About this guide
You don't have to be a home owner to make your household more energy and water efficient. Nearly 33% of Australians live in rented accommodation and while there are limitations on what you can change in your rented home, there are ways to reduce your bills and improve efficiency even if solar panels and rainwater tanks aren't an option. In fact, some of the most effective steps you can take to save energy, water and waste focus on making small changes to your daily habits with no financial cost to you at all.
Whether you're renting short term or long term, there are lots of simple, inexpensive things you can do to save money and stay comfortable. This practical guide will show you where you're using water and energy, and offer a range of suggestions on ways you can reduce these and save money.
How small steps can add up to big savings
The following simple actions could save a household of 4 about $760 a year.
- If you've got a second fridge, getting rid of it could save around $172 a year.
- Switching off the game console after use could save up to $193 a year.
- Using the clothesline instead of the dryer once a week could save $79 a year.
- Installing a water-efficient 4-star showerhead could save $315 a year on water bills, there will also be savings on energy bills because less water will need to be heated.
These amounts are a guide only. Exact savings will vary depending on the age and type of your appliances, the size of your home, the climatic zone you live in and the energy prices you pay.
Energy saving ideas for the whole house
Choose energy-efficient appliances
Appliances account for up to 30% of your home energy use, so the appliances you choose and the way you use them makes a big difference to your energy consumption and bills. If you're in the market for a new appliance, consider purchasing an energy-efficient model. Look for the Energy Rating Label—the more stars the more energy and money you can save. You can also estimate the running costs of appliances (particularly useful for products that don't carry the Energy Rating Label) to see how much they will cost you each year over the product’s life. A high star-rated model can cost a little more, but a cheaper, less efficient product could end up costing more in the long run.
Landlords may be eligible for a rebate if they need to replace an appliance in your home. Items that may be covered include showerheads, toilets, hot water systems and fridges, so it's worth doing your research to ensure both parties can benefit.
Heating and cooling
When you consider that around 40% of home energy use goes to heating and cooling, it's not hard to see how making small changes to your air conditioning and heating habits can have a major impact on your household's energy bills.
Control your climate
In winter, set your heating thermostat between 18 to 20°C. In summer, set your cooling thermostat between 25 to 27°C. For every degree you increase your heating and cooling you increase your energy use by around 5 to 10%. When you've got the air conditioner or heater on, close off the rooms you're not using by shutting internal doors. Once you've found the temperature that you're comfortable with, dress for the season. Perhaps grabbing a warmer jumper or using a throw rug is all you need to avoid turning the thermostat up.
Seal gaps and cracks
By draught-proofing your home and stopping heated and cooled air leaking out through gaps and cracks, you could cut your energy bill by up to 25%. Try a draught 'snake' to stop air escaping under doors and use weather seals for windows, floorboards, skirting boards, skylights and cornices. You can also stop heat rising into your ceiling by fitting covers over downlights and vents. Check with your landlord before fitting any weather seals or covers.
Be window wise
Improve window efficiency and prevent heat loss with snug-fitting curtains and blinds that trap a layer of still air next to the window. Open curtains in winter to let the sun in during the day and close them before it gets dark. In summer it's a good idea to close curtains during the hottest part of the day.
Install temporary glazing
You can insulate windows cheaply with a transparent glazing film that helps reduce heat gain and loss. Take a look online for providers and check with your landlord before going ahead.
Harness the breeze
In summer, open up your home in the cooler times of the morning or evening to let the breeze in. To make the most of natural airflow open low-positioned windows to bring in the breeze and open high windows to let hot air out.
Choose fans over air conditioners
Ceiling and pedestal fans cost around two cents per hour to operate and produce far fewer greenhouse gases than air conditioners. Fans help to circulate air and can be used to improve the effectiveness of air cooling systems as well as to circulate hot air and improve your heating efficiency in winter.
Lighting consumes between 8 and 15% of the average household electricity budget. By switching to energy-efficient lighting and using lights efficiently you could halve your lighting costs.
Minimise artificial lighting
Think about how much artificial lighting you need—a desk or standard lamp will provide more focused reading light and be cheaper to run than lighting the whole room. If it's light outside, you can open the curtains or blinds to let natural light in rather than switching on an artificial light. Switching lights off when you leave the room will also save energy.
Switch to energy-efficient lighting
Replacing old-style incandescent globes with light emitting diodes (LEDs) is an effective way to save on energy costs. LEDs use about 75% less energy than halogen light bulbs and last 5-10 times longer.
Use light furnishings and reflective surfaces
You can reduce your need for artificial lighting by decorating with light-coloured furnishings and by placing mirrors across from windows.
Hot water accounts for about a quarter of household energy use. Try these ideas to ensure you're only paying for the energy you need.
Get the temperature right
The recommended setting for thermostats is above 60°C on storage hot water systems; or 50°C on instantaneous systems. If you're away for more than a few days, turn off your storage hot water system. When you return, allow plenty of time for the water to heat back up to above 60°C and remain at that temperature for a minimum of 35 minutes to kill any bacteria that may have grown. It could take several hours for the water to heat before you can safely use it. Don't overheat the water as this wastes energy.
