We all know to expect a bigger power bill heading into New Zealand’s Winter months. But after enjoying lower costs over Summer and Autumn, we can get into habits long enough to feel the pinch by the time it gets cold.
It doesn’t have to be this way of course - there’s ways to deliberately reduce power. Often though big behaviour changes can take a while for everyone in the home to get used to. That’s why we’ve sought to compile a list of ways to reduce your power bill that require minimal effort.
10 ways to reduce the winter power bill
1. Let the warmth in and cold out
It may be the Winter time, but there’s still natural heat throughout those sunnier days that can help heat our home. Keep curtains open during the day and draw them just before the sun disappears. Provided your curtains are covering windows completely, you should be able to retain some of the day’s heat inside.
Speaking of curtains, check yours now. If they are too short or too narrow then they aren’t doing their job. If you’re a low-income household, you may be eligible for curtain donation from the Curtain Bank. Otherwise, look around the house at other windows’ curtains to see if larger curtains are able to be swapped over. If not, we’d suggest saving to replace curtains as a priority.
So, we’re taking advantage of natural light - but have you taken a look around the property at trees that could be blocking some of this? Of course you’ll want to retain privacy, but often trees will have grown up past that point and simply be blocking sunlight from reaching your windows. If you wish to trim your trees yourself, make sure you follow safety precautions. If the trees are large, seek the help of an arborist who can expertly trim these down to let the sun in (without hacking away at the tree).
2. Manage heating throughout the day
Heating’s where a lot of that extra cost goes to. And yes, we need to stay warm and healthy throughout Winter. But staying warm doesn’t necessarily mean all heaters on, all the time.
Set your heat pumps and heaters to a timer and with a healthy room temperature (18-21 degrees is a good starting place, but we all feel the cold differently!). Only use heating in the rooms that you are going to be in. Heating a room up before you use it is okay, but this rarely needs longer than 10-15 minutes before you go in - anything beyond that is likely wasted power and money.
So, heat the rooms that you’re using and close doors to minimise the space your heaters need to fill with warm air. If you’re running smaller heaters like column or fan units, closing off the space is highly recommended.
Once you’ve heated the room, you will be able to have periods with the heater switched off. This will save the power bill, and you’ll still enjoy a warm environment.
3. Prevent drafts and insulate the space
Effective heating requires more than just an effective heater. A poorly insulated room can take a long time to heat up and will need a lot more energy to stay heated. This is just money down the drain.
And when we talk about insulation, this can be low to no cost measures:
- Are your window latches loose? Tighten these up - any gaps in the window will be heat escaping. Same goes for door hinges
- Have an unused chimney? Cover this off as rising heat will be escaping up there quicker than Santa at Christmas.
- Gap under doors? This is one of the more common draft areas through which homes lose heat. Put down a draft stopper which can be made yourself - think old socks inside panty hose. If you’re feeling like splurging, draft stoppers aren’t particularly expensive.
- Check out EECA’s Warmer Kiwi Homes grant that will help homeowners with the cost of insulation.
4. Dress for the occasion
The advice of “put another layer on” from Kiwi mums and dads is so common it’s almost become a bit of a joke. Anything before touching the heating. But as much we roll our eyes at this advice (and yes, we do need to keep the temperature at a comfortable, healthy level), there are a surprising number of people who insist on wearing t shirts around the house on a cold July evening with the heater going full bore.
This is not the best idea on many fronts, both for power bill and the environment. When at home, put on warm layers, and use heaters to heat the air rather than you personally.
Thermals are a great layer to put on as they are lightweight and very effective at retaining body heat. When it’s time for bed, wear full body cover and if it’s really chilly put socks on. If you’ve got an electric blanket, this is cheaper than a heater to heat you up. Just make sure you set this on a timer (or switch off before going to sleep) to stay safe. Sure the bedroom air may still need the chill taken off with a heater, but with appropriate dress, the temperature and your energy use don’t need to be so high.
5. Stay dry, heat easier, save money
Dry homes are faster - and cheaper to heat. When you put heaters on in a damp space, the heater has moist, humid air to try and warm which takes a lot longer - water takes much longer to warm up than oxygen! Removing moisture from the environment makes for a nice, dry space that can be warmed up (provided drafts are covered) quite quickly. This puts far less demand on your heaters.
We create multiple litres of water every week in the home from the moisture from just living - body heat, cooking, using appliances and temperature changes.
If you have a dehumidifier and struggle with damp rooms, stop reading this article and go switch this on in the worst-affected of these rooms. A dehumidifier is an incredibly valuable appliance to support cheaper, easier heating, but also may assist the household breathe easier by getting rid of moisture in the air which can contain harmful spores and dust.
