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How to reduce energy bills in your rental home

Many Aussie homes are notoriously damp and draughty, and either freezing cold in winter or baking hot in summer, thanks to poor energy efficiency. If you’re a renter, your home is probably even chillier during the cooler months and warmer when the temperature heats up – especially if you’re living in an older dwelling.

‘Older housing, which comprises most of our rental housing stock, predates most energy efficiency standards,’ explains architectural technology lecturer Glen Rodgers from Deakin’s Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment.

‘The energy efficiency standards that we use for new construction now only really kicked in in the 1990s. Houses older than 30 years may not have insulation and most only have single glazing on windows. It makes it difficult to live in a comfortable, relatively energy efficient home when you’re renting.’

With electricity and gas costs rising and household budgets stretched even thinner, improving the energy efficiency of your rental home can provide much-needed relief – to your hip pocket and the thermal comfort of your home. The good news is it needn’t involve a fight with your landlord or forking out for a heap of upfront costs.

Sealing your building envelope

Around 40% of home energy use goes toward heating and cooling, and in southern Victoria 80% of this is dedicated to heating, explains Rodgers. Efficient appliances use less energy, and from March 2023 all Victorian homes must have a fixed heater that’s energy efficient in the main living area.

To keep internal spaces comfortable, Rodgers says installing roof insulation – which acts as a barrier to heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer – in your main living areas is one of the most effective ways to boost energy efficiency.

‘Insulation is where you get the most return because it’s relatively cheap, it’s easy to install and you get good bang for your buck because it’s holding back the tide of nearly half of the energy used in the home,’ he says. ‘You could even target just the living space or wherever you’ve got heaters on.’

Rodgers says you’ll need to have insulation professionally installed, which may cost around $2,000. It’s a significant outlay, but the returns on investment are impressive. A recent Climate Council analysis found fitting insulation and sealing draughts can save between $354 and $1,561 on energy each year.

And you can take the batts with you when you leave the rental. ‘Because it’s not fixed in place, you can get into the roof and get the insulation out,’ Rodgers says.

Nailing the one-percenters

Once you’ve got heating and insulation sorted, it’s time to focus on the one-percenters – those smaller changes that can add up to big improvements.

First up, reduce heat loss through single-glazed windows – which Rodgers says are about as efficient as a ‘hole in the wall’ – by sealing draughts and fitting thick curtains and pelmets. ‘You can fit a pelmet and take it off when you leave – it’s just a matter of putting a few screws in the wall,’ he says. ‘Adding window film can also improve the performance of windows.’

Draught-proofing the rooms you plan on heating can decrease your energy bill by 25%. ‘Try to target the main living space and make it as draught sealed as possible,’ Rodgers says.

If your home has open wall vents, buy cheap devices from your local hardware stock to block draughts. Use door snakes if you’re heating only select rooms. Rugs on older wooden floors that have gaps can also block unwanted breezes.

Rodgers also recommends insulating exposed pipes coming from your hot water service to reduce the amount of energy required to heat water. ‘Some older electric storage hot water services can take 10kW of power to run, whereas newer ones take 1kW – that’s a factor of 10 difference and it’s quite significant.’

Dealing with your landlord

Worried what your landlord might think about all these improvements? It’s important to keep up to date with your rights as a renter. Changes to tenancy laws mean that landlords can’t refuse a reasonable request to make minor modifications like fitting insulation or draught proofing.

However, landlords only need to consent. They aren’t required to cover the cost, so you’ll need to negotiate who pays for what.

Rodgers says rebates for appliances like heaters and hot water service upgrades are available to landlords, so it can be worthwhile having a word in the ear of your agent. ‘It can be a matter of saying, “Look, we think you really need to update this to meet the minimum requirements”,’ he says.

‘These rebates are designed to make upgrades more attractive to landlords. And if they need to upgrade appliances due to a fault, they’re supposed to put in energy efficient appliances – it’s written into the new tenancy regulations.’

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Glen Rodgers
Glen Rodgers


Faculty of Sci & Built Eng,

Deakin University

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