Energy use and climate change

Energy is vital to how we live our daily lives but most of us don’t use energy as efficiently as we could. ​By becoming more energy efficient, we can help to reduce the amount of energy we use overall.

Energy is vital to how we live our daily lives but most of us don’t use energy as efficiently as we could.

By becoming more energy efficient, we can help reduce the amount of energy we use overall which will ensure we do our part in reducing the effects of climate change.

We need to step it up a notch and start taking better care of Mother Earth.

Energy Use and Climate Change  

Climate change means potentially huge changes in our weather systems and scientists believe that a definite link exists between the energy we use and climate change. Most of our energy usage, at home and in industry, comes from burning fossil fuels.

This produces greenhouse gases which are released into the atmosphere where they trap the heat of the sun, allowing the sun’s rays in but not out.    

The end result is an overall warming of the earth’s atmosphere and, ultimately, climate change. Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, is the main greenhouse gas. The amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere has increased tenfold over the last century, due to our energy usage. 

This has led to the earth’s average surface temperature rising by around 0.6 0C in the 20th century. Never before have humans had such a large and direct impact on the global environment. 

Consequences of Climate Change

We are already experiencing the effects of climate change through shifting weather patterns. Extreme conditions, such as floods, droughts, storms and bushfires are on the increase and these will continue in the coming years. It is also essential to consider the worldwide impact on plants and animals, many of which face the risk of extinction as their ability to evolve cannot keep pace with the speed of change in their natural habitat. Climate change is a critical environmental concern that cannot be ignored. It affects every living creature and plant on the planet. 

The Greenhouse Effect

The Greenhouse effect is the common term given to the phenomenon whereby certain gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane) build up in the lower atmosphere and prevent heat from the sun’s rays from escaping into space. 

Imagine your home in summer without any or very little ventilation enabling heat to escape.  It would be unbearably hot, and the air quality would grow increasingly poor throughout the day whilst your quality of life would diminish rapidly.  

Now, imagine the earth is your home and over time it has been trapping heat within its atmosphere. Heat that cannot escape.  This heat causes the earth’s surface to become hotter year in and year out, increasing the length of our summers resulting in unusual storms, floods, fires and other detrimental weather conditions. 

Becoming More Energy Efficient

By becoming more energy efficient and adopting more sustainable lifestyle you can help to reduce the amount of energy used in your home decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and thus reducing the effects of climate change.   

Below you’ll discover a number of ways to improve energy efficiency in your home. 

Reduce your hot water consumption:

Did you know that for the average household, a hot water system will account for around a quarter of your energy bill? In fact, water heaters are generally thought to be one of the most significant contributors to household energy usage and expenditure – second only to heating and cooling. 

Types of hot water systems 

The two basic types of water heaters available for domestic use are known as storage and instantaneous (continuous) flow systems. 

Storage systems

  • Heat up water and store for when needed. 
  • Poorly insulated systems must regularly reheat water, adding to energy costs. 
  • Are usually cheaper upfront than instantaneous models.

Instantaneous flow systems 

  • Only heat water when needed. 
    No loss of heat since water is used immediately and not stored. 
  • Only available with electricity or gas-powered systems. 
  • Usually cheaper long term. 

Hot water systems are usually powered by one of four methods

  • Electric 
  • Gas 
  • Solar 
  • Heat Pump 

Electric hot water

This is generally the most expensive if it’s on the continuous (full day rate). While running your system on a controlled load tariff can be much cheaper, this isn’t available to all homes. Electric systems will generally cost from $300-$1,500 according to CHOICE, however that figure doesn’t include installation. 

Gas systems

If your home has access to natural gas, then this may be a good option in terms of long-term costs. Natural gas is cheaper than electricity, and because gas rates don’t usually fluctuate based on time of day, you won’t have any issues with your system being more expensive to use at any given time of day. LPG bottles are also a viable option, but will be much more expensive to run. Gas systems will generally cost from $900-$1,200 excluding installation. 

Solar hot water systems

This is hands down the most expensive type to buy, but very possibly the cheapest to run over the long term if you’ve got the space. You’ll need four square metres of solar collector area in order to satisfy the needs of a four-person household, which equates to about two panels. Solar hot water systems are able to be boosted by either gas or electricity to make sure that you have water even on a rainy day. Solar water systems will generally cost from $2,000-$7,000. 

Heat pump

A rather efficient way of heating your water, heat pump systems are expensive to install, but cheap to run. They’re a form of storage system but can be quite noisy, so keep that in mind if you’ve got grumpy neighbours! Heat pump systems will generally cost from $2,500-$4,000, not including installation. 

By installing the most appropriate and efficient water heater for your household size, water use patterns and climate you can save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions without compromising your lifestyle. An efficient hot water service (HWS) can also add value to your home and help meet state, territory or local government regulations. 

Consider alternate ways to heat and cool your home

Very little energy is needed to make a well-designed house comfortable, so first and foremost look at ways of improving aspects of your home. For example, install appropriate insulation, add shading devices such reflective blinds or awnings and draught proof your home to reduce your heating and cooling energy requirements. 

Energy Choices

Gas heaters and efficient reverse cycle air conditioners (or heat pumps) produce only one-third the greenhouse gas emissions of standard electric heaters. The most efficient 5–6 star reverse cycle units actually produce less than one-fifth of the emissions of conventional electric heaters. 

