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The following information is general advice only and does not take into account extraordinary circumstances or requirements your household may have for power. Always consult with your power provider and professional budgeting advice for guidance tailored to your situation.
We’re well into winter time. That means wearing more layers, more movie days at home and, unfortunately, it often means bigger power bills. It’s no secret that with colder temperatures comes more expensive electricity – our usage goes up, as does the demand for power on the national grid. The result is families need to budget more in winter for power than they do in summer.
Powershop know that families have plenty to think about beyond just their power (managing a budget can be tough!). That’s why they provide a range of resources and advice for Kiwis who want to save on power. Why overspend on energy usage when there’s plenty of other things that money could be used for?
Check out these simple tips to get control of your power bill during the colder months:
1. Review your usage data online
Before making any changes at home, get a clear picture of your family’s current energy usage. How you access and visualise this information depends entirely on your energy retailer. For Powershop customers, you can see this information online on your account. Having usage data across a month, week, day, or hour of day is incredibly useful. It means you can start to work out where the spikes occur in your household – and what you can do to change that.
But don’t just pay attention to those spikes. These are usually first thing in the morning and dinner time, then again for evening shower or bath time. It’s also worth looking at appliances being used throughout the day. These can often be managed better to bring costs down.
Take care not to use data from one specific day or week, but rather view as much of the winter season as you can – that way you’ll be able to identify habits that are common enough to make a difference by changing.
2. Keep the showers short
Hot water is one of the biggest culprits of wasted electricity. Everyone loves a long hot shower in the cold weather, but the reality for most family members is that anything over five minutes is unnecessary. For homes with hot water cylinders powered by electricity, marathon-length showers are a quick route to a massive power bill.
Having trouble getting the kids to stick to a short shower? Put a timer on in the bathroom, such as a small egg timer. When the timer ends, it’s time to get out. For little kids you may wish to incentivise sticking to the five minute shower rule – we’ll leave the specifics of that to you!
A 15 minute shower can cost $1 according to EECA. If a family of four average 15 minute showers each and every day over winter, families can end up spending $360+ for the season. By this estimate, five minute showers can save you $240 (or more!) this winter. That’s a decent amount of extra cash just with a small behaviour change!
3. Reduce your cooking time
Preparing dinners puts demand on the power, but it’s hard to avoid entirely. And, of course, we wouldn’t want you to! Getting control over power costs in the kitchen is more about getting creative with the meal plan than simply avoiding use of appliances.
Keep an eye on preheating time
The oven is typically the most demanding cooking resource due to the high temperature, pre-heating time and cooking time. An oven preheated and unused – such as when you’re preparing other parts of the meal or doing other household tasks means wasted money. Most ovens should have a stated preheat time, or you could try timing this on your phone so you know how long this takes in future. Once you have a clear idea of the preheat time, you can coordinate food prep to ensure the food is ready to go in as soon as the preheating stage is finished.
Batch cook for multiple savings
Families are often time poor, which is why this suggestion isn’t just good for the pocket. Making one large recipe and dividing this up into a number of days’ meals is an excellent way to reduce your net weekly power usage. This is often called a ‘batch cook recipe’, popular with families to save on time, money and -importantly – dishes! The added bonus of batch cooking is the reduction of dirty dishes, reducing how much dishwasher use is required, too.
Pre-boil water for less stove top time
Boiling a pot of water can be done quickly (cheaper) or slowly (more expensive). With a few small tricks you can make dinner time more efficient on time and money First, provided you have a modern electric kettle, it can be smarter to boil a jug of water in the kettle, then pour this into the pot on top of the stove. In a matter of moments, you’ll have it boiling on the stove top – much quicker, and likely more power efficient, than boiling cold water on the stove top.
Secondly, only use as much boiling water as you need to cook the food in the pot. Less volume to keep boiling requires less power and cooking duration. Some food like rice can turn out better when it’s able to absorb most of the water instead of drowning in it.
No cooking tonight
Not all meals need the oven or stove. In fact, making dinner without cooking is a safer way to get the kids involved. Whether it’s a salad or sushi – jump online and find a recipe that doesn’t need cooking (a ‘no-cook dinner’). There’ll be little demand on the power bill and you’ll have a good opportunity to teach the kids some new kitchen skills. Kids are also more invested in trying food they’ve helped make – win-win!
4. Consider cold washes when possible
Outside the bathroom, the laundry is often the biggest culprit for warm water use – especially in family homes where dirty clothes are seemingly endless! A modern washing machine will have the spin strength and technology to deliver a pretty good result with cold water for many items. There will be some garments where warm water is recommended, however this list is small.
