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Appliances, energy efficiency and monitoring

Photo by: Miele

Go modern electric and save on bills

Households today are looking to make the most of their own solar electricity supply by using efficient electric appliances. Even without a solar electricity system installed, households can save on bills and greenhouse gas emissions by upgrading old appliances with new efficient models. From hot water, split systems, lighting, cooktops, washing machines right through to personal heating, we can help you choose appliances that cost less to run. Read on for more on modern electric appliances and ways to monitor and reduce your electricity use at home.

 

The Energy Rating Label gives a quick visual cue as to an appliance’s energy efficiency, while the kWh rating gives more detail as to its actual average energy use.
Which household appliances can I switch for modern electric ones?

All of them is the short answer to this question, but there’s a lot to consider when making a choice. Lance Turner gives great advice on what to consider when selecting major and small appliances for the home in the Beyond the Brand: Appliances Guide for Sanctuary magazine.

Tips include to look for a well-insulated electric oven. Keep in mind that gas ovens are likely to be less sustainable, particularly if you’re using GreenPower or solar. If your oven needs are small, consider a combined microwave/convection oven, which reduces energy use and eliminates the materials required to make an oven.

Select a fridge that suits your needs. If it’s too small it will forever be crammed too tight, resulting in uneven cooling; too large and it will use more energy than required. And the first consideration for any small appliance is ‘Do I need this?’, especially since many of the cheaper small appliances are designed to be non-repairable, although parts are available for some models.

There’s plenty more advice in Sanctuary’s Appliances Guide here. And visit Renew’s Going-Off Gas page for tips on switching over your major gas appliances such as hot water, heating and cooktops, to electric.

HOW TO SELECT THE MOST ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES FOR THE HOME

Most importantly, you need to consider the energy consumption of the appliance. Over the life of an average appliance, the energy use, and hence running costs, can be considerable.

Choosing an appliance based purely on initial purchase price, without considering ongoing running costs, can result in you paying more over its lifespan than if you had bought a more expensive but more efficient model.

Comparing energy consumption between appliances is simple, as many appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and washing machines are required to carry an energy ratings label. The label has two energy usage indicators: the star rating (the more stars, the more efficient the appliance) and the annual energy use in a typical situation (the lower the number, the less energy it uses).

Get more advice from Sanctuary’s Appliances Guide here.

Save on heating and cooling expenses with split systems

People often think of electric air heating as inefficient, and it can be, with many forms of electric heating using resistive elements to turn the electricity into heat directly.

However, a reverse-cycle air conditioner is considered to be one of the most efficient ways to heat or cool a home. These systems use heat pumps which are more than 100 per cent efficient, in fact, up to 550 per cent efficient, meaning that they use a lot less energy to produce the same amount of heat.

Instead of turning energy from one form (electricity) into another (heat), it uses electric energy to move heat from one place to another. Because heat is relatively easy to collect and move, heat pumps can move a lot more heat energy than the electric energy they use.

Renew has many resources to help you chose the right heating system for your home. Get started with Renew magazine’s Efficient Electric Heating Guide.

INDUCTION COOKTOPS help save energy IN THE KITCHEN

If you’re planning to go all-electric to reduce your bills and carbon footprint you’re going to need an electric cooktop. Not so long ago, that meant an element-style cooktop with all the downsides that went with that: slow response to turning the heat up or down and the consequent risk of burnt fingers (or melted implements) as the elements stayed hot for a long time after being turned off. Many keen cooks favoured gas cooking for these reasons—but induction cooktops are changing that.

Fans of induction cooktops cite many advantages—fast performance, excellent temperature control from low to high, increased safety as the cooktop doesn’t get as hot, ease of cleaning of the flat surface and, last but not least, energy efficiency.

Renew magazine’s Induction Cooktop Mini Guide has plenty of advice on what to consider when buying a cooktop. Do you want a portable unit, countertop or oven unit? What size unit do I need for my kitchen, and what safety features are available. Find out more here.

Get THE MOST out OF YOUR SOLAR ELECTRICITY

If you have a solar electricity at home there are ways to optimise the system and check that it’s working efficiently, from keeping an eye on the inverter to keeping tabs on your bills. Solar expert Mick Harris shares his advice in the Sanctuary magazine article Optimise Your Solar, including thinking about when you use any solar electricity generated at home.

Unless you have a feed-in tariff greater than your retail cost of buying electricity from the grid, solar electricity gives the best savings when it powers your appliances directly. So if practical, run your energy intensive appliances during the daytime. For example, hot water uses a lot of energy, so you could use an electric hot water system (or a heat pump) running on a timer from 11am to 5pm. Water pumping is another prime candidate, for example irrigation or pool filtration.

