19 January 2012
Summer Energy Saving Ideas for Your Home
By: Lisa Reid (B.Eng(Environmental))
For many Australians, Summer is all about long, hot days with weeks, even months, of temperatures above 30°C. While the hot weather can be welcome relief from the chilly winter months, there is often the real need to stay comfortable by cooling your home. The most common way to cool a home is the use of air conditioners or fans. In fact, 67% of Australian households in 2008 had an air conditioner or evaporative cooler.1
Air conditioners, while a generally effective way to cool a home, are energy intensive, and can result in high energy bills and excess greenhouse gas emissions. Heating and cooling can account for up to 40% of household energy use.2
Here are some practical steps that you can take to stay cool this Summer and reduce your energy use and bills:
Insulation is a straightforward way to prevent the escape of cool air from and heat into your house. Generally, the easiest and most accessible area to install insulation is in your roof cavity. If you are doing renovations, also consider putting insulation in the walls and under the floor.
Draught-proof your home
While your house may be insulated, the effectiveness of this may be compromised if you have draughts entering your home. Typically, draughts are felt through gaps in windows, door frames or gaps in floorboards. There are many low cost products available from your local hardware that don’t require building expertise to install. Draught-proofing can be as simple as using a door snake to seal a gap between a door and the floor or using an adhesive draught stopper to seal around a window. Filling gaps in floorboards may require a bit more work, so if this isn’t possible, you could buy a new rug or carpet off-cut to reduce draughts in your flooring.
Cover your windows
Single glazed windows have minimal insulative properties and when uncovered allow heat in (in fact 15 times more than an insulated wall2), making your air conditioner work harder. In Summer, external shading of windows (particularly north-facing) is important to keep direct sunlight (and therefore heat) from passing through the glass and heating up your house.3 External shading could be using canvas blinds, awnings, roller shutters or shade cloths or fixed shading such as eaves and pergolas.3 Specifically, shading is necessary for north facing windows, although you want to be able to allow the low angle winter sun in during the cold months. Shading can also be beneficial for east and west facing windows too.
Keeping curtains closed can also help to keep your house cool in summer. So installing heavy, floor length curtains can help. Remember to close north facing curtains during hot days to prevent the sun’s heat from entering the house and open all curtains as it gets cooler and darker in the evening.
Principles of passive cooling design can be used to keep your home cool during Summer. Use plants to shade your home and prevent glare and heat gain. In addition, reduce the amount of concrete or paved areas around your house by planting ground cover. This will reduce the ground temperature, which can add heat to your home.4
Cool only the rooms you are using
If you spend most of your time in the living room, perhaps it would be smarter to invest in a small energy efficient fan for that room rather than using central cooling which cools the rest of the house. If you already have an air conditioner, use it wisely and to its capacity. Close doors to keep the cool air in the area you are using.
According to the Sids and Kids, providing your baby is dressed appropriately for the season, it is not necessary to run cooling all night. So dress your baby as you would in Summer and use common sense.
Once it’s cooled down, open windows in your home to let the cool air enter. Try to get a cross-flow effect by opening windows on two opposite sides of the house to make the most of the cooler air.5
Use air conditioners efficiently
If you do have an air conditioner (the most energy inefficient cooling appliance), LivingGreener recommend the following methods to save energy and reduce your electricity bill:
• Clean the air filter regularly.
• Set the room temperature between 25 – 27°C and check regularly to make sure its working properly. Turning the thermostat up or down by one degree can add to energy consumption by about 5 to 10%,6
• Turn the air conditioner on early in the day, as it operates more efficiently when the outside air is cooler.
• When using a reverse cycle air conditioner, keep windows and doors closed. When using an evaporative air conditioner, keep windows open, as some air flow is necessary.
Finally, if you still need to cool down on those hot days, why not set up a wading pool in the shade, use a spray water bottle or use a wet face cloth to cool yourself down.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 05/02/2010, Feature Article: Climate Change in Australia
2. Living Greener, Heating and Cooling
3. Moreland Energy Foundation, Sustainability Advice: Cooling
4. Your Home Design Guide, Shading
5. South Australian Government, Designing an Energy Efficient Home
6. Your Home Design Guide, Cooling
About the Author: Lisa Reid is an eco mum and environmental engineer and resides in Melbourne with her husband Tim and children Jacob and Edith. She is a current accredited Home Sustainability Assessor under the Green Loans/Green Start program. Lisa is working to reduce her family's eco footprint by growing her own vegetables, using less chemicals and making her home energy efficient.