Temperatures expected to reach above 40 degrees in Sydney today, so here's some advice to keep you from melting into a puddle. It may be tempting to crank the air-con up high and keep your house at sub-arctic temperatures until the weather outside finally cools down, but it's worth thinking about the impact that's going to have on your bill. There are plenty of ways you can cool your house in a more economical way -- or, if you can't bear turning off the air conditioner for a minute, we've collected a few tips so that you can use it more economically.
This post was originally published on November 6.
Gizmodo's Energy Smart Home series powered by Hello Grid -- an initiative of the Energy Networks Association, representing the networks who deliver energy to almost all Australian homes and businesses.
Back To Basics
A house that keeps itself cool doesn't need a whole lot of expensive air-conditioning, so your first step in preparing for summer is making sure your house is up to scratch. A poorly insulated home can collect heat through the walls, windows, floor and even through air leaks, which can also be a source of draughts in the winter. The type of insulation your house will need will be dependent on its location, orientation and the climate. This government website has a full reference for the best type of insulation for regions across Australia, so have a look and make sure you're properly covered.
Of course, insulation has the potential to work against you in the summer if you don't keep the heat out to begin with. Heat coming in through windows and open doors can end up trapped in the house by the inner insulation layer designed to keep heat in in the winter. The best way to avoid this is to shade windows to make sure no sun is hitting the glass. This can be done with both fixed or adjustable shading like awnings, external shutters or blinds, louvres or just having sufficient width on your eaves to keep the sun from hitting your windows.
You can even consider planting more trees or shrubs to protect the most exposed parts of your house from the sun. The positioning and choice of shading will depend on the angle of the sun -- which again depends on your orientation and the latitude of your house. Properly designed shading -- like louvres -- can be perfectly angled so that they let in as much winter sun as possible but block out most of the unwanted summer sun. The Your Home website gives a far more in depth explanation of utilising angles to block out as much sunlight as you can, depending on your house's particular needs.
No amount of shading and insulation is going to keep you perfectly cool by itself, but it will go a long way to reducing your energy usage -- and your power bill. Every degree you lower your air conditioning could account for up to 10% of your electricity bill, so it's best to keep it around 24 to 25 degrees. Your air con may not be operating at full capacity if you haven't been taking care of it, so make sure that your filters are replaced regularly so that it doesn't have to use up more energy to cool the same amount of space. Speaking of space -- there's no need to cool the rooms you're not using. Leave unused rooms closed off with the blinds down or curtains drawn to keep them as cool as possible while not straining your air con to cool a larger space.
Pictures by YourHome.gov.au
If it's not scorchingly hot, consider turning on a standing fan or a ceiling fan -- compared to power-guzzling air conditioners, these can be run all day for just a handful of change. Even better, you can cool your house in summer without spending a cent on electricity -- once the temperature starts to cool down in the evening, open a couple of windows or doors to get some airflow through the house. Make sure to open up your bedroom at this point as well, to make sure it's cooled down a bit so you can sleep without sweating out half your body weight.
Tricks and Gadgets
As mentioned before in our energy saving tips, home automation can be a huge help for anyone looking to cut their power bill with minimum effort. Most air conditioners will come with their own thermostat and likely some kind of timer or delayed start setting -- but these often aren't the most user friendly systems for full automation. Luckily a number of companies are making smarter devices to help you cool your home.
Over in the US, the Nest Learning Thermostat is a smart thermostat equipped with a number of sensors that take most of the effort out of controlling your climate. Its sensors let it know when you are in the room or not, and the Nest adjusts the temperature accordingly -- no use cooling a room you're not in, after all. It can all be controlled via mobile apps, although one of the features Nest sells itself on is the ability to learn your schedule and the temperatures you prefer so that it can begin to program itself. The Nest is made with a focus on sustainability, displaying a green leaf icon when you're within a temperature range that is energy efficient. "It guides you in the right direction," claims the Nest website.
Unfortunately, Nest isn't available directly in Australia -- you can potentially import it from the USA, but it may take some adjustment to get it to work with our systems. Australia isn't without options, however. The Zen Thermostat is Australia's answer to the Nest. It doesn't program itself, but the Zen doesn't see this as a negative thing. In fact, the Zen markets itself as "the beautiful home thermostat that doesn't think it's smarter than you." They created a simple thermostat with a limited number of interfaces, but where the Zen is truly smart is its ability to integrate seamlessly with a number of existing home automation systems -- including SwannOne, manufactured by the same company that created the Zen. With the Zen operating within a home automation system, you can set your air conditioning to run only when it needs to run. Instead of having the cold air blasting all night while you're asleep, schedule the system to turn off shortly after you go to bed.
Additionally, battery manufacturer Enphase's consumption monitoring system, Envoy, and its corresponding Enlighten software has just announced native support for Nest thermostats. "We can virtually hook their data stream to ours, so from what your thermostat is doing right now, MyEnlighten is able to add storage and solar technology to your thermostat controls," explained Enphase's Ilen Ilen Zazueta-Hall.
While this isn't as relevant to us here in Australia right now, Zazueta-Hall hopes that the future will bring more collaborations with creators of smart devices like this -- maybe we'll even see integrations with Australia's Zen thermostat. With the coming rise in battery storage, there's no doubt that we'll see more examples of all these systems merging -- where the amount of power your air conditioner uses may be automatically regulated depending on the amount of generated solar energy you have to spare.
Dyson’s Hot + Cool is motorised, heating and cooling behemoth that sucks air through a tiny aperture and accelerates it through the application of some nifty physics — just like a jet airliner’s turbofan. It’ll smoothly accelerate air from across a medium-sized room, and cool you at a distance while remaining quiet.
Load Control Programs
Coming back to the solutions we do have available today, there actually are programs that will automatically regulate your air conditioner's performance when energy conservation is important. These are programs created by the energy distributers themselves, to try and manage peak demand in times of high stress on the network -- avoiding potentially uncomfortable mid-summer blackouts on unusually hot days.
When the weather goes past a certain temperature, the grid comes under strain as everyone cranks up their air con at once. This means extra money poured into infrastructure that is only used on a few days of the year when demand is high. In order to combat this peak strain, a number of electricity companies, including Endeavour Energy, Energex, Ausgrid and Ergon among others have instituted opt-in programs where you can allow them to remotely moderate your air conditioning unit's performance on these days.
In exchange for letting them control demand through your devices, most companies will give a rebate of some sort -- as well as the bonus of helping to avoid summer blackouts. If you're unsure whether your energy company offers a rebate on a similar load control program, give them a ring and find out.
The options for cooling your house range from cheap to expensive, involved to hands off -- and some are energy-saving habits that everyone should be doing on a daily basis anyway. Take the time now while the weather isn't yet scorching hot to make sure you're prepared for high summer -- and if all else fails, it may be time to head to the beach.
This summer is a hot one. With money tight and temperatures high, there’s a temptation to test out unconventional ways to beat the the heat. But these odd home remedies can end up wasting energy and costing more money. Here’s how to know what really works when you want to keep cool for cheap.