About this guide
Summer can be energy intensive: it’s the time when water usage, electricity and fuel bills can soar as we try to keep cool or keep the garden alive. But with some thought and a bit of planning, the impact of summer living can be reduced.
Beat the heat
As temperatures rise, so does the temptation to crank up the air conditioner. But there are other ways to reduce the summer heat in your home.
Direct sunlight on windows can produce as much heat as a radiator. To reduce the impact, shade exterior windows (especially north and west-facing ones) using blinds inside and awnings or pergolas outside. Deciduous trees, bushes or vines outside windows and walls will also provide heat protection in summer.
Closing windows and curtains during the hottest part of the day will keep out heat and save on cooling costs. When temperatures drop outside open your home up to the evening breeze to cool the internal spaces. You can also create airflow by opening windows or doors on opposite sides of the room.
If you haven't already insulated your home, you could be wasting up to half the energy you use to cool your home by allowing cool air to leak out and hot air to enter. And don't forget to draught-proof by sealing gaps around windows and doors—this helps keep cool air in and hot air out. Weather strips are a cheap and easy way to do this.
Electrical appliances and lighting can pump out heat too, so turn off lights, computers and televisions when not in use and try to use the dishwasher or washing machine in the morning or evening when the weather is cooler. If you can, avoid using the oven in the hottest part of the day.
Even your choice of light globes can make a difference to the heat in a room. LEDs (light emitting diodes) emit much less heat than older style globes, and are better value for money than incandescent and halogen light bulbs. LEDs use about 75% less energy than halogen light bulbs and last 5-10 times longer, greatly reducing replacement costs and the number of light bulbs ending up in landfill. The up-front cost of LEDs generally has a payback time of less than 1 year.
If you decide to use electrical cooling, consider fans. They use a fraction of the energy an air-conditioning system uses and create a breeze to make you feel cooler. Remember, fans cool people, not rooms, so turn them off when you leave.
If you have an air conditioner, use it only when you have to and don't be tempted to over-cool. Instead, set the temperature between 25 and 27°C: even 1 degree higher can save between 5 and 10% on your energy use. Consider buying a programmable thermostat for your air conditioner so that you can set it to suit your schedule and needs. If your air conditioner has a component such as a compressor that sits outside, try to provide it with some shading—if it's sitting in full sun it has to work harder. Don't forget to clean the filters regularly to help your system work more efficiently.
If you're thinking of buying a reverse-cycle air conditioner look for the energy rating label and compare the efficiency of different models.
Keeping cool in the tropics
Keeping cool in summer is challenging, especially in tropical areas. In high humidity the natural process of sweating is inhibited, so maximising air movement through the house is the key to cooling. Natural ventilation is much cheaper than flicking on the air conditioner.
Learn where breezes come from during the day and open up windows to make the most of the flow. See if you can open up at least two or three windows in every room to maximise flow — both to outside and other internal rooms. If you have double-hung windows, open the top and bottom. Ceiling fans will also assist air movement.
Ways to cool down
Our bodies can acclimatise to summer temperatures in around two weeks. With a slight shift in the daily routine and a few simple tricks, you can keep your body temperature down and reduce your reliance on costly mechanical cooling.
If possible, take it easy during the middle of the day and avoid heavy chores and exercise in the heat.
Adjust your routine so that you can spend at least part of hot days in public spaces which are cool. Perhaps you can do your shopping or go to the movies in the middle of the day rather than the evening.
For an instant cool-down, spray yourself with a mist of water or drape a moist towel around your neck. Wetting your wrists and other pulse points will also cool the body. A quick sponge down will also make you feel cooler instantly.
Clothes make a difference to how you feel as well. Opt for loose and light-weight clothing in light colours. Organic cottons and breathable fabrics can make you feel more comfortable.
Summer can be the perfect time to take off and escape for a while from your normal routine. Some modes of transport are responsible for significant carbon outputs, but there are ways you can minimise your travel impact and save on energy use while you're away.
