Sounds odd – but its power-saving…By Bernie Hobbs

The following guest blog is by Bernie Hobbs, award-winning science writer and broadcaster

Replacing a 60W lamp with a 100W bulb sounds like an odd way of saving power, but it’s working a treat!

Until two weeks ago I’d get a little depressed every time I walked into the bathroom. It wasn’t the mold or the soap scum – it was the dreary lighting. A few years ago I’d put in an ‘eco’ three-in-one light/heat lamp/extractor fan. And from what I can tell the ‘eco’ starts and stops with using a 60W light bulb instead of a 100W one.

The trouble is, the bathroom isn’t the place you need low level flattering lighting. It’s where you want every stray spot and whisker to stand out so you can get it before anyone else has to.  So I’d taken to turning on the heating light (2 x 200W bulbs) instead. It put a stop to my mild case of seasonal affective disorder, but the Watts were starting to add up. So a fortnight ago I splashed out and got a 100W bulb. Talk about liberating! Within 4 minutes of getting home I’d replaced the 60W bulb, cleaned the light fitting (which probably added another 20W worth of brightness thanks to the layer of dead moths no longer acting as organic diffusers) and flicked the switch to see everything I needed to see.

Replacing a 60W with a 100W bulb sounds wrong until you realize how often you’re using the full 400W pig huntin’ variety just to get the job done. The right light for the job is the best power saver.

Laissez faire lighting solutions:

We went with an easier solution for our kitchen downlights. We just haven’t bothered going to get replacements for two of our low wattage ones that have blown – we’ve just gotten by with the two over the end of the island we sit at. Why did we ever think we needed four?!?

A similar strategy is working in our front yard. Our sensor light is completely unpredictable. As is our electrician. So we just got one of those magnetic LED sensor lights from the hardware store that runs on a battery and can be set to glow for 10 or 60 seconds. It gives enough light to find your keys and the lock so it’s not a full-blown replacement for the outside floodlight, but most of the time it’s plenty.

Hot water and the hip pocket:

Lighting is easy to fix but our real big ticket saver in power is our electric heat pump. It cost a swag when we had it installed but between the RECs (those were the days!) and only running it off-peak it will have paid for itself in another couple of years. (It takes longer to reap the full benefit of super efficient hot water when your partner is German and daily showers are optional).

But where she saves on shower water, Germany goes to town in the laundry. I wash everything in cold water but for her it’s hot loads all the way. Even with my most serious science reporter credentials, no amount of “it’s the water/detergent/rubbing that do the cleaning” has had any trickle down effect in this household. The best I can manage is sneaking the odd bit of her stuff into one of my cold cycles and hoping the joy of seeing freshly fluffed laundry overcomes any lack of faith in how clean it is. (It really is clean – and we have immune systems for a reason people!)


Surreptitious washing isn’t the only covert power-saving activity I’ve got going on. I’m the queen of switching off at the wall, and every time I get up I subconsciously scan what lights and switches can be turned off. (I put that down to having depression-era parents – which also goes some way towards explaining my enormous ‘plastics’ drawer in the kitchen and all those bits of beautiful fabric that will no doubt never get near the Elna).


We’ve been toying with getting double glazed windows for a while, but they’re hideously expensive and we’re developmentally delayed when it comes to getting on with renos. So this year I did something outrageous. Normally I hate temporary fixes – they feel like a waste of resources, because you end up doing the job twice. But those enormous west-facing single-glazed windows had robbed us of heat and cool for 4 years and I wasn’t ready to spend my holiday money on double-glazed windows! So I got some internal roller blinds.  $160 and a rewarding hour or so with cordless drill, stool and very obliging neighbour later and I’ve got some opaque blinds that are surprisingly good at keeping the arvo heat out and the winter warmth in. They’re not perfect, but they’re a few degrees better than we’ve had, and I can whack them on ebay if we ever find beautifully engineered windows more appealing than ten days kayaking around the Phillipines.

So there you have my power-saving tips! Would love to hear about what you do in the comments!

About the Author: Bernie Hobbs has always had a thing for science. And while she’s spent some time actually doing it, her real passion is for talking (and talking, and talking) about science.  A former teacher and medical researcher, Bernie’s been talking, writing and having a beer or two over science at the ABC since 1997. Whether it’s through her weekly radio shows, award-winning websites, Science in the Pub or the experiMENTALS, her mission is to convert the “science=yawn” crowd.

4 responses to “Sounds odd – but its power-saving…By Bernie Hobbs

  1. Thanks for this, I love stories like this. I have reduced my average daily consumption from about 8KWk to about 3.75 – 4 KWh by doing simple things – turning off appliances at the wall, replacing globes with low energy ones as they failed, washing on the coldest setting, using layers of clothing instead of the heater, buying the most energy efficient appliance I can find when I replace them, etc. Works fine & has saved me heaps over 10 years.

  2. I have been replacing old dull CFL with LEDs much less power and nice & bright. Also using a solar sensor light out side so we didn’t need an electrician cheep (under $20) light has been working well for about 4 years.

  3. Bernie I hear you! We speak the same language ( and I suspect have the same “handy items” in our cupboards) . I too have reduced my energy needs by about half and one of the window treatments I did was to hang home-made removable shade cloth “blinds” on the outside of my westerly windows. They were just made from strips of shade cloth that I hemmed top and bottom on a normal sewing machine. Into the too hem I placed a tomato stake or a piece of doweling. Into that I screwed eyelets and into the top of the window frame I screwed cup hooks. They sat flush with the window so were fairly neat. I weighted the bottoms with wood or other heavy things. You could roll them up if you want but I left them down. They still let in a bit of light so it didn’t make the inside too gloomy. I think they helped a lot as it is best to keep the heat from getting inside rather then letting it thru the glass and then stopping it.

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