Consumer Watch: How to slash your power bill

By Susan Edmunds

Kiwi households' annual power bills have increased by $243 over the past three years and the price rises look set to continue. What can you do to keep a lid on yours? Susan Edmunds asked experts for their top power-saving tips to put more money in your pocket this winter

Some power companies offer 'time of use' plans where power is cheaper at off-peak times. Photo / Thinkstock
Some power companies offer 'time of use' plans where power is cheaper at off-peak times. Photo / Thinkstock

Check your shower

Hot water costs make up about a third of your power bill, so you can make a big difference here.

Check the flow of your shower — if it fills a 10L bucket in less than a minute, you've got more water coming out than you need. A flow-restrictor disc available from most hardware stores will save you about $400 a year, according to EECA senior technical adviser Christian Hoerning.

Cut your hot water temperature

Your hot water cylinder should be at 60°C, and it should come out of the taps at a maximum of 55°C. Any hotter and you're wasting energy. If you have an older hot water cylinder, an insulating wrap could save you $100 a year.

Use a timer

Some power companies offer "time of use" plans where power is cheaper at off-peak times. Make the most of this by setting your washing machine or dishwasher to come on while you're asleep, or your spa pool to only heat in the off-peak times. Even putting your heated towel rail on a timer can save you money — these can cost more than $3 a week when left on all the time.

A Mercury Energy spokeswoman said: "Installing a special timer on your towel rail can keep your towels dry and cut power use significantly. It will pay for itself in just a few months." You can find heated towel rail timers at most hardware and plumbing stores. Most timers are pre-programmed to turn the towel rail on for four hours, then off for eight hours.

Heating

Heating is another third of your power bill so it makes sense to use the most efficient type possible and hold on to the heat you generate. For every unit of heat produced, a heat pump will cost you 6.5c, compared to an electric heater's 21c. Every hour, a heat pump costs about 10c less to run than a fan heater and generates more heat. Mercury Energy said many houses do not have well-sealed doors or windows. "By using affordable supplies (such as door seal tape) from a hardware store, you can draught-proof your windows and doors to help reduce air leakage." Installing good curtains can also help reduce heat loss.

Turn appliances off at the wall

Standby electricity use is estimated to make up about 6 per cent of your power bill. Stop paying for appliances that aren't turned on by switching them off at the wall. Plug your TV and computer into a multibox so you can just turn off one switch at night. Unplug your phone charger when you're not using it.

Cut your lighting costs

Lighting takes up about 8 per cent of your power bill and a standard 100W bulb costs about 9c to run for four hours. This can add up because many light fittings have more than one bulb and a lot of homes have lots of light fittings in one area, such as recessed lights in living areas. Turn off the lights when you're not in the room. Swapping standard bulbs for LED lightbulbs will save you 90 per cent of the running cost. Ecobulbs will save you less — about $20 per bulb per year.

Be careful in the kitchen

Only boil the water you need. An electric kettle can consume a lot of energy. Using a microwave is cheaper than using the oven. Keep lids on pots when you're boiling water. Cook big batches of food and use efficient kitchen appliances and the right size of pots. Freeze leftovers but let them cool before freezing so your freezer isn't using more energy. Only put the dishwasher on when it's full. Fridges take up about 10 per cent of your power bill so if you're not using your second fridge, turn it off.

Cut down on dryer use

Dryers cost about 42c an hour to use. But if the rain is stopping you putting your washing on the line, you can still reduce the cost of drying your clothes. Put your washing machine on a faster spin cycle to reduce the amount of water that is left, partly line-dry things before putting them in the dryer, and clear out the lint filter to make your dryer more efficient.

Shop around

Websites such as Powerswitch and What's My Number allow you to compare power companies. You may get a good deal by looking for a company that offers a prompt payment discount: Contact Energy offers a 22 per cent saving if you pay by direct debit or internet banking and receive your bill online. Mercury and Meridian offer 10 to 12 per cent.

- Herald on Sunday

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