Energy basics for householders

Ways to save

Heating and cooling

Around 40% of home energy use goes on heating and/or cooling.

Control your climate. In winter, set your heating between 18°C and 20°C. In summer, set your cooling between 25°C and 27°C. For every degree you increase heating and cooling you increase energy use between 5% and 10%.

Close off rooms not in use. Shut doors and vents to unused areas and only heat or cool the rooms you’re using.

Draught-proof. Sealing gaps and cracks to stop air leaking is a cheap way to cut your energy bill by up to 25%. Use a draught stopper to prevent air leaking under doors. Apply weather seals to windows, skirting boards, skylights and cornices. If renting, check with your landlord or property manager before fitting any weather seals.

Improve window efficiency. Prevent heat loss or gain with well-fitted curtains and blinds to trap a layer of air next to the window. Open curtains in winter to let the sun in during the day and close them before it gets dark. Close curtains during the hottest part of the day in summer.

Consider transparent film to insulate windows. This reduces heat gain and loss. If you are renting check with your landlord or property manager before making this change.

Catch the breeze. In summer make the most of natural airflow in the cooler parts of the day by opening windows to bring in the breeze and let the hot air out.

Use fans before air conditioning. Fans cost around 2 cents per hour to run (much less than air conditioners) and reduce the temperature by 2°C or 3°C. As fans circulate air they can also be used to improve the effectiveness of cooling systems.

Use fans to circulate hot air. Using ceiling fans to push the air downwards in winter improves heating efficiency. Where this option exists, the fan or remote control should clearly indicate the winter setting to reverse airflow.

See the heating and cooling page for information about the types of appliances and systems available.

Hot water

Heating water accounts for about 25% of household energy use.

Get the temperature right. The recommended setting for thermostats is 60°C for storage hot water systems and no more than 50°C on instantaneous systems.

Give your hot water a holiday. If you are away for more than a week, turning off your storage hot water system saves money and energy. When turning it back on allow time for the water to become hot enough to kill any bacteria that may have grown. The water must remain above 60°C for at least 35 minutes before you can safely use it. It could take several hours to reach this temperature.

Install a water-efficient showerhead. A 4-star rated showerhead could save a family of 4 around $315 a year on water bills, there will also be savings on energy bills because less water will need to be heated.

Replacing a hot water system. If your system fails, replacing it with a suitable energy-efficient model can reduce energy use. Research the options in advance to avoid making a rushed decision.

See the hot water page for information about the types of water heaters available.

Appliances

Appliances account for up to 30% of household energy use.

Compare and estimate running costs. Use the Energy Rating website to compare running costs of appliances.

Buy energy-efficient appliances. An energy-efficient model will have reduced running costs. The savings can add up to more than any purchase price difference over the life of the product. The Energy Rating Label shows you how efficient a particular appliance is—the more stars the better. A water-efficient dishwasher or washing machine will save energy as well as water. Look at both the energy and water efficiency star rating labels on the machine.

Use appliances efficiently. Washing clothes with cold water can save up to 10 times more energy than a warm wash.

Reduce standby power. Many appliances use power when left on, even if not in use. This can account for 3% of household electricity consumption: most can be switched off at the power point instead.

Note: Don't switch off fridges, freezers, security and medical equipment.

Lighting

Lighting in homes consumes between 8% and 15% of the average household electricity budget.

Use natural light. If it’s light outside, open the curtains or blinds rather than switching on a light. Lighter coloured furnishings and reflective surfaces also reduce the need for artificial lighting.

Use lights efficiently. Use efficient reading lamps rather than lighting a whole room. Switch lights off when you leave the room and consider sensors for outdoor lights.

Switch to energy-efficient lighting. Replace old-style globes with LEDs which use around 80% less energy. They should also last between 4 and 10 times longer.

Manage energy bills

Dealing with high energy bills can be stressful. There are options to better manage energy payments and ensure you’re getting the best deal for your circumstances.

The costs that make up an energy bill

Your bill is made up of the amount of energy you consume, multiplied by the price per unit. The price per unit can vary according to the time of day you use your electricity and the kind of contract you’re on. It can also vary depending on where you live, as each state and territory makes its own decisions about the costs of the various components involved in energy supply.

Your gas and electricity tariff has two parts: a daily supply charge (sometimes called a service charge or fixed charge) and a usage charge (a consumption or variable charge).

