How to

11 ways to make your home energy efficient

Getting your home ready for winter may sound expensive, but it’s likely to be cheaper than losing heat from your home when the cold sets in. Making your home warm, dry and energy efficient is worth its weight in gold. Here are our suggestions…

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1 Insulate

Before you consider what type of heating your home needs, ensure your insulation is adequate. EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) advise sorting out your ceiling insulation first. Hot air rises, so for most homes making them easier and cheaper to heat properly starts with good ceiling insulation. It’s also generally the easiest, cheapest and most effective insulation to install. Once your ceiling is insulated, you can start looking into underfloor and wall insulation.

EECA tip: If you are building new, consider going higher than Building Code insulation levels.

2 Get a heat pump installed

When used properly, heat pumps are very energy efficient and could save you a lot of money compared to other heating methods. They produce instant heat and you can control the temperature with a push of a button as well as using the timer function to make sure you’re not using it unnecessarily. Keep in mind that heat pumps must be sized correctly for both the space and climate, some are a lot more energy efficient than others, and they won’t work during a power cut. Don’t forget to get your filters cleaned at least annually for increased efficiency.

EECA tip: Consider getting an Energy Star® qualified heat pump, which could save you $150 a year on running costs compared to a non-qualified model

3 Lay carpet

Soft and cosy underfoot, carpet also plays an important insulating role in your home. “Quality carpet is an excellent insulator within the home,” says Victoria Lloyd from Carpet Court. “Heat loss through uninsulated hard flooring can cause a heat loss upwards of 10 percent. Also, many hard floors can be cold to walk on and are the first point in the home to cool from radiant heating. Increasing the thickness of the carpet and underlay will make a big difference that you will appreciate for years to come.”

4 Get your water temperature right

Controlling your hot water temperature is something many of us don’t consider doing, but it can save you money in the long run. “If space is an issue and you never want to run out of hot water, consider installing a continuous-flow water heater,” says Dianne Wilde from Plumbing World. “They are compact with optional temperature controllers, and they only heat water as it passes through the unit, meaning you only pay for what you use. The optional controllers let you set the temperature of water coming out of the tap or shower unit.”

EECA tip: Water should be 60°C at the cylinder (to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria) and no more than 55°C at the tap so you don’t get scalded (children are particularly vulnerable to this). Depending on your cylinder, you may need an electrician or plumber to adjust your thermostat.

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5 Double glazing

Whether you are retro-fitting an existing home or installing in a new-build, the benefits of double glazing can’t be ignored. Michelle Haynes from Fairview Windows says one way to create the feeling of warmth is by improving the thermal performance of your windows and doors. “Upgrading to quality, thermally improved frames, double glazing and high-performance low-e (low emissivity) glass will dramatically reduce heat loss, creating a home that feels comfortable all-year round.” You may not have to replace all your windows and doors at once either. “The size of the windows, the direction they face, and the amount of time you spend in a room will help decide where to start.”

EECA tip: Consider buying Energy Star®-qualified windows. These reduce heat loss through windows by more than 18 percent compared with generic aluminium-framed, standard-performance double glazing.

6 Monitor energy/power

Monitoring your energy use will give you an idea of whether you are wasting energy, and if so, where. “There are many ways to improve the energy efficiency of residential homes, and energy monitoring holds the key to successful energy management,” says Dominique Fletcher at Schneider Electric. “Using an energy-monitoring device allows you to monitor and analyse your electricity consumption, learn how to save energy and help the environment at the same time. It’s also a great way to teach kids about saving power.”

7 Install curtains

Not only do curtains add to the decor of your home, they play a practical role, too. “Mount curtains as close as possible to the window frame, make floor-length curtains touch the floor and ensure curtains are a generous width, so they overlap the window frames,” Jacqui McKenzie from Harvey Furnishings advises. “When it comes to choosing warm window coverings, opt for a good-quality, thermal-lined curtain or roman blind.”

EECA tip: To be effective, curtains need to be thick and well fitted, covering the whole window and preferably falling to the floor. A pelmet at the top is even better.

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8 Consider blinds 

If blinds are more suitable than curtains in your home, there are a few points to consider. “Blinds are a great option for managing mould from condensation,” Hayley Thompson, owner of Brightshine Blinds, says. “Crying windows can create a lot of moisture around windows. Because blinds are set away from the windows/doors, they don’t absorb the water.” All blinds create an insulating factor to varying degrees. Shutters are top of the list as they have frames and light stops that eliminate most gaps around the side where heat can escape. Finally, they give superb light control as you can tilt them to let that rare winter sun in.

9 Consider HRV

Having a warm, dry and well-ventilated home is a top priority in winter. One way to achieve this is with a home ventilation system. According to EECA, the performance of ventilation systems varies depending on the type of system, how well it is installed, your type of house, and the climate. Ask your supplier to provide independent test performance reports for the system they’re proposing. You should also get a ‘no questions asked’ guarantee of performance, which includes removing the system if it doesn’t work and repairing all modifications to your home. Filters will need to be cleaned annually (depending on how hard it works) by your provider to ensure it’s running efficiently.

EECA tip: It’s best to treat moisture problems at the source (eg bathroom extract fans, oven rangehoods) rather than treat the symptoms via a mechanical ventilation system. Only consider a ventilation system if your moisture problems can’t be fixed. If you decide on a ventilation system, ideally choose one that manages humidity levels.

10 Consider solar power

Thought about generating your own energy? Solar panels placed in a sunny spot absorb heat from the sun and use it to heat water. “It may be possible to heat all the water you need with solar energy in summer,” says Dianne Wilde from Plumbing World. “However, in winter or on cold, cloudy days you may also need some supplementary heating from a booster system.” Solar water heating is particularly cost-effective if you live in a sunnier part of the country or use large amounts of water, she adds. “The amount you save from solar water heating will depend on factors such as how much hot water you use, the solar water heating system you install, and the quality of the installation.”

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11 Get a programmable thermostat

Why keep your heating programmes on when you’re not using them? “Homes waste a lot of power through unnecessary heating and cooling,” Dominique Fletcher from Schneider Electric says. “In winter especially, a programmable timer can keep these losses at a minimum by allowing the temperature in your home to remain at the perfect level to suit your family.” A timer can ensure that the heating is set to ‘off’ during the day, when the house is empty, and programmed to turn on shortly before you’re due home, making the house warm and cosy for your arrival. Your towel rail can also be programmed to warm the towels in the early morning and evening, rather than wasting energy staying on all day.

EECA tip: Consider a plug-in thermostat. Great for maintaining comfortable temperatures in living areas and bedrooms, it will save you money in the long run (plus if you’re a tenant, you can take them with you when you go).

Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Scott Hawkins, Armelle Habib, Eve Wilson and Nick Watt/bauersyndication.com.au.

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