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A block of houses in a neighbourhood, some with solar panels on their roofs

Handy tips from Australia’s leading home electrification expert Tim Forcey

June 25, 2024
June 20, 2024

In 2015, researcher and energy advisor Tim Forcey worked out that people could heat their homes with a reverse-cycle air conditioner for potentially a third of the cost of gas. To help spread the word he started the Facebook group ‘My Efficient Electric Home’. Nine years and 120,000 members later, Tim has become one of Australia’s leading voices on home energy efficiency and electrification – and his new book, ‘My Efficient Electric Home Handbook’, captures this decade’s worth of advice and insight. So, who better to share some top tips for getting off gas?

Despite now dedicating his life to getting Australians reduce their energy use and get off gas, Tim Forcey actually started his career as a chemical engineer working in fossil fuels. “I moved to Australia from the U.S.A to work in the gas industry,” he says. This experience gave him a first-hand look at how unsustainable the situation was. “The climate emergency is my driving force, but the reality is gas is a fossil fuel that we can't be relying on into the future.

As of this year, Victoria (the country’s biggest consumer of gas) is phasing out gas for new residential builds, following the ACT’s lead. But the challenging reality is, five million existing Australian households still rely on gas connections. Switching to electricity can be cheaper, good for the planet and better for your health. So what is the first step to having a more energy efficient and electric home? 

The first (and biggest) step to an energy efficient home

“The number one thing I tell people is to heat your home with a reverse-cycle air conditioner,” says Tim. “It can be a third of the cost of gas, or a fifth the cost of using an electric heater – a no-brainer.” As Tim explains, a reverse-cycle air conditioner is a heat pump. “It uses a refrigerant system to actually get free heat out of the air, even on the coldest days in winter it will collect enough to warm your home.” There is one catch, though: “You need to clean the filter!” says Tim, who points out that people sometimes don’t think their system is working, when all it needs is a clean. Importantly, this can also be a viable option for renters and apartment owners who may have more limited options available.

Headshot home electrification expert Tim Forcey

More simple steps

Insulation! Insulation! Insulation!

“The number two recommendation I make to nearly everyone is about roof space insulation. Not only is just having it critical to staying warm in winter and cold in summer, it’s really important to have a nice, thick, perfect layer there,” Tim says. By this he means uninterrupted insulation. “Often what I find when I inspect roof spaces is that the insulation has been strewn around – maybe somebody went up there to fix a water leak or change a light bulb, or put in the NBN and the insulation has been shoved around and not fixed.” Tim likens the effect to going to bed with only half a doona covering you; even the smallest disruption can undo the desired result.

Block those drafts

“Our homes are very leaky,” Tim explains. In older places this is often because of out-dated historical design flaws. “I go into a lot of homes that might have old unused fireplaces and they have these very common wall vents, which were originally used to feed air into the fire but for years have just been letting air in for no reason.” Plugging up these spaces can be really helpful, alongside simple things like using draft stoppers. The caveat here is that you will need to ventilate the home by opening windows from time-to-time. “But you're better off doing that by managing it with opening windows rather than just having a hole in the wall,” he points out.

Advice for renters wanting an energy efficient home

Roughly 30% of Australian households are rentals, so Tim dedicates the last chapter of his book to addressing all the advice that could apply to them. Things like the reverse-cycle air conditioner is often a good option, as various rebates make it more appealing for landlords to decommission old gas-based systems and replace them. But there are also small, practical steps renters can take to make their homes more comfortable in winter and lower a dependency on gas. “Heaps of condensation can build up on windows and be quite uncomfortable, so I often recommend putting up bubble wrap on windows – it can actually work as effectively as double glazing,” Tim says. 

He also says there are basic draft-proofing measures renters can take, like filling in gaps around the architraves. “And a great idea is to buy a water-saving showerhead and take that from rental to rental with you so you can cap your waterflow and save there,” he adds.

What about keeping your house cool in summer?

“External shading is absolutely critical,” Tim says. Tim has about 10 different ways he shades his own house in the summer, including external roller blinds, pull down awnings, umbrellas, and shading plants. “The bubble wrap also works in the heat,” he says, “but another product I often recommend to renters is RenShade, which is a kind of removable perforated foil designed to reflect the sun. It’s very effective and can be reused.”

Tim Forcey sits outside with an elderly women, they flick through the pages of a magazine together

How do I electrify my home?

Once you’ve addressed the energy efficiency of your home, and taken these small steps to make it more comfortable, there are three major swaps you can make to get off gas.

  1. Replace gas heating with reverse cycle air-conditioning
“As I mentioned earlier, this is the number one message I tell everyone whose homes I assess – it's the easiest and biggest shift we can make in Australia.”

  1. Replace gas hot water system with a hot water heat pump

An electric hot water heat pump uses the same technology as a reverse cycle air-conditioner – in that it moves hot air from one place to another. “These are the way to go and can potentially heat your hot water for a third the cost of gas, and a fifth the cost of an electric resistive system,” says Tim. 

While people often, understandably, worry about the cost, Tim points out that if your hot water system is already 10 years old, it’s time to look at replacing it anyway. “You're probably going to be out of pocket $1000 or $2000 to get a hot water heat pump installed,” he says. “But then there are things you can look at like federal renewable energy credits to reduce the price, plus various states have different incentives and programmes, some of which are means tested, which bring the price down again.”

  1. Replace gas cooktop with an induction cooktop
“If you were to electrify your heating and your hot water, but you’re using gas cooking, you’d likely still get a sizable gas bill, because in Australia you probably pay $1 to $2 a day just to be connected to the gas grid,” says Tim.

When Tim visits homes, he says people are often most reluctant to talk about swapping out their gas cooktops. “Once I point out that gas cooking can contribute to childhood asthma, you should see how quickly replacing the cooktop goes right up the priority list.” Plus, as Tim points out, not all electric cooktops are made equally – and the newer technology provides instantaneous heat.

“While they might look the same as the old electric cooktops, electric induction cooktops have a big magnet hiding underneath the glass surface,” Tim explains. “It operates like gas or maybe even a bit faster – when you turn it on, it is immediately heating the pot.” How does it work? “It creates a magnetic induction current or field that stimulates the pot and actually turns the pot into the cooking element. So, they heat very quickly and you can remove the pot from the surface and touch the glass and you're probably not going to burn yourself. The cooktop will be warm but not hot.”

Tim Forcey stands inside a house, leaning against a wall and holding his book "My efficient home handbook"

Need some more help?

If you don’t want to go through this alone, Tim says there are many companies now set-up that do it all for you. “The likes of All Electric Homes, Pure Electric or Goodbye Gas – these organisations will come in, assess, organise the rebates and have everything replaced.”

For Bank Australia customers, there are also home loan products that can help ease the financial costs of getting off gas, like the Clean Energy Home Loan Eco Upgrade or Eco Pause.

Interested in going all-electric? Get more tips from Tim Forcey’s new book “My Efficient Electric Home Handbook”. Or learn more about how you can make the switch on our Electrification hub

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