This daily supply charge is the cost of getting electricity or gas to your residence (even if you don’t use any) and appears on your bill as a total amount, or in cents per day.

The usage charge is the cost of the electricity or gas you use and appears on your bills in cents per kilowatt hour (c/kWh) for electricity or cents per megajoule (c/MJ) for gas.

Some bills might show more than one usage charge. For example, a time of use offer might have different usage charges for different blocks of time, which are usually called peak, shoulder, and off-peak.

EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au has interactive electricity and gas bills to step you through your usage and explain what all of the information means.

Offers and contracts

Depending on where you live, you may have a choice of which energy retailer to use. Even if there’s only one retailer in your area, they may have various offers available. Choosing the most suitable offer can be difficult, so understanding how and when you use energy is helpful.

Contracts that reward off-peak energy use may result in savings if you can move activities such as washing and cooking to these periods. However, this may increase your costs if you need to run heating and cooling systems at peak times. If you choose a contract that doesn’t suit your household or lifestyle you could end up paying more.

Carefully check the terms and conditions before agreeing to a contract.

Laws are in place for customer protection on energy matters. The retailer must provide a printed summary of any contract. The energy price fact sheet must include the following:

  • all prices and charges
  • early termination payments and penalties
  • date and duration of the contract
  • billing and payment information
  • your rights and obligations

After agreeing, you can change your mind within 10 business days without penalty.

Bill problems

If your energy bill seems wrong, your retailer must review it if requested. If you are not satisfied with their response, contact the energy ombudsman in your state or territory. An ombudsman is a free and independent dispute resolution service.

To ease financial stress you can have smaller amounts regularly deducted rather than receiving a large quarterly bill. Be sure to check with your retailer that there's no increase in the rate you'll be paying for energy.

If you receive Centrelink payments, the Centrepay service is available to make regular payments towards your energy bills. Centrepay can help you to better manage your finances by spreading out the costs of seasonal changes to your energy use. The MoneySmart budget planner can also help with managing costs.

If you are unable to pay your bill on time, contact your retailer to ask how they can help. Their hardship policy will also outline the options available. You may be able to delay payments or pay your bill off in smaller amounts.

If you receive a disconnection notice from your retailer, contact them immediately to discuss your options. You should not be disconnected during a protected period, such as a weekend or public holiday. People registered as depending on a life-support system have further protections from disconnection.

Why energy prices are changing

Electricity prices have risen significantly over the past decade largely due to increases in network costs. The 'network' is the transmission and distribution system of poles and wires that delivers electricity to your home.

The repair and replacement of ageing poles and wires, increased peak demand (periods placing the highest demand on the energy network—such as hot summer days), population growth, and rising standards for power reliability have all contributed to network cost increases.

A different range of factors have driven changes in gas prices. This is complex, with contributing factors for high domestic gas prices, including increased demand for gas in electricity generation (due to closure of coal-fired electricity plants like Hazelwood in Victoria), and lower than expected levels of gas production.

Other contributing factors include higher development and production costs for new gas resources, and bans, moratoria and regulatory uncertainty for onshore gas development in some states and territories.

Rebates and assistance

Governments across Australia offer householders and small businesses various rebates and assistance. See what’s available on the rebates page. Your local council may also offer rebates and assistance, so check with them too.

More information

Understanding your energy bills

Tariffs and fees  EnergyMadeEasy

How to read your bill EnergyMadeEasy

How does your electricity use compare? EnergyMadeEasy

Switching and billing

ACT Search for energy offers EnergyMadeEasy

NSW Search for energy offers EnergyMadeEasy

NT Residential Pricing PowerWater

QLD Search for energy offers EnergyMadeEasy

SA Search for energy offers EnergyMadeEasy

TAS Calculators Aurora Energy

VIC Victoria Energy Compare State Government of Victoria

WA Electricity pricing Government of Western Australia

Energy and Water Ombudsmen

ACT Energy & water Australian Capital Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal

NSW Energy & Water Ombudsman

NT About us Ombudsman NT

QLD Energy + Water Ombudsman Queensland

SA Energy & Water Ombudsman SA

TAS Energy Ombudsman Tasmania

VIC Energy and Water Ombudsman

WA Energy and Water Ombudsman Western Australia