About this guide
When the mercury's rising and summer's in full swing it's the season to cook outdoors, camp under the stars, and drive off into the sunset for a bit of time out.
It's also the season when water usage, electricity and fuel bills can soar as we try to keep cool, keep the garden alive, and travel about in holiday mode. But with some thought and a bit of planning, the impact of summer living can be reduced.
Beating the heat
As the temperature rises, so does the temptation to turn up the air conditioner. But there are ways to reduce the summer heat in your home before turning on mechanical cooling.
Direct sunlight on windows can produce as much heat as a radiator, so shade exterior windows (especially north and west facing ones) with blinds inside, and awnings or pergolas outside. Deciduous trees, bushes or vines outside windows and walls will also provide heat protection in summer.
Close windows and curtains during the hottest part of the day to keep out heat and save on cooling costs. When it cools down outside open your home up to the evening breeze. This will lower the temperature inside. Create airflow by opening windows or doors on opposite sides of the room.
If you haven't already insulated your home, you could be wasting up to half the energy you use to cool your home by allowing cool air to leak out and hot air to enter. And don't forget to draught-proof your home by sealing gaps around windows and doors—this helps keep cool air in and hot air out. Weather strips and the traditional sand-filled 'sausage' are cheap and easy options.
Electrical appliances and lighting can pump out heat too, so turn off lights, computers and televisions when not in use and try to use the dishwasher or washing machine in the morning or evening when it's cooler. Avoid using the oven in the middle of the day. Even your choice of light globes can make a difference to the heat in a room. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) not only emit less heat than older-style light globes, they are far more energy efficient and can last 4 to 10 times longer.
If you decide to use electrical cooling, consider using fans. They use a fraction of the energy an air-conditioning system uses and create a breeze to make you feel cooler. Remember, fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave the room.
If you have an air conditioner, use it only when you have to and don't over-cool. Set the temperature between 25 and 27°C. Setting the thermostat to even 1°C higher can save between 5 and 10% on your energy use. Consider buying a programmable thermostat for your air conditioner so that you can set it to suit your schedule and needs. If your air conditioner has a component such as a compressor that sits outside, try to provide it with some shading—if it's sitting in full sun it has to work harder than it needs to. You might be able to use shading plants or an awning over a window. Don't forget to clean the filters regularly to help your system work more efficiently.
See cooling choices for more information on fans, evaporative coolers and air conditioners. If you're thinking of buying a reverse-cycle air conditioner or heat pump, look out for the Energy Rating Label and compare the efficiency of different models.
If you're looking for ways to take a fresh look at energy consumption, our reduce your energy bills guide has lots of ways to save energy and leave more dollars in your pocket.
Keeping cool in the tropics
Keeping cool in summer is challenging, especially in tropical areas. Because of the high humidity, the natural process of sweating is inhibited, so maximising air movement through the house is the key to cooling. Natural ventilation is much cheaper than flicking on the air conditioner.
Learn where breezes come from during the day and open up windows to make the most of the flow. See if you can open up at least two or three windows in every room to maximise flow — both to outside and other internal rooms. If you have double-hung windows, open the top and bottom. Ceiling fans will also assist air movement.
Ways to cool down
Our bodies can adapt to summer temperatures in around two weeks. With a slight shift in the daily routine and a few simple tricks, you can keep your body temperature down and reduce reliance on costly mechanical cooling.
Take it easy during the middle of the day's heat and avoid heavy chores and exercise. There's a reason why so many people in hot parts of the world have a midday siesta when the sun is at its hottest and take advantage of the cooler mornings and evenings.
Adjust your routine so that you can spend at least part of hot days in public spaces which are cool. Perhaps you can do your shopping or go to the movies in the middle of the day rather than the evening.
For an instant cool-down, spray yourself with a mist of water or drape a moist towel around your neck. You could even try the same trick with a cloth bag filled with frozen rice — summer's alternative to a heat neck roll. Wet your wrists and other pulse points — constantly cooling wrists will also cool the body. Try wetting the ends of your sleeves throughout the day. A quick sponge down will also make you feel cooler instantly.
Clothes make a difference to how you feel as well. Opt for loose and light-weight clothing in light colours. Organic cottons and breathable fabrics can make you feel more comfortable.
Summer can be the perfect time to take off and escape for a while from your normal routine. Some modes of transport are responsible for significant carbon outputs, but there are ways you can minimise your travel impact and save on energy use while you're away
If you're flying to your holiday destination, you can opt to pay a little extra to offset your air travel's carbon emissions with most Australian airlines. This means the money you pay is directed towards projects which reduce carbon emissions. You can find out about the carbon offset projects from different airlines from their websites. They may include energy efficiency projects, wind or hydro energy projects, either in Australia or overseas. The National Carbon Offset Standard trademark indicates that a business is committed to achieving genuine carbon emission reductions. See our guide to carbon offsets and abatement for more information.
If you take to the road in summer, make sure your vehicle is well-maintained and that the tyres are inflated to the correct air pressure. Driving efficiently can make a big difference to the fuel consumption of your vehicle. For a medium-sized car, good maintenance could save money and up to 1,500kg of carbon dioxide per year, compared with a poorly maintained vehicle. If you're renting a vehicle, choose the smallest one that suits your needs to minimise fuel consumption.
