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How to do a WFH audit to save money and reduce your carbon footprint

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How to do a WFH audit to save money and reduce your carbon footprint
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This article originally appeared in October 2020 on The Guardian Labs

Internet. Heating. Lighting. It’s no wonder our electricity bills are through the roof. Here are six simple changes you can make to reduce your carbon footprint and save money.

As most Australians can attest, working from home (WFH) hasn’t come without its spatial inconveniences and unexpected expenses.

Alissa Thomas, a 39-year-old journalist and stylist, says her Sydney home has had to double as a functional working space for her husband and a playpen for their two small children, and it’s the home’s electricity bills that have shocked her most about the experience.

“My husband needed a space that required at least a lamp and heater for most of the day, and the kids and I have been home more than usual, so we’ve been running the TV, internet, gadgets and kitchen appliances a lot,” Thomas says.

“While we tried to limit usage of things like the clothes dryer, our electricity bill was still eye-watering. It made us realise how much money we save when we’re usually out most of the day and everything is turned off.”

James Gerrard, founder of digital financial advisory firm FinancialAdvisor.com.au, says while some expenses - such as dining out - have gone down, working from home has increased electricity, gas, internet and water usage.

“Australians under the age of 40 have never experienced a recession in their working lives and many find themselves unprepared in these difficult economic times,” Gerrard says. “The impact is likely to continue into 2021, as recessions in Australia last 11 months on average. But given the unpredictable nature of the catalyst, the length and severity of the recession depends on how quickly an effective vaccine is deployed.”

To offset some of these WFH costs, Thomas has become more conscious of making greener choices, such as closing doors to unoccupied rooms during colder months and selling one of the two household cars in the wake of the WFH revolution.

“As coincidence would have it, just prior to Covid-19 I set up a generously sized veggie garden, which has pleasantly provided herbs, lettuces and some vegetables that I would usually need to buy packaged from the grocer,” she says. “We’ve been cooking at home as much as possible to limit takeaway packaging and using leftovers that would usually be binned.”

Photo of small pots with herbs growing
Growing your own herbs, reducing your food waste and changing your shower head are just a few ways households can look to tackle their carbon footprint.

It’s a notion that Lucinda Flynn, energy efficiency assessor and sustainability consultant for Going Green Solutions, can get behind. Flynn, whose role includes going into people’s homes and pointing out where they can save energy - and thus money - says a lot of people have trouble visualising their carbon footprint.

“Our carbon footprints are made up of two things,” Flynn says. “The most obvious is the fossil fuels we directly use that create carbon emissions: electricity, transport, petrol, gas.

“The less visible aspect of our carbon footprint is the carbon associated with the life cycle of the things we buy. For example, if you walk past an apple tree growing wild in the bush and take an apple, that apple has no carbon footprint. However, if you drive that apple to your friend who lives 100km away, it then has a carbon footprint.”

Here, Flynn suggests six ways Australian households can reduce their carbon footprint - and save money.

1. Change your electricity provider

Electricity supply in Australia is a huge factor in our national CO2 emissions, but you can reduce your contribution to this. You can do this by choosing to buy your electricity from a retailer that offers the choice to buy accredited GreenPower and offsets the carbon associated with your energy usage. The Green Electricity Guide compares different retailers and is a great way to choose a company that is helping Australia move towards more renewable energy and lower carbon emissions. Top of the list? Powershop, Australia’s only accredited carbon neutral energy retailer.

2. Seal the gaps in your home

This is an easy and cheap DIY job. Reducing the flow of air through your home will help you feel more comfortable, and can save you money on heating and cooling.

3. Clean the filters on your air conditioner

It’s amazing how much dust these can accumulate. Your air conditioner could be working harder than necessary to move air past dirty filters, which uses more energy and can reduce the life span of your unit. How often you need to clean will depend on how much you use the aircon.

4. Change your shower head

Choose a water-efficient shower head (with a flow of nine litres a minute or less). Limit showers to four minutes, and make sure the pipes from your hot water system to your taps are insulated. These three things will all reduce the energy your hot water system requires for heating, helping you save money. There are several schemes in which households can bring their old inefficient shower heads and trade them in for a free replacement. Ask your council or water supplier if they offer this service.

5. Reduce food waste

Did you know that an estimated one-third of the food produced in the world is either lost or wasted? Food requires a lot of energy to get it from where it is grown to us - and the process along the way requires energy and creates carbon emissions through manufacturing, processing, repackaging, labelling and transporting. Food waste that ends up in landfill creates methane, which is an even stronger greenhouse gas than carbon.

6. Control temperatures

When heating and cooling, stick to the optimal temperatures for energy efficiency: for cooling, set your aircon unit at 25-27C, and for heating, at 18-20C. Each degree of extra heating in winter and cooling in summer can increase your energy consumption by 5-10%.

It’s the little things that can make a big difference to both your carbon footprint and your wallet.

Written by The Guardian Labs in Partnership with Powershop


More energy saving tricks and tips

More ways to save energy and money on our How can I lower my energy bill? page

Read our Top 8 areas to save energy in your home blog

Read our Older Australians beat rising power bills this summer blog


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