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Living Lightly column

Live lightly and save money

By Bruce Key, member of Wodonga Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) 

For some people, the phrase living lightly implies a spartan existence and additional costs.  This need not be so.

Take for instance the obvious example of solar panels. The payback period is only a few years and thereafter you save money on your electricity bill year after year.

Another example involves roofing.  Consider the following quote from a technical bulletin.

“Generally, the use of highly solar reflective materials will result in a building with greater thermal efficiency (which can improve occupant comfort and improve effectiveness of cooling systems)…the temperature of a light-coloured roof can be up to 35°C cooler than a dark coloured roof…Numerous experiments in several residential and commercial buildings in … the USA show that white roofs can reduce air-conditioning energy use by between 10% and 50%”

Although the colour of a roof does not affect its price, it certainly affects the level of comfort and the cost of heating and cooling.

If you are building a new house, it is worth looking up passive solar house design. The returns in both dollars and comfort can be huge.  Using good passive design principles will add to comfort and reduce the operating costs of your home.  However, for most of us, building a new house is not on the horizon.  Nevertheless, the same principles can be applied to retrofit your home to make it more comfortable and less costly to maintain.

For instance, planting strategically placed deciduous vegetation can make an enormous difference.  The western side of my house is shaded in summer by grape vines for this purpose.

Converting lights to LEDs is another example where we can tread more lightly on the earth at the same time as enjoying better lighting at a lower operating cost.

When it comes to heating, large savings can be had by understanding how heat pumps work.  They are powered by electricity, but they are typically more than three times as efficient as direct electric heating such as in panel heaters or electric floor heating. A split-system air-conditioner is a heat pump.  Similar efficiencies apply to the cooling cycle too.  Heat pumps are also available to heat water.  They are another example of living lightly, being comfortable and saving money, all at the same time.