Cost-proof your home

YourLifeChoices surveys tell us that you want to age in your home, but you’re worried about outliving your savings. So how to make your home run as efficiently as possible?

Energy
Heating and cooling accounts for 40 per cent of our energy bills, so it’s an area where we can make big savings.

In winter, 25 to 35 per cent of an uninsulated home’s warmth is lost through the roof. In summer, an uninsulated home will not be protected from the outside heat. Check that your home or unit has good insulation.

Insulation can be installed in all parts of the home’s envelope: under the roofing material, in the ceiling between the joists, on the inside or outside of solid walls and on the underside of suspended floors.

Shade your windows. During hot summer days, this will help to keep the heat out, and on cold nights curtains or blinds help to keep the heat in.

Next, ensure your dwelling is sealed tight.

Draughts can account for up to 25 per cent of heat loss from a home in winter. Australian buildings leak warm or cold air two to four times more than European buildings.

Seal gaps around doors and windows; install a chimney damper that can be closed when there is no fire, or a chimney balloon when it’s not in use for months; choose exhaust fans and rangehoods with louvres that self close; avoid downlights (the metal components conduct heat, drawing it up into the roof and ceiling insulation can’t cover them due to fire risk), think carefully about skylights (they can save on lighting but also leak heat).

Finally, use your common sense. Close internal doors so you’re only heating and cooling rooms you’re actually in and use passive heating and cooling, for example, opening windows to let in a cooling breeze.

Smarter ways with appliances
Unplug your appliances when they’re not in use. Your TV, computer, microwave and conventional ovens and even some washing machines have a ‘standby’ mode, which means they’re still using energy even when they’re not in use.

Buy appliances with a good energy rating. The more stars, the better – but think about size first. Often it’s easier for a larger model to be more efficient (and therefore have more stars) than a smaller one. However, since it is bigger, its overall energy consumption is usually higher.

The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme allows you to compare the water efficiency of different products – the more stars the better. Ratings are compulsory for all new domestic washing machines, dishwashers, showers, toilets and most taps.

Pick the right washing machine. Although they usually cost more to buy, most front-loaders save you money over time and are kinder to the environment because they use less power, water and detergent than top-loaders.

Choose an energy-efficient fridge. Your fridge and freezer is working non-stop and the energy it consumes adds up quickly. All new fridges sold in Australia must meet Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS). Look for a model that uses a hydrocarbon, such as butane or pentane, as the refrigerant and/or blowing agent for the insulation foam. All fridges on the market are CFC-free, so don’t base you purchase decision on “CFC free” labels.

Water
Australians use more drinking-quality water per capita than any other country – 100,000 litres per person/year – despite this being one of the driest continents on the planet. So how can we save water from a resource point of view as well as to contain water bills?

Collected rainwater is ideal for watering your garden. Contact your water authority and local council for advice on how to install and maintain a rainwater tank.

Recycled grey water from showers and the laundry can be stored for use on the garden or in toilets or it can be diverted to the garden with a plumbed-in diverter. Conditions may apply in your area, so you will need to contact your local council for advice.

Buy a water-efficient showerhead – these are great water-saving devices.

Sustainable gardens. Gardens can soak up 40 per cent of a household’s water use, so choose plants that are suited to the local climate. Pot plants use a lot of water as the roots can’t reach deep into the soil. Install water-efficient drip irrigation systems to reduce run-off and evaporation, but make sure you control the timer.

Solar
To work out what size solar panel system you need, you must work out how much electricity you use and when you use it.

As a guide, a typical home uses 20 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy a day, which equates to a 5kWh system.

The power output of your whole solar system matters more than the size or number of panels.

The higher each panel’s nominal power rating (and actual power output), the fewer panels you’ll need (or the more power you’ll generate).

If you have plenty of roof space, you might find it more economical to buy cheaper panels with lower efficiency and just use more of them.

It takes anywhere from two to seven years for a solar system to pay for itself – after that you can start counting the savings.

Smart homes
In 2015, the average Australian household had nine connected devices. Last year it was 17, and by 2022 it’s expected to reach 37. That’s a four-fold increase in seven years.

For the technologically minded, the benefits in terms of ease of operation – especially for anyone with mobility issues – and security are many.

Smart assistants such as Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa can be the central hub of a smart home, controlling all your devices from one spot via voice commands.

Fridges, ovens, washing machines and even microwaves have joined the fray with a variety of uses, such as pinging your phone when something is cooked or the washing is done.

Smart fridges have an internet-connected touchscreen on the front and some include internal cameras to answer the age-old shopper’s conundrum of “do we have milk at home?”.

Smart switches let you turn devices on or off with voice commands or from your phone. Smart lights can turn on and off and dim.

Smart cameras connect to your wifi network and can be controlled via app or voice. Coupled with a smart lock, you can see who’s at the door and unlock it without getting up.

Some gadgets and appliances track energy and water usage so you can work out how to cut back and help the environment.

The price of home automation depends on how far you want to go.

Simple – $100–$200: If you want to walk into a room, tap a button on your phone and watch a couple of lamps turn on at once, you can retrofit smart switches to so-called ‘dumb devices’ for about $50 per switch. You can add an entry-level smart speaker from Google or Amazon for about $80.

Intermediate – $500–$1000: This is where things start to get a little more advanced, but are still generally limited to basic commands. Here, you’re buying devices that can connect to an automation network piggybacking on your wifi, to do such things as dim lights, turn on speakers or schedule a heating cycle.

Advanced: $5000-plus: At this point, things get a lot of fun. In addition to issuing simple commands, you can monitor devices from a smartphone or smartwatch – and even ask Google to suggest recipes based on the expiration dates of foods in your fridge.

This article first appeared in the March 2019 Retirement Affordability Index.

Related articles:
Pay bills and have money to spare
Energy prices explained
Why your power bill will stay high

Financial disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

Written by Janelle Ward

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