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Seniors' guide to energy saving

About this guide

Your lifestyle and energy-use patterns change as you age and move from full-time paid employment into retirement. Managing your energy bills throughout the year can be challenging, particularly if you’re on a fixed income, such as a pension.

This guide is designed to help you understand what you can do to lower your energy bills by changing how and when you use energy, and by choosing the energy contract most suited to your circumstances. It also includes ways to manage your payments and what to do if you’re having difficulties or are threatened with disconnection.

You don't have to be a home owner to change how you manage your energy bills and to make your household more energy efficient. Nearly 30 per cent of Australians live in rented accommodation and while there are limitations on what you can change, there are ways to reduce your energy bills and improve efficiency. The options in this guide are applicable to all households.

Your Energy Savings has a wealth of additional information and tips that can assist you to take no and low cost actions, including a guide just for renters. Two of our most popular guides have also been translated into 32 languages. By trying some of the suggestions and ideas you could save money, energy and water as well as making your home more comfortable.

Energy saving tips

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The following tips cover key energy ‘hot spots’ around the home including heating and cooling, hot water, appliances, and lighting to help you identify and make changes.

If you’re keen to do more after following the suggestions below, look for additional energy-efficiency information from your state or territory government and around the web. There are great resources for renters and if you’re an apartment owner (or manager) you may be interested in the Smart Blocks program to improve energy-efficiency in common areas of your building.

Heating and cooling

When you consider that around 40 per cent of home energy use goes to heating and cooling, it's not hard to see how making small changes to your heating and cooling habits can have a major impact on your energy bills. The following no and low cost ideas are a great place to start:

  • Control your climate. In winter, set your heating thermostat between 18 to 20 degrees Celsius. In summer, set your cooling thermostat between 25 to 27 degrees Celsius. For every degree you increase your heating and cooling you increase your energy use by around 5 to 10 per cent.
  • Dress for the season. Once you've found the temperature that you're comfortable with, dress appropriately for the season. Perhaps grabbing a warmer jumper and using a throw rug when curling up on the sofa in winter, or peeling off a layer and dressing in breathable fabrics such as cotton in summer, is all you need to avoid turning the thermostat up or down a degree or two.
  • Close off rooms not in use. Trying to heat or cool a whole house can waste energy and money. Shut the doors to areas you only use occasionally (like the bathroom and laundry) and only heat or cool the rooms you’re using. An extra blanket or wool underlay is a more cost-effective way to stay warm overnight than keeping the heater running all night.
  • Seal gaps and cracksDraught-proofing your home and stopping heated and cooled air leaking out through gaps and cracks offers an inexpensive way to cut your energy bill by up to 25 per cent. Try a draught 'snake' to stop air escaping under doors and apply easy-to-install weather seals from your local hardware store for windows, floorboards, skirting boards, skylights and cornices. You can also stop heat rising into your ceiling by fitting covers over downlights and vents. If renting, check with your landlord or real estate agent before fitting any weather seals or covers.
  • Be window wiseImprove 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.
  • Install temporary glazing. You can insulate 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 or real estate agent before going ahead if you’re renting.
  • Harness 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.
  • Choose the fan over the air conditioner. Ceiling and pedestal fans cost around two cents per hour of operation and reduce the temperature by 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. Fans also help to circulate air and can be used to improve the effectiveness of air cooling systems.
  • Use the fan to help circulate hot air. You can improve your heating efficiency in winter by using the reverse rotation function on ceiling fans that have this option. Ensure it's on the correct rotation—downwards—to push the air in the right direction for winter. The switch on your fan or remote control should clearly indicate this.

Hot water

Heating hot water accounts for about 25 per cent of household energy use. Try these ideas to ensure you're only paying for the energy you need.

  • Get the temperature right. The recommended setting for thermostats is above 60 degrees Celsius on storage hot water systems; or no more than 50 degrees Celsius on instantaneous systems.
  • Give your hot water a holiday. If you're away for more than a few days, and decide to turn off your storage hot water system to save money and energy, you should follow important safety tips when you turn it back on. When you return, allow plenty of time for the water to heat back up to above 60 degrees Celsius 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 above 60 degrees Celsius before you can safely use it.
  • Don’t use the shower to warm up. Staying in the shower uses up to 20 times as much energy as getting out and standing under two heat lamps.
  • Install a water-efficient showerhead. By replacing old inefficient showerheads and installing a water-efficient showerhead, you could save up to $430 a year on energy and water bills. Consider asking your landlord or real estate agent to install water-efficient models, as these use around one-third of the water. There are a number of rebates available to help you.
  • Choose an energy-efficient hot water system. Landlords or homeowners considering the replacement of a hot water system may be eligible for rebates and assistance. If your system is getting to the end of its life, it’s a good idea to think ahead and do some research to identify an energy-efficient system suitable for your specific circumstances. This will save you making a hurried decision should your current hot water system suddenly break down.

