When money matters…

Two months after our move we received the first of our utility bills, the gas and the electricity. They were BIG, I’m talking seriously HUGE bills, double our usual winter utility bills and it was only for the last half of winter, argh!!  It put a spanner in the works of renovation plans, not only in the paying of them, but also in the avoidance of future such scary bills.

We’re planning a new gas (or solar/gas boosted) hot water system and also replacing the inefficient central heating with more efficient gas room heaters or split systems.  We’ve still got a bit of research to do to work out what options would be best and what we can afford, but whatever we go with it will eat into our new carpet/curtains budget.

It seems I’m not the only one to find themselves facing astronomical energy bills.  The City House over as City Garden, Country Garden, was also sucking the energy at a rapid rate and the gardener kindly, and bravely, shared their experience.  She has been active in finding out where all that power was going, using a Powermate to discover the worst offending applicance.  I’ll have to look into this myself, although my biggest bill was the gas bill which means it’s either the hot water service or the heater (or more likely both!).

Like the advice she was given much of our problem stems from not heating efficiently.  Firstly our central heating is through the roof, which means the ceiling area in our 14 foot high rooms are really warm but where we are down at ground level it’s still freezing.  However, even the rooms with lowered ceilings are cold (yes, even after paying a fortune we were STILL COLD).  The house is drafty, the window coverings in some rooms are inadequate and the floor boards are bare in the living areas.

So between now and next winter I have a list of things to get done….

1. New heaters in family room and lounge room (room heaters instead of central heating)

2. Heavy curtains to replace the Venetian and Roman blinds in the same rooms.

3. Large floor rug and hallway runner for the lounge room.

4. Draft-proof around the doors and windows.

Our hot water system is also an issue.  We were warned it was nearing the end of its life when we moved in, it’s expensive to run and not terribly reliable.  When we first moved in you could only have one shower before the hot water ran out.  After we got the enormous bill I did some research and was shocked to discover that just by switching to a water efficient shower head you can save up to 50% of the gas used for hot water…. 50%!  I went straight out to the local water suppliers and swapped our old shower head with a free water saving shower head.  We can now have three or more showers one after the other without running out of water.  Such a simple change, if you haven’t done it at your place I would highly recommend it.

I have other things on my to do list in order to save gas and electricity.  They include…

1. Do a full switch of light globes to low energy one.  I’ve done most, but some need odd sized globes or are problematic to change given their height and location.

2. Re-install the stand-by power savers on the tv and computer.

3. Change light fittings in some rooms so they don’t require three globes (or five as in the lounge room)

4. Install fans so we don’t need to use the air conditioner too much.

5. Find an alternative for the halogen downlights in the kitchen/family room.

6. Save up for a solar power system as we had in our previous house.

I might find this list change somewhat if I manage to do a proper audit with a powermate, but these are my thoughts so far.  All these changes should reduce our power bills, but while the money matters, it also indicates just how unsustainable our current usage is and this is far more important than just the money.  So what are you best energy saving tips?  Have you managed to reign your usage in and reduce your bills?  Or are you struggling with this one as well?

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16 Responses to When money matters…

  1. Liz says:

    We have both gas central heating and gas hot water and for us its definitely the former that uses all the energy (our summer gas bill is really low). One thing I found was that our bills are much bigger when we set the thermostat on the central heating higher. Moving it from 21 to 20 for instance seemed to save us quite a bit. The other thing I think has helped our bill is servicing the heating – it seems to be more efficient but perhaps I am imagining it.

    • Barbara Good says:

      The thermostat idea is a good one, though we’re lucky to get out house up to 20 degrees regardless of how high it’s set. And even though it gets pretty bloody cold we do turn the heater off overnight and just use blankets. The servicing I’m sure would help with efficiency and we had ours done before we moved in. We were told then that the return air vent is in the wrong place which doesn’t help it’s efficiency either. Don’t know why they installed it the way they did?

  2. Glenn Finlay says:

    We are also saving for Solar. I can only see electricity prices going one way. Our winter heating bill was greatly reduced by insulation in the roof space. Have upu got plenty up there? We also have high ceilings (old house 1915ish). Yes fix the draughts around windows and doors with weather strips. Huge difference.
    Good luck

    • Barbara Good says:

      Yes, you’re quite right there Glenn. We were lucky in that we had put solar panels on our previous house about a year before we moved and they had worked to curtail the rising cost of power. We had the insulation checked prior to moving in and it got a tick, but I’m thinking maybe we should get it looked at from a specific sustainability point of view.

