Energy poverty grows for Australians forced home by coronavirus

Australians forced home by COVID-19 are struggling to pay energy bills.

A man checks the temperature of an electric oil heater with his hand

Australian households are using 16 per cent more electricity during the coronavirus pandemic than at the same time last winter, leading to concerns about ‘energy poverty’.

Figures released by energy company Jemena showed the impact of more residents working from home, with business energy consumption down 12 per cent on 2019.

Sara Wilkinson, professor of sustainable property at the University of Technology Sydney, told Nine that more than 30 per cent of Australians faced energy poverty because they were spending more time at home and electricity prices continue to increase.

Australian electricity prices are among the most expensive in the world, according to the International Energy Agency.

Australian Property Institute chief executive Amelia Hodge told Nine that older Australians and people on low incomes were most affected by the high cost of heating and cooling their homes, which often lack energy efficiency.

Joel Dignam, chief executive of advocacy group Better Renting, agreed that many people on lower incomes spent a greater proportion of their income on utilities.

“So, these people either end up with unaffordable utility bills, or they end up living in a freezing home to try to cut costs. This is dangerous and a risk to their health.”

Mr Dignam said the pandemic had worsened energy poverty because people were spending more time working, studying or simply staying at home.

“This means that there is more need to heat the home, pushing up energy bills,” he said. “It also means that if the home is cold, people are exposed to it for longer.”

How to heat your home more efficiently
In the average home, heating accounts for 40 per cent of energy costs. You can reduce the energy used for heating your home by minimising heat loss and improving efficiency.

Consumer watchdog CHOICE and Sustainability Victoria advise the following to save on your power bill:

- Eliminate draughts. Make sure windows and doors are well sealed. Use self-adhesive draught seal tape and door snakes, and close off rooms you don't need to heat. (If you're using a portable gas heater, you need some ventilation.) Seal small cracks and gaps with a caulking gun, and larger gaps with expanding foam.

- If you own your residence, insulate the ceiling. Ideally, walls and floors should also be insulated. Rugs can provide some useful insulation on a hard floor. Insulating your ceiling, walls and floor will help prevent the heat generated by your heater from escaping. It’s the most effective way to improve the energy performance and comfort of your home. Compared to a non-insulated home, a fully insulated home can save 40–50 per cent in heating costs.

- Curtains and blinds help keep the warmth from escaping through glass windows and doors. When your heater is running, close curtains and blinds to reduce heat loss through your windows (unless you have warming winter sunshine coming through your windows). Close-fitting, heavy curtains with a box pelmet will significantly reduce the amount of heat loss through windows during winter months.

- Set your thermostat efficiently. In living areas, set your thermostat between 18°C and 20°C. Every degree higher can increase your heating costs by around 15 per cent. Your thermostat should be in living areas where you spend most of your time. Protect your thermostat from draughts and heat sources, such as direct light, so that it accurately records the temperature. Don’t place your thermostat on an external wall.

- Install ceiling fans to distribute heat. Reversible ceiling fans can redistribute the hot air which builds up near high ceilings. During summer, they push air down to provide a cooling breeze. But when reversed in winter, they pull air up from ground level, mix it with the warmer air at ceiling level and push it down the sides of the walls, so if you have a ceiling fan with a reverse-direction option, consider using it at a low speed to help circulate the hot air more evenly through the room without creating a downward breeze.

- Dress according to the weather conditions outside. If it’s cold, wear a jumper indoors.

- Only use your system when you need it.

- To reduce standby power, turn off your entire heating system when you go on holidays and during summer. This is different depending on your system. If you have a gas heater, turn off the pilot light, if it has one. If you have plug-in heaters, turn off them off at the switch. If you have an air conditioner, turn off the circuit breaker in the switchboard.

- Clean your reverse-cycle air conditioner's filters to keep it running effectively and consider whether it needs a service.

- If you have an older ducted heating system, have your ductwork checked when the heater is serviced. Ductwork can develop holes and splits, connections can become loose and animals can crush them, significantly reducing the efficiency of the system.

- Keep outlets and return air grilles clear. Ducted heating systems have floor or ceiling mounted outlets that blow hot air into rooms’ return air grilles, which suck in the air to be reheated in a central heating unit. Make sure you don’t block off the pathway between the heating outlets and the return air grille. Keep curtains and furniture clear of outlets and the return air grille, so air is free to flow. You can purchase air deflectors for your ducted heating systems. These can be placed on top of the floor vents to deflect the heated air away from windows and under furniture. Some floor vents have in-built deflectors.

