How to cut your energy bill


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With power and water bills rising, it's time to put your consumption patterns under the microscope to see if you can save money.

I was approached at my local farmers' market to sign up for a free energy and water assessment as part of the federal government's Green Start program, set up to help Australians reduce their carbon footprint. For more information visit

I signed up and a few days later an assessor with encyclopaedic knowledge turned up. Within a few hours she told me that my family could save almost $1000 with some fairly painless adjustments.

I admit I've always been in the dark about how much each appliance costs to run, because my power bill is a lump sum that rises in winter because we use heaters. So it was an eye opener when my assessor efficiently calculated how much each of my appliances, from the laptop computer to the stereo, costs each year.

All you need to work out is how many hours a day or week the appliance is used. It helps to know the energy rating of your whitegoods. I found out that I spend less than $4 a year on the microwave, $55 on the iron, while the energy-efficient fridge costs around $120.

The heated towel rail with its timed switch costs $5 a year. The dishwasher costs $100 each year if we keep it on the shortest cycle (34 minutes) rather than use the longest wash cycle - two hours and 40 minutes. A desktop computer uses five times more power than a laptop computer.

While we aim to be energy efficient and have installed gas heating in the living areas, there are still changes to make to our house. The assessor said the 20-year-old halogen lights had to go.

"Did you know that 80% of halogen light is heat and only 20% is light?" she asked. We could save $120 a year by switching to compact fluorescent lights.

She had plenty of tips on how to save water. Not surprisingly, getting my teenage children to take shorter showers was top of the list. I also found out that a front loader washing machine is much more water efficient, using 50 to 70 litres per load compared to a top loader's 100 to 150 litres.

A full-flush button on a toilet means you use 12 litres of clean water with every flush. She suggested a small button from the hardware store installed in the cistern can reduce the water used.

The assessment was well worth it. I found out that washing my family's clothes in cold water instead of warm water would save me $170 a year. Washing in warm water is around nine times more expensive. Turning appliances off instead of leaving them on standby would save $140.

While many of her assessments were about small behavioural changes that are cheap and easy to do, she encouraged me to think big picture too. Putting solar panels on our roof, setting up a greywater system and buying energy-efficient products are the most effective ways to save a great deal of energy. My assessor could rattle off all the federal and state rebates on offer.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.