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Home-based businesses

Technology use at home

Using a multi-function printer and scanner

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If running a home-based business it's likely you're using a range of technologies types. Technology is moving fast and can be expensive so it makes sense to work out your requirements and do some research before you rent or buy.

Key tips:

  • Refurbishing or upgrading equipment can save valuable resources and money while delivering the performance you need.
  • List features that are important and look for products that meet your requirements.
  • Consider how products will work together to provide the functions required—as well as the range of technologies you have access to in your household and workplace.
  • Take energy use into account. While the lowest price tag might seem the cheapest way to go, the running costs over 10 years can add up to much more than you realise.
  • Read reviews on technology sites to find the environmental innovators who produce energy-efficient products and features.
  • Buy quality items that will last. It's a waste of money, time and resources to buy inferior products that'll end up as e-waste in landfill in a couple of years.
  • Check the technology you're buying can be adapted to new technologies in the foreseeable future. There's little value in purchasing products that will become incompatible or redundant.
  • Once you've short-listed potential purchases, calculate the annual running cost to narrow down your selection. The most energy-efficient products have the lowest input watts. 
  • Look for products with low standby consumption. Check the manufacturer's standby power information—look for products that use less than half a watt or less in standby mode. These are up to 90% more efficient than other models.
  • If products have similar features and energy output choose the product that uses less standby power.

Choosing computers

Home computing is a growing area of household energy use. With the number of computers used in Australia expected to reach 46 million by 2020 energy usage is also on the increase.

Consider purchasing a laptop instead of a desktop computer. Laptops, ultrabooks and notebooks require fewer materials to manufacture and come with mobile processors designed to use less energy, meaning they can be battery-operated for longer periods.

Energy Rating Labels are on all computer monitors, the more stars the better. You can also look for computers and peripherals that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark. This can help you identify energy-efficient products.

Use your computer efficiently

Close up of a laptop computer

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If left on 24 hours a day, computers and monitors can significantly add to your power bills. Reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by following these suggestions and get the most out of your power saving options.

  • Set your monitor to switch off after 20 minutes of inactivity and reduce screen brightness to the lowest setting you're comfortable with.
  • Use black screens instead of active screensavers. Active screensavers use full power and can interfere with power-down features—they were invented to prevent something called 'burn-in' on the old CRT monitors. They don't save energy.
  • Adjust the power management options. Opt for 'hibernate' instead of 'sleep'. Hibernation shuts the computer down and saves everything in its present state. Modern computers are designed to withstand frequent on-off cycles.
  • Switch off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when you're not using them as they draw a substantial amount of power.
  • Unplug any external USB devices (like mice, keyboards, and portable music and flash drives) when not in use. Remove discs from drives when you're not using them.
  • Defragment your hard drive regularly to increase its speed so it won't have to hunt all over the place to access all the pieces it needs to run your applications; placing more demand on power use. Computers have a defragment tool that you can schedule or operate manually.
  • Close any programs you're not using. The more programs and applications you have open at once, the more power you're drawing.
  • Keep cooling vents clear as obstructing them means your computer works harder and can lead to system failure. Excess heat from PCs and appliances can also add to your cooling bill. If your laptop is prone to overheating, consider a cooling (chill) pad. There's a range of 'active' pads that have multiple fans and connect via USB to your laptop, cooling the laptop by circulating air under the base. 'Passive' pads made from materials that are thermally conducting. If you use the laptop on your lap or pillow, choose a design where the fans won't be obstructed.
  • Put the laptop AC adapter (charger) on a power board that can be switched off (or turns off automatically). The charger draws power continuously, even when the laptop is not plugged into the adapter.
  • Look online for instructions on how to shut off any unwanted programs running in the background or on start-up. This will save energy, and improve system performance and a reduction in the amount of time it takes to boot up.

Mobile phones

A closeup of a smart phone.

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With features to help us stay connected, in touch, and organised, the smartphone is now firmly in the palm of our hands. The downside is poor battery life—meaning we we have to charge up every day or so, consequently using more electricity and reducing battery lifespan.

There are a number of simple things you can do to reduce energy use and get the most out of battery life.