Appliances

Appliances account for up to 30 per cent 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. Try our top tips, then follow the links for more detailed advice:

  • Purchase energy-efficient appliances. If you're in the market for a new appliance, consider purchasing an energy-efficient model. The Good Shepherd Microfinance No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) can assist you in purchasing new energy and water-efficient appliances. Running costs can add up to more than the purchase price over the life of the product. You can use the Energy Rating Label to help determine how energy-efficient a particular appliance is—the more stars the more energy and money you can save.
  • Compare appliances. By visiting the Energy Rating website, or downloading the Energy Rating App to your smart-phone, you can compare the running costs of star-rated household appliances and add up the real cost of purchasing a particular model before or even while you shop. An efficient (high star-rated) model can cost a little more, but choosing a cheaper less efficient product could end up costing you much more in the long run through expensive energy bills.
  • Estimate the running costs of appliances. This is particularly useful for products that don't carry the Energy Rating Label. Use these simple steps to see how much your appliance will cost you each year, and over the life of the product.
  • Get access to free information and rebates. A number of household programs exist to provide you better advice on purchasing energy-efficient appliances as well as using appliances more efficiently. Landlords, renters and homeowners may be eligible for a rebate when replacing an appliance. Items that may be covered include showerheads, toilets, hot water systems and fridges, so it's worth doing your research to ensure all parties can benefit from the potential savings on purchase price and energy costs.
  • Use appliances efficiently. How you use appliances can affect your energy bill. The position of the appliance, how you operate it and maintain it all affect how much energy is used. For example, placing your refrigerator next to your oven will make it work harder to keep your food cold. By making simple changes you can reduce costs. Machine washing your clothes using cold water rather than hot water can reduce your energy use by between 50 and 85 per cent depending on whether you have a front loader or top loader. Try our detailed tips
  • Save on standby power. Many appliances and gadgets, such as phone chargers, computers, microwave ovens and stereos continue to draw power when not in use. Standby power can account for 10 per cent of household electricity use. Switching appliances and gadgets off at the wall when you're finished with them will cut both your energy use and energy 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.

Lighting

Lighting in homes consumes between 8 and 15 per cent of the average household electricity budget. By switching to energy-efficient lighting and using lights efficiently you could halve your lighting costs.

  • Minimise artificial lighting. Think about how much artificial lighting you need—a desk or standard lamp will provide 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 also saves energy. Opt for motion sensors on outdoor lights.
  • Switch 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 per cent of the energy of an incandescent light globe and can last between 4 and 10 times longer. Good quality LEDs can last even longer.
  • Use light furnishings and reflective surfaces. You can reduce the need for artificial lighting by decorating with light-coloured furnishings and by placing mirrors across from windows.

Tips for talking to your landlord or real estate agent

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Making sustainable improvements to your rental property can improve comfort and help reduce your energy use. It may also provide benefits for your landlord such as access to financial incentives and an increase in the value of the property.

Keep in mind that repairs, servicing or maintenance, including energy and water saving improvements, may require permission (and finance) from your landlord or real estate agent. 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 consider when approaching your landlord or real 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 or real estate agent and explore our rebates and assistance section to find what’s relevant to your situation.
  • Tax deductions. Many 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 or real estate agent.
  • Investment benefits. By investing in property improvements that lead to household energy efficiency, your landlord can increase the property’s value, making it more attractive to future buyers and renters. Paying a little more for added features and better quality, can help reduce the costs and time involved in repairing and replacing appliances and fixtures.

Make sure you put any requests to your landlord or real estate agent in writing. 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.

Tips for managing your energy bills

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If you’ve ever received an unexpectedly high energy bill you’ll know the stress this can put on the household budget. There are a number of options to help you better manage energy payments and ensure you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances.

How do I choose the best energy contract for me?

One way to reduce bill stress is to shop around to see if you’re getting the best deal for your particular energy needs.

