Over the next few months, we will all be spending much more time at home to do our bit in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus and protect our collective health and wellbeing. As we move into the colder months, the poor quality of our housing is going to become even more obvious, as homes in Australia are notoriously difficult to keep warm in winter and cool in summer.
As you spend more time at home, it’s worth taking the time to start thinking and planning ahead for the modifications you can make.
The below list suggests small, medium and large upgrades you can make to your home.
Unlike installing cool technology such as solar panels and batteries, draught proofing simply means filling up all the holes and gaps where the good air in your home escapes. Sexy, no? Important? Very. If you’ve heated up the air in your home, you don’t want that air leaking out under the door. It means you’ve spent money heating air for little gain.
This graph shows potential air leakage points in a home, listing them from least to most severe. The bigger the hole or gap, the more air leakage through that point. So, it’s best to start with filling the biggest gaps in your home.
If you live in an older home with a chimney, these large, open cavities unsurprisingly leak lots of air out of your home. You can fill this yourself with a chimney balloon.
Check to see if there is already a damper or other device in your chimney. This advice does not extend to gas appliances.
Like chimneys, these are large gaps to the outside world where air escapes. That’s their purpose when in use, but when they’re idle, they leak. Install a DraftStoppa device for $25-35. Watch this informative video.
In the winter months when these are not in use, they simply leak warm air outside. For $30, you can install a HeatSaver in five minutes to block these gaps in the cooler months. See this handy video.
Doors and windows, especially those to the outside, can be significant draught trouble spots. Cheap materials like adhesive tape and rubber or plastic caulking can be installed in minutes for less than $10. Here’s a video explaining how.
Appliances, especially those used to heat or cool space, are often one of the most significant energy expenses in a household. Short of purchasing super-efficient new appliances, here’s what you can do with what you’ve got.
Every extra degree can add approximately 10% to the winter running cost of your heater. Coupled with warm clothing or a snug blanket, this temperature range will keep you comfortable with much less energy use than if you set your thermostat to higher temperatures.
Leaving all or your appliances on standby, such as TVs, computers, clocks or anything with an electrical display, all adds up. Turn these off at the plug when not in use. The difference is small but noticeable.
Windows are one of the most vulnerable points in our homes for heat loss and gain. In fact, a wall with zero insulation is far better in terms of retaining heat/cool air than a window. That’s why it’s important we treat windows properly.
Heavy curtains can significantly reduce the heat the loss/gain of windows. Makeshift curtains from hanging a blanket over the window can make a difference.
Have you got spare bubble wrap lying around? Spray a small amount of water and stick the bubble side to the glass. It’s the same outcome as double glazing at no cost! Alternatively, install a clear, plastic film, called Clear Film, which has the same effect as double glazing for about $30. Here’s another handy video explainer.
If you’ve been with the same provider for a long time, you could be missing out on new deals or better rates. Visit the Green Electricity Guide to see if you can get a better deal (but also think about whether you want your energy bills to be adding to the profits of companies than run coal power stations!).
Well–located and designed external fittings like eaves and awnings can be used very effectively to limit solar gain through windows. In general, external window fittings should be placed over north-facing windows to minimise solar gain in warmer months.
In winter, however, you want as much sunlight (and therefore warmth) coming in through north-facing windows as possible. This still works with eaves, because the sun is at a lower angle in the sky in winter, so direct sunlight comes in during cold months but is kept out during summer.
Lighting accounts for approximately 8-15% of total energy use in the Australian home, depending on the lighting technology and household behaviour. Traditional incandescent lighting (the old, glass-cased ones with the squiggly wire inside), including halogen lights, use 98% of their energy in producing heat. They are very inefficient.
LED lights are considered a revolution in the lighting industry and are generally a superior lighting option. Since they produce little heat and convert almost all of their energy into light, they don’t pose the same safety and inefficiency problems associated with halogen lights.
The other benefits of LED lights include that they:
Light replacements must be done by a qualified electrician. Try to find one who also understands the importance of insulation. You don’t want your sparky ruining your ceiling insulation inadvertently while adjusting wires.
The extraction and burning of this dirty fossil fuel is contributing to climate change. Gas infrastructure such as import terminals can cause environmental damage to precious natural environments (for example, check out AGL’s plans for a gas import terminal in the pristine Westernport Bay).
We strongly encourage all households to prioritise the replacement of gas appliances in the home to electric, with the view to install solar panels as soon as possible.
Heating and cooling of space in our homes accounts for around 40 per cent of all household energy use in Australia. In Victoria, where heating needs are higher, heating and cooling requirements rise to almost 60 percent of our energy requirements. While upgrading our heating and cooling appliances is a big job, the benefits in terms of reducing energy use and saving on your bills are substantial.
RCACs use heat pump technology, which involves circulating air between the outside and inside of the home. The benefit of this is that the unit is using the temperature of the existing air to produce heating/cooling, which is an efficient way of using energy. RCACs can use up to 90 per cent less energy than a ducted heating system.
In many cases, replacing an older heating or cooling system with a new, highly-efficient RCAC can be one of the most significant improvements you can to your home in terms of energy savings.
Appliances, including ovens, washing machines, water heaters and TVs, are a major source of energy use and therefore, potential energy savings. Appliances in the average home account for approximately 28 percent of energy use, or 10kWh/day of electricity and 2.5 MJ/day of gas. Thanks to Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS), appliances are becoming more efficient each year. Thus, it can be beneficial to replace old appliances with highly efficient new ones.
According to the Australian Government, “heating water accounts for 21% of the energy used in the average Australian home.”
Heat pumps are a highly efficient way to heat water, as they use similar reverse cycle technology discussed under ‘heating/cooling’. While solar hot water units are also a good option, if your solar hot water heat pump is powered by solar panels on your roof, the latter is the superior option.
Insulating the walls, floors and ceiling of your home is a crucial way to keep your home comfortable all year with reduced energy use. There are a range of products and materials out there for different housing types and purposes, ranging from thermal bats to pumped foam. We recommend engaging a fully qualified tradesperson to install any insulation due to potential fire hazards related to electrical equipment. Make sure your electrician and insulation installer communicate with each other, so the electrical and insulation work is conducted safely and effectively.
After many of the of the above improvements have been made, double glazing is a good way to improve the performance of windows by up to 50 percent. Double glazing isn’t cheap and should be used in combination with a range of building shell upgrades, draught proofing and appliance replacement to achieve maximum benefit.
For more information or advice on where to access more resources, fill out the form below and James Conlan, our Sustainable Homes Project and Policy Officer, will be in touch.