About this guide
You don't have to be a home owner to make your household more energy and water efficient. Nearly 30% of Australians live in rented accommodation and while there are limitations on what you can change in your rented home, there are ways to improve efficiency and reduce your bills. In fact, some of the most effective steps you can take to save energy, water and waste focus on making small changes to your daily habits with no financial cost to you at all.
Whether you're renting short term or long term, there are lots of simple, inexpensive things to do to save money and stay comfortable. Packed with practical tips, this guide will show you where you're using energy and water, and offer a range of suggestions on ways you can reduce these and save money.
How small steps can add up to big savings
The following simple actions could save a household of four about $605 over the course of a year.
- If you've got a second fridge, getting rid of it could save around $172 a year.
- Switching off the game console after use could save up to $193 a year.
- Using the clothesline instead of the dryer once a week could save $79 a year.
- Installing a water-efficient showerhead can save a 2-person household at least $160 a year on energy and water costs.
These amounts are a guide only. Exact savings will vary depending on the age of your appliances, the size of your home, the climatic zone you live in and the energy prices you pay.
Energy saving ideas for the whole house
Choose energy-efficient appliances
Appliances account for up to 30% of your home energy use, so the type of appliances you choose and the way you use them makes a big difference to your energy consumption and bills. If you're in the market for a new appliance, consider purchasing an energy-efficient model. Look for the Energy Rating Label to determine how energy efficient it is—the more stars the more energy and money you can save. You can also estimate the running costs of appliances which is particularly useful for products that don't carry the Energy Rating Label to see how much they will cost you each year and over the life of the product. A high star-rated model can cost a little more, but choosing a cheaper less efficient product could end up costing more in the long run.
Landlords may be eligible for a rebate if they need to replace an appliance in your home. Items that may be covered include showerheads, toilets, hot water systems and fridges, so it's worth doing your research to ensure both parties can benefit from the potential savings on purchase price and energy costs.
Heating and cooling
When you consider that around 40% of home energy use goes to heating and cooling, it's not hard to see how making small changes to your air conditioning and heating habits can have a major impact on your energy bills. You could try some of these ideas:
- Controlling your climate. In winter, set your heating thermostat between 18 to 20°C. In summer, set your cooling thermostat between 25 to 27°C. For every 1°C you increase your heating and cooling you increase your energy use by around 5 to 10%. When you've got the air conditioner or heater on, close off the rooms you're not using by shutting internal doors. Once you've found the temperature that you're comfortable with, dress for the season. Perhaps grabbing a warmer jumper or using a throw rug is all you need to avoid turning the thermostat up 1 or 2°C.
- Sealing gaps and cracks. By draught-proofing your home and stopping heated and cooled air leaking out through gaps and cracks, you could cut your energy bill by up to 25%. Try a draught 'snake' to stop air escaping under doors and use weather seals for windows, floorboards, skirting boards, skylights and cornices. You can also stop heat rising into your ceiling by fitting covers over downlights and vents. Check with your landlord before fitting any weather seals or covers.
- Being window wise. Improve window efficiency and prevent heat loss with snug-fitting curtains and blinds that trap a layer of still air next to the window. You can also open curtains in winter to let the sun in during the day and close them before it gets dark. Similarly, it's a good idea to close curtains during the hottest part of the day in summer.
- Installing temporary glazing. You can insulate your windows cheaply with a transparent glazing film. The film helps reduce heat gain and loss. Take a look online for providers and check with your landlord before going ahead.
- Harnessing the breeze. In summer, open up your home in the cooler times of the morning or evening to let the breeze in. Make the most of natural airflow by opening low-positioned windows to bring in the breeze and opening high windows to let the hot air out.
- Choosing the fan over the air conditioner. Ceiling and pedestal fans cost around 2 cents an hour of operation and produce far fewer greenhouse gases than air conditioners. Fans help to circulate air and can be used to improve the effectiveness of air cooling systems as well as to circulate hot air and improve your heating efficiency in winter.
