Facing the climate emergency, Australian governments should be doing more. But there’s also plenty we can do at home to reduce our energy use and move away from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, a roadblock to making changes is knowing where to turn for guiding information. On a limited budget, how can we get our priorities sorted for our specific homes and personal situations? Is the best action getting solar panels for the roof, better insulation, or a new refrigerator? When building or renovating, how is one supposed to navigate the good and bad aspects of building energy regulations? Where does one even start?
Home improvement decisions can involve hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars, meaning access to the best advice is critical. For years, simple and general information, broadly applicable to most Australian homes, has been published by governments, energy companies, and environmental groups: for example how to upgrade lightbulbs, finding the right temperature for your thermostat, or encouragement about having quicker showers.
But many of the bigger-ticket items – big in the sense of long-term home economics and climate impacts – can be very specific to one’s own home. And in some way, nearly every Australian home differs to every other.
So how do we access information that is tailored to our own needs? And, is this only about reducing emissions and saving our planet? Or with the same actions, can we save money and improve our home’s comfort and health? Is a win win win possible?
I decarbonise with a little help from my (online) friends
These days I describe myself as a home comfort and energy advisor who by now has consulted in over 1000 Victorian homes. But I wasn’t always. Formerly I was a chemical engineer working in the oil and gas industry. Then, six years ago with the University of Melbourne, I did some home economics research. We worked out how much money Australians could save using reverse-cycle air conditioners (heat pumps) for winter heating, instead of burning things like gas, LPG, hydrogen, or wood. Spoiler alert, it sums into the billions of dollars. Here was good news for many households, but how could we spread the word?
The young people in my family were quick to say “Dad, have you ever heard of social media”?
So the Facebook group My Efficient Electric Home was born in 2015. It started slowly with just a few hundred members in the first year. Now, as we approach 35,000 members, we gain hundreds of new members each week. What do they seek to achieve?
When joining, some of our newest members write:
- “I’m looking for recommendations for electric heating and cooling that will work now and also in the future with solar panels.”
- “As a renter, how can I get my landlord to fix the insulation?”
- “Where do I start? I need a plan of action! I’m doing the smaller things but seem to be going nowhere with the bills.”
- “I’m about to demolish and rebuild and I want to make informed decisions about energy efficient design and equipment and going fully electric.”
- “Building our first home and my partner wants gas cooking and heating. I want to go all-electric so am trying to find more evidence to present to them.”
Do our new members find the answers they need with the help of other members volunteering their time and knowledge? It appears so, based on many positive testimonials:
- “I read a stack on here, got an energy assessment for my house, and made a plan. I wouldn’t have known better and would have gone with gas otherwise.”
- “Draught sealing, 100 per cent! I’m not sure how much money it’s saved us, but the house is now 150 bizzillion times more comfortable.”
- “Eliminated gas from my house when we installed an induction cooktop. And then we replaced the inefficient off-peak electric hot water service with an electric heat pump.”
- “We used our reverse-cycle air con this winter in Canberra, worked great. On track to save $1100.”
- “With some luck we should be moving into our new all-electric efficient home before the solstice. This group has kept us informed on good choices.”
- “I’ve recently received my utilities bills and even though we’ve been home right through winter our usage has dropped remarkably. Thanks to those who put up good ideas for insulating and stopping draughts. We’ve done most of what was recommended and it’s made a huge difference.”
My Efficient Electric Home is more than a chat room. By now, it’s likely Australia’s largest searchable database of very specific home comfort and energy improvement actions.
It’s also a public group on social media, meaning users must judge the quality of the responses they see and when to seek personal professional advice.
Thinking about how our climate is breaking down is disheartening. Fortunately, it improves one’s mood when communities of people, face-to-face or online, help each other to make some positive changes.