Eight tips to make your home eco-friendly

CNET Australia's top tips to turn your home into a more eco-friendly household.

With grim predictions of climate change now a permanent feature in daily news reports, pressure is mounting on everyone to figure out how to lead greener lives.

Sure, there are the obvious steps such as taking a bus rather than car for the daily commute and putting a water saver head on the shower, but what else can you do?

To assist your household become more eco-friendly, CNET Australia has compiled a list of top tips that can help you do your bit for the future of the planet:

Monitor your electricity usage in real time. (Credit: Efergy)

1. Install a power usage meter

With our love of gadgets and labour-saving devices growing by the day, it's easy to forget just how much power your home is consuming. The best way to get a handle on usage is to install an electricity monitor.

These natty devices continually measure consumption and display it on a small screen in the house. The screen allows you to instantly see the effect of turning on heaters or cranking up multiple PCs.

One example, from the UK company Efergy, comprises an electricity monitor module and a wireless display panel. The monitor module is attached to your home's power board (note: it must be installed by a qualified electrician) and measures the amount of current being drawn every six seconds.

The small wireless display monitor displays energy usage in kilowatts together with the cost, based on the electricity tariffs you've entered into the device. It also provides an estimate of the volume of carbon emissions your usage patterns are creating.

The instant feedback provided by the monitor makes you very aware of just how much power your house is consuming. Switch off some lights and appliances at the wall and you can instantly see the drop in both usage and cost. The meters (RRP: AU$99) are available exclusively from Bunnings hardware stores.

Energy saving light bulbs use 80 per cent less energy compared to a standard light bulb.

2. Replace those incandescent light globes

The Federal Government's leading the way here by declaring that traditional incandescent light globes will be phased out by 2010 — but why wait until then? As each of your existing globes flickers its last, replace it with a compact fluorescent alternative.

The Federal Environment Department estimates that around 90 per cent of all power used by conventional globes is wasted as heat. Because compact fluorescents run much cooler, this wastage is minimised. The department says around 12 per cent of all electricity in the average home goes to power lights, so the savings can be significant.

The squat compact fluorescent globes chew around 80 per cent less power than their incandescent cousins, while providing a similar amount of light. A 20-watt compact fluorescent globe will give you the same light as a 75-watt incandescent.

When you count up the number of lights around a typical home, taking such a replacement strategy will pay dividends over the long term. Add the fact that the fluorescent globes will last between 6,000 and 8,000 hours and the numbers look even better (RRP: AU$6 – AU$8).

Verio wind-up MP3 player can be charged by simply winding it. (Credit: Ethicalsuperstore.com)

3. Invest in power-saving gadgets
Saving electricity is all well and good, but why not find ways to avoid plugging things in altogether? There's a growing range of gadgets on the market that can help you do just that.

For starters, consider transferring your music onto a Verio wind-up MP3 player. Sporting 1 gigabyte of storage (not huge but hey, it's better than nothing), the player also has an inbuilt torch and a mobile phone charger socket.

Wind the handle for a minute and you'll have generated enough energy for 20 minutes of music. If your arms get too tired, it also comes with a mains charger (RRP: AU$129).

And when the sun goes down, think about your options before reaching for the light switch. One is to reach instead for a human-powered LED lantern, designed to cast a glow over anything from a BBQ to a night out camping.

One, the Freeplay Indigo LED light, uses a cluster of seven light emitting diodes (LEDs) to provide a room-filling glow. When fully charged, the lantern will give you 2.5 hours on maximum brightness and up to 70 hours in night-light mode.

Cranking the charging handle for just 60 seconds will give two hours on night-light setting or five minutes on maximum. If you're not up to all that winding, a USB charging cable is also supplied. Freeplay says the charging mechanism is rated to 500,000 input cycles and the LED globes will last up to 100,000 hours (RRP: AU$79.95).

Use the sun with solar panels similar to these.

4. Put solar panels on the roof

No matter how much winding you're prepared to do, there's still going to be a need for some 240-volt power in the home. One way to reduce the amount you draw from the grid is to install some solar panels on the roof.

There are a wide variety of panels on the market that deliver varying amounts of power. The total volume of power you will generate will be determined by the number and size of panels installed and the number of hours of sunshine falling on them.

