Beyond Zero Emissions is a Melbourne based group doing research and producing reports on various topics with the aim of providing a road map to living without producing greenhouse gas emissions. One of their publications is called The Energy Freedom Home which is an excellent, concise guide to making your home more comfortable at the same time as wiping out COMPLETELY, your energy bills. It is possible!
It’s a nine step process which you can do in any order, though it makes sense to leave the solar PV until you have made other changes, in order to size the system correctly. Briefly, here are those steps:
- Lighting. Upgrade your incandescent or halogen bulbs to LED. Replace CFLs as they fail with LEDs.
- Draught proofing. Seal up those gaps. See another post on this topic here.
- Insulation. Upgrade the ceiling insulation to R6, walls to R2.5 and floor to R2.5. It is not commonly understood that any “holes” in the insulation layer make a huge difference to the overall performance. Attention to detail while installing is crucial.
- Windows. These are the weakest performing area in the building envelope as even double glazed windows can’t insulate as much as a wall. Improving windows by adding secondary glazing, curtains and pelmets or replacing the whole window unit with good quality, double glazed, thermally broken framed ones are all good options.
- Appliances and cooking. When buying appliances, don’t buy larger than you need and go for the most energy efficient model. www.energyrating.gov.au can help. Changing your cooktop to an induction type means you will be reducing energy use while retaining the same or better functionality as gas. You do need to have iron containing bases in pots and pans for this to work. I have not met anyone who does not love their induction cooktop.
- Heating and cooling. Reverse cycle air conditioners or heat pumps are the most efficient way to heat and cool. It sounds incredible but they are up to 600% efficient. That means for 1 unit of electrical energy input, they output 6 units of heat (or cool). They do this by gathering up the heat energy in the air and moving this into (or out of) your home whereas a gas heater can’t even turn 1 unit of gas energy into 1 unit of heat because there are losses in the flue waste, ducting and so on. Electric bar heaters similarly only produce 1 unit of heat from 1 unit of power.
- Hot water. In our part of the world, the research shows that the most practical choice of HW is the heat pump. Solar is great but requires back up energy in winter months and when you add up the total required over the year, the heat pump wins. As you move further north, solar becomes the best choice. There are a number of companies who can provide heat pump HW units. You can tell which is the most energy efficient by the number of STCs (Small scale generation certificates) offered. My understanding is that Sanden are leaders. Siddons make a “Bolt on” model that will attach to your existing tank and is portable enough that renters could buy it and take it with them when they move out. Earthworker in Morwell is a retailer of these.
- Energy monitoring and control. Having your real time energy use visible on a little monitor in the main living of your home has been shown to reduce energy use by about 10%. It’s easy to see how as the natural inclination is to try to reduce it. It’s easier to see if someone has left the lights on in the shed, equipment on stand by gets turned off, boiling only enough water as you need in the kettle are all small changes but together make a large difference. There are a few models that range in price from about $60 to $200. You can also take advantage of the internet based feedback you can get from your energy distributor or retailer in some cases. They can provide graphs and charts of your electricity use in blocks of 30min. The disadvantage is that this is not “in your face” as the in home display models are.
- Solar power. Once you have made all these other changes and reduced your overall power use you can now get a solar system of the right size to cover your energy needs. I haven’t specifically mentioned it up to now but the process involves getting rid of all your gas appliances. Kick the gas habit! There is no form of renewable gas (unless perhaps you have a home biogas digester). At the moment, the only way to be 100% renewable at the household level is to be an all electric home. There’s a facebook page dedicated to this.
This has been a very simple run through of the concepts. You can buy the book, borrow it from the library or consider having our experienced home assessment team come to you to work through any or all of these steps with you.