Reducing your home energy use

06 October 2011 3:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Environmental impact/savings

75% reduction in electricity usage

Author

Phil Scorgie
Director of Environmental Sustainability
Norton Rose Australia


Overview

Read how you can help reduce you own personal carbon footprint. Like in the office, the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases at home is electricity consumption.

Programme details

The biggest impact we can have at home is through power reductions. These reductions have the added benefit of also saving money. Even with increased electricity prices, our home electricity bills have never been smaller. Our last bill was $160 for the quarter.

We have five members in our house. Two adults and three primary school children. Five years ago we were consuming 30kWhours a day. Our last bill was only 7kWhours a day. This is a 77% reduction! How did we do it? It has certainly taken some effort but nothing anyone can't do.

The first thing we did was the low hanging fruit.

Lighting

I replaced all the old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights (CFL)s. The "warm white" ones are the ones to go for. Steer clear of the "cool white" globes as the light they cast is unpleasant. Walk around the house and make a list of the different types and power levels required. Then make a quick trip to somewhere like Bunnings.

Halogen lights are very inefficient and therefore should be replaced if possible. A common 50W low voltage halogen puts out less than 5% light. The rest is heat. This isn't too bad in winter but as much electricity is used again to cool them down.

We were lucky, our mid-century modern house doesn't have many halogens. I replaced 1/2 of the halogen lights in the bedroom with LEDs. The LEDs were not bright enough to light the whole room but replacing 1/2 of them was a good compromise.

The lounge room had 2 X 100W halogen lights. I replaced these with 2 X 14W CFLs. This took some effort because I had to modify the fixtures but it saved 170W. Running for 4 - 6 hours a day, this saved nearly 1kWhour a day.

The no cost option for lighting is to turn lights off when not in use. Anyone can do this. It takes a little effort but can have a big impact on greenhouse gas reductions and lower electricity bills. I am constantly turning the lights off as I walk around the house and constantly nagging everyone to do the same. My persistence seems to be paying off because my family are slowly getting the message.

Hot Water

Our old electric storage hot water heater consumed 1/3 of our electricity but made up less than 1/4 of the bill. This is because hot water was generated at night at the reduced rate. We replaced it with a gas boosted solar system. This saved a massive 10kW hours a day.

A tip for replacing your hot water service is to plan for it before the old one breaks. The risk of going without hot water, particularly in winter, can lead to rushed decisions after a failure. Don't be tempted to replace the failed unit with a new electric storage unit. Instantaneous gas units have a much lower impact on the environment and obviously solar boosted is better again. Heat pumps are also very efficient and are classified as solar and therefore can attract subsidies. I suggest doing your research now and have a solid plan when you current unit fails.

Stereo Equipment

I have a pile of stereo equipment. DVD and CD players, set-top box, VCR, subwoofer, tuner and amplifier. These all have standby power and are often left on when CDs finish. I bought a cheap 4-way remote control light switch on eBay and wired it to power the stereo equipment. I can selectively power the radio and the amplifier and with one button all the equipment turns off. Similar RF switches can be purchased from specialist electrical retailers or on the Internet.

Television

We upgraded our old CRT TV to a new LCD unit with LED backlighting. The new 46inch TV uses 270W. Unfortunately this is double what the old 25inch CRT consumed. Luckily in our house we don't watch that much TV.

When buying a new TV, avoid the Plasma types and ask for the lowest power models. The well-known brands tend to use less power. Particularly in standby mode. Its best to do your research before you go shopping.

Computer Equipment

In the office we have at least 15 appliances. PC, speakers, printer, wireless phone, scanner, monitor, wireless router, video camera, external hard drive, etc. Its too impractical to turn everything off manually and some of the equipment like the wireless router and wireless phone need to be left on.

I made a simple USB activated power board. The PC is plugged into the master power board with the wireless router and phone. However everything else is plugged into the USB activated switch. Therefore most of the equipment comes on when the PC is powered up. Consumer devices like the one I made are available on eBay or at specialist electrical retailers like Jaycar.

Phantom Power

We have a $100 power meter called a Cent-O-Meter. This measures the electricity consumed by the entire house at any moment in time. I used this device to determine how much electricity each appliance was drawing. I discovered when everything was turned off, something was still drawing 70W of power. I discovered that my hard-wired air-conditioned was still using electricity when turned off. 24 hours a day. I saved 1.7kWhours a day by taking out the air-conditioner's fuses.

Master Switch

Our house was built in 1960 and had old ceramic and wire fuses. When fuses blew, I had to rewire the ceramic fuses. Not fun in the dark. Upgrading the fusebox and installing the new smart meter was an excellent opportunity to install a master switch.

A master switch switches off everything in the house except a limited number of outlets. We excluded the kitchen and laundry appliances and also wired the master switch into the alarm system. When we leave, we flick the master switch, everything in the house turns off and the alarm arms itself. When the alarm is disarmed everything in the house comes on.

The master switch needs a little getting used to. It isn't fun when someone bumps it and the computer turns off. It also means that the electric clocks need to be replaced with battery operated units. However the master switch has been a major contributor to our electricity reductions. The master switch also turns the heating off avoiding unused gas consumption.

Small chargers

Well made small battery chargers for mobile phones and other wireless devices consume little power. However lots of chargers add up and many still use electricity when not plugged into the device. Its always best to turn them off at the switch when not in use.

I also suggest that its best to avoid wireless devices like mice, keyboards and wireless phones. They use more electricity than powered devices and the batteries only seem to last a couple of years.

Other Cost Saving Measures

We have a new smart meter. Since we had a night meter in the past with our old storage heater, we received a twin tariff smart meter. This means any electricity used between 11:00pm and 7:00am is at the night rate. This is half the day rate. We now run the dishwasher and washing machine after 11:00pm. A simple task using the delay functions.

On our last electricity bill 1/2 of the power was consumed at the night rate. A solid saving. In the past only the water heater received the night rate. For us the smart meter has provided considerable cost savings.

Offsetting

At 7 kW hours a day for a family of 5, I feel it is unlikely we can make any more major reductions. The next step is to offset our electricity consumption with solar panels. We hope to generate as much electricity as we consume. Estimates suggest that a 2kW system will generate 8 kW hours a day.

Conclusion

I recommend that before you spend money on expensive solar panels or green power, put some effort into reducing your electricity consumption. This will provide real cost savings that can be put towards further investments. Another benefit of reductions is the increased electricity you will be able to claim using the feed-in tariff when you install those solar panels.

Phil Scorgie

Director of Environmental Sustainability
Norton Rose Australia

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