In most cases it won't be practical to rely on solar to meet 100 per cent of your home power needs, but this shouldn't put you off the idea. By connecting your panels to the electricity grid you're able to feed extra power into the public grid when you're not using it, drawing it back again when you do. Your power company will pay you for power generated, effectively giving you a discount on your monthly electricity bill.

It's worth employing the skills of a solar expert to help you select the equipment you'll need and figure out the best place to install it. As a guide, 125-watt solar panels cost around AU$1,200.

Harness the wind with a wind turbine.

5. Install a wind turbine

For those with a little more space, a wind turbine can make a worthwhile addition to a home power infrastructure. They generate power any time the breeze blows and, unlike solar panels, continue to pay their way through the night.

There are numerous models on the market, suited to different locations, climatic conditions and budgets. As technology and design have matured, the size and power output of wind turbines has improved. Indeed, it's now possible to get small models that take up not much more space than a television antenna.

Like solar panels, it's generally better to have installation done by a professional who will be able to provide advice on location and ensure mountings will be able to cope when the wind blows strongly. Most turbines are designed either to tilt back on their mounting or mechanically slow their blades during times of high wind. This avoids damage and also reduces noise levels (and the annoyance of nearby neighbours).

One example is the 1,000-watt Grid Connect turbine from Australian company SOMA. This unit is designed to be connected either to a storage battery bank or directly to the electricity grid. It comes with a control panel and a regulator that monitors battery charge levels (RRP: AU$6,550).

A smaller option is the 600-watt wind turbine from Ampair. Dubbed a "micro" turbine, it has a blade diameter of just 1.7 metres, allowing it to be mounted either on an existing building or a small pole. It comes in two versions, designed either to charge batteries or deliver mains-strength power (RRP: AU$4,495).

This Monster power board lets you turn off all connected appliances at once.

6. Turn off devices at the wall

Of course, as well as installing expensive equipment on your roof, there are some very basic steps you can take to ensure your digital lifestyle is contributing as little as possible to the growing problems of global warming.

The easiest of all is to forget about stand-by mode and turn your devices off at the wall. Those little red lights that tell you your TV or monitor is poised to spring to life whenever you need it might be convenient but they actually cost you more than you might think in energy consumption.

Amounts vary from device to device but many typically consume between 10 and 15 watts when in standby. Add them all together and it's like leaving a few lights burning 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One option is to plug devices into a power board with its own on-off switch. Then, rather than scrambling under the desk or behind the entertainment cabinet, you can easily kill all devices in a single action.

Another action worth taking is to turn off any power chargers at the wall that are being used to top up anything from notebook PCs to mobile phones and music players. Most of these continue to consume power regardless of whether the device they should be charging is connected.

Also, if you're keen to keep your PC running all the time, at least consider turning off the screen. Running a screen saver program might look cool but it burns just as much power as regular screen usage.

Check the Energy Star ratings of electronic appliances to see how much power it consumes. (Credit: Commonwealth of Australia)

7. Do an inventory of your appliances

Another easy way to live a greener lifestyle is to do a regular energy audit of all the electronic appliances in your house.

Every device usually has a label that clearly shows how much power it consumes. Armed with a copy of your power bill and a calculator, you can easily figure out how much it costs to run. That old fridge sitting in the garage that's only used for beer could be costing you around AU$200 a year.

Other likely culprits include deep freezes, tumble dryers and clunky old CRT televisions. Figure out the running costs of each and then make a decision whether it might be worth replacing it with a newer, more power efficient model. Many now come labelled with energy star ratings to make the selection task even easier.

8. Live digitally

Aside from power, you can also improve your green credentials by cutting back on usage of another resource: paper. With virtually every newspaper on the planet now putting its content online, do you still need that daily delivery of dead trees?

iLiad ebook reader is an alternative to paper-based books. (Credit: iRex Technologies)

By downloading your favourite daily news content to your smartphone or notebook computer, you can remain informed during the morning commute while at the same time reducing your paper consumption.

Then, there are the growing number of devices designed to replace paper-based books. Before shelling out for that latest best seller, consider downloading the digital version instead.

One book reader, the ILiad from bookseller Dymocks, is both an electronic book reader and an electronic notepad. When you get tired of reading, you can make notes or drawings which can later be transferred to a PC (RRP: AU$899).

By following these tips, you'll be able to significantly reduce the amount of resources your home consumes. As well as reducing power bills, it will contribute to national efforts to halt the progress of climate change. Makes you feel good, doesn't it.

 

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