  3. When we started renovating our house, we added loads of really efficient thin (it comes in boards) insulation everywhere possible and it’s made a huge difference – bills are still scary but this is the cheapest house to keep warm we’ve ever lived in. I do love our woodburning stove too, when it’s cold we have this on instead of gas central heating, open the kitchen door so the heat goes into the rest of the house and cook on it too. This is only cheap if you have a free source of wood though, we’ve been lucky so far,

    • Barbara Good says:

      That sounds like a brilliant idea with the insulation inside the boards, very clever. I love that there are so many innovative ideas around for building and renovating now, all to make houses efficient and sustainable. I don’t know why Australia hasn’t adopted some of the old technology used in cooler climates, like double glazing etc. There are some pretty cold regions – Ballarat being one of them. Retro fitting is so much more complicated and costly than doing these things in the first place.

      I’ve always liked the idea of a wood burning stove in theory, but I’d never have one in practice. Firstly you’re right it’s not cheap if you have to pay for the wood, plus there’s more cleaning involved and I am totally HOPELESS when it comes to managing a fire.

  4. I’m so with you on this one! Our winter bill was a fraction under $1,500 – eek! I would love a decent solar power system too, but for us I think toughening up and putting on more clothing would go a long way to help- that and using the clothes dryer less!

    • Barbara Good says:

      That’s not far off what our gas (only, not electricity) bill would have been had we been here all winter L. The electricity was quite so bad but still pretty high – I’m missing my solar system now. Layering up is definitely the way to go, I even wear thermals under my clothes on the really cold days, but convincing the kids to keep lots of clothes on is a battle I’m not winning! I’ve never had a clothes drier, everyone said I’d definitely need it here in Ballarat, but I’ve managed so far without it just fine. I make sure I do lots of washing when it sunny and/or windy so I can get it dry quicker and I have an inside clothes line in my laundry plus a clothes horse. If I can manage while Miss Two is still in full time cloth nappies then I reckon I’ll manage without one.

  5. Oh wow. Fantastic effort with the cloth nappies. I slackened off big time over winter, but back on the wagon now that the weather has warmed.

  6. Good to hear I’m not the only one tackling these issues! Thanks for linking with my post and great to read about your experiences Barbara. Like you, I don’t think I’d mind as much about the energy usage if the house was actually warm, but it’s freezing, I also finally went out and bought some thermals this winter!

    I hope you find the Powermate helpful. I didn’t find the instructions from my library that great, they missed the essential bit that you need to record the amount of time that you use everything, and for the fridge you need to plug it in for a couple of days to track how long the motor is running and how long it’s on standby. For the washing machine you need to record a full cycle. If you want to send me an email I’ll send you the spreadsheet that I used, that was really helpful.

    You said that you’re planning to install fans for summer. Did you know that you can get fans that effectively run in reverse in winter to push the hot air that has risen up to the ceiling back down into the room? This might help your problem with the high ceilings.

    Good luck and I look forward to hearing about your successes as you cross things off your list!

    • Barbara Good says:

      Thanks for the tips on the powermate, I’ll be sure to take that into account. The spreadsheet would be great, I’ll shoot you an email. Someone else mentioned the fans for winter too today, I’ll be looking into that for sure. I also got some good tips from my electrician today. So I’ll be switching our downlights to LED lights this weekend – they use 80% less power!

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  8. Jenny says:

    Hi Barbara – we live in Canberra, which is probably even colder than where you are. We have a 20 yo gas wall furnace, which we run most of the time on a low setting (3 from a possible 10), and an instant gas hot water service as well as gas cooking. Our winter gas bill was $595. The house is reasonably well insulated, although we probably should have a look at it, and we have thermal curtains throughout. I wear thermals all winter here. I highly recommend the instant hot water service – it is very cheap to run, and it never runs out – we have a Rheem infinity, but I imagine that others are just as good. One of the things I want to do before next winter is to see if we can have a timer fitted to the old wall furnace … Good luck with your plans, and thanks for your blog – I really enjoy it.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Yes Canberra is definitely colder, I’m impressed with your gas bill, mine was more than that and it was only for 7 weeks! Our house is well insulated, but still drafty. Thermal curtains, who knew! I need to look into those.

      The instant hot water sounds just what we need, on our to do list this weekend.

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