05 October 2011

Getting a Grip on Utilities

Your utility bills are one of those grin and bear it types of monthly payments. They’re expected, sometimes anticipated and rarely appreciated. Just this week the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data saying the price of electricity, gas and water has increased 96% in the last decade. Well, rather than suffer in silence, there are real steps you can take to cut back on those utility bills. And you can do it without living in the dark and suffering uncomfortable home temperatures.

With three kids in the house, a husband who is technology crazy and me working from home our power bills have the potential to induce heart failure. Sadly I can't do anything about the price we are charged but I can control just how much power, gas and water we use and make sure we use it as efficiently as possible.

These are the things we do in our house to keep those bills as low as possible:

Turn down the temperature. 

No, not the temperature in your home, the temperature on your hot water heater. The less your hot water heater has to work, the more money and energy you save. We have our hot water turned down to 50 degrees Celsius. It's plenty hot enough for all our needs, but not so hot that I can hear the burner working all day to heat the tank.

Wash your clothing on the cold (or warm if you have too) setting on your washing machine. Using hot water to wash your clothes won't make them any cleaner it will just up your power bill. Use the economy cycle option on your dishwasher and only run it when it’s full. Take shorter showers and stop leaving the tap running while you brush your teeth and face. I know someone who even leaves the tap running while she brushes her hair - then has the cheek to gripe about the water bill! The more your water heater has to heat the water, the more money you’re spending.

Let the sunshine in. 

This is of course only a policy in the cooler months. The heat from the sun’s rays can warm your home five, ten, sometimes even fifteen degrees, depending on the time of day. This can save your heater a lot of extra effort and energy. It’ll also save you good money each month. On sunny winter afternoons, even if it's freezing outside, I can turn the heater off and the house is toasty warm. Those big picture windows in modern homes are a blessing in winter. As an aside, plonk a clotheshorse in front of your sunniest windows and get the washing dry in double quick time too. I love using free energy.

Now summer is on the way, I've already noticed a difference in the sun, keep the sun’s rays out to keep your home cooler. Just like they are a blessing in winter, those big windows are a money drain in summer. Keep the windows and blinds shut. If you have awnings get them down early in the morning, before the sun hits the windows.

On really hot days I shut the house up around 6am and turn the ceiling fans on. I find that even if it's nudging 40 degrees outside, getting a head start on cooling the house early in the morning means that often we don't even need the air conditioner on, and if we do then it's not until later and then just for a short time.

Another thing I do, in summer and winter, is shut the doors to rooms we aren't using. It makes a huge difference to keeping the house cool (or warm, as the case may be). It's just a little thing but it really does make a huge difference.

Give them a tune up. 

Any appliances that use electricity or gas should be maintained. That includes your refrigerator, hot water service, central heating, air conditioner, stove and even your barbecue if it runs off of your gas line. Make sure you’re not losing energy or efficiency. This means regular cleaning and routine tune ups. Keeping your appliances in good operating shape is not just to save money. Your health and safety (and your family's and visitor's) could be at risk if the appliances aren't operating properly.

Run your heat generating appliances during the evening. 

During the warm summer months, try not to run the dishwasher, stove or washing machine during the day. They kick out heat when they’re running and that makes your air conditioner have to work extra hard. Once daylight saving starts (it was last weekend, yahoo....) we cook outside as much as possible. Wayne barbecues each night and we use the rotisserie on the barbecue for our Sunday roast. I move the crockpot and electric frypan down to the barbecue and use them outdoors too. For six months our kitchen hardly gets used, for cooking anyway, and I love it.

During the winter months, however, you can capitalize on household chores to help heat the home.

Eliminate phantom load. 

When your appliances and electronics are turned off, they still use energy. In fact, they use a lot of energy. It’s said that if everyone unplugged their computers and laptops at night they’d save enough energy to power 100,000 homes. Experts say if you eliminate your phantom load, you can cut your energy bill by 10%. That’s a pretty significant savings, particularly when you look at the savings over time.

Debate rages over this but it does make a difference. I'm inclined to think the naysayers just can't be bothered reaching down to flick the switch and pull the cord. Me, I think that ten percent is better in my bank account than the power companies.

I haven't written anything new. These ideas really are just commonsense. But sometimes we all need a reminder, if for no other reason than we forget that it's lots of little savings that let us live life debt free, cashed up and laughing.


  1. Great article - thanks for posting! I have a question about turning down the hot water heater- I can't find anything on mine that can be turned down, perhaps it is too old. Could you please explain how you are meant to do this? Thanks !

  2. who do I get out to check my gas hot water? plumber or gas man?
    thank you

  3. I rang my gas supplier to find out how I could turn down the hot water heater. I was told that they were unable to tell me on the phone but that they could send out someone who would do it - charge $70!!
    How do we cope with these people??


  4. When I get cold and if I'm sitting knitting or reading, instead of turning the heater on, I heat up a wheatbag and put it on my back - keeps me warm and toasty.


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