About this guide
This guide has a range of simple actions to help you spruce up your living space and prepare your house and garden for the hot summer months ahead. As well as a good spring clean inside and out, important tasks such as preparing your home for the bushfire season and ensuring your appliances are in good working order will add to your household savings, safety and comfort.
Energy and water saving actions
As summer approaches, our water and electricity usage can rise as we try to keep cool and keep the garden alive. This list of household actions will help keep your appliances running at their best and reduce bills.
- Check the filter on your air conditioner and clean it to manufacturer’s instructions to keep it working more efficiently—it will use less energy and save you money. Dust ceiling fans before turning them on to avoid spreading dust around the house.
- Check the thermostat on your storage hot water system to ensure it’s set to above 60°C to prevent growth of harmful bacteria. Don't overheat the water as this wastes energy. Set instantaneous hot water systems to no more than 50°C. Insulate pipes to limit heat loss.
- Take shorter, cooler showers where possible to save on water and energy. You can install a simple timer to act as a reminder for your household.
- Wash clothes in cold water on the eco setting if possible. Washing in hot water uses between 50 and 85% more energy (depending on whether you have a front loader or top loader).
- Investigate electricity and gas market offers in your area and consider solar or heat pump hot water systems if you’re thinking of upgrading your hot water system.
- For a simple water-saving action, capture greywater from sources like your shower, bath or washing machine for use on the garden.
- Switch to drying clothes on the line or a clothes rack if you’ve been using a dryer over the cooler months. This can add up to significant savings.
- Run your fridge efficiently. Clean and defrost your fridge and ensure it is set to the right temperature—between 3 and 4°C for the fridge, and minus 15 to minus 18°C for the freezer.
- Avoid turning on second fridges unless needed and consider getting rid of additional fridges and freezers to save money and energy.
Spring in the garden
As well as getting stuck into planting and pruning, spring offers an opportunity to do maintenance on the exterior of your home and ensure bushfire precautions are in place.
Home grown and community gardens
Spring is the perfect time to start a vegie garden for your household. Seeds and seedlings are plentiful and ready for planting, and the warm weather offers the perfect growing conditions to start off those yummy summer greens, beans, and corn. By growing your own you’ll help your household make healthy choices while reducing the amount of energy used in producing and transporting your food.
First time gardeners and those living in apartments short on outdoor space might like to start with large pots and containers. Herbs and salad greens can easily be grown and eaten this way.
Before you start, find out what grows well in your area and think about the things you’re likely to eat before buying seeds or seedlings. Also find out what to plant and when according to your climate.
For gardening advice and community connections look online for community garden and city farm networks. If there isn’t one in your area, think about starting your own. Community gardens are great places to learn about local plants, make new friends and get growing tips.
Your local school can provide another hub for fresh produce. Programs like the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation give children valuable lifelong skills in how to grow, harvest, prepare and share fresh, seasonal food. These organisations offer opportunities to volunteer and share your expertise. Last but not least, once you have things growing, don’t forget to collect the seeds for planting next time around—browse the Internet for seed savers networks to show you how.
New season produce
In spring, new season fruits and vegetables like strawberries, artichokes and asparagus return to tempt our taste buds. It’s a great time to focus on getting more fresh food in your diet.
About 33% of the carbon we produce comes from food, so it makes sense to think about how your food is transported and produced. Supporting locally grown foods—or growing your own—is a good way to reduce your impact and connect to local producers and growers.
Produce that’s in season locally is likely to be cheaper, tastier, and fresher which means more nutrients. Farmers’ markets are growing in popularity as the place to buy local, seasonal fresh food, while helping to support specialist produce and sustainable agriculture. They’re also a fun place to shop with a variety of artisan-made products like bread, cheeses, home-made preserves as well as vegetable varieties not found elsewhere. Search the web to see if there's one in your area.
Water-smart in the garden
Key tips include grouping plants with the same water needs, minimising paved areas to stop soils drying out, and improving soils so they retain moisture. Start a compost heap from your kitchen waste and layer it with mulch around new plants; it’s a fantastic way to stop water evaporation and keep soil moist and fertile.
Assess the long-term water needs of your garden and consider whether it’s worth installing drip irrigation around your garden beds. If you are considering water saving initiatives in your garden, check if you're eligible to receive any rebates for a rainwater tank, greywater system or garden assessment.
An outdoor tidy-up
A well-maintained home is less likely to leak energy, will have fewer fire risks and won’t require as many expensive repairs. To make your home safe, comfortable and ready for the summer months, take a walk around the outside to assess what chores need doing.
Check the exterior, including: roof, gutters, flyscreens, windows and doors for any damage, gaps and potential risks. Touch up exterior paint to protect surfaces, mow long grass, prune and remove branches, and identify and remove any other fire and storm hazards. If you’re in a climatic zone prone to flooding or cyclones, you might want to think about installing shutters or screens to protect glass areas.
Be water wise. If you have a rainwater tank, clean out the inlet screens and gutters and downpipes to ensure water is effectively making its way into your tank. Check your sprinkler system (if your water restrictions allow you to use one) and adjust where necessary so that only your lawn and garden is watered and not your paving, house or footpath.
Think about shading. Take a walk around the house and note which windows will soon attract the blazing summer sun. Now may be the time to install blinds or awnings before it gets too hot. Plant fast-growing deciduous trees that will keep out the summer heat but allow the winter sun in. These can also provide a shady spot in your garden for you, your pets, and local wildlife.