Gas heaters and reverse cycle air conditioners have Energy Rating Labels to help you choose the most efficient model. Please note, the gas Energy Rating Label is industry-led and not monitored by government.  

Central vs Space heating 

Choosing whether to heat your whole house or only the required rooms or spaces has a major influence on the greenhouse impact of your home. In a house with central heating, the greenhouse emissions and costs of running it are usually higher than running efficient space heating. 

Central heating can often heat a whole house whether individual rooms are occupied or not. Space heaters usually only heat the room or area where the heater is installed. 

For an energy efficient house, use space heating only in rooms that require heating or use a zoned central heater to reduce running costs. 

Heat only the rooms that are being used. 

Central Heating 

Central heating usually uses more energy than space heating as more of the house tends to be heated. However, an energy efficient house with central heating may use less energy than an inefficient house with space heating. Several types of central heating are available. 

Many central heaters have high energy losses from the heat distribution systems, usually through ducts or hot water pipes. They should be as short as possible and well-insulated (at least R1.5 for ducts and 25mm of pipe insulation). Fans and pumps can also be costly to run. When heating requirements are low, distribution losses can be the main contributor to heating costs. 

Ducted Air 

In ducted systems, hot air is circulated through roof or underfloor ducts, supplying convective heat. Gas or a reverse cycle air conditioner can be the heat source. 

Design the system so that the extent of the area heated can be controlled and include zoning to allow for shutting off heating to unoccupied areas. Ducted systems should be designed and installed by accredited experts. 

Ensure the ducted system is sized for the house. New, energy efficient houses that meet the requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA) require less heating and smaller capacity heating equipment. 

Floor outlets are often better than ceiling outlets for heating, as warm air naturally rises and they deliver heat to where it is most needed. Well-designed ceiling outlets can work well particularly when rooms are sealed from draughts to the outdoors. Cold air entering under outside-facing doors can form a layer above the floor and stop the less dense warm air from ceiling vents heating the air near the floor, creating a ‘cold feet–warm head’ problem. 

A return air path from every outlet back to the central system is very important. Without it the warm air escapes and the system sucks cold air in, dramatically reducing its effectiveness. In each room that has a duct outlet installed, a gap under the door between the room and the central return air inlet creates a return path. 

In ducted gas systems, a fan moves the air around the home, using electricity as well as gas. High efficiency ducted gas systems use more efficient motors/fans, and control the fan speed, to reduce electric running costs. 

Hydronic systems 

Hydronic systems circulate hot water or coolant through radiator panels in rooms, supplying a mix of convective and radiant heat. 

Hydronic systems are usually gas fired but can be heated by a wood fired heater, solar system or heat pump. Solar systems can use gas or wood heating as a back-up. These systems have the advantage of adaptability to energy sources as energy markets change. 

Let there be Light

Effective lighting design means putting light where it’s wanted and needed within your home and reducing or eliminating light elsewhere.   

A goal of all new homes should be to not require any electric lighting during daylight hours. Siting, orientation and size of the home come into play, but every consideration should be given to minimising reliance on electric lighting during daylight hours. 

Done correctly, daylighting design can deliver a net saving on energy consumed by the building. Done incorrectly, it most commonly increases the heat load on the home and its cooling energy consumption. 

Install energy efficient sky lights  

Skylights can make a major contribution to energy efficiency and comfort and can be installed in both existing and new homes. They are an excellent source of natural light: they can admit more than three times as much light as a vertical window of the same size, distributing it evenly, saving energy and improving your visual comfort levels. 

For more information on installing skylights click here. 


Choose energy efficient light bulbs 

With so many choices, how exactly do we choose the most efficient energy saving light bulbs? 

Energy is vital to how we live our daily lives but most of us don’t use energy as efficiently as we could. For example; the average household spends about 10-15 per cent of its power bill on lighting, so switching to energy efficient lights, especially LEDs, is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce your power consumption. 

Energy Efficient Household Appliances

Appliances can account for around 30% of home energy use, so choosing the most energy-efficient appliance can bring big savings. When choosing an appliance, consider: 

  • The best size and power for your needs 
  • The cost of running the appliance compared to other models 
  • The most energy and water-efficient model 

It’s worth paying extra for a more energy-efficient model as it will cost less to run.

Rebates may be available when buying more energy-efficient appliances like fridges and washing machines. 

Renewable Energy

An increasing number of Australian households are turning to renewable energies to create more eco-friendly homes.

Solar Power – the most widely consumed renewable energy – boasts a host of benefits for both the environment and your home. And, by pairing your solar energy unit with a battery storage system, you can strive for carbon neutrality while reaping the financial rewards of self-sufficiency. 

You can read more about Solar power here.

Overall, there are several different ways to improve the energy efficiency rating of your home and do your part in reducing climate change; however, the most ideal time to begin this process is during the design phase. If you are building a new home then ‘get involved’ in the design process and ensure it is ‘passively designed’ to suit the orientation of your site, the climate in which you live as well as the landscape and shading surrounding your home. 

Passive Design is a sustainable building standard that responds to local climate and site conditions to maintain a comfortable temperature in the home. It focuses on renewable sources of energy such as the sun and wind to provide household heating, cooling, ventilation and lighting.  

To ultimately determine how energy efficient your home is, please contact us for a Thermal Performance Assessment / Energy Rating today.  We will assist you through this process providing qualified and professional advice to suit your needs.