Our electricity bill has arrived for the last quarter. Apparently we are using around 50% of the power of a typical one person household, which our power company tells us is around 1.205 kWh. Our bill before last was 485kWh, a reduction of almost 50% on the same period last year, which was 966kWh. The last bill was 684 kWh, almost half of the 1.234 kWh of that typical one person house for this quarter. Given how power prices have risen, we think this is a pretty good result. We find there is always a slight rise in winter, because we use the electric oven a little more, and find that in wet, cloudy weeks we need the solar hot water boosted or need to occasionally use the drier to finish of clothes that refuse to dry beyond ‘damp’. With longer nights, we use more lighting.
There are various ways we try and cut down on our power consumption. We have the aforementioned solar hot water, which is a big help. Only on the bleakest rainy days do we need the electric booster, and only after we have had a few poor weather days.
Our regular cook top is gas, and we mainly use the wood fired oven in winter, which also heats the house through radiators on the walls in very room. Our wood fired slow combustion stove is an ingenious contraption, sending hot water from its wetback to all the radiators. It keeps our house quite cosy in winter, and as the stove has two ovens and an enormous hotplate area, we also cook on it during the colder months were possible.
We have tried to make the place into as much of a passive solar house as one can an old Federation house. It is fully insulated, and we have installed Smart Glass in the windows that face north and west. Our solar panel consultant has installed an ingenious fan in our roof. It runs off the solar panels by day and on thermal heat at night, reducing the temperature in the roof cavity. We set the thermostat on this fan to a reasonable temperature, and it happily sucks out hot air at no cost to us until the desired temperature is reached.
On the advice of an eco-consultant, we put in outdoor awnings on the western and northern windows, and replaced our vertical blinds with solar curtains. I have been amazed at how much heat these curtains keep out, even when the sun is at its fiercest. We have no air conditioning and use ceiling fans when it is hot and humid. During summer, it is rare for the ambient temperature inside our house to rise above 28 degrees. On the 45 degree days we had last summer, it was 38 degrees in our house. We have consistently measured our household room temperature at around 8-9 degrees less than that outside. People often walk into our house in summer and comment on how cool it is, and think it is air conditioned.
We use the standard power-saving things such as compact fluorescent globes and LED lights. And we turn lights off when we aren’t in the room, and use one of those power boards with the foot switch so we can turn TV, DVD etc off at night and kill the standby lights.
With our electronic equipment, we have agreed with each other to only use the battery capacity at night. We charge up the batteries of laptops phones and ipads during the day when the solar panels are working, and run them on their batteries at night as we Facebook and do our work. Once the battery runs out, that’s it. No more use of the device in question. This has been inconvenient at times, but we figure a rule like this is good for us.
Putting these measures in place has been pretty straightforward. The cost of the glass, curtains and awnings wasn’t a huge amount, and it certainly wasn’t hard to change light globes to those that are more efficient. I have a built in anathema to clothes driers, only using ours once I have hung the clothes out for as long as reasonable, and it is clear they aren’t going to get any drier due to unpropitious weather. One of the good things about our radiators is we can put damp clothes directly on them, and they dry beautifully.
I have to say our Thermalux wood fired slow combustion stove with radiators is an expensive heating and cooking option, but we are very happy with it. It is Australian made, uses recycled metal, and it is very efficient. In my opinion, it cooks the best pork roast ever. If you are interested, you can find them at http://www.wiseliving.com.au/slow_combustion_cookers_&_stoves.html
The other items which are big consumers of power in the house are the fridge and chest freezer. We buy our grass-fed, organic meat from local farmers in bulk, hence the freezer. It has a good star rating, but still chews up the power. We have it on a timer at night , to try and cut back its energy chomping habits. In our hot and humid summers, going without refrigeration is not an option. The toaster is another energy chewer, though we generally don’t use it more than once or twice a day.
For those looking to reduce their carbon footprint and their power bills along with it, there is plenty of information out there in cyberspace to help you cut costs. Google produced 799,000 results when I asked it to find energy-saving tips.
As well as helping us save money, taking energy saving measures also helps each household tackle climate change. Average Australian households produce around 21 % of Australia’s carbon emissions. This equates to around 14 tonnes of greenhouse gas per household per year, including vehicle use. That is a lot of emissions we could be reducing with a bit more thought.
If you are interested in what your household emissions are, you can check them at the excellent Australian Greenhouse Calculator ( http://www.epa.vic.gov.au/agc/home.html ) which will calculate the emissions your create from your electricity use and your personal transport and any other energy-consuming habits you have. It also has a comprehensive information and analysis section on issues relating to climate change.
Most of us just tinker around the edges when it comes to reducing our carbon footprints. We surgically trim off some of the fat of our lifestyles rather than taking to them with a Crocodile Dundee-style knife. We resist making sacrifices that inconvenience us, like unplugging the TV and going for a bike ride. We feel deprived if our towels are not warm and fluffy from the drier.
Apparently more than a third of people who want to help do something about climate change don’t really know how to go about it. The easiest things we can do that are easily within our power to change is to reduce our emissions by driving less and having a more fuel-efficient car, improving how we use and conserve energy in our homes (especially heating and cooling), and to eat less meat. And you might think about changing your power source to include a proportion of cleaner energy from renewable sources, such as solar, wind or hydro power.
It is difficult to encourage people to get involved in social change, which is what is needed if we are to combat the menace of climate change. Personal lifestyle changes like this should not only reduce our own impacts, but also encourage the big social and political changes that are needed across the board. One person changing might not look like a lot, but collectively, this can build to an irresistible force that can begin to change the world.