inside a house with tick and crosses against items

How does an energy efficiency expert see your house?

I have a pair of overalls that are a little too big around the shoulders, so the strap slips off multiple times per wear. I keep wearing them because I think they look great, but a more practical human would tell me to wear something else (or at the very least, alter them).

Tim Forcey is one such practical human. But rather than focussing his attention on the impracticalities of our fashion choices (although maybe he does this in his spare time), he lets people know all the ways that their homes are impractical – at least where their power bills are concerned.

So, what’s the household equivalent of an ill-fitting strap? I asked Tim to tell me what he looks for when he goes on an efficiency expedition in his clients’ houses.

1. Get rid of gas (if you can)

These days, everything your house needs can be supplied electrically, and the benefits of disconnecting your gas are twofold.

For one, you’ll be ditching your supply charge. Supply charges are the fixed amount you pay each day just to be connected to the gas network and it’s separate to any usage charges. In my area, it’s around 70¢ a day (the exact amount depends on your plan). Multiply that by 365 and you’re paying over $250 a year just for the connection.

Secondly, electric appliances are generally more efficient than gas appliances, which means you’ll use less energy overall to achieve the same thing.

So Tim’s advice is this:

  • Think about replacing your gas appliances ahead of time, rather than waiting for your unit to reach the end of its days – it’s much easier to transition to electric if you’re not in a panic with no hot water.
  • If you have a gas heater and a split system, use the split system – when they run on their heat function, Tim found they can be up to 10 times more efficient than their gas counterparts.

10 more reasons we should electrify everything

Electrify everything infographic
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  • Electric cars are around 3.5 times more efficient at converting energy into motion than their fossilised friends.
  • Electric space heaters – specifically reverse cycle – are around 4 times more efficient than gas heaters.
  • Electric water heaters can be up to 4 times more efficient than gas water heaters.
  • Electric stoves (particularly induction) are at least twice as efficient as their gas counterparts.

2. Get smarter with your glass

Ask anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Grand Designs: glass is cool. Ask Tim: glass is expensive. It’s not just about what you pay for it, but what it costs to keep your home warm or cool when your glass windows and walls are hellbent on doing the opposite.

Without going into the physics of it – because I’m not a physicist – heat moves through glass much more easily than a nicely insulated wall or roof. So the more surfaces made of glass in your home, the harder it is to keep your house the temperature you want, which means running your heater or aircon for longer to make up for it.

But you’ve got to let a little light in, so Tim has a few words of wisdom:

  1. Invest in double glazing if you can
  2. If you can’t, stick bubble wrap or another DIY double glaze option to your windows to help insulate them
  3. Use Renshade in the summer to reflect sunlight
  4. Get thick curtains or blinds and close them when it gets cold, or when the sun is streaming in on a hot day.

3. Seal up any cracks

Back when we used to do a lot of our heating the old-fashioned way (read: fire), houses were made to be leaky on purpose. That way, there’d be plenty of ventilation to keep the air we were breathing fresher.

Unless you’re using a gas heater, it’s safe enough to plug those holes up and stop unwanted hot/cold air from seeping in. And if you do have a gas heater, get it tested before thinking about draught-sealing – some units can make the air in your house unsafe.

Some places to think about draught-proofing are:

  • Chimneys that can be plugged up in summer (or year-round if you don’t use the fireplace)
  • Evaporative cooling vents that can be plugged up in winter
  • Wall vents made for old heating methods
  • Gaps under/around doors and windows
  • Gaps in the architraves, skirting boards and floorboards

4. Keep things clean

Clean appliances are more efficient, so knowing how to keep yours in good nick can mean good things for your power bill – but where do you start? Below is a list of places dust and grime can build up and stop things from running as well as they could.

  • The coils on your fridge
  • Your ducted heating return (usually in a hallway)
  • Your split system filter

5. Don’t hate, insulate

It’s no big secret that Australian homes aren’t generally that well insulated, and often not built for the local climate – there are houses in Tasmania that look just like ones in Queensland.

Insulation is a bigger deal in construction nowadays (ever heard of a NatHERS rating?), but Tim reckons there are opportunities to retrofit older places to make them more comfortable too – whether it’s under the floors or in the walls.

6. Treat yourself with a little efficiency

You might’ve heard of the energy star rating, which rates appliances based on how much energy they use. When it’s time to replace yours, spend a little extra on a more efficient unit. Even clothes dryers – the kings of energy sapping – have more efficient heat pump alternatives now.

It’s not just the big stuff, either. Replacing your lightbulbs is just as noble, and many councils and state governments have programs in place to help you replace these for free.

Need more inspiration?

Tim’s Facebook group, My Efficient Electric Home (MEEH) is brimming with people sharing their energy efficiency success stories, offering advice and answering each other’s questions.

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