Expect COVID-19 bill shock, or not

With most Australians spending more time at home than usual, now more than ever is the time to be mindful of unnecessary power usage and wasteful habits that could translate to bill shock, say CHOICE energy experts.

However, while some say increased power use at home will affect our energy bills in coming months, other energy experts are saying that because the lockdowns happened prior to winter, we may not see our bills edge too far north.

“In Australia, electricity demand from households has increased slightly as millions of people stay at home, prompting warnings of bill shock,” write Bruce Mountain, Kelly Burns and Steven Percy in a report for The Conversation.

“But activities such as boiling the kettle and cooking more often, and keeping lights on all day, do not make a big difference to consumption.

“This will change in winter, when we need to keep our houses warm. Households using split-system air conditioners for heating can expect seasonally adjusted electricity bills to be around 10-20 per cent higher if they’re heating the house 24 hours a day, rather than just briefly in the morning and again in the late afternoon and evening.”

Still, the extended time spent in isolation will most likely mean you’re using more gas and electricity on lighting, heating, cooking, charging smartphones, streaming internet and home entertainment.

CHOICE experts warn that the financial burden of these months spent at home will still likely be noticeable when energy bills come in, so be prepared.

And with winter around the corner, it’s likely that power bills could be higher than usual.

The differences will be more pronounced in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and, to a lesser extent, New South Wales. Residents in warmer states such as Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory are less likely to see a change in their bills.

“This is going to be a tough winter for many Australians,” says CHOICE consumer advocate Jonathan Brown.

“Luckily, our experts at CHOICE have come up with a number of cheap and effective things you can do to keep your house warm and reduce your energy use over winter.”

1. Track down and seal draughts
Draughts can easily get in through gaps around your doors and windows, so it’s important to seal up as many as you can to keep your home nice and cosy.

“The classic door snake can be a cheap and effective way to seal draughts in your home and keep the heat in,” says Mr Brown. “If you have some time on your hands, you can make it a fun craft project for the family.”

If you’re not in a crafty mood, there are other products you can use to seal gaps in your home, including weather seal tape or draught strips.

2. Make use of curtains and rugs
“Up to 40 per cent of heating energy can be lost through your windows, so close those curtains,” says Mr Brown.

Rugs can also be an effective way to retain some of the heat in your home, particularly if you have hard floors. 

3. Be smart with your heaters and fans
“Your fan can be one of the most helpful tools to keep you warm in winter. Most modern ceiling fans have a reverse switch that can be used to push heat back down towards the floor,” says Mr Brown.

“If you have a portable heater, you can use your portable fan from summer to help circulate the heat around the room.”

4. Be aware of how heat moves around your home
While it can be tempting to sit right in front of your heater, doing so will actually restrict the flow of hot air around your home. To get the most out of your heat source, make sure nothing is blocking the flow.

“It’s also important to close doors to rooms you’re not using while the heating is on. Only heating the rooms you’re actually in will reduce your bill,” says Mr Brown.

Are you worried about how much COVID-19 is adding on to your household bills?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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