Choose energy-efficient systems
Landlords considering the replacement of a hot water system may be eligible for a rebate by opting for an energy-efficient system.
Many appliances and gadgets, such as phone chargers, game consoles, microwave ovens and stereos continue to draw power when not in use. This standby power can account for 10% of your household electricity use. Switching appliances and gadgets off at the wall when you're finished with them will cut both your energy use and your bills. If it's got a little light or clock, it's using power. Learn more about standby power modes in our home entertainment and technology guide.
Save energy in the kitchen
It's not just you, your family or your flatmates eating in the kitchen: appliances are big energy guzzlers, but by using appliances wisely you could make some real savings.
Fridges and freezers
The optimal temperature for your fridge is between 3 and 5°C; or between minus 15 and minus 18°C for your freezer. Every degree lower requires 5% more energy. Improve the efficiency of your fridge and freezer by removing any frost build-up in the freezer and leaving a gap of 5–8cm around them for ventilation. If you have a second fridge for entertaining, only turn it on when you need it.
Cook and clean with less energy
You can save energy on your kettle and toaster by boiling only as much water as you need and choosing the toaster over the grill when making toast. Wait till you have a full load before running your dishwasher and try scraping your dishes rather than rinsing before loading.
Save energy in the living room
Home entertainment products are responsible for at least 5% of household energy use.
Switch off after use
When you're not using your TV, stereo or game console, switch it off at the wall. Home entertainment products generally have four power modes and can draw power even when not in use.
Once you've charged your phone, tablet or computer, unplug it so it's not drawing unnecessary power and driving up your power bills.
Save energy in the laundry
The way you use your laundry appliances can have a big impact on your bills and the environment.
Save energy and water by washing in cold water, using the shortest cycle possible, adjusting your water level to suit the size of the load and waiting till you have enough clothes for a full load.
- If you have a front loader you can save about 50% on energy costs by washing in cold water.
- If you have a top loader you can save about 85% on energy costs by washing in cold water.
- Every load you dry in an electric dryer uses energy and drives up your bills. Using the clothesline instead just one day a week will save around $70 a year.
Save energy in the bedroom
Sleep soundly with these ideas to save you money.
Stay warm naturally
On cold nights, sleep with a hot water bottle or extra blanket rather than the heater or an electric blanket. Keep the warm air in by shutting your blinds or curtains.
Switch off while you sleep
Avoid wasting energy and money on standby power by switching gadgets off at the wall and charging your phone or computer during the day.
Consider green power
'Green power' is electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind, sun or hydro. By switching to GreenPower you elect to get some or all of your energy from accredited renewable sources and pay a slightly higher price per unit. All you need to do is contact your electricity supplier and ask about GreenPower. You can choose the percentage of your electricity sourced from green power: up to 100%. The GreenPower Program sets the rules and ensures your energy comes from government-accredited sources.
Water smart tips
Water efficiency makes every drop and dollar count.
Consider water-efficient appliances and fixtures
When buying a new appliance or fixture, consider a water-efficient model. Look for the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) rating. There is also a range of rebates available to you or your landlord for installing or purchasing water-efficient products.
Use taps efficiently
A tap leaking at the rate of one drip per second wastes more than 12,000 litres of water a year. Save water by fixing any leaking taps as soon as possible. You can reduce your water use by installing aerators; these limit water flow and can be fitted to the inside or outside of taps. You may have to check with your landlord before going ahead.
Save water in the bathroom
By Installing a water-efficient 4-star showerhead a family of 4 could save $315 a year on water bills, there will also be savings on energy bills because less water will need to be heated. If you have old inefficient showerheads, trying asking your landlord to replace these with water-efficient models as these use around one-third of the water. There are also a number of rebates available.
If renting in NSW and your water is separately metered you’re liable for the water bill, but only if the landlord meets water efficiency requirements. If your landlord hasn’t installed showerheads, cold water taps and single mixer taps in bathroom and kitchen sinks that have a maximum flowrate of 9L per minute, you’re not liable to pay the water charges.
Use the half-flush where appropriate. If your landlord is replacing a single-flush toilet, consider suggesting a water-efficient dual-flush model as it could save 5L per person daily. If this isn't an option, you could buy a water displacement device or use a plastic bottle filled with water in the cistern to reduce its water capacity.
Save water in the backyard
Australian householders use up to 60% of our household water outdoors, but there are things you can do to significantly reduce this.
A traditional green lawn can use up to 90% of your gardening water. You can reduce this by setting your mower to cut at 4cm or higher. You can also reduce garden water use by improving watering practices and choosing water-efficient products.
Use your greywater on your non-edible plants by placing a bucket in the shower or by catching rainwater where it falls outside.
Waste not, want not
In 2010-11 Australians generated 48 million tonnes of waste per year. This includes waste from our kitchens, bathrooms, laundries, gardens, and from building and construction activities. By making smarter purchasing decisions and disposing of waste wisely you can reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and reduce spending on items you don't end up using.
