It’s a fact of life that most households use more energy in winter. The figures have been clear and consistent over the world for years: heating your home in winter accounts for up to 40 per cent of your annual energy use.
So, even when the cost of living isn’t biting as hard as it is now, every year many people become understandably frustrated to receive higher bills over the colder months.
While there’s not much we can do about the weather, there are a few things you can do to save some energy around your home and keep your bills in check.
Here’s a three-part list of tips and ideas – some quite simple, others a bit more left-field – that might work for you.
7 simple, common-sense ideas
You’ve probably heard of all these before. You might even have done one or two. But if you’re able to implement all seven, the cumulative reduction of energy use will be noticeable when you get the next bill.
Close internal doors: Rooms you rarely use don’t need to be fully heated, so close internal doors to separate the warm air from the cool.
Adjust your thermostat: Keep your thermostat set between 18 and 20 degrees, because every degree above that could add around 10 per cent to your heating costs over time.
Time your heating: The house doesn’t need to be at maximum heat from the minute you rise to the minute you retire for the night. Time the heater to come on 10 minutes before you get out of bed and switch it off at least 20 minutes before you leave for the day and well before you go to bed.
Put on warmer clothes: If you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt in winter, you’re wasting energy. Instead, wear comfortable fleecy tops, tracksuit pants, and some warm indoor socks. And there’s nothing wrong with sitting with a rug over you (we tend to feel colder when inactive).
Use pure solar heating: The winter sun is still a great source of heat, so take full advantage of any windows that face the sun whenever it’s shining and maximise that free natural warmth.
Close curtains and blinds: Those big expanses of glass can be good or bad. When it’s cold and miserable outside, and especially at night, if your valuable heat is hitting freezing windows, that’s a big, expensive waste of energy.
Shorten showers: If you cut down your shower time by only a minute per shower, that’s about six hours per year less hot water usage!
7 slightly creative ideas (which take a little more effort)
We understand that most people have busy enough lives without making things more complicated but, at the same time, there are those who appreciate a challenge. If you have the motivation and the opportunity, you might like to try something a little more left-field.
Set a target: See how much energy you used for the same billing period last year, then consciously set out to use less. You might be surprised how much less energy you use simply by paying attention to consumption and eliminating wastage.
Gamify saving: Turn saving energy into a monthly competition for the entire household, with prizes for whoever does it best. Alternately, allocate penalty points for wastage with the winner being whoever has the fewest points at the end of the month. Again, simply being conscious of your usage and opportunities to reduce that can make a real difference.
Low-energy night: Pick one night a week to use as little electricity as possible, with the whole family in the same room (so only one light is needed) and non-device-based entertainment, such as board games, charades, reading, or even a family art project.
Do the numbers: Apart from the fridge, which has to be on all the time, count how many other appliances and devices could be on at any one time. We’re guessing it’s a lot. Now pick a challenging, but achievable, much lower number and work hard not to exceed that by turning one appliance, device, or room light off before turning a different one on.
Form an appliance alliance: Find a few like-minded friends and neighbours and take turns having a night at each other’s places. You’ll use a little more energy on the night it’s your turn to host but save considerably by not being home on the other three or four nights each month.
Meal sharing: Cook enough food for several meals in one big cook up and share it with two neighbouring couples or another family – having arranged for them to return the favour, of course. Two or three meals for the energy cost of one, plus the extra variety of meals you might not cook for yourself (plus a couple of nights off from cooking).
Sing a single shower song: Get a waterproof Bluetooth speaker and make a shower playlist of songs that run for about four-and-a-half minutes. Either pick a song from the playlist or play one at random, starting your shower when the song starts and finishing when it finishes.
7 ideas that require a bit more effort (and some spending)
If you’re lucky enough to live in your ‘forever home’, it makes sense to make some significant and impactful changes that might cost a little upfront but will keep repaying you by keeping your bills down forever.
Double glazing: A lot of heat can escape through windows. Like, a whole lot. Double-glazed windows use a sealed air gap between the two panes as an extra layer of insulation, reducing the amount of heat escaping.
If you can only afford to double-glaze a few windows, doing it to the ones in the main living areas where you use your heating the most is likely to make a significant difference. And don’t forget the added value of noise reduction if they’re facing the street.
Heavier curtains: Those big windows (and glass outside-facing doors) cool down fast when the temperature outside drops, and they’re then cold on both sides. So, it’s well worth investing in floor-length thermal curtains to trap the cold there and the heat in the room where you want it.
If you can hang heavier curtains throughout the house, you’ll save quite a bit on that heating you’ve been wasting warming up the windows and fighting the influence of the cold air … but remember to open the curtains when the sun is shining on windows to let the natural heat in.
Seal air leaks: A draught coming in under a door might be an easy one to feel and an easy one to reduce with a simple sausage (aka door snake). However, there are plenty of other candidates for letting the cold air leak in during winter, making your heating have to work harder.
Ideally, you could get a professional energy audit, which will also identify areas that need better insulation. But having a good look around can often reveal some obvious gaps to seal. To check how well your windows and doors shut out the cold, grab a $10 or $20 and shut the door or window on it. If you can pull it out without much drag, you’re losing energy through that gap.
As well as checking around window and door frames, check out things like attic hatches, wall- or window-mounted air conditioners, where dryer vents pass through walls, electrical and gas service entrances, and pipes (for example under the sink)
Clean your heater: Cleaning the filters on your heater will ensure it runs efficiently. That includes making sure all the ducts of your ducted system are clean and clear of obstructions.
And while you’re at it, consider closing the ducts in any rooms that don’t need to be heated all the time (you can open them if you need to when you’re using those rooms).
Ducted heat transfer: A builder can assess the practicality and potential value of adding a ducted heat transfer system in your ceiling.
This would either take heated air from high-traffic areas and circulate it to cooler parts of the house or use the warmer air that accumulates in the roof cavity (keeping in mind that hot air rises) and direct that down into the living spaces.
Check your hot water system: If you’ve had your hot water system for a while, it’s worth having it checked to make sure it’s running at maximum efficiency and with no major energy-consumption issues.
If you’re about due for a new system, check out the Rheem Running Cost Estimator, which lets you get an idea of how different types of water heaters compare, even taking your location into account (so it can calculate how much energy is needed to heat water to 65 degrees).
Get the right showerhead: If you still haven’t installed a water-efficient showerhead, your money is going down the drain. Why use up to 25 litres a minute with an unrated showerhead when you could cut that to just 7 litres per minute with the right one?
Regardless of how efficient your showerhead is, having shorter showers saves a lot of energy, and showers use a lot less hot water than baths. If your kids are used to having a bath most nights, maybe the coming of winter is a good time to work out a roster – perhaps a bath every other night, or three specific nights each week.
The bottom line …
It’s hard enough when something is impacting your life negatively – like the rising cost of living – but worse when you feel like you can’t do anything about it.
On top of that, the colder, greyer days of winter have been known to bring down the mood of even the most upbeat of people.
So, if you’re able to take action and implement some of the things we’ve suggested, hopefully, you’ll start to feel as if you’re making some headway.
If you’re a GloBird Energy customer, we want to reassure you that we’re doing everything we can to keep your bills down – and we certainly empathise with anyone who’s feeling like it’s not as easy as it used to be to make ends meet (which, unfortunately, is most of us).
Keep warm, keep positive, do your best, and rely on your family and friends as much as you need to. And remember that winter, too, will pass.