Saving On Winter Power Bills

Whether you own your home or rent it, the winter power bill is often something to be dreaded. Unfortunately in most of New Zealand, the reality is that our winters can be cold and wet, and a lot our homes are poorly insulated. There are some basic and cheap things you can do to minimize that ugly winter power bill.

Winter morning coffee, Post Office Square, Wellington, New Zealand, 23 July 2008

Although how you heat your home is important, before we get to that, it's far more important to focus on minimizing how much heat you are losing from your home, you have got to stop heating the back yard!


Stop the Drafts

As anyone who is unfortunate enough to be living in an earthquake-munted Christchurch home will tell you, cracks and holes make it impossible to heat a house. If you have broken windows, poorly fitted doors and windows with broken seals they need fixing. Strongly suggest to your landlord that they do some basic maintenance, or with care, and doing no damage do the work yourself with a "no more gaps" product or duct tape.

An old-fashioned draft stopper under a door can make a big difference if it stops a serious draft.

Windows

Modern designs often favour fancy blinds, venetians or even the "bare window" look. Don't do it, particularly if your home, like most of New Zealand's houses built before 2008, are single glazed aluminium. That's where a lot of your heat is going. Plus the wet panes aren’t helping in your fight against mould.

You need thermal backed, and/or lined curtains. The curtains should extend completely to the floor (don't stop a few centimetres short - the heat will find the gap), or generously below the window sill.

Good quality curtains can be expensive. But it's worth checking around the local second hand shops or on Trademe for a bargain. A cheaper option can be window film. Available at your local hardware store, and looking a lot like kitchen cling wrap, this easily attaches to the outside of wooden or aluminium windows.

It's not a permanent solution - but one application will last the winter. As a bonus - no more window cleaning!


Insulation

If you own your home then, insulation is well worth considering. If the house is older than 1980 - it's unlikely to have any.

The easiest area to install insulation into is the roof space. Most older houses have easy access to the roof space, a few hours and a few bags of pink batts can do wonders for your winter heating bill (and even keep the home cooler in the summer if that's a problem).

Many houses also have moderately easy access to under the house. If there is a crawl space then you have several options for under floor insulation including insulating paper which is attached the floor joists, or foam panels which sit between them.

Walls are your other area that needs insulation. This is harder though, unless you are in the process of a bit of renovation. If you are re-gibbing the interior, then take the opportunity to install some insulation while the wall covering is off.

The New Zealand government still offers a home insulation subsidy for homes which were built before 2000 of up to $1300, more if the landlord or tenants have a Community Services card. Details can be found here., Many in the industry believe that home insulation installers have inflated their prices to reflect the subsidy, so if you are at all handy it's well worth considering doing the work yourself.


Efficient Heating

Unfortunately, efficient heating is certainly not cheap - all of these options will cost you at least $1500, some up to $4000, depending on the size of house and the ease of installation.


Wood Burners

If you have access to free or cheap fire wood, then a modern wood burner is your cheapest heating option. Wood burners can include a wet-back system to heat your hot water as well. And then, when there's a power cut, you will still have a warm house and a hot shower!


Heat Pumps

If you want to stick with electricity for your heating, then an energy efficient heat pump is your best option. However if you install one of these in a property with little or no insulation, the power bill may be an awful shock. Efficiency doesn't necessarily equal power savings, particularly if you go from heating one room for a few hours, - to heating the whole house for most of the day and night. Do your figures, and consider how you will use the heat pump before you spend the money.


Flued Gas Heating

If you live in the North Island and have gas available then flued gas heating is generally cheaper to run than most electric heaters, and has similar running costs to a heat pump. A gas heater will probably cost more to purchase, than the equivalent heat pump.


More Ways To Save On Your Power Bill


Spot Heat

Don't heat the whole house. Although experts keep telling us our houses are too cold, I know every time I'm in Europe or the US with their over-heated houses, I find it hard to sleep if I can't turn the radiators down. Adults don't need a heated bedroom to sleep, instead substitute a hot-water bottle, electric-blanket, or old-fashioned bed socks.

It may seem obvious - but close doors, to keep the heat where you are, and to avoid heating spaces such as corridors and utilities.


Timers

I hate getting up early to a cold bedroom. So I put the room's heater on a $20 timer, now it's all warmed up before I have to get out of bed. If you are buying small electric heaters, the timer models are usually a lot more expensive, compared to the price of a separate timer plus the basic model heater.

Lights can also be put on timers to avoid power bills. With the long nights of winter, particularly down south, then having security lights at your front door on timers or motion sensors can save some money.

We hope we’ve given you some ideas about how to cut your power bill this winter!