If you're flying to your destination, you can opt to pay a little extra to offset your air travel's carbon emissions with most Australian airlines. The cost is directed towards projects which reduce carbon emissions. These may include energy efficiency projects, wind or hydro energy projects, either in Australia or overseas. You can find out about the carbon offset projects your airlines’ website. The National Carbon Offset Standard trademark indicates that a business is committed to achieving genuine carbon emission reductions.
If you take to the road in summer, make sure your vehicle is well-maintained and the tyres are inflated to the correct air pressure. Driving efficiently can make a big difference to fuel consumption, while keeping up with maintenance can pay off: on a medium-sized car, this can cut up to 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year compared with a poorly maintained vehicle. If you're renting a vehicle, choose the smallest one that suits your needs to minimise fuel consumption.
If you decide to go camping and bushwalking use the 'leave no trace' philosophy: take your rubbish home and use bio-degradable soap (or none at all) for cleaning up. Before heading away, check electrical appliances like microwaves, kettles, televisions, home entertainment systems and gaming consoles are turned off at the wall so they're not drawing electricity while on standby.
If you're going away for an extended period and want to save energy by turning off your storage hot water heater (electric, gas or solar), ensure you follow these important safety steps when you turn it back on.
Save money with the sun
There's lots of sun in summer, so turn it into an ally by giving your clothes dryer a rest
Even if you live in an apartment and don’t have your own clothesline, you may be able to use a clothes rack on your balcony. Otherwise find a sunny spot inside. The sun also has natural bleaching powers so hang out your whites for some natural lightening (nappies will be especially appreciative). Take advantage of the extra hours of sunshine to wash and dry bulkier items like blankets and rugs, or just give them an airing on the clothes line.
Summer is the time when we do a lot of living outdoors. Take advantage of cool evening breezes by firing up the barbeque and eating outside to keep your home cool. You could use a natural repellent like citronella candles or lemon eucalyptus oil to keep the mozzies at bay, or use a large mosquito net to enclose an eating area. If you're outside during the day, you could chose umbrellas and shaded areas to protect you from the sun's rays.
If you're having a party or barbeque, or you're out and about at picnics or outdoor events, try to avoid disposable plates and cutlery and help reduce waste. Carry a re-usable drink bottle rather than buying lots of drinks in plastic bottles. If there are no recycling facilities where you're picnicking or camping, bring your recycling home, including food scraps which you can compost at home.
Whether cooking indoors or outdoors, plan your meals before you shop and store your food properly. This will avoid food waste in the heat of summer and reduce rotting food going to landfill.
Pools and spas may be refreshing, but they can lose vast amounts of water through evaporation (sometimes up to 30,000L a year) and often use as much energy as dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers combined. They're also chemical-intensive. If you have a pool, a well-fitting pool cover is a must as it can significantly reduce evaporation. Having a rainwater tank is a great way to top up a pool.
If you're considering installing a pool, check water restrictions for your area and talk to installers and suppliers about energy use and the different types of filtration systems on the market, including natural pool designs which use biological filters.
Remember, it's your responsibility to ensure your home pool or spa is safe for everyone and minimises the risk of young children drowning. Ensure your pool and spa complies with safety and fencing regulations in your state or territory, and carry out regular checks to minimise the risk of accidents. The Royal Life Saving Australia website has important safety information.
In the garden
Gardens can really suffer in the summer heat. By creating a water-smart garden you can reduce labour, save water and money, and help your garden to flourish under dry conditions.
Mulching is one of the most efficient ways to maintain your garden through summer. It helps smother weeds and reduces moisture loss. There are lots of mulches to choose from including pea straw, sugar cane and wood chip. Don't water mulched gardens too often as this brings roots to the surface.
Water efficiently by working out which plants do well in which spot and grouping plants together according to their need for water and sun — this way intense watering can be confined to one spot. Only water the plants that need it and do it early in the morning or in the evening. Water deeply — a good occasional soaking is better than several light sprinkles — and water slowly to ensure good penetration. Don’t forget to adhere to water restrictions in your area.