But, you may not have a dehumidifier or simply want other no-cost ideas. Here’s what we suggest:
- Wipe down wet surfaces as when left wet they contribute to moisture build up and condensation.
- Use the rangehood and extractor fan every time you cook to help draw out excess moisture.
- Cover pots and pans with lids when cooking if possible to contain condensation.
- Open the windows during the day time when you’re at home. The bathroom and kitchen especially. But bedrooms need airing too. This won’t just reduce moisture but leaves these rooms smelling fresh in the evening.
- Remove any signs of mould immediately. If this has become a significant issue then inquire about getting assistance removing this. Otherwise, rigorously clean all affected areas (window sills, walls, ceilings, cupboards) and sanitise. Mould is not to be taken lightly, as it can have a detrimental impact on family health.
- Leave gaps between your bed and the wall - condensation from body heat through the sheets and mattress can lead to mould. Not ideal right where you sleep at night.
- If your windows are covered in condensation and it’s too cold or wet to open windows, wipe them down. There are special hand-held condensation vacuums available, that are purpose-built for sucking up all the window moisture.
Before heating a room, ask yourself - is this room dry? If not, fix this first. Unfortunately many rental homes in New Zealand aren’t built for our conditions, although Healthy Home Standards have been introduced by the government to help combat this.
6. Take some nights off using the oven or stove
Ovens (preheating, cooking and cooling down) use considerable power. As does the stove, especially when you’ve got multiple pots on the go. You can make a dent in the power bill by thinking a bit creative about dinner.
Does every meal need to be cooked in these high-energy using appliances? No. And that doesn’t mean noodles and toast. Here’s just a few meals that don’t need the oven:
- Salmon & Salad - buy pieces of salmon that simply need to be heated up in the microwave for a minute. Salad doesn’t use any power, and if you grow your own greens, it’s free full stop!
- Toasties - if you’ve got a standard sandwich press you can usually get a toastie made for a group of 4 in a couple of cycles. Just pick ingredients that are pre-cooked or in a tin
- Roast Chicken - wait what!? Yes, you can eat roast chicken without using the oven. Actually without using any appliance. Most main supermarkets sell fresh cooked chickens throughout the day at a reasonable price. Combine this with some sides from the deli or just some salad and the household’s eating dinner as soon as you walk in the door.
- Salad - with just a short Google, you’ll soon realise that eating salad as a main is not only easy, but delicious. The amount of ingredients and combinations that can make a nice salad are endless. Throw in some nuts, some dressing, dried tomatoes, some feta. It’s healthy and a nice change from standard oven cooked meals.
We could go on, but then you’d miss out on the fun of discovering all the low-power meals you’re going to make!
7. Short Showers
We get it - sometimes jumping into a nice hot shower to warm up on a cold Winter night is tempting. And every so often is okay. But making this a daily habit is a fast way to rack up an expensive power bill.
An effective shower (e.g. to get clean), does not need to go past 5 minutes. Hopefully your household can self-regulate once agreeing to this time limit, but if not, setting a timer can help. Using the shower to get warm is the wrong approach. The bedroom, living room etc should be warm in the evening and combined with appropriate warm clothing should be comfortable.
We’ve got more advice on making showers more economical along with plenty of other hot water tips over in our guide on Saving Power at Home.
8. Washing and drying is a start of the day thing
When it’s Winter, you don’t have as many warm daylight hours to work with. When it comes to doing the washing, you should seek to get the load through first thing in the morning of a sunny day and hung outside on the line. This will give you a full day of free outdoor drying time without reliance on a dryer appliance. If you’ve put clothes on a good spin cycle and hung out not too saturated, you should come home to dry (or close-to) clothes.
9. More efficient lights
It’s darker in Winter - we keep lights on later in the morning and flick on earlier in the evening. With more light use comes more electricity. While one bulb might not feel like a lot, add this up across all the commonly-used lights in your home and it can mount up. That’s why we suggest switching to LED bulbs (rather than standard incandescent bulbs). These LED bulbs not only work better to illuminate the space, but they’re up to 85% more efficient. If you’re interested in learning more about reducing your lighting cost, head on over to our guide on managing lights.
10. Take an active role in monitoring power usage
To really become a master of power savings you need to keep a close eye on the impact of your better power behaviour. If your power company doesn’t offer the visibility of your usage then you may want to consider switching to one that does. At Powershop we’re big on giving people all the visibility of their usage habits. Over time, you can start to see which changes you’re making have the biggest impact - easy!