A good spin cycle will remove plenty of moisture from clothing, leaving clean clothes less damp and cold and easier to dry. Just make sure to check the label of each item, and note anything that requires a hand wash!
5. Smart clothes drying
Winter isn’t the easiest time to dry clothes properly. If you live in one of the colder, damper parts of the country you’ll be all too familiar with the challenges of keeping on top of the laundry in the middle of the year.
For any of those days where the sun is shining, try to get as much of the clothing outside as possible. It’s free, and it leaves the clothes fresh and dry (weather permitting!). You may need to combine the line with a clothes rack, especially if you’re doing laundry for young ones with lots of little items of clothing.
If you need to use a dryer, make sure the filter is cleaned out before use. For ducted ventilation, make sure this is properly sending hot moisture-filled air outside with no gaps. A dryer that’s not properly maintained won’t be as effective, and it can even be a hazard.
6. Timing and management of heating
Heating – perhaps the first thing most of us think about when talking about power and winter time. A warm environment is essential for the health and wellbeing of our families, but different heating options come with different costs. For example, a home with a heat pump running on a mild temperature may enjoy more cost-effective heating versus using stand-alone column heaters. Although, of course, that doesn’t account for the cost of installing a heat pump – if this is even an option.
No matter the solution, heating will require significant electricity to operate. The question becomes how to get the most heating performance for as little usage as possible.
Control the environment
Heating larger spaces takes more effort than smaller ones. If there are parts of the house that won’t be used during the day or night, think about sectioning off those rooms by closing the doors. This can help warm up a hallway and bedrooms faster by reducing the volume of space heat can go.
Put heaters on timers or thermostat switch-off modes
Many modern heaters (stand-alone or installed) have timing functions which automatically run the heating at certain times. It’s rare that a space would need continual heating, and provided there is some base level of insulation in the room, it should retain heat for a period of time before heating is needed again.
Just make sure the heating for bedrooms like the baby’s room is kept at a level that is comfortable for sleep – cold air is can be a common reason why a baby stirs at night!
Use a temperature that does the job, nothing more
Most heating is set to a level higher than required to make a home comfortable to live in during winter. This is often a decision made when the room is freezing cold. Many households select a heating range of 21-23 Celsius, but families can save on energy costs by toning down the heating to 18-19 degrees Celsius. A temperature of 18 degrees Celsius is considered to be optimal for sleeping.
By toning down the average temperature of your heating unit, controlling the areas to heat and using timers, families can save hundreds in wasted power over winter – all while keeping the kids and pets comfy!
7. Dry homes are easier to heat
Heating a damp home is difficult because the heating doesn’t just warm oxygen but water in the air as well. That means your heaters are far less efficient when there’s lots of moisture inside.
Excessive moisture and dampness doesn’t just make for a colder home, but a more unhealthy one. Damp homes are more likely to suffer from build up of mould and related airborne spores. These can make the family sick, especially those suffering from allergies or respiratory conditions like asthma.
Control over a home’s atmosphere can be done a number of ways, but ventilation and insulation are two of the most important ways. Ventilation allows old stuffy air to flow out of the home and new fresh air to replace it. Some homes have a ventilation system that does this, otherwise air the house out on a clear day by opening the windows.
Insulation helps to manage the barrier between the weather outside and the environment inside, meaning you can maintain a temperature or moisture level for longer with a well-insulated home. This applies in summer as well where keeping a comfortable cool climate is the objective.
And finally, while it will demand power, a dehumidifier to dry out the room can ultimately save on heating costs. Just make sure to check the energy efficiency of different units before you commit to purchasing one. These can be run intermittently to draw out excess moisture (most dehumidifiers can be set to a goal ‘humidity’ setting) making heating much faster and more effective.
8. Switching off – how to get the whole family involved
Power saving isn’t just a job for mum or dad. Kids and teenagers need to be part of the energy conscious mission. For older kids, involve them in the current power usage and set a goal for the next month’s power use. Does the family have a combined goal the savings could go towards? This might help encourage teens to keep that shower down!
Younger kids are often more enthusiastic about making a game out of saving power – but will need a bit more help to do so! Why not create a sticker chart for basic power saving like turning lights off when leaving a room? Or getting out of the shower after five minutes? Who knows, they may even want to get a similar power saving mission started at school!
Want to learn more about how you can save on power?
Check out Powershop’s Saving Electricity section where you can learn about cutting power costs at home, work and even school. You’ll also get access to the appliance power usage guide – a handy chart to see where the biggest demand for electricity comes from.