- Minimising artificial lighting. Think about how much artificial lighting you need—a desk or standard lamp will provide more focused reading light and be cheaper to run than lighting the whole room. If it's light outside, you can open the curtains or blinds to let natural light in rather than switching on an artificial light. Switching lights off when you leave the room will also save energy.
- Switching to energy-efficient lighting. Replacing old-style incandescent globes with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs) is an effective way to save on energy costs. CFLs use around 20% of the energy of an incandescent light globe and can last between 4 and 10 times longer.
- Using light furnishings and reflective surfaces. You can reduce your need for artificial lighting by decorating with light-coloured furnishings and by placing mirrors across from windows.
Hot water accounts for about a 25% of household energy use. Try these ideas to ensure you're only paying for the energy you need.
- Getting the temperature right. The recommended setting for thermostats is above 60°C on storage hot water systems; or 50°C on instantaneous systems. If you're away for more than a few days, turn off your storage hot water system. When you return, allow plenty of time for the water to heat back up to above 60°C and remain at that temperature for a minimum of 35 minutes to kill any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat before you can safely use it. Don't overheat the water as this wastes energy.
- Choosing energy-efficient systems. Landlords considering the replacement of a hot water system may be eligible for a rebate by opting for an energy-efficient system.
Many appliances and gadgets, such as phone chargers, game consoles, microwave ovens and stereos continue to draw power when not in use. This standby power can account for 10% of your household electricity use. Switching appliances and gadgets off at the wall when you're finished with them will cut both your energy use and your bills. If it's got a little light or clock, it's using power. Learn more about standby power modes in our home entertainment and technology guide.
Save energy in the kitchen
It's not just you, your family or your flatmates eating in the kitchen: appliances are big energy guzzlers, but by using appliances wisely you could make some real savings.
- Fridges and freezers. The optimal temperature for your fridge is between 3 and 5°C; or between minus 15 and minus 18°C for your freezer. Every 1°C lower requires 5% more energy. Improve the efficiency of your fridge and freezer by removing any frost build-up in the freezer and leaving a gap of 5–8cm around them for ventilation. If you have a second fridge for entertaining, only turn it on when you need it.
Cook and clean with less energy. You can save energy on your kettle and toaster by boiling only as much water as you need and choosing the toaster over the grill when making toast. Wait till you have a full load before running your dishwasher and try scraping your dishes rather than rinsing before loading.
Save energy in the living room
The living room is a hub of electronic gadgetry. Home entertainment products are responsible for at least 5% of household energy use.
- Switching off after use. When you're not using your TV, stereo or game console, switch it off at the wall. Home entertainment products generally have four power modes and can draw power even when not in use. Read our home entertainment and technology guide to learn more.
- Charging up. Once you've charged your phone, tablet or computer, unplug it so it's not drawing unnecessary power and driving up your power bills.
Save energy in the laundry
The way you use your laundry appliances can have a big impact on your bills and the environment.
Washing. Save energy and water by washing in cold water, using the shortest cycle possible, adjusting your water level to suit the size of the load and waiting till you have enough clothes for a full load.
If you have a front loader you can save about 50% on energy costs by washing in cold water.
If you have a top loader you can save about 85% on energy costs by washing in cold water.
- Drying. For every load you dry in an electric dryer uses energy and drives up your bills. By using the clothesline instead just one day a week you'll save around $70 a year.
Save energy in the bedroom
Sleep soundly and save money with these ideas.
- Staying warm naturally. On cold nights sleep with a hot water bottle or extra blanket rather than the heater or an electric blanket. Keep the warm air in by shutting your blinds or curtains.
- Switching off while you sleep. Avoid wasting energy and money on standby power by switching gadgets off at the wall and charging your phone or computer during the day.
Consider green power
'Green power' is electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, sun or hydro. By switching to GreenPower you elect to get some or all of your energy from accredited renewable sources and pay a slightly higher price per unit. All you need to do is contact your electricity supplier and ask about GreenPower. You can choose the percentage of your electricity sourced from green power: up to 100%. The GreenPower Program sets the rules and ensures your energy comes from government-accredited sources.
