Energy Bills - how does $650 a year sound?
Our last electricity bill was under $70 - sunny weather meant the solar panels and solar hot water were working really well. Bills are slightly higher in winter ($120) and during rainy weather when the solar is not as efficient and we also run the clothes dryer.
We also use a couple of gas bottles per year for cooking and gas heating (Rinnai 6 star energy efficient ) - and they cost around $120 each time.
Solar energy and hot water
We have a 1kW solar PV system that gives us some free power and also returns us $70-$100 in feed in rebates per quarter (we are paid 50c per kW hour from Origin for any excess power that feeds into the grid during the day). Our solar hot water system also provides hot water all year round. An electric booster is attached which kicks in if the weather is rainy or cold.
Energy efficient design
Our home is designed to be as energy efficient as our budget would allow. There are a number of easy improvements you can make that don't have to cost a lot - the only catch is that it is better to plan for them rather than try and add them later on. For example, insulation.
Insulation is taken much more seriously in cold countries like the US and Europe, here in Australia, ceiling insulation is about as far as most people go. In our case, we decided to insulate the walls as well (batts - not foil) - this is a very difficult task once a house is built but VERY EASY to do at the building stage. This keeps our house remarkably cool in summer and ensures valuable heat does not escape through the walls in winter. Of course the ceiling is also insulated with batts. Combined with a light coloured roof, this keeps the upstairs rooms very comfortable all year round.
We are lucky to have a block with a north south orientation. This means that our private back deck is warm and sunny in winter when the sun is low in the sky. In summer, the deck is in shade and acts to keep the ground floor of the house cool too. We have also minimised western windows to reduce afternoon heat. We have deep eaves as well which offer excellent shading of windows in summer, while allowing the warm rays to penetrate in winter.
Energy Efficient lighting
We have used energy efficient lights throughout the house and this definitely contributes to our very low energy bills. Normal halogen downlights are a HUGE energy guzzler, but we chose compact fluorescent downlights instead and we are pretty happy with them.
Top quality water pumps and waste water treatment
On the mountain, we rely on rainwater and also must have an onsite waste water treatment system as town sewerage is not available. We have chosen good quality pumps that use less energy and last for years. The 10 person capacity watewater system (HSTP) is modern, quiet, energy efficient and disperses UV disinfected water under ground. This is a great advantage over VERY smelly septic systems that are still widely used on older properties. Our system is also designed to only need inspecting annually ($130) - many systems such as Tailex and Envirocycle require quarterly inspections that can cost $200 each visit ($800 per year). An additional advantage is that our system uses UV light, not chlorine to disinfect the water - so no toxic chlorine can build up on our land. Overall, the extra cost was well worth it - this is a superior system.
Water saving and storage
We have a 7000 gallon (approximately 31000 litre) concrete water tank that has never fallen below 1/4 full and water quality is excellent - we have no overhanging trees to drop leaves in the gutters. All taps are installed with water saving devices and the toilets are dual flush with very small water usage. We have maintained a large vegie garden and the extra water usage has never been a problem. Many older proerties have much smaller tanks and routinely buy water throughout the dry months so we are lucky here.