  • Your mobile phone charger is using power even when it's not being used. Switch chargers off at the wall once charging is complete. 
  • Avoid charging overnight unless you need to—once the battery has been fully charged it doesn't need to sit there using electricity all night. Another option is to recharge in the car, most cars have a connection if you have the right adapter.
  • Reduce screen brightness and turn off live wallpapers (animations)—a major cause of power drain.
  • Turn off Bluetooth and GPS when you're not using them. These radio signals use a lot of power. You can set the GPS to 'automatic' so it activates only when needed.
  • Most mobile phone batteries these days are lithium-based rather than nickel-based. It's not advisable to fully discharge a lithium-ion or lithium-polymer battery because it can quickly lose its ability to hold a charge. It's better to do many small charges. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • It's important to keep your phone out of the sun or a hot car as heat will significantly degrade your battery's performance.
  • If your phone allows access to the battery, remove the battery when the phone isn't going to be used for an extended period of time to prolong battery lifespan.
  • Keep the phone in an open area when you don't need to hide it away for security reasons. When hidden away in a desk or handbag it has to work harder to maintain a signal, using more battery.
  • Shorten the amount of time for the screen to turn off automatically—try 30 seconds.
  • The more applications your smartphone has, the more power it will use (this particularly applies to Android phones). Consider uninstalling any applications or widgets you aren't using. You can check to see what's hogging your phone's battery—look for 'Battery use' in your phone's settings.
  • Set your social media alerts to check at 30 minute intervals (or more) and close the applications when you don't need them. This can also make a big difference to your data usage.
  • Consider connecting to online services using 3G or 4G instead of a Wi-Fi hotspot which uses lots of power. A 3G connection will generally use more data, which may impact your costs depending on monthly data allowance. Higher-speed 4G devices will use more. If you’re streaming movies on a 4G device, consider switching the video playback to standard definition to avoid 4G bill shock.Your phone may have a built-in data usage monitor to alert you when you're approaching your limit, or download a third party application to do the job. Some apps  automatically switch off data services when you reach your limit. If you’re connecting with Wi-Fi at home or secure hotspots, switch it off when you’re done.
  • 2G coverage is fine for calls and messaging so switch off 3G or 4G until it's needed. It's really only useful when you're web browsing or downloading files.
  • It's worthwhile protecting your phone from malicious software and keeping your information secure.

Cordless phones

Power consumption on cordless phones may not seem significant compared with larger appliances but they use energy 24 hours a day.

  • Consider switching to a conventional cord phone which uses only a trickle of energy via the telephone line. These phones also have the advantage of not being cut off during power failures.
  • If you have a number of cordless phones in your home, consider keeping just one cordless phone strategically placed and use cord phones in other locations throughout the household.
  • Some phones consume less than 1 watt when in standby mode. Look for phones that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark to identify energy-efficient models.

Office equipment

The electricity that powers office equipment can add up to a significant proportion of your household energy bill. Making some simple changes to the way choose and use this equipment can lower costs.

  • Look for the blue ENERGY STAR® mark when choosing office equipment like computers, copiers, faxes, printers, scanners and multi-function devices to help you identify energy-efficient products. You can also calculate the running costs of appliances and technology.
  • Choose the right printer for your needs and workflow. Consider how often you will use it and what you'll use if for. A laser printer can be useful for rapid, high volume printing with clear text. Inkjet printers tend to be smaller, significantly more energy efficient (up to 90%) and generally great for photos. Also take toner and ink cartridge costs into account. Is the laser printer upgradeable?
  • If choosing a multi-function device (printer/scanner/fax/copier), ensure it meets your requirements. Consider a model with memory card slots if you're printing images. Does it need USB and Ethernet network adapters for network sharing? Multi-function inkjet printers can be a good option for a small business, offering good total cost of ownership.
  • Buy the right-sized photocopier for your needs. Generally the bigger the machine, the higher the energy consumption. Consider photocopying in batches and switch it off at the wall when not in use. Photocopiers use a lot of energy to keep surfaces hot so that the toner fuses to the paper. Minimising the number of colour copies can reduce energy use and improve toner life. 
  • Install timers to switch off equipment at pre-programmed times.
  • 'Think before you print' and opt for a printer that prints on both sides of the paper—saving both time and resources. 
  • Online video conferencing improves efficiency and reduce travel time and costs. If all parties have a fast broadband connection you can have virtual meetings with clients located elsewhere. Or you can use instant messaging programs that have a video chat feature.
  • Set up online communication tools including instant messaging (IM), Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services and collaboration tools for storing and sharing documents online for others to remotely view and edit.

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