In most states and territories [except Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Western Australia—and in Queensland areas outside South East Queensland] you have a choice of which energy retailer to go with. In areas where there is only one energy retailer, it’s important to make sure you’re on the contract that is most suitable for the way your household uses energy.

There are many energy offers available, which can be confusing. You should start by understanding how much energy you use and noting the times of day you are using it. You can follow our checklist for comparing offers and use the recommended calculator or comparison tool for your state or territory to help you make your decision. Visit EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au for more information and to find out the average electricity usage for a household of your size in your area. If you’d like assistance comparing offers, you can call the Australian Energy Regulator Infoline on 1300 585 165. Keep in mind switching energy retailer can help to lower your contract costs but it won't lower your energy use.

Off peak and time-of-use pricing

If you choose an energy contract where you’re rewarded for moving some of your energy away from peak times (usually 3pm to 9pm in the evenings when demand on the electricity network is at its highest) you may be able to maximise savings. Retirees may, for example, be able to move their washing and cooking times to during the day, but remember when you’re likely to run heating and cooling systems before deciding what is best for your household. If you choose a contract that doesn’t suit your household or lifestyle you could end up paying more. Having an interval or smart meter installed can help you get a more detailed picture of your energy use so that you can make more informed decisions on how you alter household behaviours to save energy and money.

Energy bill essentials

Energy is an essential service and there are laws in place to provide customer safeguards.

If you have agreed (verbally or in writing) to a market retail energy contract with an energy retailer, they must provide you with a printed summary of their contract offer. The product disclosure statement, known as an Energy Price Fact Sheet, is required to include the following information:

  • all applicable prices
  • charges
  • early termination payments and penalties
  • date and duration of the contract
  • billing and payment information.

 It’s important you read and understand all the terms and conditions of your contract as it will contain information about the price you pay for energy, any fees and charges that may apply to you, the duration of the contract, and other important information relating to your rights and obligations as an energy customer.

To avoid any unpleasant surprises down the track, make sure you’re aware of all the terms and conditions of the retail energy contract before you agree to it. Asking a trusted family member or friend to help you review the details can be helpful.

Any time you enter a new contract you have a 10 business day ‘cooling off’ period in which you can decide not to go ahead without being charged a fee. If you change your mind, contact your energy company immediately.

What if I think my bill is wrong?

If you think your bill is incorrect you should contact your energy retailer immediately. An energy retailer must review a bill if requested by a customer. If you’re still not happy, you can talk to the energy ombudsman in your state or territory. An ombudsman is a free and independent dispute resolution service. A full list is provided at the end of this guide, or you can get more information from the Australian Energy Regulator online or by calling 1300 585 165.

What if I get a disconnection notice?

A disconnection notice can be sent from your energy retailer for a range of reasons, but most commonly it will be caused by an issue with your bill payment. There are some restrictions on when disconnections can occur. For example, in most circumstances you cannot be disconnected during a protected period, such as on a weekend or public holiday. There are also additional provisions that limit disconnections for customers experiencing hardship and those premises registered as having life support equipment. If you receive a disconnection notice, you should contact your energy retailer immediately to discuss your options. Their contact details will be on the disconnection notice.

What if I’m having difficulty paying my bill?

Some states and territories have help for people having difficulty managing energy bills, or for people with specific medical or mobility issues. For example, you may be eligible for the Essential Medical Equipment Payment.

Your energy retailer should also have a hardship policy for those people experiencing financial difficulties. If you think you will be unable to pay your bill on time or have had difficulty paying a bill in the past, you should contact your energy company by phone or email as early as possible to discuss how they can help you. You can request a copy of your energy retailer’s hardship policy which they must provide to you upon request.

If you’re on a fixed income you can arrange with your energy retailer to have smaller amounts regularly deducted – usually weekly, fortnightly or monthly. If you’re receiving a payment from Centrelink ask about the free Centrepay service to help you to better manage your finances, spreading out the costs of seasonal changes to your energy use. The MoneySmart budget planner can also help with managing costs.

To find out more information on what assistance you can receive contact your energy retailer or the state or territory government department responsible for energy in your area. You can also use our rebate searcher on yourenergysavings.gov.au. This has up-to-date summaries of all energy and sustainability rebates offered by the Australian and state and territory governments.

The EnergyMadeEasy website also has a range of information to assist you if you have a complaint or are experiencing difficulties.

Resources and assistance

Energy and Water Ombudsman

Government consumer and fair trading agencies

Information for renters and landlords


Tenant’s unions and advocacy groups

Other government and non-government resources