About this guide
When summer fades and the temperature starts to fall, it's time to get ready for winter. By making changes around your home to reduce energy costs and increase comfort levels in autumn, you can make a big difference to both your bills and energy use this winter.
What part of Australia you live in and your climatic zone can make a big difference to the seasonal changes you experience and the things you need to consider to have a comfortable and low-energy house. In some regions, autumn means preparing to minimise heat loss and in others it's the time to reduce reliance on air conditioning and look at natural ventilation.
Get your home ready for winter
There are lots of ways you can get your home ready for winter, reduce your energy bills and make your living spaces more comfortable to suit your personal preferences.
Here are a few things you can do to save money and energy without spending a cent:
- Take a look around your home to find areas where you can improve your energy efficiency and retain heat.
- In cooler regions, set your heating thermostat to 18–20°C. Or in warmer climates, set your cooling to 25–27°C. For every degree you increase your heating and cooling you increase your energy use by around 5 to 10%.
- Instead of turning the heater on or up, bring out your warmer clothing for use around the home. Pull on a jumper, a pair of socks and slippers; draw the curtains in the early evening to keep the days warmth in; and think about whether you need to heat the entire house.
- Get into the habit of using appliances efficiently. No matter how obvious it seems, doing the basics like turning appliances off at the wall when they're not in use makes a difference as standby power can account for more than 10% of your household electricity use.
- Clothes dryers are big energy users, so why not use clothes racks on verandahs, indoors in your already heated rooms, or outdoors while the good weather lasts?
- If your use of electronic gadgetry is likely to increase in the winter months, our home entertainment and technology guide offers simple actions to suit a variety of budgets, lifestyles and technical know-how. Better understanding the energy use involved could act as a powerful incentive for changing your household's habits. For example, video game consoles are now among the biggest power users in the home. If left on 24 hours a day this could add up to a considerable portion of your energy costs—up to $193 a year.
- Hot water accounts for a large chunk of your power bill, so avoid the habit of using the shower to get warm. Staying in the shower uses up to 20 times as much energy as hopping out under two heat lamps instead.
- Swapping short car trips for walking or cycling is a great way to balance out the shift to more food and cooked meals. It's good for the environment, good for your health, and a great way to get the most of the good weather while it lasts.
A home sustainability assessment can identify areas for improvement and savings that you may not have already thought of. In some states you may even be eligible for rebates and assistance with home assessments or eligible energy-saving items.
Keeping your home warm
Taking action to stop cold air entering your home, and to stop warm air leaving, is one of the key ways to save energy and money. Here are some ideas that will help you have the greatest impact.
Draught-proofing your home is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to keep your home warm and comfy as well as save energy and money. In fact, draught-proofing your home can save you up to a quarter of your heating bills.
Draughts can occur anywhere where there are gaps in your home, letting cold air in or warm air escape. Look for gaps around your doors, windows, architraves, along skirting boards, and between floorboards.
Here are some draught-proofing activities you can do yourself:
- To fill the gap between windows and frames, you can buy adhesive foam strips. You can select from a range of options at the hardware store. Another option is metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached. These cost a little more but will last longer. Make sure you measure the gap between the window and the frame so the strip is the right width to do the job properly. If you have sliding sash windows, it's best to fit brush strips or consult a professional.
- Block the gap at the bottom of doors to the outside with a brush or hinged flap draught-stopper and fill the gaps around doors with the foam strips available from the hardware store. For the inside, you can use a sand-filled or fabric 'sausage' draught-stopper. Choose from colourful designs available in gift shops or make your own from fabric that you may already have at home.
- For some areas, such as chimneys or around electrical fittings, you may need to seek expert advice.
- Be careful in areas which need good ventilation such as rooms with open fires or unflued gas heaters, or rooms where lots of moisture is produced, like kitchens and bathrooms. Ventilation keeps air in your home fresh, dry and healthy so don't block air vents and fans in these rooms.
If you haven't already insulated your home, now is the time to think about it having it installed. Not only will it make your home a lot more comfortable to live in, insulation can make some really dramatic savings in heating costs. Up to half the energy we use to heat our homes in winter can simply leak out through ceilings, walls and floors. Lots of Australians are sitting in rooms that are colder than they need to be.
There are many types of insulation available and their suitability depends on where you live, the type of roof, and whether you need to keep winter heat in or summer heat out or both. Start by doing some research about insulation and installation options; then talk to an expert to find out what's best for your home, climate and individual circumstances.
It's important to have insulation installed safely according to Australian standards and by someone with expert knowledge.