Think before you buy and throw
Re-use and recycle
If you have unwanted goods destined for the bin, consider giving them to friends, hosting a garage sale, donating to op-shops or listing them online. Similarly, before buying new things, check op-shops and online for goods you can give a second life to; you’ll save money at the same time. Find recycling facilities with Planet Ark's RecyclingNearYou.
Reduce landfill and breathe new life into your old items by 'upcycling' them to create new things from stuff you already own. If you don't know where to start, look online for tips and creative ideas.
Collective consumption means sharing, swapping, trading or renting goods and is a great way to share resources and save money. Before splashing out and buying a new lawnmower or ladder, it might be worthwhile checking to see if neighbours or friends are willing to share theirs in exchange for borrowing items you might have.
Reduce chemical, hazardous and electronic waste
Change how you clean
Avoid exposing yourself to potentially toxic or hazardous elements by making your own cleaning products, or by purchasing lower impact options. You can create cheap and highly effective surface cleaners from bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, lemon, salt and borax. To learn more check out these spring cleaning tips and these ideas for minimising bathroom toilet and laundry waste.
Manage hazardous waste
Hazardous waste includes things like pesticides, oven cleaners, batteries and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Follow the rules for disposing of them correctly. See our guide to hazardous waste to learn more.
Many electronic items contain harmful substances such as lead and mercury. When items such as your mobile, computer, tablet, or TV come to the end of their useful life, it's important to dispose of them thoughtfully to ensure these substances aren't released into the environment. If they still work well, consider donating them for reuse. If not, drop them off for recycling.
Minimise kitchen waste
In NSW alone, the average household throws away over $1000 worth of food a year. By making small changes to the way you buy and use food you can make a big difference to your kitchen waste,your food bills and your energy use.
Minimise food waste by planning your weekly meals and checking in the fridge and pantry before going to the shops. If you live in a share house, think about shopping collectively or getting a box of locally-produced fruit and veggies delivered each week. It's generally cheaper to buy in bulk, and you'll reduce your household's food miles.
Create a feast from leftovers
Rather than throwing food out, try getting creative with what's already in your fridge and pantry. Jump online to find recipes for inspiration.
When shopping, you can reduce waste by taking re-usable bags with you and looking for recyclable packaging options.
By composting your food scraps you'll not only reduce the amount of organic waste that goes to landfill and produces methane—a harmful greenhouse gas—you'll also create great fertiliser for pot plants or the garden.
Start a worm farm
You don't need a lot of space to start a worm farm. The unit, which can be kept under the sink or in a shady spot on a balcony or in a shed, is a great way to turn your organic kitchen waste into nutrient-rich fertiliser for your plants.
Keep backyard chickens
Chooks don't just eat your scraps, they also make great pets and of course eggs! Be sure to check with your landlord and local council before going ahead.
Working with your household—family and flatmates
If you live with your family and want to reduce your household's costs and impacts, get together to consider how to manage tasks and responsibilities. As a renter, you may live in a share house with people who have different household habits and priorities. Consider consulting with your flatmates when you move in to agree on household habits and discuss ways to save energy, water and money.
Talking to your landlord or estate agent
Repairs, servicing or maintenance, including most energy efficiency improvements, will usually require permission (and finance) from your landlord. Every state and territory has different laws for tenants, so it's important to do your research and ask permission before going ahead with any property changes.
Some things to keep in mind when approaching your landlord or estate agent to request sustainable improvements.
Rebates and assistance
There is a range of government rebates and assistance available to property owners for making sustainable improvements. To assist your request you could do some of the research for your landlord and explore our rebates and assistance section to find what's relevant to your situation.
Many green property improvements, as well as repairs and maintenance, are tax deductible. You might like to look at the Australian Tax Office's Guide for rental property owners to see which items apply to your household and pass on any good news to your landlord.
By investing in sustainable improvements, your landlord is increasing the property's value and making it more attractive to future buyers and renters.
Make sure you put any requests to your landlord or real-estate agent in writing. If you need help, take a look online for sample letters or check out the Alternative Technology Association's sample letter at the back of their Renters guide to sustainable living (PDF 2.13MB). It's also a good idea to keep a record of all requests as well as any agreements from your landlord or real estate agent to make changes or improvements.
Information for renters and landlords in every state and territory
Renters guide to sustainable living (PDF 2.13MB) Alternative Technology Association
ACT The renting book—a guide to your rights and responsibilities ACT Government
NSW Renting a home NSW Government
NT Residential tenancies Northern Territory Consumer Affairs
QLD Before you rent Residential Tenancies Authority
SA Renting Government of South Australia
TAS Renting in Tasmania Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
VIC Renting Consumer Affairs Victoria
WA Renting and leasing Government of Western Australia
Other government and non-government resources
EnergyMadeEasy Australian Energy Regulator
Budget Planner Australian Securities & Investment Commission
No Interest Loans Scheme (NILS) Good Shepherd Microfinance