A swimming pool check-up should include cleaning the pool filter, skimmer and pool pump baskets and checking the chemicals to ensure the correct balance for good pool hygiene. If you haven’t been running the pool filter pump during the cooler months, read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure correct pump operation and water filtration. Set the correct daily run time, taking into account the season and pool use and use a timer to save energy. Running your pump at the lowest recommended speed that still maintains correct pool hygiene will also use much less energy and save you money.
Be bushfire ready
The key to being prepared is to understand the level of bush fire risk you and your property are exposed to and the ways you can reduce this risk.
Having a plan and preparing your property to deal with the threat of bushfire can keep you and your family safe. The most important decision is whether you and your family will leave early or stay and defend your well-prepared home. Some of the things you should do include:
- Protect the lives of you and your family members. Having a bush fire survival plan in place gives you, your family, your home and property the best chance of survival.
- If you have pets the RSPCA has useful information about having a Pet Emergency Plan in place and including your pets in your Bush Fire Survival Plan. WIRES have good advice for helping wildlife during bushfires.
- If you have a mobile phone, download a mobile phone app showing where fires are. Your state or territory fire services may have one available.
- Check and/or change the battery on your smoke alarms.
- Cut back any overhanging trees or shrubs and dispose of cuttings appropriately.
- Check the condition of your roof and replace any damaged or missing tiles.
- Clean leaves from the roof, gutters and downpipes and fit quality metal leaf guards.
- If you have a water tank, dam or swimming pool, consider installing a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign.
- Store wood piles well away from the house and keep them covered.
- Keep garden mulch away from the house and keep grass short.
- Ensure you have a hose long enough to reach every part of the home.
- Remove and store any flammable items away from the house.
- Check the condition of external walls, cladding and seal any gaps.
- Consider doing a quick online fire safety audit to reduce your risk of a house fire.
There is more advice and assistance available online from your state or territory fire services in the ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic and WA. These include tips for reducing fire risks in your area, and tools such as mobile phone apps that:
Keep in mind that peak fire season varies depending on where you live in Australia. Check with the Bureau of Meteorology to find out when the fire risk is highest in your area so you can be well prepared.
If you live in a cyclone or flood-prone area, there are things you can do around the home to prepare. The Australian Government Department of Home Affairs is the key online access point for emergency management information from the Australian Government.
Spring clean indoors
Spring is the traditional time to freshen up inside your home. Changing how you clean your home can save you money and reduce unwanted impacts on your health. Here a few ideas to help get your spring clean rolling.
It might sound old fashioned, but making your own non-toxic cleaning products can be an effective way to clean your home that is better for your health as well as the environment. Some conventional cleaning products may contain toxic or hazardous ingredients that should only be used when wearing protective gear and are best kept away from children and pets.
You may already have some of the key ingredients for cheap and effective products in your kitchen. Things like bicarbonate of soda, white vinegar, lemon, salt and borax can be used as surface cleaners (including in place of heavier duty products such as oven cleaner). Just be careful with lemons and vinegar (and other acidic cleansers) on tile grout as it will eat it away. When making your own, don’t forget to clearly label the bottles with their ingredients. While the ingredients are common household items, not all of them are meant for consumption, so keep them away from kids and pets.
There are plenty of environmentally aware products on the market to choose from, but take the time to read the label. Just because it says that it is natural and bio-degradable doesn’t mean that it isn’t toxic or hazardous.
Try to re-use cleaning cloths or make them yourself from old worn sheets, tea towels or tatty clothing. Single-use cloths are expensive and create unnecessary waste. If you do need to use more hazardous cleaners, or find them lurking in your cupboards, be sure to dispose of them properly as they can’t be put in your regular garbage.
DIY natural air freshener
Now that you’ve cleaned and aired your home, you’ll want it to smell great. Artificial fresheners can contain chemicals that are harmful to our waterways and may stimulate allergies. Why not use something non-toxic in your home that’s safer for you, your family and pets? They’re easy to create yourself.
Baking soda is one of the greatest odour-eaters around and can be placed in a small dish in the fridge and in the bathroom or toilet to absorb unpleasant smells. A quick search on the internet will reveal lots of recipes on how to make natural-scented sprays using basic household ingredients such as water, baking soda, lemons and vanilla.
Another way to improve indoor air quality is with indoor plants. Plants reduce unhealthy air pollutants while balancing humidity, this can help relieve allergic conditions. Give your indoor plants a healthy spruce-up with a new dose of quality potting mix and possibly a bigger pot if it’s looking tired and root bound. Gently clean the leaves of your indoor plants with a damp soft cloth.
Mother Nature’s mothballs
When storing winter clothes, start by washing them first and drying them thoroughly. For an alternative to the old mothball which contains the toxic ingredient naphthalene, try a cotton bag with dried rosemary, mint, thyme and cloves to deter creepy crawlies and keep clothing smelling fresh.
If you're tackling your wardrobe and drawers, reduce waste by donating clothes you haven’t worn for a few years and are unlikely to wear again. Holding a clothes swap with family and friends is a sociable way to re-vamp your wardrobe.
Resources and assistance
Bushfire weather Bureau of Meteorology
Surviving Cyclones Bureau of Meteorology
National flood forecasting and warning service Bureau of Meteorology