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Keep cool in summer without blowing your energy bill

Energy expert, Tim Forcey, shares five ways to lower your summer energy bill without sacrificing comfort.

Having visited thousands of Australian homes, independent energy advisor Tim Forcey says people are always surprised by the simple things they can do to save energy and live comfortably through all seasons.

If you’re keen to maintain a comfortable home on those long, hot days, here’s Tim’s top five energy-saving tips for a more energy-efficient summer.

1. Stay on top of your energy usage with a smart meter

Building a smart home starts with your electricity meter. Rather than waiting every three months for a general summary of your energy usage, use this technology to get an almost real-time view of your electricity – so you understand what you’re actually using and where.

Smart digital meters have been rolled out across Victoria and are widely available in other states, making it much easier to work out what is causing any unexpected spikes.

“Some show your electricity use down to a 30-minute block of time, which means you can see just how much that heated towel rack added to your bill when it was left on over the weekend,” says Tim.

2. Check your roof insulation – and downlights

One of the first places Tim checks on a home inspection is the roof. “You may have insulation, but you may not realise that at some point it’s been disrupted – it was thrown out of the way when someone went up to fix something, and never put back.”

With a thermal imaging camera, Tim can identify gaps or ‘big-red hot spots’ in the ceiling’s insulation that can affect the temperature of a home.

“It’s basically like you have a heater on your ceiling in the middle of summer. But it’s a five-minute job to put the insulation back, and then you’ve shut that heat source off.”

Your insulation may also have gaps around the downlight areas, because the old halogen lights were a fire hazard. But if you’ve done the right thing and replaced those with more energy-efficient LED downlights, the fitting can be fully sealed above.“Modern

LEDs are IC-rated, which stands for ‘insulation contact’,” explains Tim. “That means insulation can be in contact with them, so you no longer need those insulation gaps.”

3. Seal up every crack, to avoid air leaks

The other thing Tim looks for is draughts and air leaks – especially in older homes, where open wall vents were commonly used to reduce the risks of gas lights and unflued gas heaters.

“If it’s a 40-degree day outside and the wind’s blowing, good luck keeping your house cool because there is so much air transferred in and out,” he explains.

“Technically, we call this ‘air changes per hour’, and some homes register 30 air changes per hour. That means every two minutes, all the air is moving out of your house and being replaced by that 40-degree air moving in.”

Draught stoppers in hallway entrance of home

Even in his own home, a renovated weatherboard in Melbourne, Tim says he was surprised by a recent ‘blower door test’ that showed just how much air was coming through tiny cracks he thought had been sealed up. “We created the condition of a windy day with pressure imbalances around the house, and so much air was being sucked in and out.”

So he recommends sealing any cracks you see along skirting boards, doors and windows, and to use a draught blocker along the bottom of your outside door frames.

4. Protect windows from the inside and out

If you’ve ever thought you could fry an egg on your backyard’s brick wall or pavers, think about planting some foliage to create natural shade. All those hard surfaces store heat, and that can be reflected back through your glass windows and doors, and into your house.

“It’s critical to keep the sun from hitting the windows – it’s ten times better to do that than deal with it once it’s through the glass,” says Tim.

5. Invest in a reverse-cycle air-conditioner

Depending on where you live in Australia, at some point you’ll probably want to turn on the air-conditioning this summer. So if you’re in the market for a new one, make sure it’s as efficient as possible.

“Reverse-cycle air-conditioners now go up to 7-star ratings, and every extra star could reduce your costs by 10 to 15%,” says Tim. “Plus, you can use it in winter too for heating.”

Tim’s 2015 research with the University of Melbourne found that using a reverse-cycle air conditioner instead of ducted gas heating could reduce heating costs by as much as $658 a year for a large home in Victoria – and a whopping $1,733 for a similar house in Canberra.

The reason why reverse-cycle air conditioners are efficient (and can also be a cheap source of heat in winter) is that they are air-source heat pumps that capture free, renewable heat from the air outside your home. “You might buy one unit of electricity to run them, but you get five units of heat coming out. They’re amazing devices,” Tim says.

The other practical year-round use of this type of technology? Heating your hot water with a separate heat pump.

So, is your home ready for a sizzling summer? Spend a bit of time checking your insulation, lighting, draughts and shades – and then you can enjoy a guilt-free comfortably cool summer, no matter what mother nature sends our way.

Article’s feature image supplied by Light House Architecture and Science, photographer Ben Wrigley.

Run an energy-efficient home

For more tips and ideas on ensuring your home is at its most efficient, explore our guide to home energy efficiency.

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