Visit GreenPower to learn more about the renewable energy options where you live.
For more tips on ways to save money and power, check out our reduce your energy bills guide.
Water smart tips
Being water efficient helps make every drop and dollar count.
- Consider water-efficient appliances and fixtures.When buying a new appliance or fixture, consider a water-efficient model. Look for the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) rating. There is also a range of rebates available to you or your landlord for installing or purchasing water-efficient products.
- Using taps efficiently. A tap leaking at the rate of one drip a second wastes more than 12,000l of water a year. Save water by fixing any leaking taps as soon as possible. You can reduce your water use by installing aerators. Aerators limit water flow and can be fitted to the inside or outside of taps. You may have to check with your landlord before going ahead.
Save water in the bathroom
Showering. By installing a water-efficient showerhead can save a two-person household at least $160 a year on energy and water costs. If you have old inefficient showerheads, trying asking your landlord to replace these with water-efficient models as these use around 20% of the water and there are a number of rebates available.
If you’re a renter in New South Wales and your water is separately metered you’re liable for the water bill, but only if the landlord meets water efficiency requirements. If your landlord hasn’t installed showerheads, cold water taps and single mixer taps in bathroom and kitchen sinks that have a maximum flow-rate of 9l a minute, you’re not liable to pay the water charges. It’s worthwhile checking the Renters' resources section below for more information in your state or territory.
- Flushing toilets. When using a dual-flush toilet, opt for the half-flush where appropriate. If your landlord is replacing a single-flush toilet, consider suggesting a water-efficient dual flush model as it could save 55l a person daily. If this isn't an option, you could buy a water displacement device or use a plastic bottle filled with water in the cistern to reduce its water capacity.
Save water in the backyard
In Australia we use up to 60% of household water outdoors, but there are things you can do to significantly reduce this.
- Water smart gardening. A traditional green lawn can use up to 90% of your gardening water. You can reduce this by setting your mower to cut at 4cm or higher. You can also reduce your garden water use by improving watering practices and choosing water-efficient products.
- Using greywater. Use your greywater to use on your non-edible plants by placing a bucket in the shower or by catching rainwater where it falls outside.
Waste not, want not
In 2014-15 Australians generated 60 million tonnes of waste a year. This includes waste from our kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, gardens, and from building and construction activities. By making smarter purchasing decisions and disposing of waste wisely you can reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and the amount of money leaving your wallet for items you don't end up using.
Think before you buy and throw
Re-use and recycle. If you have unwanted goods destined for the bin, consider giving them to friends, hosting a garage sale, donating to op-shops or listing them online. Similarly, before buying new things, check op-shops and online for goods you can give a second life to and save money at the same time. Find nearby recycling facilities with Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou.
- Upcycling. Reduce landfill and breathe new life into your old items by 'upcycling' them. Upcycling means creating new things from stuff you already own. If you don't know where to start, look online for tips and creative ideas.
- Collective consumption. Before splashing out and buying a new lawnmower or ladder, it might be worthwhile checking to see if neighbours and friends are willing to share theirs in exchange for borrowing items you might have. Collective consumption means sharing, swapping, trading or renting goods and is a great way to share resources and save money. There may be collective consumption initiatives in your area—a number of these are springing up online.
Reduce chemical, hazardous and electronic waste
- Changing how you clean. Avoid exposing yourself to potentially toxic or hazardous elements by making your own cleaning products, or by purchasing lower impact options. You can create cheap and highly effective surface cleaners from bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, lemon, salt and borax. To learn more check out these spring cleaning tips and these ideas for minimising bathroom toilet and laundry waste.
- Managing hazardous waste. Hazardous waste includes things like pesticides, oven cleaners, batteries and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Follow the rules for these and dispose of them correctly. Check out our guide to hazardous waste to learn more.
