Is your house ready for a new energy future?

Renovating or building your home? Get ahead of what’s next in energy efficiency with independent energy advisor, Tim Forcey.

Energy
7 min read
Growing up during the 1970s energy crisis in America, Tim Forcey watched his parents insulate their hot water heaters and double-glaze their windows – and became fascinated by energy efficiency.

After taking this passion into his engineering career, and now working as an independent energy advisor, Tim shares his insights on what’s next – and why tried and tested methods are still worth doing.

Build beyond energy efficiency benchmark standards

These days, if you’re building a new home the National Construction Code minimum requirement is a 6-star house energy rating. But many existing houses in Australia average 2-stars (or even less) making them little more than ‘glorified tents’ as one academic described them.

Improving energy efficiency represents a significant opportunity during a home renovation project.

“I wouldn’t settle for 6-star,” advises Tim.

“Economically, and for comfort, the best spot would be 7 or 8-star if you want to future proof yourself against future energy bill rises.”

Building scientist Jenny Edwards, who also works with Tim on energy efficiency programs and the My Efficient Electric Home Facebook community, built her Canberra home to achieve an 8.2-star energy rating.

Front facade of 8.2 star Canberra home
Image supplied by Lighthouse, photographer Ben Wrigley.

Using solar passive, space-efficient design principles, she and her architect overcame the challenges of the slim block with northern street frontage. Double-glazed PVC windows and a focus on air-tightness means the home uses less than 50% of the energy needed to heat and cool a 6-star design – and the all-electric house won the 2018 HIA Australian GreenSmart Sustainable Home of the Year.

Now’s the time to go solar

Australians are installing solar rooftop panels in record numbers, with around one in five houses now capturing energy from the sun. Installations in Victoria alone surged 90% in the past year, thanks to a new state-based incentive scheme.

“Solar PV is definitely a good buy for a lot of homes, and you should be looking at it,” says Tim.

“People ask me how many panels should I get, and I say ‘how many will fit on your roof’? You don’t know what the future will bring, and I haven’t yet met someone who regrets their solar system being too big.”

A bigger system will allow you to use more sun-generated energy on an overcast day. But another option that can help with this is battery storage. For example, AGL’s Virtual Power Plant creates a network of connected solar batteries – so you can power your home with stored solar energy but also contribute back to the grid in peak usage times.

Set up your garage for an electric vehicle

Australians may have enthusiastically embraced solar panels, but by global measures, we’ve been slower to take up electric vehicles (EV). However, Tim is confident petrol cars will eventually disappear.

“Electric cars are just much more efficient.”

Woman outside her home charging an electric car

Australia’s EV sales soared 90% in the first half of 2019 according to the Electric Vehicle Council, and are expected to keep growing as manufacturers expand their range and more public charge points become accessible.

There are several benefits to owning an EV, but Tim says charging your car at home can make it a very flexible type of energy storage battery.

“Someone asked me about home batteries, and I said well, the first battery you get will probably be your car. Why buy a battery you can’t drive down to the shops?”

Don’t forget the energy efficiency basics

All this new technology is exciting, but it’s also worth remembering that the things we learned long ago about energy efficiency are just as true today.

Up to 87% of heat is gained through windows in Australian homes, which means good quality blinds or curtains and external shading is a cost-effective place to start. Double-glazed windows have long a standard feature of homes in other countries, and it is also possible to retrofit existing windows with double glazing.

Man entering home with dog through glass sliding doors
Image supplied by Lighthouse, photographer Ben Wrigley.

Tim also advises checking star ratings whenever you decide to upgrade your appliances. “Head to energyrating.gov.au to compare washing machines, fridges and some air-conditioners,” he suggests.

If you’re ready to replace your hot water system, Tim recommends looking at heat pumps and other geothermal energy technologies.

“It’s basically a reverse cycle air-conditioner that can heat your water, and it’s low cost to operate. Our heat pump comes on at 11pm, and runs for about two hours to make sure the 300-litre tank is full of hot water. Then it’s good for 24 hours or more. If you’re using solar PV energy, it’s the cheapest hot water in the world.”

Heat pumps don’t have star ratings yet, but you can check their small-scale technology certificates (STCs) to work out which one is more efficient for your needs. It can be worth paying a little extra for a more efficient model, as you’ll save in the long run.

And that’s what future-proofing your home is all about. Understanding what’s coming next, and investing for the long-term. You’ll be more comfortable throughout the year straight away, and you may even add value to your home for the future.

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What else can you do to future-proof your home?

Here are more ways you can plan for your home of tomorrow.

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Article feature image supplied by Lighthouse, photographer Ben Wrigley.