If you decide to take in the great outdoors and go camping and bushwalking consider using the 'leave no trace' philosophy and don't leave behind any rubbish, and use bio-degradable soap (or none at all) for cleaning up. The same applies at the beach — be considerate of other users, marine life and animals, and help keep our beaches clean.
Check that electrical appliances like microwaves, kettles, televisions, home entertainment systems and gaming consoles are turned off at the wall so they're not drawing electricity while on standby. For example, if left on 24 hours a day in active or idle mode, the least efficient game console can use as much electricity as two new fridges.
If you're going away for an extended period and want to save energy by turning off your storage hot water heater (electric, gas or solar), ensure you follow important safety steps when you turn it back on.
If you have some spare time on your hands during the summer holidays, one option might be to join the more than 6 million other Australians who volunteer and donate your time. Greening Australia, Volunteering Australia, Clean Up Australia and Conservation Volunteers are just a few of the non-profit organisations who welcome help from community members. You can help at tree planting events, clean up our bushland and waterways or spend time at community nurseries.
You can even take your holiday with some volunteer organisations — getting a unique holiday experience and making a real difference to the environment at the same time. For example, Conservation Volunteers offer small group eco-tour experiences where the holiday maker actually gets to participate in conservation activities while on holiday and discover areas often not accessible to other tourists.
Save money with the sun
There's lots of sun in summer, so turn it into an ally.
Give your clothes dryer a rest and use the sun as your dryer. Even if you live in an apartment, you may be able to use a clothes rack on your balcony. Otherwise find a sunny spot inside. The sun also has natural bleaching powers so hang out your whites for some natural lightening. Nappies will be especially appreciative. Take advantage of the extra hours of sunshine to wash and dry bulkier items like blankets and rugs, or just give them an airing on the clothes line to freshen them up.
Most regions in Australia get lots of sunshine so consider using the power of the sun to provide energy for your home by installing a solar hot water system or solar power. A solar hot water system can provide up to 90% of your hot water needs.
Be bushfire ready
"Prepare, act, survive" is the national slogan for readying your home for the bushfire season. The key to being prepared is to understand the level of bushfire risk you and your property are exposed to and the ways you can reduce this risk. Having a plan and preparing your property to deal with the threat of bushfire can keep you and your family safe. The most important decision is whether you and your family will leave early or stay and defend your well-prepared home. Some of the things you should do include:
- Protect the lives of you and your family members. Having a Bush Fire Survival Plan (2.7MB PDF) in place gives you, your family, your home and property the best chance of survival.
- If you have a mobile phone, download a mobile phone app showing where fires are. Your state or territory fire services may have one available.
- Check and/or change the battery on your smoke alarms.
- Cut back any overhanging trees or shrubs and dispose of cuttings appropriately.
- Check the condition of your roof and replace any damaged or missing roofing material.
- Clean leaves from the roof, gutters and downpipes and fit quality metal leaf guards.
- If you have a water tank, dam or swimming pool, consider installing a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign.
- Store wood piles well away from the house and keep covered.
- Keep garden mulch away from the house.
- Keep grass short.
- Ensure you have a hose which is long enough to reach every part of the home.
- Remove and store any flammable items away from the house.
- Check the condition of external walls, cladding, windows and seal any gaps.
There is more advice and assistance available online from your state or territory fire services in the ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA , TAS, VIC, and WA. These include tips for reducing fire risks in your area, and tools such as mobile phone apps that:
Keep in mind that 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.
If you live in a cyclone or flood-prone area, there are things you can do around the home to prepare. The Australian Government Attorney-General's Department is the key online access point for emergency management information from the Australian Government.
Summer is the time when we do a lot of living outdoors. Take advantage of cool evening breezes and fire up the barbeque and eat outside. You could use a natural repellent like citronella candles or lemon eucalyptus oil to keep the mozzies at bay, or use a large mosquito net to enclose an eating area. If you're outside during the day, you could choose umbrellas and shaded areas to protect you from the sun's rays.
If you're having a party or barbeque, or you're out and about at picnics or outdoor events, try to avoid disposable plates and cutlery and help reduce waste. Carry a re-usable drink bottle rather than buying lots of drinks in plastic bottles on the hop. If there are no recycling facilities where you're picnicking or camping, bring your recycling home with you, including food scraps which you can compost at home. Your garden and worms will love you for it. Whether cooking indoors or outdoors, plan your meals before you shop and store your food properly. This will avoid food waste in the heat of summer and reduce rotting food going to landfill.
Pools and spas may be refreshing, but they can lose vast amounts of water through evaporation, sometimes up to 30,000 litres a year and can use as much energy as dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers combined. They're also chemical-intensive. If you have a pool, a well-fitting pool cover is a must — this can significantly reduce evaporation. Having a rainwater tank to capture rainwater is a great way to top up a pool when necessary.
If you're considering installing a pool, check water restrictions for your area and talk to installers and suppliers about energy use and the different types of filtration systems on the market, including natural pool designs which use biological filters.
