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Taking the Shock Out of Your Power Bill

The clocks have gone back, the days are shorter, and the nights are cooler. That means it's time to turn a frugal mind to cutting electricity costs.

 Read more Oily Rag articles by Frank and Muriel Newman 

The clocks have gone back, the days are shorter, and the nights are cooler. That means it’s time to turn a frugal mind to cutting electricity costs – more so given that power companies have said electricity prices will rise over the next few months.
Fortunately there are lots of ways to cut costs – many can be found in our book and lots are listed on our website.
The first thing is to find out if you are getting the best deal from your electricity supplier.  A reader writes, “I recently became aware of PowerSwitch.  It took me a couple of minutes to see that I could cut my electricity bill by about $900 by switching to another power company. It’s a big saving because we use a lot of electricity, but it’s better in our pocket than theirs! “
The Ministry of Consumer Affairs says, “Consumer PowerSwitch is an online service that allows you to compare prices for electricity supplied in your area. Even if you don't want to switch companies, you can compare your plan against other plans offered by your current electricity provider. This service is funded by government and supplied by the Consumers' Institute. The service is free.”
The Powerswitch site is well worth a visit ( All you need is a copy of your latest electricity account – one based on an actual reading, not an estimate – that is fairly typical of what you would pay. The online calculator will compare your current annual electricity cost with what you would be charged with the other providers in your area.
Once you are getting the best deal, the next thing is to minimise power usage. Here are some tips:

  • “I have a heat pump but it does not cost me much to run as I also have a DVS which blows the warm air from the roof space down to dry and warm my home. I also have a solar panel to heat the water. My bill averages $80 over the year – the last one was $57 for a 3 bedroom house with 2 adults. I have calculated a saving of approx $500 a year from the DVS and solar so it does not take long to pay for itself, especially the way power prices are going. Each time they increase the rates I figure how to use less.” – Canny Scot, Christchurch
  • “For those with a wood burner or pellet heater, install a small swivelling fan high up in a corner of the room. It will drive warm air down to where you need it most and, if you like, into adjoining rooms.” – Thirties depression baby, Auckland.
  • Eliminate draughts around windows and floors. About 12% of the heat of a household is lost through windows. Leaky window and door joinery can be sealed with sealants or self-adhesive foam strips, and well-made, full-length curtains or thermal drapes will help to minimize heat loss. Because a lot of air is lost around the edges, the curtains should extend 150mm on each side, and below the base of the window. Heavy drapes are more heat efficient than blinds. Scout around for a cheap material that could save on your heating costs.
  • Make your own “stop draught sausages” to eliminate door draughts. This is a fabric sausage filled with sand or sawdust. These sneaky heat hounds develop a personality of their own by adding buttons as eyes – an excellent family project!
  • Close up rooms that are not used in wintertime. Close up fireplaces that are seldom or never used.

There are lots and lots of ways to cut back on electricity costs. If you have a hot tip, please go to to send it in.

* Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at . The book is available from bookstores and online at .