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Home-based businesses

About this guide

There are nearly 1 million home-based businesses in Australia. This guide has been designed to give you some easy, practical and realistic steps that you can take to reduce your energy costs when running a home-based business. By understanding and managing power bills, buying efficient appliances and technology and running them efficiently you can save energy and money and improve productivity.

There are many different types of home-based businesses, from those who work in the home, to tradies who are out-and-about on the road. Our tips cover everything from reducing household power use, to choosing and running motor vehicles.

Energy use at home

If you run a business from your home there's plenty you can do to lower your energy bills and a range of resources to help you save without compromising on comfort or reducing your businesses productivity.

Every home-based business is a little different. So the best place to start is by understanding how much energy you use each day for both your business and non-business uses and which energy saving actions will have the biggest impacts on these.

Things to consider include:

  • the size and features of your home
  • how much of your home is used for running your business
  • the energy efficiency of your appliances
  • the way you manage and use the equipment around your home.

You may want to take a fresh look at your energy use at home and look at our comprehensive guide to reduce your energy bills. The guide takes a step-by-step look at how much you can save, as well as a quick look at what's behind energy price increases and some pointers on the key factors affecting your bills. The next step is about making sense of your energy bill and identifying energy hot spots around the home so you know where to start. Step three is all about what you can do, including how to compare electricity and gas offers in your area, the pros and cons of off-peak hot water, smart meters and time-of-use pricing. There's information on energy-efficient appliances and some no cost energy saving actions you can take right now.

Shopping around to get the best deal on electricity and gas market offers is another way to reduce energy costs.

Technology use at home

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If you're running a home-based business it's likely you're using a range of technologies from computers to mobile phones to office equipment. Technology is moving fast and can be expensive so it makes sense to work out your requirements and do some research online and then in-store before you rent or buy.

Here are our key tips:

  • Consider whether any of your existing equipment can be refurbished or upgraded. Refurbishing can save valuable resources and money while delivering the performance you need.
  • Make a list of features that are important to you and look for products that meet your requirements.
  • Consider how your products will work together to provide the functions you need—as well as the range of technologies you may already have access to within 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.
  • Consider reviews on technology sites to find the environmental innovators who produce energy-efficient products and features.
  • Look for quality items that will last and think about how you will dispose of them at the end of their life. 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 that any technology you're buying can be adapted to new technologies in the foreseeable future. Whether they're high quality or low cost, there's little value in purchasing products that will become incompatible or redundant before too long.
  • Once you've short-listed your potential purchases, you can calculate the annual running cost to narrow down your selection. The most energy-efficient products have the lowest input watts. The energy savings may not seem much at first, but with the increasing number of electronic goods your energy bills are likely to become more expensive over time.
  • Look for products with low standby consumption. Check the manufacturer's standby power information—ideally you are looking for products that use less than half a watt or less in standby mode. These products are up to 90 per cent more efficient than other models.
  • If products have similar features and energy output and you're tossing up which one to buy—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. If you'd like to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, try these suggestions to help you get the most out of your power saving options.

  • Take a moment to 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. It's a myth that screensavers are energy savers—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. This will increase the speed of your hard drive 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.
  • Don't let anything get in the way of the cooling vents, making your PC or laptop work harder than it needs to, and in some cases 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. Depending on the degree of overheating, you can choose from the increasing range of 'active' pads that have multiple fans and connect via USB to your laptop, cooling the laptop simply 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 AC adapter 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, including a noticeable reduction in the amount of time it takes to boot up

Mobile phones

A closeup of a smart phone.

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With the allure of attractive 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're dealing with the frustration of having to charge up every day or so, consequently using more electricity and reducing battery lifespan.

There are a number of things you can do to reduce energy use and get the most out of battery life that won't require a degree in rocket science.

  • You may not realise it, but your mobile phone charger is quietly chewing through power even when it's not being used. So switch phone chargers off at the wall once charging is complete. Your phone may even tell you to do this.
  • 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 while you're out and about. Most cars have a connection to do this if you have the right kind of 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 chew 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 can be better to do many small (bump) 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. This will 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 churn through (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.
  • If you have the option (and enough data allowance), connect to online services using 3G or 4G instead of a Wi-Fi hotspot which uses lots of battery power. A 3G connection will generally chew through more data, which may impact your costs depending on your 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.Check to see if you phone has 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. You can also use apps that automatically switch off data services when you reach your limit. If you’re connecting with Wi-Fi at home or secure hotspots, remember to 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.
  • Using a smart phone for internet activities like banking and shopping can save you time and petrol. As with any computer, it's worthwhile protecting your phone from malicious software and keeping your information secure.

Cordless phones

While power consumption on cordless phones may not seem significant compared with larger appliances, they use energy 24 hours a day which contributes to your overall energy use, especially if you have more than one.

  • Consider switching back 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.
  • Try to find a phone that consumes less than 1 watt when in standby mode. Look for phones that display the voluntary ENERGY STAR® mark. It can help you identify energy-efficient models.

Office equipment

The electricity that powers office equipment is a direct cost to your business and 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 over the longer term.

  • 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 per cent) 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. Typically colour printing uses more energy.
  • 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. Where appropriate, use email instead of the fax.
  • Consider online video conferencing to improve 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.

