Oily rag: Cutting your power bill

By Frank, Muriel Newman

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Only heat the rooms you are using and turn off appliances at the wall. Photo/Thinkstock
Only heat the rooms you are using and turn off appliances at the wall. Photo/Thinkstock

Winter is on the way, which means household power bills are about to rise as heating costs kick in. The other thing that's about to hit consumer pockets is a new round of power price rises. Genesis said the increase would be 3.6 per cent nationally and Contact Energy is increasing charges by 2.6 per cent.

Electricity companies are engaging in the usual finger pointing. The retailers blame increases in line and transmission charges (which make up a third of customers' power bills), but the lines companies say the increases are more than warranted. Whatever the cause, the effect on consumers is the same. That's where living off the smell of an oily rag tips come in.

The first tip is to look at www.powerswitch.co.nz. It has a nifty calculator that compares your current bill against the cheapest alternative.

We suggest doing the switching exercise every time your electricity retailer ups its prices.

Here's what they say about heating, which accounts for about 29 per cent of the average power bill.

Only heat rooms that are being used.

Use curtains, preferably those that are lined and floor-to-pelmet (or touching the window sill), and close them at night.

Maximise the sunshine into your home in winter by keeping curtains open during the day and cut back trees that shade north-facing windows.

Because polished strip-timber floors leak air through the joints, reduce draughts and heat loss from these floors by insulating underneath them.

Use thermostats and timers on electric heaters.

Insulate ceilings and, if possible, walls.

Water heating accounts for about 30 per cent of your power bill.

Fix dripping hot taps.

If your hot water cylinder doesn't have a "Grade A" label, wrap it with a cylinder blanket.

Insulate the first metre of hot water pipe from your cylinder.

Have a user-adjustable thermostat fitted and set it at 60C.

Use a low-flow shower head to supply water at 6 to 9 litres per minute.

Limit showering time - a short shower uses much less hot water than a bath.

Wash clothes in cold water.

Fill the kettle or jug from the cold tap and heat only the amount needed.

Washing machines, dryers and other appliances make up 15 per cent of your bill, lighting about 8 per cent, cooking about 7 per cent and refrigeration about 11 per cent.

A freezer is most energy efficient at between -15C and -18C degrees. Keep your fridge between 2C and 4C. Fridges and freezers work best when full.

When buying appliances, look out for the star rating sticker. This shows how much energy (in kWh hours) the appliance uses in a year. From this it is easy to calculate the annual energy cost. For example, if the sticker says 433 kWh, and energy costs say 25 cents a kWh (check your last power bill to see how much you are paying), then the annual costs will be $108.25 a year (433 x $0.25).

A number of readers have suggestions for teenagers.

One writes, "Teenagers just love a long hot shower and time passes quickly when you're having fun.

To encourage the family to become more economical with expensive hot water conduct family experiments to agree on the number of minutes needed for a reasonable shower.

"Place a windup kitchen timer on the bathroom window sill.

"If earning teenagers crave more time they could pop 50 cents in a bathroom piggy bank for a double length shower."

Tom says, "The best power saving tip for me was rather than charging working kids board, give them the power bill to pay!"

If you have a favourite recipe or oily rag tip that works well for your family, send it to us at www.oilyrag.co.nz, or by writing to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei, and we will relay it to the readers of this column.

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