Heat busters

Cameron the Handyman summer cooling solutions
image: Kim V. Goldsmith

Summer in Central NSW is most certainly making its presence felt this year. We’re even heading for 44 degrees by the end of the next week.

When you have several consecutive days over 40 degrees Celsius, there’s very little reprieve no matter how well planned your house and energy use. I’ve been trying to stick to inside jobs over the past few weeks, preferably where there’s air conditioning. But with late afternoon and evening temperatures being so high, it’s nice to know I’m coming home to a cool house even if I have been working inside most of the day.

We’re lucky we live in a passive solar house that was ahead of its time when it was built during the mid-1980s. On top of its north orientation, some of the features allowing us to minimise the use of the air-con even during the hotter weeks of summer include:

  • a 2.5m verandah around the entire house shades the slab, windows and walls from direct sun, with the addition of a well-watered trellised vine/shrub buffer and pergola on the south-west/western side of the house ensuring there’s no direct heat on the western side. It’s where the dogs like to hang out on hot mornings.
  • large trees on the outer edges of the house yard shade big areas of the garden;
  • the light coloured roof reflects heat;
  • small areas of lawn planted close to the house are watered most nights (using dam or recycled grey water);
  • the benefits of cross-ventilation are utilised by opening the house up at night to capture cooler evening breezes when they’re around, circulated through the house with the help of ceiling fans;
  • and the key feature – a long central hallway with a high ceiling and three roof-mounted whirly birds drawing cool air through the centre of the house. Vents and high, open windows in rooms either side of the hallway draw hot air into the hallway and out through the roof. The whirly birds, vents and windows can all be closed up in winter.

Despite this, we’ve still had to resort to using our air-conditioner more this summer than we’ve had to previously. With the exception of a few nights when it’s been 30 degrees plus at 10pm and minimums haven’t dropped much below 25 or 26 degrees, we often don’t turn the cooling on until mid to late afternoon, turning it off again at bedtime.

I work in all types of homes across Dubbo and some are better designed than others when it comes to cooling and heating. Yet, there are some very basic things we can all do in our homes to ensure we minimise the cost of air-conditioning.

  • Use ceiling fans where possible to create air flow;
  • Service your air-conditioner to ensure it’s working well;
  • Ensure you have adequate insulation and roof ventilation;
  • Shade windows and western walls with window coverings (awnings and curtains) and outside plantings;
  • Close up the house before things heat up in the mornings and open it up again at night;
  • Cool yourself down before you decide to cool down your house – it’ll hopefully delay the need to turn on the air-conditioner.

If you need a hand with installing whirly birds, insulation, awnings or window coverings, planting lawn, shrubs or vines give me a call. I even build pergolas. Call a sparky to install ceiling fans or to install or service your air-conditioner.

For more information on passive cooling check out this site.


Saving every last drop

Dripping tapDrip, drip, drip…There’s nothing more annoying in the middle of the night than listening to a dripping tap!

You can lose a few litres of water an hour from a slow dripping tap and thousands of litres a day from a constantly running toilet. Dubbo City Council estimate that by fixing a dripping tap in your home you can save 5-50 litres of water/day – that can add up to more than $5! A leaking toilet can waste 5-100 litres/day.

Don’t you think it’s time you had a go at some basic home maintenance?

One of the big hardware stores has a very easy to watch video on how to change a tap washer, which is worth viewing if you’re keen to have a go.

Just note, when replacing a tap seal it’s generally a good idea to replace the spindle O-ring as well. This video doesn’t cover that part of the process. If you get stuck – you know who to call!

Remember not to turn taps off too hard and replace washers as soon as taps begin to leak.

Sydney Water have a great tip here for testing your toilet for leaks. Place a small piece of dry toilet paper at the back of the toilet bowl and check that it stays dry until the next flush. Toilet cisterns shouldn’t release any water between flushes.

Another way to test for leaks in your toilet is to put some food colouring in the cistern. Don’t flush but return at least an hour later. If the colouring is showing in the toilet bowl, the cistern is leaking. Don’t forget to look at your water meter in the process of checking for leaks.

Any major work on plumbing needs the care of a licensed plumber, but if you’re not quite sure where to start, give me call.

Brrrr…keep the heat on the inside

fire in winterWinter is upon us. As the temperatures plummet outside, it’s really unfortunate when they drop inside as well.

No one has enjoyed the hike in electricity prices and unless you’re completely off the grid or well set up with a solar panel system, you’re going to be looking to find ways of maximising the dollars you spend on heating this winter.

So, a few basics to keep in mind over the coming months:

  • Installing ceiling insulation can reduce your annual power bill by 40%* (Energy Use in Your Home, Environment NSW);
  • If you’re in an older house, it might be time to consider renewing your insulation. Don’t forget to check corners of ceilings, walls and floors are properly insulated too, as heat will leak from these areas;
  • If you added up all the cracks and gaps, it would be the equivalent of having a 1 metre by 1.5 metre window open all the time. They can account for 15 – 25% of heat lost in your home* (Environment Victoria). Use weather stripping under doors and around windows to reduce leakage;
  • Polished floor boards in old houses are lovely – but you really will need something underneath to stop heat from escaping;
  • Let in the light! If you have north-facing windows in your house, leave your blinds up through the day to draw in as much free heat as possible;
  • Ensure you have heavy curtains you can draw in the evening, preferably with a pelmet above, so when the sun goes down you can to trap heat in the house;
  • Here’s an easy one…close off any rooms you aren’t using;
  • Insulate your external hot water pipes by wrapping with insulating tape to reduce the heat loss from your hot water tank to the taps, and reduce the energy needed to get your hot water;
  • Finally, watch the temperature and put on extra layers of clothing to reduce the temperature needed to keep you warm inside.

If you need help checking your place for drafts and doing some of the more basic winter maintenance jobs, give me a call on 0429 87 92 62.