Windows can let as much as 40% of your winter warmth leak out of your home, but there are ways to improve window efficiency. Here are a few tips to help window treatments keep in the heat.
- Curtains and blinds can make a surprising difference in keeping your home warm, as well as giving you privacy and looking great. Look for fabrics that insulate well, for example heavy fabrics or curtains with thermal lining or layers. Choose the best quality you can afford to give you the best thermal results.
- Fitted pelmets above new or existing curtains are important in reducing heat loss. If pelmets don't fit with your interior design, choose window fittings such as blinds that attach to the wall and trap air flow or install curtains that reach to the ceiling. For a simple do-it-yourself and low cost option, try fitting a strip of light wood across the curtain rail above the curtain to stop heat leaking away.
- Installing glazing on windows or skylights is another option which will increase energy efficiency by trapping a layer of air and helping to keep the cold air at bay. It also reduces outside noise.
- Double glazing can be expensive to retrofit but there are cheaper commercial alternatives as well as secondary glazing products that involve a thin plastic coating you can affix to windows yourself at a low cost. Check out what's available in your hardware store.
As the days begin to get shorter and cooler, we tend to spend more hours inside and have the lights burning longer each day. If you haven't already done so, consider switching to energy-efficient lighting options. Did you know that most homes could halve the amount of energy used for lighting by making smarter lighting choices and using more efficient technologies? That can add up to a lot of dollar savings throughout the year.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can easily replace any inefficient incandescent lights you may have in your home. While CFLs cost a little more up front, they last a lot longer than the older style globes, are much cheaper to run, and now come in a range of shapes, colours and sizes. Tubular lamps (florescent tubes) are another good option for kitchens, garages and workshops. Try solar powered lights along your driveway or for garden lighting. Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are a new highly efficient technology if you're building or renovating as they are approximately 4 to 5 times more efficient than typical incandescent or halogen equivalents. As the technology improves and demand increases, costs will come down
Maintain heating systems
Keeping your heating system properly maintained will help it operate more efficiently and last longer.
Autumn is a good time to check your heater is in good working condition and do a little maintenance if required to prepare for its winter workout. Likewise, if you have an evaporative air-conditioning system, it may need some attention after summer when it's likely not to be used again for some time. Check the operating instructions for your system or contact the manufacturer or retailer for advice.
If you're considering options for a new heating or cooling system, read our guide to understanding heating and cooling for information on how to choose the best system for your circumstances.
Taking a break?
Autumn brings Easter and the few days break can be the perfect time to take off and escape for a while from your normal routine. Here are a few tips to help reduce your holiday energy bills and your impact.
- Check that electrical appliances like microwaves, kettles, televisions, home entertainment systems and gaming consoles are turned off at the wall so they're not drawing electricity while on standby.
- If flying to your holiday destination, you can opt to pay a little extra to offset your air travel's carbon emissions with most Australian airlines. This means the money you pay is directed towards projects which reduce carbon emissions. You can find out about the carbon offset projects from different airlines from their websites. They may include energy efficiency projects, wind or hydro energy projects, either in Australia or overseas. The National Carbon Offset (NCOS) trademark indicates that a business is committed to achieving genuine carbon emission reductions.
- If driving, make sure your vehicle is well-maintained and that the tyres are inflated to the correct air pressure. Driving efficiently can make a big difference to the fuel consumption and fuel costs of your vehicle. For a medium-sized car, good maintenance could save you money and up to 1,500kg of carbon dioxide emitted per year compared with a poorly maintained vehicle. If renting a vehicle, choose the smallest one that suits your needs to minimise fuel consumption.
- If camping or bushwalking, use the 'leave no trace' philosophy and don't leave behind any rubbish, use bio-degradable soap (or none at all) for cleaning up. The same applies at the beach—be considerate of other users, marine life and animals, and help keep our beaches clean.
Easter is a time when we indulge in a range of goodies with friends and family. The shopping aisles are overflowing with chocolates wrapped in colourful aluminium foil, plastics and cardboard.
If you're doing some Easter shopping this year, consider choosing products with minimal packaging to reduce waste, and remember to recycle any packaging, including Easter egg foil. Alternatively, try making your own treats, or decorations. A quick browse on the internet will turn up plenty of recipes as well as fun, easy ways to make your own natural dyed eggs with food and spices from your kitchen and garden.
What about some home-grown Easter eggs? Chickens are happy workers that can produce the best eggs you've ever tasted. They also help to minimise food waste as they eagerly dine on your kitchen scraps, including vegies, yoghurt and cheese. They clean up weeds and fallen fruit, turn over your compost heap and provide fertiliser for your garden. With a few basic tools and recycled materials and second-hand timber items, you can put together a chook shed and run to keep your feathered friends safe. Check with your council about regulations for keeping backyard chickens in your area.