Turn devices off at the wall

Standby power is a key source of hidden energy use that can amount to more than 10 per cent of your electricity consumption. Almost all electronic devices draw power, even when they're switched off at the unit. If it's got a little light or clock—it's using power.

Home entertainment products and computers often have a standby mode so they can turn on quickly. However, standby mode can use a lot of energy even when the appliance isn't being used—and all for the sake of powering up the device a few seconds earlier.

When connected to a power source, home entertainment products generally have four power modes.

Power modes of home entertainment products

Power mode

Description

Off

The device performs no function. It doesn't produce any sound or picture, or transmit or receive any information. It can only be activated by the power switch on the unit itself.

Passive standby

The device doesn't perform its main purpose (is 'sleeping') but is ready to be switched on, usually via a remote control or internal sensor or timer, or it may be performing a secondary function such as an active display or clock.

Active standby

The device is on but doesn't perform its main function. For example, the DVD may be on but is not playing or recording. Home entertainment products use much more energy in active standby than in passive standby mode.

On

The device is in use.

The most effective way to save energy is to turn things off at the wall when you're not using them. If this sounds like too much fuss, look for 'intelligent' powerboards that cut power to the majority of devices using a remote or a switch separate from the board. Or try boards with multiple ports that have a 'master' to cut power to all devices once the 'master' device has been switched off.

Waste not, want not

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Many of us will go through more than one computer and other electronic devices over the years.

With the abundance of cheaper products that have shorter life spans, electronic waste (e-waste) is growing three times faster than any other type of waste.

Sending these products to landfill poses a number of problems including the loss of non-renewable resources and risks to our health and environment because of the hazardous substances they contain.

There are a number of ways to re-use and recycle e-waste such as giving your old technology to someone who needs it, like schools and charitable organisations.

If you're disposing of your computer, it's a good idea to destroy your private data. Your home computer stores a lot of information about you (like bank, medical and password details). Simply deleting this information isn't enough. Look online for reputable disk-erasing tools to help you permanently wipe all traces of personal data.

Choosing a fuel-efficient vehicle

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Cars

If you're thinking about changing your car, try to choose a fuel-efficient car. A fuel-efficient car can save you thousands of dollars in running costs and reduce your environmental impact. Fuel-efficient cars also have a higher threshold for the Luxury Car Tax.

You can compare the fuel economy, greenhouse and air pollution emissions of different cars (including four-wheel drives and light commercial vehicles) by using the GreenVehicleGuide.

Are you thinking about buying a second car? If you can do without a second car you're likely to save thousands of dollars each year on car registration, insurance, loans and running costs. The money you save by not buying a second car can often cover trips by taxi at those times when you need more than one car. Even if you have a car, you don't have to use it for every trip you take.

Commercial vehicles, small and medium sized trucks

If you’re thinking about changing your commercial vehicle or truck, try to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle. A fuel-efficient commercial vehicle or truck car can save you many thousands of dollars, depending on how many kilometres it does, in fuel and running costs and significantly reduce your greenhouse and air pollution emissions.

The truckbuyersguide.gov.au website has lots of useful information about how to choose a cost-efficient commercial vehicle or truck. Sometimes the least expensive truck can cost the most money in the long run if it uses too much fuel or needs a lot of maintenance. The overall cost of a small truck can be more than double the purchase price when running costs such as fuel, maintenance and other expenses are factored in.

Driving efficiently

A woman checking the tyre pressure on a car

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Efficient driving will not only reduce the amount of fuel you use, saving you money, but will also cut down on unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle and the amount of pollution your vehicle generates.         

  • Driving smoothly and carefully can lead to reductions in fuel consumption of between 5 to 10 per cent and in some cases by as much as 30 per cent.
  • Slowing down will save you up to 25 per cent on fuel costs.
  • Reduce weight and drag by emptying your vehicle of extra gear and removing unused roof racks. If you’re a tradesperson, consider removing any work gear on weekend or holiday trips to save on fuel.
  • Keeping tyres at the right pressure will easily save 3 per cent on your fuel use.
  • Change gears sooner rather than later to keep revs down.
  • At higher speeds an air-conditioner is more efficient than having your windows down—it causes more aerodynamic drag.

Government assistance and services

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Rebates and assistance

  • Governments across Australia offer a range of rebates and other assistance to help households save energy and water, reduce waste and travel smarter. Search our rebates page for homeowners, renters and landlords.
  • The GrantsLINK website can help you find suitable and relevant grants for projects from a range of government grants. You can search by subject, agency and program name. GrantsLINK can also assist you with filling out application forms.
  • Find business-related government grants using the grants & assistance finder on the business.gov.au website.

Services and information

  • The Small Business Support Line provides small business owners with a single point of contact for access to information and referral services to improve their business sustainability and better manage their business. Support Line advisers link into the network of Business Enterprise Centres and other small business advisory services around Australia.
    Telephone: 1800 777 275 Monday–Friday 8am–8pm AEST.
    Email: sbsl@industry.gov.au
  • Business.gov.au provides information, tools and resources from the Australian and state and territory governments to assist in planning for, starting and running a business. It also includes a:
  • Australian Tax Office what is a home-based business and business portal essentials.
  • Stay Smart Online advice for small and medium businesses.
  • The Australian Business Licence and Information Service (ABLIS) can help you with information on compliance and registration requirements. You can find out which government licences and registrations apply to your business, and create and download a personalised report.