15 tips to lower your energy bills and stay warm this winter

Closeup view of an open Air condition unit and very dirty air filters.
A quick clean of your split system filters can help you save on energy bills this winter.
A few simple changes now could make all the difference to your winter energy bills during the pandemic

Energy bills will soar for many households this winter as they crank up the heating to stay warm while working or isolating at home. This comes at a time of increased financial pressure for households due to job losses or reduced wages during the pandemic.

With the direction to work from home still in place in many states, households can take steps now to stop their winter energy bills from blowing out. Some actions are inexpensive and as simple as lowering your heating thermostat, while others, such as installing insulation, will pay back over time via savings on energy bills.

Start with the easiest steps now and do what you can to stay comfortable at home. If this is your first winter with a solar electricity system installed then read on for tips on how to use it to lower your bills.

Easy steps

Heated throws and mats

A heated throw costs just a few cents an hour to run but can keep a deskbound home-worker comfortable and warm. Personal heating is efficient because it warms the person, not the entire room or home, and delays the need to turn on larger, more expensive-to-run heating systems.

Other options include heated seat pads and heated clothing. Renew magazine’s Heating People, Not Spaces article has further advice.

Switch on the reverse-cycle

Use your reverse-cycle air conditioner on heating mode this winter and you could save on heating bills straight away. These systems are usually cheaper and more efficient to run than most gas or electric heaters including gas ducted, gas wall units and electric resistive heaters. Check out this comparison of reverse-cycle and gas ducted heating use in one suburban home.

If you have to use an electric heater, put it on a timer and use it in a small space only. The article Beat the winter chills: A guide to electric heating options has advice on winter heating.

Lower your thermostat

Reducing the temperature on your heater thermostat can reduce the energy used by 10 per cent. In winter, set the heater thermostat to a maximum of 18-20°C. Enjoy savings in summer by setting your air conditioner to a minimum of 26°C.

Remember to only heat or cool the rooms you are using, and keep the heat or cool in by keeping doors and windows closed and using door snakes and other draught sealers where possible.

Clean your heater

Dust build-up can affect heater efficiency, so check the cleaning instructions for ducted heating systems, split systems or gas heaters. Vacuum around heater vents regularly. The filters inside a split system need to be taken out and cleaned according to system instructions, often with a quick vacuum. If you’re renting, contact the landlord if the system needs a professional clean.

Check your computer

It’s easy to reduce the energy use of your computer by using hibernate or standby mode when you’re away from your desk, or by turning the monitor off when not in use.

Renew magazine has further advice about the ‘always-on’ loads such as modems, routers and smart appliances, and their energy use. Check out the article Small Loads that Add Up.

Cover your windows

Windows are a major source of heat loss, in particular single-pane glass, which is like having a big hole in the wall for warm air to escape. Heavy, lined curtains or blankets keep heat in during winter; if you’re renting ask your landlord to install curtains or buy your own.

Sanctuary magazine has further advice on selecting the right curtains and blinds for the home.

Don’t forget to let the sun shine in during the day. It can help to naturally warm your home in winter.

Switch to LED

We turn on the lights much more in winter so light up efficiently and change all your lighting over to LEDs, especially if you have expensive-to-run halogen downlights. LEDs have become more affordable to buy and use a fraction of the electricity of other lighting types such as halogens and CFLs. The energy savings will increase with the more lights you switch over.

Check out the LED Buyers Guide for more information.

Further steps

Seal up gaps and draughts

Brrr, draughts. In winter, warm air flows out of cracks in a home while cold air sneaks in, especially when it’s cold outside. This makes your heating system work even harder. You can seal many draughts around the home yourself though, including floors, doors, windows, skirting boards and fireplaces. Renew magazine’s Draught Sealing Buyers Guide can help get you started.

Downlight air gaps

Recessed downlights punch a hole in your ceiling that can leak warm air out of the home. Swap them for newer LEDs that don’t have problems with air leaks, or insulate around them if your lighting type allows – check with an electrician first.

Insulate your ceiling

A well-insulated home will stay warm with far less energy than an uninsulated or poorly insulated home, helping you to save money on bills. If there’s one place to insulate, it’s your ceiling, otherwise warm air might go up, up, up and straight out your roof, but insulation can be installed in your floors and walls as well.

The Insulation Buyers Guide explains where to start. A landlord can claim depreciation on new insulation over a number of years, or the repair of existing insulation as an immediate tax deduction. Check the Renters Guide to Sustainability for more information.

Under-floor insulation

Did we mention under-floor insulation? It will reduce draughts, so don’t put it in the too hard basket. Find out more in Insulation in Tricky Spaces in Sanctuary magazine.

Reduce hot water temperature

Check the thermostat on your hot water system is set at 60°C. If it’s set higher then you will be wasting energy, although any lower could pose a health risk as harmful bacteria may thrive. Instantaneous hot water systems should be set to no more than 50°C. Setting the temperature on some systems requires a plumber.

Check the Efficient Hot Water Buyers Guide for more information on hot water systems.

Monitor energy use

If you have a smart meter, use your energy provider’s portal to get information on household energy usage, or use an energy meter, such as a Power Mate to check the energy consumption of individual appliances.

Look at what you can do to reduce energy use; if you’re on a time-of-use tariff, look at shifting energy use to off-peak times.

Using solar efficiently

Invest in solar

Install solar if you can afford the investment, especially if you have rebates available in your area; it will help lower your bills when money is tight. Find out how solar installations are continuing throughout shutdown periods.

Do your homework before buying a system; the Renew magazine Solar Panel Buyers Guide is a good place to start. Don’t be put off if you think your roof isn’t suitable for solar. This Melbourne household thought the same but planned a system that reduces their energy bills all-year-round.

Use appliances during the day

Make the most of your solar system while it is generating electricity. Put on a load of washing, run the dishwasher and set your hot water system to heat during solar hours, along with anything else that will help reduce evening electricity use. Use a timer if you’re going to be out.

One Melbourne household made their home more energy efficient during renovations so that they could get more out of their solar photovoltaic (PV) system; find out more in this Sanctuary magazine article.

More resources

Download the Renters Guide to Sustainability for more tips and advice on reducing household energy and improving comfort on a budget.

Renew’s Solar and Battery Advice Calculator can help you work out the likely payback time on a proposed solar PV (photovoltaic) system.