If your home is well insulated and well sealed, it may be worthwhile to run your reverse cycle air conditioner during a sunny day, leaving the living spaces comfortable well into the night.

Batteries can also save your excess solar for use in the evening. For more information on batteries and if they are right for you, see recent magazine articles Just add batteries?, How green is my solar and Should you quit the grid?

Renew’s independent Advice Service can help households optimise their current solar electricity system or plan a system with batteries. Use Renew’s free solar and battery system calculator to get you started.

Make your home thermally efficient to save on running costs

The first step to energy efficiency is to make sure your home is well-sealed. Australian homes have traditionally been so ‘leaky’ that it is estimated that if you added up all the areas where air leaks occur you would have the equivalent of a one square metre hole in your wall. In winter, leaks allow your hard won heat out and the winter cold in; in summer, they allow the hot air from outside in and, if you air condition, that expensive cool air literally slides out the door.

Draught proofing is best dealt with at the time of building, so ensure your designer and builder are engaged with trying to minimise draughts and you will reap the benefits from the day you move in.

There’s plenty that can be done to retrofit and fix a draughty home, though, to make it more comfortable and energy efficient to live in.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Sealing doors

Extra care needs to be taken when sealing external doors. If sealing them yourself, follow the instructions on the door sealer packaging carefully. There are even seals that can withstand a certain amount of storm surge – check your local hardware store for details.

Fit a draftstoppa

Fitting this hood to your exhaust fans helps seal the home from the ceiling space – these work by using the force of the fan to lift covers up, with gravity keeping things sealed otherwise. You will need to access your ceiling space in order to fit this product.

Block off chimneys when not in use. If you can hear the wind whistling, that’s the sound of your money burning!

Seal off skylights

This can be as simple as fitting a sheet of clear plastic at the bottom of the skylight shaft, or you can employ professional solutions.

Consider pelmets

Fitting pelmets to your windows stops the air circulating down between the window and the curtain. Pelmets can be painted, wallpapered or even upholstered to make them more attractive. Leftover material from the curtains could be used for this.

Downlights

Downlights can be a source of ‘leakage’ if they are vented or gimbal types. Remove downlights from your ceiling and bring the fixture within the room ‘envelope’. Every place you have a downlight, you have a break in your insulation.

Renew and Sanctuary magazines have published many articles on thermal efficiency and draught proofing over the years. Check the relevant website energy efficiency sections for Renew and Sanctuary.

Looking to take further action to really bring up your home’s thermal envelope? The Insulation and Windows Buyers Guides are great resources to help you take the next steps.

Get a professional to assess your home's energy efficiency

A home energy assessment can tell you where you’re using the most energy at home and how you can reduce that energy use.

After a home energy assessment you should receive a tailored report advising the most effective changes for your home. The recommendations may contain a range of practical recommendations that you can discuss with the assessor, be it draughtproofing around halogen light fittings or installing insulation in your walls, floor and ceiling.

In Victoria, the Residential Energy Efficiency Scorecard is an Australian-first home energy rating program that gives a star rating to your home for energy efficiency, on a scale from 1 to 10, similar to the energy use star rating on a fridge or washing machine. Not to be confused with the NatHERS Star rating, which describes the thermal performance of a home, the Scorecard rating represents the running cost of the fixed appliances in a home (heating, cooling, lighting, hot water and pools/spas) and is intended to be used as a guide to make home improvements efficiently and cost-effectively.

Find an accredited Scorecard Assessor in Victoria via the Scorecard website, and home energy assessors elsewhere via the ABSA website. The Your Energy Savings website can help you find applicable rebates in your area.

Renew’s Energy Consult service can help you plan or upgrade your home to be as energy efficient as possible.

Monitoring your household energy use

Do you have a clear picture of what’s drawing electricity in your home right now? These days electricity prices are high and there are likely to be more electricity-consuming devices plugged into the walls of any given home than the occupants can think of off the top of their heads.

Thankfully, there’s a growing number of products on the market that shed light on household energy consumption and solar generation. These devices take a range of approaches and offer a range of functions, but can generally be classed as either monitoring systems or management systems.

As the name implies, a monitoring system enables the user to ‘see’ what’s happening with their electricity, usually via an app or web-based portal, whereas a management system lets them not only observe but also ‘reach in’ and control which devices switch on at what times. In reality, the line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred as platforms that once offered only monitoring get upgraded to let them do more.

Find out more in the Energy Monitoring Guide in Renew magazine.

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