March 28, 2012

Love my energy bill

With the recent increase in electricity costs, I have been trying to find ways to keep the bills down. I live with my husband and two kids in a rented two-bedroom unit with no gas connection.

We have an electric kitchen stove and an electric water heater, which is permanently on, heating water at 65C, 24-hours a day. Sure. If I had a choice I would get a solar panel and solar hot water on the roof of our building: they would mean freedom from bills, with the addition of that warm, green, fuzzy feeling you get from zero carbon emissions... But I can only dream!  As renters we cannot change our unit's energy supply. 


The Plumbers advice..

Knowing that hot water can add up to a third of the domestic energy costs, I asked the strata's plumber how to reduce consumption from the water heater. Unfortunately he had no suggestions, except to "Turn the heater off when you go on holidays!" I wasn't convinced. In Italian homes, like the one I grew up in, water is heated when needed, by 'instant' gas heaters. Why keep water hot when no one is using it?

I decided to have a look at our hot water consumption patterns. I realised that, with the exception of my morning shower, all our hot water usage happens after 4pm: shower, kids' bath, dishwashing. Our German-made front loader washing machine only connects to the cold water pipe, because it has its own energy-efficient water heating system.  By 8.30-9pm we don't need hot water any more. So why leave the heater "on" 24 hrs a day when our hot water usage is confined to a window of 4-5 hours?

In October last year I decided to try something. I started switching the heater off in the evening, and turning it on in the afternoon. In the morning the water is still warm enough for a shower and the water is heated again by 4.30pm when my husband gets home and takes his shower. The result: our December bill showed a reduction in consumption by a third, from 9kWh per day in the previous bill, down to 6kWh! 

The biggest difficulty at the beginning has been to remember to turn the water on... my poor husband copped a few cold showers! After a while it's like turning another switch, no big deal. In summer, with eating out and showers at the beach, some weekends we never turned the heater on. 

Talking about switch... the good thing about living in old units like ours is the lack of power sockets in the rooms: we have a maximum of two per room. Because of this lack of choice, multiple electric items are plugged into the same power socket, which makes it easy to switch everything at the wall when not in use. Again, in the afternoon when we are all at home, we can switch on the telly, digital box, DVD player, CD Player ... all from one socket switch! Before bedtime, I switch everything off in one go. 


Kitchen Guzzler

In the kitchen the electric oven is the biggest energy guzzler. I think the figure for energy waste from an old electric oven is close to 80%...suddenly that recipe asking you to slow-roast for about an hour three Roma tomatoes for your pasta sauce doesn't seem that appealing any more! I still bake a cake from time to time, but my best friend nowadays is my wonderful pressure cooker.  It cuts cooking times and energy consumption down to a third of those for conventional cooking. I like the fact that I can think of a recipe and go from ingredient to plated dish in half an hour. But what I like best is that everything that comes out of my pressure cooker tastes delicious! 

I hope you will find some useful tips in this article. Give it a go, you might love your next energy bill!

Sabina Peritore, Coogee.

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