Help! I bought a heat pump but I still have a huge power bill…

August 30th, 2011

1. So you bought a heat pump and your power bill is still sky-high?

You’re not alone, according to New Zealand’s energy efficiency watchdog, which has been fielding enquiries from people cranking their heat pumps in the mistaken belief that they should run them all day.

After all, they’re efficient, right?

Only if you buy the right model and run it properly, says the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, which has published a list of heat pump tips and myths.

Even in a polar blast, it advises setting your heat pump to 18C or 20C in the day and 16C in the bedroom overnight – and only heating the space you’re using, when you’re using it.

EECA’s Christian Hoerning says people who haven’t been shown how to use their remotes properly are setting their pumps to automatically heat or cool to 20C all day, even when they’re not home – leading to the “crazy” situation where the pump is actually cooling an over-heated house once sunlight starts streaming in.

It turns out that over-using new and efficient appliances is just one of ways you might be chewing unnecessary power.

Worse, many power-suckers give you no benefit at all – for example did you know your DVD player probably uses more electricity on standby than it does playing DVDs all year?

That’s right – according to the Government’s Energywise website¬† the average family uses less power actually watching DVDs than it does running that little clock or light that tells you that the player is on.

2. Kill the vampires

Such sneaky users are known as power vampires. Standby mode is the hidden leech of household electricity – you could save about $125 a year just by flicking off appliances at the wall.

Microwaves, TVs, DVD players, washing machines, dishwashers, computers and virtually anything with a remote control suck power even when you’re not using them.

Of course, if you’re going to lose important settings it might not be worth switching off. But chances are, you don’t really need to read the time on your microwave.

Another silent sucker is all those charging devices that are so easy to leave plugged in once the battery is full.

Your iPod, cell phone and laptop will keep pulling power even after they are fully charged – and sometimes even if the device is not connected to the charger – unless you pull the plug out of the wall.

3. Watch your whiteware

Whiteware uses about 20 per cent of the power in your home – the biggest chunk after hot water and room heating.

You can cut that by making sure your dishwasher and washing machine are full when you put them through.

Unless you need to wash in hot, wash clothes in cold water – you’ll save 20 to 40 cents a load.

The humble fridge uses about 15 per cent of the average home electricity bill all on its own – so if you have a second one, especially an older one, consider giving it the boot. Modern fridges and freezers are much more energy efficient – a newer family fridge/freezer with a 3 star energy rating costs about half as much as to run (about $100 a year) as one ten years or older.

If you’re stuck with your old fridge, help it out by keeping it away from the oven and direct sunlight, and check the seals by putting a piece of paper in the door and closing it.

A good seal should be able to hold the paper tight. Keep the door shut as much as possible and don’t put boiling hot food in there.

4.Take stock of your power use

With power bills soaring thanks to a once-in-a-lifetime polar blast¬† it’s worth taking stock of where your electricity is going.

Online retailer Powershop recommends checking your meter every week when you put out the rubbish and then relating it back to your power use.

Were you doing more clothes drying that week or was a chill making your heat pump work overtime? You will quickly see when you start using more power and that can help you pinpoint the cause.

5. Consider switching

You can make all this effort and still pay too much if you’re with an expensive power company.

Thousands of customers have already ditched their suppliers for a better deal, after a campaign by the Electricity Authority and Consumer Institute urging people to shop around.

It’s easy to check online if you could get a better deal somewhere else – and you might even force your current company to offer you a sweetener to stay on its books.

6. Staying warm

Of course, even the cheapest power mounts up in the kind of temperatures New Zealand has experienced this month.

Hoerning say the average New Zealand household is pretty frugal when it comes to home heating – spending about $500 a year compared with an estimated $4,000 on fuel for the car.

Kiwis seem to be genetically programmed to resent heating bills, and as a result, many of us live in unhealthily chilly homes.

If you want to be warmer next winter, it is not too late to get Government-subsidised insulation – the Warm Up New Zealand scheme is due to last until mid-2013.

If your pre-2000 house has poor or no insulation, the Government will pay 1/3 or $1300 towards getting your floors and ceilings done – leaving you with a reduced bill of about $2,000 on average.

Ironically hot water heating costs more than room heating – an average of $650 a year – but we tend not to notice it because it’s spread more evenly throughout the year. Hoerning says you can cut that by buying a wrap for your cylinder for as little $60, and you can probably install it yourself.

7. Rate your house

If you’re ready to tinker with your house, spending a few minutes with the Green Building Council’s Homestar self-rating system is a good start.

Your actual score is almost guaranteed to be depressing. Most New Zealand houses score between two and four out of ten – our bungalow scored two despite newly-installed ceiling and floor insulation, plenty of sun and a toasty woodburner.

But it generates some handy tips for making your house warmer and more efficient.

Many may be in your too-hard basket for now – forking out for double glazing or solar hot water heating is a pretty big cost commitment.

But drying your clothes under the covered porch rather than inside the house seems like a painless way to cut that damp condensation that pools on the inside of your windows.

You can always make a list of nice-to-haves for house upgrades later.

In the meantime, turning off that unused DVD player or the second beer fridge will save you money and you won’t even notice it.


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