Weatherproof your home against plummeting temperatures in anticipation of the coming cold snap, writes Verity Campbell.
Don't be fooled by this unseasonably sunny autumn; winter is approaching. Soon enough you'll be taking out a brolly for the work commute and spending a lot more time indoors - which can mean bigger energy bills.
It doesn't have to be that way. With simple practical steps you can stay warm and comfortable and keep your power bills down this winter.
Every home should start with a draught health check. "Draughts can account for up to 25 per cent of heat loss from a home in winter," says Caitlin McGee, Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures and principal author of the Your Home Technical Manual, Australia's guide to environmentally sustainable homes. "That will impact on your energy bills, so weather sealing is likely to quickly pay for itself."
Houses typically have draughts around doors and windows, up chimneys, between floorboards and floors and skirting boards, and through wall vents, exhaust fans and construction joints.
Draught-seal external doors and windows, says Lyn Beinat of home efficiency specialists ecoMaster. "Do it once by investing in quality products - cheaper products will only last one season, if you're lucky. Avoid door 'snakes', which are a trip hazard and won't survive the wear and tear of a busy home."
After you've sealed against draughts, you need to ensure your home is well-insulated. Wall and ceiling insulation is mandatory for all new homes under the 2010 Building Code of Australia, but according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics' report (Sep 2012), about 23 per cent of houses and 70 per cent of units and apartments remain uninsulated.
This, says McGee, means significant energy losses and uncomfortable homes, where poorly insulated or uninsulated ceiling and roof spaces can account for 25 to 35 per cent of heat loss. The Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand (ICANZ) quantified this loss in a recent report.
This found that installing ceiling insulation saved homeowners an average of $299 a year. Dennis D'Arcy of ICANZ says that of all states, "NSW still has the greatest number of homes without basic ceiling insulation".
What type of insulation you need depends on where you live - whether you need to keep summer heat out or winter heat in, or both - and the type of roof you have. You can compare products by their 'R' value, the measure of resistance to heat flow. The higher the R value, the more effective the product at keeping your home warm and cool through the seasons.
Seek advice from an expert to find the right product for your needs, and ensure your insulation is installed to Australian standards.
Richard Hamber, from the Australian Window Association, says the average house can lose up to 49 per cent of its heat through its windows in winter, and gain up to 87 per cent of its heat through windows over summer.
This can be improved by ensuring you choose the right glazing and frame material.
The right choice for you depends on the climate you live in. "In a climate like Sydney," he says, "you would want windows to the north to exploit desirable solar heat gain through winter but manage solar ingress over summer.
"South-facing windows need to reduce heat flow both in and out of the house. This means different window solutions for different orientations."
But even if you're not in the market for new windows there's plenty you can do with your existing windows to reduce heat loss. After gap-sealing your windows, the next step is to take a look at your window furnishings.
Make sure that you close curtains and blinds at night and in rooms
LOOK AHEAD TO SUMMER
Once you've got winter out of the way, you may want to start thinking about how comfortable — or not — your home is in summer.
Many of the measures that improve your home's comfort over winter will also pay off over summer. But there are a couple of summer-specific measures to consider:
■ Stop the heat before it enters your home with external shades.
■ If you can't install external blinds, consider window films — many are now WERS-rated.
■ Close curtains and internal blinds in rooms that aren't being used.
■ Ensure all windows are furnished with mosquito nets so that you can open windows to maximise cooling night breezes.
■ Plant creepers or deciduous plants add additional shade to windows exposed to summer glare.