If you're looking for ways to reduce waste this Easter, consider giving life changing gifts to people in our world's poorest regions. You can find organisations on the internet which facilitate these charitable programs and choose from a variety of gifts like trees, animals, tools, educational podcasts or even solar power.
Autumn in the garden
An outdoor tidy-up to maintain your home's exterior and the health of your garden is a good idea at any time of year. Keep in mind that the peak fire season varies depending on where you live in Australia. Check with the Bureau of Meteorology to find out when the fire risk is highest in your area so you can be well prepared.
Garden waste from seasonal pruning should be chipped, taken to green waste drop-off centres or located safely away from the house. Follow our pointers for tidying up gutters and removing storm and fire hazards and ensure you are bushfire ready no matter what the season.
Leaves and composting
If you live in an area with deciduous trees, make the most of the fallen leaves by raking them up for some great garden mulch that's free. Even easier, just leave them on your lawn and mow straight over the top. This will chop up the leaves and mix them with grass clippings in the catcher ready to go straight on the garden. Mulching also helps keep the soil moist and reduce the need for watering.
Alternatively, use autumn's supply of dried leaves in your compost. A healthy compost mix needs quite a lot of carbon-rich organic material (about 75%) such as dried leaves or clippings to balance out food scraps. Autumn leaves are perfect for this. Place dried materials in layers and cover with some fresh organic material. Keep layering the materials and add some water without soaking everything. Don't forget to get some air into the compost to make managing compost more effective.
No compost bin? Autumn may be the time to get one going. Your garden will love you for it—you'll increase the quality of garden soil and soil drainage, which is particularly beneficial in heavy clay or light, sandy soils. You'll also cut down on organic waste going to landfill.
If you do have excess garden waste, look out for a garden recycling site in your area. Avoid sending any green material to landfill where it releases methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
You may have a large collection of leaves and prunings, but burning them in the backyard is not a good option. In fact, in many parts of Australia it's illegal to do so. Burning leaves and other dried plant material leads to air pollution and is a health and fire hazard.
The smoke from burning leaves contains a number of toxic and irritating particles and gases. If the tiny particles are inhaled, they can lodge in the lungs and stay there for years, increasing the risk of infection and reducing lung capacity. For those who already suffer from asthma and other breathing disorders, leaf burning can be extremely hazardous.
Burning leaves, moist leaves in particular, also produces carbon monoxide, a gas that results from incomplete combustion (burning). Carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and can cause serious health problems, especially for babies, smokers, the elderly and those with heart and lung disease. Think about other uses for your leaves and prunings, such as composting and mulching.
Planting for a seasonal harvest
Autumn is a good time for planting. If you want to grow your own vegetables, start planting now for harvesting over the coming seasons. Search online to identify which climatic zone you live in and for ideas on what to plant and when. Then over the coming months you'll be able to harvest your own crop straight from the garden. Think fresh, home-grown flavours and the food transport kilometres you'll save.
Style savvy without the waste
The change in season can bring the need for new clothing. Everything we purchase takes energy and resources to produce, so consider buying quality clothing that lasts or selecting pre‑owned items to reduce your energy use, and save you money while still keeping you in comfort and style.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Before shopping for the new season's wardrobe, give some thought to what you actually need and what you already have in your wardrobe.
- Consider buying second-hand items. Not only does this cut down on resources, there are some great bargains in vintage stores and op shops.
- Vintage glamour is back in fashion. Whatever your style you can pull together your look from second-hand clothing outlets. Try markets, charity shops, fashion swaps, online second-hand clothing sites and the more selective second-hand stores that are springing up.
- You can polish off your look by accessorising with scarves, belts, handbags, shoes and jewellery—also available from vintage stores. Accessories can also be a great way to bring new life to existing quality pieces in your wardrobe.
- Think about the quality of clothing you buy—opt for items that will last through the seasons rather than throwaway items you will need to replace. There are a range of eco-fabrics now available such as lyocell, soy fabric and organic cotton—take the time to read the label so you know exactly what you are getting.
- Select some basic wardrobe items and complement these with a few key seasonal pieces. Even small wardrobes can be versatile with some planning and coordination.
- Recycle unwanted clothing to a charity or swap with friends. If you haven't worn items in your wardrobe for a couple of years, perhaps it's unlikely you ever will.
- Repair rather than toss out clothing items which may be missing a button or have a small hole. For a favourite jumper with a bit of pilling, invest in a lint remover to freshen them up for another season.