Winter Utilities Check-up

The winter of 2020 has been a particularly unusual season for us. Lockdown to manage the pandemic has meant that we’ve been at home almost constantly and, with access to allied health heavily restricted, my musculoskeletal issues have flared up and I’ve felt the cold badly. It’s challenging to care about long term environmental impacts when you’re struggling to get through each day with health and sanity intact. As a result, showers have been longer and the thermostat has been set higher.

Our winter utility bills have now arrived, and with trepidation I finally looked at the numbers. I’m thrilled to report that our positive structural changes to the home have more than offset our negative behavioural changes.

Electricity

The big winner here was in the electricity bill. According to the usage summary, our electricity usage has decreased from 5.26kWh to 4.16kWh per day, which is a drop of 20.91%. If I drill a bit deeper into the bill, this picture becomes even better. For the 91 days of this bill period, we imported 378.387kWh of electricity. During the same period, we exported 399.996kWh of electricity. Put those numbers together, and it means we were a net exporter of 21.609kWh over the winter months. Due to heating and hours of sunlight, our winter electricity bill is always the worst for the year. This means that in a single year we’ve managed to become carbon negative on our electricity usage, so I am ridiculously thrilled by our progress here.

Gas

Our second big win was in the gas bill. According to the usage summary, we’ve gone from 273.07MJ to 185.90MJ, which is a 31.92% decrease. This means our indicative greenhouse gas emissions have dropped from 0.9 tonnes to 0.6 tonnes compared to last year. We still have a long way to go here, but I’m very pleased with how far we’ve already come.

So Why The Change?

There are probably dozens of small changes that we’ve made over the past year that I’m blind to, but the key ones for this are:

  1. Solar panels – our real electricity usage increased over the period, but those changes were more than offset by using our own power.
  2. Split system air conditioner – we still use the ducted gas heating in the house, but by using the split system to heat the house during the daylight hours it maintains the heat from the gas. I have set the temperature on the split system one degree higher than the gas thermostat, which is in the same room, so the gas only turns on when the split is no longer up to the job.
  3. Insulation – we insulated the bedrooms and study, so we are losing less heat through the walls. This is particularly noticeable in my bedroom, which is blatantly warmer than the rest of the house when I open the door in the morning. I suspect this insulation is how the split system is able to maintain the warmth throughout the day.
  4. Hot water pilot light – our hot water system is a continuous hot water system that runs on gas. I turn the pilot light off when it isn’t in use, which is most of the time. If I want a small amount of hot water I now boil the kettle and use that. This means that I’m only heating the water I want to use, so we aren’t wasting a lot of water down the drain waiting for it to heat up and clear the pipes either. This has spilled over into cooking, where I will now use the kettle to pre boil water for boiling food.

For me there is a critical takeaway to looking at these power bills: we dramatically dropped our usage through structural change without much behavioural change. Climate action hasn’t been front and centre of our minds this year, but we’ve made a huge improvement without sacrificing a single creature comfort. Keeping up these changes doesn’t require any effort for us, they’re just normal now.

If you’re playing along at home…

..what are some structural changes you could make that will permanently reduce your emissions without compromising your lifestyle? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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