Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Power bill alleviation strategy: my seven-year plan.

They called it sticker shock in the 1990s recession–or was it the 1980s?–referring to overnight rises on price stickers shocking shoppers.

We are about to experience bill shock. I could call it electric shock, but that might be a little dramatic.

I anticipated this some time ago, well before any mention of a carbon tax. In fact, we have to go right back to 2005, after I bought this house.

When I first inspected the house, a 1948 weatherboard bungalow, its operational economy was apparent. Today you’d say the house had ‘green credentials’ or was ‘eco-friendly’; but it simply had very few lights and no built-in appliances. Frugality was written all over it. It was a sale by the estate of the original owner; possibly someone who grew up in the shadows of the 1930s depression. There was a single gas heater in the lounge room and the rest of the house was unheated; there was no air-conditioning, no dishwasher, no exhaust fan in the bathroom (but an enormous sash window that, raised a few inches, clears moisture in seconds, a chimney cavity instead of an exhaust fan over the stove and oven, a shared light between back verandah and toilet (one of those austerity-era architectural oddities in which the globe rests in a small transom that opens on both rooms), no outside light to the backyard and no light in the shed.

Further, its L-shape floor plan rests on a north-facing slope, and the low-angled winter sunshine pools in the lap of the L, right near the front door porch, where you can sit in the afternoon warmth and read a book and drink a glass of chilled white wine and pretend spring is around the corner.

And the house is painted white. I re-did it last year.

The only changes we made were to raise the wattage of the globes – slightly - and buy a Noirot heater on wheels that warms the small rooms of this period house in minutes. Still no dishwasher or microwave, and no clothes dryer. We took the Zero Carbon Moreland household emissions test last year, and the result barely moved the clock or meter or whatever it is they use. “This is impossible,” said the ZCM person, staring at the analysis. "Or you live in an open field.” I laughed. She probably thought I was fudging the figures to look ‘green’. “No,” I said. “It’s real. We’re practically Luddites.” She just stared.

Next move in carbon tax-proofing the house was to have blinds put in. O’Gorman’s came around and installed exterior canvas awnings on all east, north and west windows, and Holland blinds with lace curtains inside. The awnings are especially useful later in the season when the sun's angle drops, pumping 40 degrees Celsius deeper into the rooms. (Four years later, the roller pin in one of the Holland blinds fell out. I took it to O’Gorman’s and showed them and they came out and replaced the pins in all six blinds, just in case. Service still exists.) I also had wire screens installed so we could let in fresh air.

The next part of the strategy was trees. The house had sat on bare land, aside from one citrus tree in the back yard, and that was of no shade use, being at the rear of the property. I bought five deciduous trees that were already up to ten feet tall from Bunnings at the end-of-season clearout for around $15 each, and placed them where they should eventually provide leafy shade over windows in summer while letting light through in winter. I planted the smallest of these trees outside the bathroom. It sat and did nothing for six months. And then, bang: it took off like a rocket. It is now twenty feet tall. (So far this winter it still hasn’t dropped last season’s leaves.)


Melbourne Girl said...

KH, I am constantly amazed with the way people feel the need to have air cons running when it's still in the 20's outside!
When i bought Number 10, all it had was an old briquette heater in the lounge room. I changed it to a gas log fire. Everyone was amazed that i didn't install ducted heating and an air con. No thanks...although I do have a dishwasher and a dryer, but the old clothes horse gets a bigger run than the dryer.
We also painted the house white and got outdoor awnings and indoor blinds....and we've planted trees all over the place. We don't need all the power sucking stuff.


kitchen hand said...

Lesley, I had ducted heating in the last place - was forever cleaning ducts. Maybe it was a bad installation.

Melbourne Girl said...

KH I had ducted heating at a previous place too. I accidentally left it on overnight and woke up feeling like absolute crap and looking like an overdried prune...I swore I'd never have it again..and yep the ducts were always blowing in dust.