Get to know your soil and what you can do to keep it fertile and improve its water retention. Talk to your garden centre about ways to test your soil, or research these online — this will help you to know what your plants need to thrive.
To improve the health of your soil you can make your own organic mulch by starting a compost heap or keeping worms. Composting your kitchen and garden waste or keeping chickens will also prevent food scraps and garden waste from rotting in landfill and releasing greenhouse gases.
A greywater system is a good way to re-use water from the bathroom basin or laundry by redirecting it to your garden. There are a few types of greywater systems so consult your plumber and local council about regulations and local options. Rainwater tanks are another popular way to harvest water.
There's a range of rebates and assistance available to assist with planning and establishing a water-smart garden. You can also talk to your local nursery or garden centre about the most effective way to care for your garden in summer.
Planting a vegetable garden and growing culinary herbs are great ways to help cut grocery bills, reduce food waste and get some exercise. Work out what grows best in your local climate zone and check out gardening websites to help get you started and work out a summer timetable. When you grow your own produce you can pick your food at its peak of ripeness when the flavours and nutrients are at their best. Even if you don't have much space, it's possible to grow almost any vegetable in pots, such as dwarf beetroot and carrots. Herbs are tolerant of many growing conditions and can be grown in pots in the smallest of apartments.
By growing your own produce you will also know exactly what goes into your food, plus you can minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which get washed or blown into storm water drains and local waterways.
Keep in mind pesticides don't discriminate between good insects and bad pests. Try out some organic pest remedies instead, like placing saucers of beer near plants that are susceptible to snail attack—snails are attracted to the smell of beer. Boiling water will kill weeds if you pour it directly onto them but take care to avoid your plants. This method is especially good for weeds in paving cracks. Vinegar will kill couch grass. Once you've identified which pests you need to control, check the internet for many more organic remedies to make at home.
Summer often gives lawns a beating, especially in drier areas and if water restrictions apply. Don't despair if they turn a bit yellow or brown — this usually means that your grass is just dormant and will return to green when the weather cools down and rainfall increases.
It's important not to cut your grass too short. Longer blades of grass are less stressed and provide shade to keep the soil moist and overtake weeds.
Over time the soil in lawns becomes compacted and needs to be aerated — this will allow water to be absorbed more effectively. You can use a garden fork for smaller areas (press a fork into the soil and lever it back and forth a couple of times) or hire a coring machine for larger areas. Wetting agents may also help lawns absorb water if they've become dried out.
Over-fertilisation with chemicals makes the soil too acidic for the lawn and pollutes our waterways. You can make up a batch of organic fertiliser by combining equal amounts of 'blood and bone', ground chicken manure and river sand: sprinkle it onto your lawn two or three times each year.
Talk to a lawn expert about suitable grass choices for your area and the best way to care for lawns and minimise water use. They will also be able to advise you on other ways to help keep your lawn healthy.
You can also talk to garden and landscape experts about alternatives to replace or reduce lawn areas, such as drought-tolerant flowering plants, ornamental grasses or tan bark. There are also porous paving options which prevent water run-off from paved areas.
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:
Creating a bush fire survival plan. Having this 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 putting a Pet Emergency Plan in place and including your pets in your Bush Fire Survival Plan. WIRES has 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 covered.
- Keep garden mulch away from the house and keep grass short.
- Ensure you have a hose which is 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.
These include tips for reducing fire risks in your area, and tools such as mobile phone apps that:
- tell you where bushfires are burning in your area
- help you develop your bushfire survival plan
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.
Resources and assistance
Emergency management Australian Government
Life-threatening emergencies, including bushfires CALL 000
SES help in flood and storm emergencies CALL 13 25 00
Australian Government disaster recovery assistance CALL 180 2266
Bushfire weather Bureau of Meteorology
Surviving Cyclones Bureau of Meteorology
National flood forecasting and warning service Bureau of Meteorology