- Managing e-waste. Many electronic items contain harmful substances such as lead and mercury. When items such as your mobile, computer, tablet, or TV come to the end of their useful life, it's important to dispose of them thoughtfully to ensure these substances aren't released into the environment. If they still work well, consider donating them for reuse. If not, drop them off for recycling.
Minimise kitchen waste
In 2013 it was estimated that food waste cost Australian households more than $8 billion each year and generated 361kg of food waste annually per person at a cost of over $1,000. By making small changes to the way you buy and use food you can make a big difference to not only your kitchen waste but also your food bills and energy use.
- Planning. Minimise food waste by planning your weekly meals and checking in the fridge and pantry before going to the shops. If you live in a share house, think about shopping collectively or getting a box of locally-produced fruit and veggies delivered each week. It's generally cheaper to buy in bulk, and you'll reduce your household's food miles.
- Creating a feast from leftovers. Rather than throwing food out, try getting creative with what's already in your fridge and pantry. Jump online to find recipes for inspiration.
- Packing prudently. When shopping, you can reduce waste by taking re-usable bags with you and looking for recyclable packaging options.
- Try composting. By composting your food scraps you'll not only reduce the amount of organic waste that goes to landfill and produces methane—a harmful greenhouse gas—you'll also create great fertiliser for pot plants or the garden.
- Starting a worm farm. You don't need a lot of space to start a worm farm. They can be kept under the sink or in a shady spot on a balcony or in the shed and are a great way to turn your organic kitchen waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your plants.
- Keeping backyard chickens. Chooks don't just eat your scraps, they also make great pets and of course eggs! Be sure to check with your landlord and local council before going ahead.
Working with your household—family and flatmates
If you live with your family and want to reduce your household's costs and impacts, get together to consider how to manage tasks and responsibilities. As a renter, you may live in a share house with people who have different household habits and priorities. Consider consulting with your flatmates when you move in to agree on household habits and discuss ways to save energy, water and money.
To get the conversation started, try sharing some of the tips in this guide with your flatmates. The Alternative Technology Association (PDF 2.13MB) and the Victorian Smart Renter's Guide are also packed with practical, renter-specific tips.
Talking to your landlord or estate agent
Repairs, servicing or maintenance, including many energy efficiency improvements, will usually require permission (and finance) from your landlord. Every state and territory has different laws for tenants, so it's important to do your research and ask permission before going ahead with any property changes.
Some things to keep in mind when approaching your landlord or estate agent to request sustainable improvements include:
- Rebates and assistance. There is a range of government rebates and assistance available to property owners for making sustainable improvements. To assist your request you could do some of the research for your landlord and explore our rebates and assistance section to find what's relevant to your situation.
- Tax deductions. Many green property improvements, as well as repairs and maintenance, are tax deductible. You might like to look at the Australian Tax Office's Guide for rental property owners to see which items apply to your household and pass on any good news to your landlord.
- Investment benefits. By investing in sustainable improvements, your landlord is increasing the property's value and making it more attractive to future buyers and renters.
Make sure you put any requests to your landlord or real-estate agent in writing. If you need help, take a look online for sample letters or check out the Alternative Technology Association's sample letter at the back of their Renters guide to sustainable living (PDF 2.3MB). It's also a good idea to keep a record of all requests as well as any agreements from your landlord or real estate agent to make changes or improvements.
Information for renters and landlords in every state and territory
- Renters guide to sustainable living (2.3MB PDF) Alternative Technology Association
- ACT Tenancy Factsheets Tenants' Union ACT Inc.
- NSW Renting a home NSW Government
- NT Residential tenancies Northern Territory Consumer Affairs
- QLD Thinking about renting residential tenancies authority
- SA Renting and letting Government of South Australia
- TAS Renting Consumer, Building and Occupational Services
- VIC Renting Consumer Affairs Victoria
- WA Renting and leasing Government of Western Australia
Other government and non-government resources
Be bushfire ready
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.