Are you using more energy because you are at home more often? Is your power bill more expensive?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    21st Jul 2020
    we rent so are stuck with draughty hallways , and portable heaters had to put up our own curtains
    21st Jul 2020
    I know how you feel, the house I am in has very little insulation, and lots of gaps. I don't heat during the day just wear lots of wool and have a wood fire in the evening. Curtains I had to put up too and not that good quality.
    21st Jul 2020
    I have discovered heated throw rugs. Is helping on reducing my heating bills. I have one for when I watch Tv at night, and one for when I am on the computer. Even without truning on the rug, it is quite warm on its own. Some days I think it is still on, and it is off.
    21st Jul 2020
    we been home bound for few years due to illness we dont uuse lights only toilet dark nights we do not use heaters we rug up in bed at night watch laptop movies and netflix if too cold we wash cloths bring small dryer into bathroom with door open it follows heat into passage to bed rooms yet our bills have doubled over last 3 years go figure
    21st Jul 2020
    So sorry to hear about how you battle.
    Buying a heated throw is a great idea.
    They are big enough for two to share and they keep you comfortable on the lowest setting.
    I have a reading lamp with energy saving bulb and that is all I use - gives enough light for living and kitchen and I can see my way around the whole unit if I need to.
    21st Jul 2020
    Maybe ditch netfix and the dryer and you might have a bit more for power.In my case it might be more cost effective to ditch the wife.Would eliminate arguments about the temperature on the heater.Then I could ditch the heater and wear a jumper which I would prefer.
    22nd Jul 2020
    I have a fairly small 2 bedroom unit with a reverse cycle air conditioner. It's going most of the time as I really do feel the cold & heat. Both bedroom doors are open so that they're warm all the time, especially at night. If my nose, hands & feet are cold, then I'm permanently cold. Wearing a jumper doesn't work too well as I only have two and the only time I wear one, it's a very old Hanes jumper as my pjs top.

    There's an old wall heater in my unit which I won't ever use, as it chews up the electricity. I've asked for it to be removed, but the owner won't do it. These days the circuit breaker is permanently off with a dymo tape across it saying 'do not turn on' as the heater is stuck on at the highest temperature and it cannot be turned off - that's how old it is.

    When I use my drier, I have the laundry window open to let the moist air out, then close it when the drier is finished.

    The laundry/bathroom door from the kitchen is always closed to prevent the escape of warm air.

    My bill has just gone down on last year, even though I've been at home around the same amount of time, even with the Covid-19 restrictions.

    I have a very strict budget and pay my phone & electricity every fortnight. My energy company gives me a 3% discount & then an extra 29% on top for paying on time. I've been with the same company for nearly 10 years and don't see any reason to move to another. I'm in a contract until November, the prices won't change when the contract finishes.
    21st Jul 2020
    Yes, our electricity bill is almost as high as it was before installing solar panels. Also need to know what our reverse cycle air con costs per hour as well as electric heaters.
    21st Jul 2020
    Touche !!! Same here maybe in summer we will save some money on power.
    21st Jul 2020
    It also depends on buyback rate you are on. I had a 5KW solar system installed 9 years ago, on old buy-back rate, and I am VERY happy. My annual power bill averages $150-$200. I have a pool, fully air conditioned, security system. Since I've retired, and been home more during the day, bill has gone down considerably.
    21st Jul 2020
    thanks to the stinking governments who have put us in this position, highest prices in the world!!i
    21st Jul 2020
    Yep, privatisation and competition will save you money, what a load of absolute crap..

    As we all can see....... LIARS
    21st Jul 2020
    We should have the cheapest electricity in the world but no too many greedy miners want to send it overseas so that Australians have to pay top dollar.
    21st Jul 2020
    It's not energy bills that worry me. It is rates, which are just ludicrous. My rates are just under $1000 a quarter - and that is after the miserly $50 a quarter pensioner discount. And no, I don't live in a multi million dollar mansion in richest suburb - just a small home in an outer suburb. I live alone, water usage is minimal, but the increase is just getting out of hand.
    My 2 biggest expenses are rates and Private Health Insurance.
    21st Jul 2020
    My mum says that too, rates go up every year but nothing extra comes with it.

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