switching to energy efficient heating and cooling appliances and fridges and freezers, as these use the most energy.
If you're now spending the bulk of your days at home, it might be worth putting in a call to your home, contents and car insurance companies to see if you can negotiate lower premiums. If you're at home more often and driving your car less, then your level of risk changes, which can affect your insurance premiums.
You can claim some WFH expenses as a tax deduction.
With the increased number of people now working from home, the Australian Taxation Office has introduced a "shortcut method" so that it's much easier to claim back the extra expenses associated with working from home (including electricity).
True to its name, the shortcut method is very simple; you can claim a deduction of 80 cents for each hour you worked from home from the period between 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021 in your 2020–21 tax return. This saves you the trouble of having to calculate all the individual expenses, although you can still use that method if you'd prefer (or if it's likely to result in a bigger deduction).
Check if you're eligible for a government rebate or voucher
Many states offer assistance to those struggling to pay their energy bills through rebates or vouchers.
For example in NSW you can apply for a $50 Energy Accounts Payment Assistance voucher if you're experiencing a short term financial crisis, or alternatively you can apply for an energy rebate if you meet certain criteria such as receiving the Family Tax Benefit.
Switch to a cheaper energy provider
If you're using extra power because you're working from home, making sure you're on the best deal is more important than ever. According to the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), you could save up to $760 a year on your power bills by switching to a cheaper plan.
Read our guide to energy comparison sites to find out the smartest way to switch.