Clever Ways To Save Energy In A Weatherboard Home — On A Budget!


Since moving in about a year ago, Clementine Day and her partner Simon have been peeling back the layers of their old Castlemaine home with the help of Clementine’s step-dad, an ‘ex-carpenter and all-round handyman.’

‘The biggest update has been removing the teal-coloured asbestos ‘fake brick’ concrete sheet cladding that encompassed the entire house when we bought it,’ Clementine says.

They’ve also given the kitchen a total DIY facelift — which Clementine often shares glimpses of on her food page @somethingsiliketocook — and have added a contemporary, personal charm to the 1955 weatherboard. But next up on their list of updates is improving the property’s comfort and energy efficiency, in line with energy advisor Tim Forcey‘s recommendations.

‘We’ve done a lot of research and have used the Facebook group Tim founded (My Efficient Electric Home) to steer the direction of a lot of our plans for the house, so we were really keen to check in with Tim to see if we are on the right path,’ Clementine adds.

Here are the main changes Tim suggested to significantly improve their home’s energy efficiency.

Heating and cooling

Clementine says while the house was great in summer, it has been ‘absolutely arctic in winter.’ ‘We use a combo of our new split system in the living room and a couple of panel heaters for targeted areas (like the bathroom) that are the hardest to heat up,’ she explains.

Tim says the cheapest way to heat the home is by installing more reverse-cycle air conditioning units in rooms without heating, including their bedroom and study, where Simon works from home. ‘It costs only a fifth of what it costs to run the electric panel heaters,’ he adds. ‘Don’t avoid using the aircon in summer too, as it can be more efficient to use these units before it gets too hot inside.’

Draught proofing and insulation

One of the biggest improvements Clementine can make to help the home withstand the frosty regional Victorian climate is draught proofing. The non-functional fireplace in the living room is letting cold air in, while a very old air conditioning unit in the wall opens directly to outside! Tim says both of these should be sealed up to avoid cold air entering the home.

The interior doors also sit quite a long way off the floor, so Tim suggests buying a $6 draught stopper from Bunnings as a cost-effective solution. Clementine has noticed there are ‘gaps everywhere’ in the walls (especially around picture rails and architraves), which could also be filled using a caulking gun from Bunnings.

On the plus side, after some investigation, Tim finds the insulation here is pretty good. He says the fibreglass underfloor insulation is adequate, and the ceiling insulation isn’t bad either. But as with many older homes, there is no insulation in the walls. Tim recommends getting a professional company like Enviroflex or EcoHome to drill into the walls of the weatherboard and install ‘blow-in’ insulation, for an estimated cost of $4000.

Windows

Part of the house’s poor heat retention is also due to the single-glazed, steel-framed windows. ‘Double-glazed windows would be quieter and thermally superior,’ Tim says. Since Clementine and Simon can’t afford the hefty expense of upgrading to double-glazed right now, Tim says window furnishings can also have a huge impact.

Choosing something like honeycomb blinds (made up of two or three layers of material, where the trapped air works as the insulator) is far more thermally effective than basic roller blinds, and would be a great replacement here, ideally paired with heavy curtains that can be closed to keep the warmth in at night.

Hot water system

Water is currently heated by an ‘instantaneous hot water system’. This is like a small box that heats water on demand, requiring a large burst of gas. Tim highly recommends Clementine and Simon look into getting a new electric heat pump hot water unit, that could be powered by their solar array. Plus, getting one with a tank means they could run the pump during the day while the sun is shining and store the water for whenever they need.

A middle-range unit would set the couple back about $2000, since there are some significant rebates of over $1000 currently on offer from the Federal Government. ‘I’d not realised how good the rebates were for electric heat pump hot water systems, so Tim did make us realise that could be more achievable than we’d originally thought,’ Clementine notes.

Solar

Clementine and Simon’s house already has a 6.6kW solar system, which scores two thumbs up from Tim. He says getting a battery isn’t a high priority right now in terms of where they should invest their money, instead suggesting they focus on draught proofing and improving insulation to enhance the home’s comfort — and in turn, help reduce power bills.

Cooking

As a cook, Clementine has recently purchased a new freestanding gas cooker. She considered getting an electric version but the ones she’d looked at were about twice the price, and she couldn’t justify spending $7000.

‘You can actually retrofit a gas cooker and add an induction top,’ Tim explains, having seen people from his Facebook group do so. This could be an option later down the track.

Overall assessment

Tim’s unofficial rating for the house would be around five stars (out of 10). This is already quite strong compared to the average Australian home score of three stars, and it’s also the best rating of the three homes he’s visited as part of our Energy Audit series (see them here and here)!

‘You don’t have ducted gas heating and you’ve already got solar so you’re going pretty good,’ Tim adds. If they tackle the wall insulation, draught proofing, window treatments, and install a electric hot water heat pump unit the weatherboard’s score could jump up to about eight stars pretty quickly.

Next steps

Clementine says Tim has motivated them to try and tackle as many improvements as they can. In fact, they’ve already uninstalled and sealed up the gaps from their old air con unit, and are arranging thicker window coverings!

‘I understand how multi-pronged your approach needs to be, to be successful in making a sustainable and efficient home. It’s a waste of time insulating walls if you’re not going to look at window coverings, or draught sealing doors but not considering ceiling vents or other gaps — everything has to work together in harmony,’ she explains.

‘We’re on a tight budget but Tim had great advice about achieving these goals without necessarily having to fork out a heap of cash.’

Momentum Energy is 100% owned by Hydro Tasmania — Australia’s largest generator of renewable energy. Find out more about signing up to an energy retailer that supports the transition to renewables.

Tim’s first book, My Efficient Electric Home Handbook is also coming out later this year and you can pre-order it online here.





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