Remember, it's your responsibility to ensure your home pool or spa is safe for everyone and minimises the risk of young children drowning. Ensure your pool and spa complies with safety and fencing regulations in your state or territory, and carry out regular checks to minimise the risk of accidents. The Royal Life Saving Society Make it Safe campaign has important information and a video about portable pool safety.
See our outdoor living guide for more ways to reduce waste, save energy and make your outdoor areas comfortable and beautiful.
In the garden
Gardens can really suffer in the summer heat, especially if you live in an area with dry conditions or where water restrictions are in place. By creating a water-smart garden, you can reduce labour, save water and money, and help your garden to flourish under dry conditions.
Mulching is one of the most efficient ways to maintain your garden through summer. It helps smother weeds and reduces moisture loss. There are lots of mulches to choose from such as pea straw, sugar cane and wood chip. Don't water mulched gardens too often as this brings roots to the surface.
Water efficiently. Work out which plants do well in which spot and group plants together according to their need for water and sun — this way your intense watering can be confined to one spot. Only water the plants that need it and do it early in the morning or in the evening. Water deeply — a good occasional soaking is better than several light sprinkles, and water slowly to ensure good penetration. Adhere to water restrictions in your area.
Get to know your soil and what you can do to keep it fertile and improve its water retention. Talk to your garden centre about ways to test your soil, or research online — this will help you to know what your plants need to thrive.
Improve the health of your soil. Make your own organic mulch by starting a compost heap or keeping worms. Composting your kitchen and garden waste or keeping chickens will also prevent food scraps and garden waste from rotting in landfill and releasing greenhouse gases.
A greywater system is a good way to re-use water from the bathroom basin or laundry and redirect it to your garden. There are a few types of greywater systems. Consult your plumber and local council about regulations and options in your area. Rainwater tanks are a popular way to harvest water.
There's a range of rebates and assistance available to assist with planning and establishing a water-smart garden. You can also talk to your local nursery or garden centre about the most effective way to care for your garden in summer.
Planting a vegetable garden and growing culinary herbs are great ways to help cut grocery bills and reduce food waste and might even help with burning off those post-Christmas calories while you're digging, planting, weeding, and harvesting. And they taste great!
When you grow your own produce you can pick your food at its peak of ripeness when the flavours and nutrients are at their best. Have you ever tasted a tomato straight off the vine? Even if you don't have much space, it's possible to grow almost any vegetable in pots, such as dwarf beetroot and carrots. Herbs are tolerant of many growing conditions and you can grow them in pots in the smallest of apartments. They'll add a refreshing kick to your cooking.
It can be really gratifying to know that you've sown a seed and cared for it while it grows. You can also give children a hands-on experience of where food comes from — and they'll love running out to the yard to hunt and harvest their own dinner.
By growing your own produce you also know exactly what goes into your food. You can minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are pollutants that can get washed or blown into stormwater drains and local waterways. Keep in mind that pesticides don't discriminate between good insects and bad pests. Try out some organic pest remedies instead, like placing saucers of beer near plants that are susceptible to snail attack—snails are attracted to the smell of beer. Boiling water will kill weeds if you pour it directly onto them but take care to avoid your plants. This method is especially good for weeds in paving cracks. Vinegar will kill couch grass. Once you've identified which pests you need to control, you can surf the internet for many more organic remedies to make at home.
Work out what grows best in your local climate zone and check out gardening websites to help get you started and work out a summer timetable.
Lawns can make gardens look great and feel cool under bare feet, but they're thirsty drinkers and require quite a bit of maintenance. But with a bit of care, you can keep your lawn healthy in the heat and minimise its water needs — or consider some alternatives.
Summer often gives lawns a beating, especially in drier areas and if water restrictions apply. Don't despair if they turn a bit yellow or brown — this usually means that your grass is just dormant and will return to green when the weather cools down and rainfall increases.
It's important not to cut your grass too short. Longer blades of grass are less stressed and provide shade to keep the soil moist and overtake weeds.
Over time the soil in lawns becomes compacted and needs to be aerated — this will allow water to be absorbed more effectively. You can use a garden fork for smaller areas (press a fork into the soil and lever it back and forth a couple of times) or hire a coring machine for larger areas. Wetting agents may also help lawns absorb water if they've become dried out.
Over-fertilisation with chemicals makes the soil too acidic for the lawn and pollutes our waterways. You can make up a batch of organic fertiliser by combining equal amounts of 'blood and bone', ground chicken manure and river sand and sprinkle it onto your lawn two or three times each year.
Mowing, leaf blowing, fertiliser production and other lawn-tending activities can produce more greenhouse gases than your lawn can absorb. Try switching to a push mower and garden rake — this will reduce carbon emissions and keep you fit at the same time.
Talk to a lawn expert about suitable grass choices for your area and the best way to care for lawns and minimise water use. They will also be able to advise you on other ways to help keep lawns healthy.
You can also talk to garden and landscape experts about alternatives to replace or reduce lawn areas, such as drought-tolerant flowering plants, ornamental grasses or tan bark. There are also porous paving options which prevent water run-off from paved areas.