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Home-based businesses

Technology use at home

Using a multi-function printer and scanner

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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.

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