Saturday, June 14, 2008

Cut your household greenhouse gas emissions and save money in the process

Following my visit to the inspiring solar passive home at Naripinda, I was wondering how the rest of us could achieve a better environmental footprint for our houses. Many of us are stuck with older houses, and even new homes in Australia are still being built with little attention to their environmental footprint. Given sky-rocketing energy prices, concern for the environment is increasingly underpinned by a strong financial incentive to cut energy use.

The easiest way to achieve an energy efficient house is to incorporate all significant features right from the start, such as solar orientation, insulation in walls, ceilings and floors, thermal mass and double-glazed windows. The savings in running costs for energy efficient houses will very quickly pay back the initial outlay in extra spending, as an average of 39 percent of energy consumed in typical Australian homes is used for space heating and cooling.

Unfortunately, most existing buildings are nowhere near that ideal, and many homes leak energy at an alarming rate through lack of insulation, cracks in the walls or gaps around windows or door frames. Insulation should be a number one priority for all home owners, particularly in the cooler parts of the country.

In addition, some simple changes can keep energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions down. Changing all incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent lights immediately cuts household energy consumption by around ten per cent. Turning lights off when leaving a room further reduces energy consumption.

Contrary to widely held views, halogen downlights do not save energy. According to Sustainability Victoria, “Halogens are considered an energy intensive lighting option because several halogen lights are needed in the place of one fluorescent light bulb to achieve even lighting levels in a room. Most halogen globes used as downlights consume 50 watts each and an additional 15 watts for the transformer. A 50W halogen downlight used 3 hours a day will cost around $10 a year to run. If you had a room with 8 halogens and ran them for 8 hours each day, it would cost you over $200 every year!”

Another way to immediately reduce your carbon footprint is to turn appliances off at the wall when not in use. The Global Warming Cool It! website lists some surprising facts on standby power. For example, did you know that over one year, some microwave ovens generate more greenhouse gas running the digital clock than cooking food? Or that large-screen televisions, when used 6 hours a day, generate around half a tonne of CO2 emissions each year — more than a family fridge? In an average Australian home, items on standby power together generate over 750 kilograms of unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions each year.

In my own house, we were able to reduce our overall energy use by over 30 per cent simply through changing our light bulbs and modifying our behaviour. The savings were more than enough to pay for 100 per cent Green Power and thus reduce our household greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

For more information you can download the Australian energy efficient building guide.


  1. I was in traffic a few days ago and couldn't pull over to write notes..there was an Australian born inventor who had shifted to California and was designing solar thermal power plants...

    Australia, sadly was not the right place for him to continue on with his designs and he has lived in the USA for a while now, he has a x accent..(they interviewed him).

    I've been googling madly trying to find his story, he has some of the most exciting news about supplying energy to countries.

    He was talking of the very real possibility of supplying 98% yep, 98% of energy for the USA to run off...and at comparable and even lower prices than what people pay now. Once it was all set up.

    They intervewed him and he said he has always been interested in harnessing the sun's energy.

    We let him slip out of Australia without a wimper, but at least his work and studies have developed, that's the main thing.

    I must keep searching for him.

    Am reading Peter Andrew's book, "Back from the Brink"..this man is amazing, he has an incredible understanding of the Australian lanscape and ecology system...why are people's minsets so closed to solar thermal power man and Peter??? and the likes, answers are out there, it isn't rocket science you say "simple steps can work wonders"
    I would love for you to see my friends home he and his brother built, Lyle is a handyman and has the most amazing ideas for building, insulating, he rarely uses any heating or cooling his home is that efficient...

    Very inspiring and educational.


  2. Pam, thanks for the great comment. I will try to find the fellow you heard interviewed on the radio - sounds really worthwhile. I will also ask our local library to get the Peter Andrews book, I agree with you, it is time we get his message out!