Home improvement

Yes, sometimes my blog isn’t about transport. If you’d prefer to see only transport posts, you can use this link.

Here’s a post where I ramble on about recent upgrades around my house.

Wall insulation

I had wall insulation installed earlier in the year.

The winter gas bill came in recently. It’s down 37.7% from the previous year.

We were away for a bit of time, but nowhere near that much. I’d call that a win.

My current thinking is I’d like to slowly transition off gas and onto electricity, moving towards solar PV.

  • Re-do the kitchen (it needs it!) including a move from gas cooking to electric (induction?)
  • Replace the hot water with electric heat pump, removing the existing hot water solar panel to be replaced by PV panels
  • Replace the ancient gas central heating with reverse cycle heating/cooling – the only question being whether individual units or a central unit is better. (Can individual units be controlled in unison via a timer program?)

We got a new TV

Back in 2011 we got our first widescreen digital television: a 32 inch (80 cm) Samsung.

Rather annoyingly it still works fine, but I was thinking of buying something bigger than 32 inches, perhaps around 43 inches. (Are television sizes one of the last holdouts of imperial measurements?)

Then my sons spotted the 49 inch Sony X70F on Amazon, which seemed irresistibly cheap at $649 – slightly cheaper than the cost of the 32 inch TV in 2011.

Choice’s handy guide to model numbers indicates that the X70F is last year’s model, but it’s got all the features we want, including 4K. We bought it. It’s since gone up to $849.

We also bought a TV stand so it could fit on the old (narrow) cabinet. What I didn’t realise was the stand on top of the old cabinet positions the TV far higher than suits the room. The stand is height adjustable, but only up from where we have it.

Sigh. Oh well, the old cabinet was also due for replacement (an ancient unit from Ikea that’s at least 25 years old – remember their Nunawading store and when they sold products that were real solid wood?), so I ended up buying a new cabinet as well. It’s lower but wider so has more space. Yes, Ikea again.

It took an evening to re-cable everything into the new cabinet, but it’s tidier.

New big TV

Is a 49 inch (124 cm) TV too big for my small livingroom? Perhaps. Some advice seems to be aim for a TV with a size of about half the distance you sit away from it. On that basis it’s okay, but that’s really aimed at not seeing pixelation at the highest resolution. … Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

This article from 2016 reckons most people are now buying much bigger screens, and in the USA, the average size is now above 50 inches.

The bathroom

I moved into my house 14 years ago. My best guess is it had a makeover in the mid-1990s when the property was subdivided and most of the backyard was sold off and developed.

So the bathroom was some 25+ years old and looking pretty tired. I finally got it revamped over winter.

I was able to arrange the perfect timing: Peter the bathroom guy was able to do the project in early July, when my sons were away, and during the Caulfield to City bustitution – giving me an excuse to stay home and avoid it, at least in peak hours.

Peter’s way of working is to provide a shopping list for most of the required bits and bobs, so I got to decide on and go shopping for tiles, grout, tapware, showerhead, toilet, vanity unit, towel rails.

I discovered that there are any number of places that will sell you all this stuff – but almost all of them are only open during weekday business hours, and Saturday mornings – which was not very convenient at all.

Only Bunnings has the smarts (and resources) to be open all weekend, and until 9pm on weekday evenings. In return for their long hours, and relaxed returns policy, they did very well out of me on this project.

Thankfully my house has a second toilet. No full second bathroom though. I got used to washing each morning in the laundry sink, with occasional showers courtesy of nearby family so I could wash my hair. It’s manageable, but it was good to have the actual bathroom finished.

In the end the work took a week and a half. Could it be quicker? If two people worked on a small bathroom, they’d just bump into each other.

Renovating the bathroom

Any lessons learnt? I do wonder if next time I might not use a mixer tap for the vanity unit basin. The reason is the default (middle) position is likely to be used by people when they don’t want hot water. This actually runs the hot and cold together, which means the hot water heater starts up. It might be more energy-efficient to have separate hot and cold taps, even if they mix into one outlet.

During the work we discovered why some of the pipes had been rattling – and fixed/replaced them. We also found the water takes a long route around the house before getting to the bathroom, which is why the hot water takes a while to start. Unfortunately it sounds like that would be quite complicated to actually fix.

Not to worry – the overall result is great.

Now I just have to get around to repainting affected sections of wall… put it on the list with the drill spots from the insulation.

Maybe when I get the kitchen re-done, I’ll get some painters in to do it all.

Now, what’s next?

20 thoughts on “Home improvement

  1. Chris

    Have you got an instantaneous hot water system?
    We found that we saved heaps on our gas bill once we shifted from a tank.
    Was handy when we went on holidays and had family stay at house, didn’t have to leave a tank being heated all vacation.

  2. @Chris, I’ve currently got gas+solar with a tank. I had been thinking heat pump (which always means tank), but will take a look at (electric) instantaneous.

    @Anna, thanks!

  3. Arfman

    I’d be interested in instantaneous electric hot water, but I didn’t think anyone sells them here or if we’re allowed to install one. Will be interested to know more.

    I have a brick veneer house and considered putting in wall insulation but when I got the place I remembered there being a report being that the wall cavity is not big enough. I wonder who I can ask to check whether it’s possible or not.

  4. Oh that a new bathroom was as easy as clicking your fingers, but a satisfying result by the look of it. You are right about the taps. We run off 10 litres before hot water arrives, so I tell people if you aren’t prepared to wait for the hot water, use cold.

    We just bought a 75″ tv (We used to use centimetres for screen sizes. What happened?) As a piece of furniture it is to large. As a tv to watch, no. It’s great.

    We looked at induction cooktops when we had our kitchen renovated and it would have meant a separate power supply from the meter (3 phase?). So expensive.

  5. When I had our bathroom renovated our builder put a portable bathroom in our backyard – it rolls down the driveway, with an extension lead and garden hose supplying electricity and clean water, plus a second hose heading to the sewer.

  6. @Andrew – when I was younger TVs used to be advertised as centimetres – 51 cm and 68 cm analog CRTs were common sizes. I think the move to digital and flat screen units saw the adoption of the inches as a measurement?

  7. Anonymous

    @Andrew

    three phase power isn’t a requirement for induction cooktops.

    Some models maybe, but all, definitely not.

    The three phase thing is a bit of an unfortunate myth perpetuated by Big Cooktop 😅

  8. @Arfman, I can see at least 3 electric instant hot water systems at Appliances Online.

    I need to do some research on the power efficiency though. I suppose it depends on your usage profile.

    @Anna, looking at the multi-head reverse cycle units, they would certainly do the job, but require one big unit driving multiple outlets, meaning lots of long connections between them. What I’m wondering is if there exists a range of individual units that can be synchronised.

    Mind you given I’ve already got central heating ducts, maybe I should be getting the old unit removed and a new one to take its place. More research required!

  9. Alex

    One problem with multi-head split systems is that the efficiency of them is harder to quantify and data can be hard to come by from manufactures. We got two individual split systems installed, if we’d gone for a multi-split instead, it would have cost more for install and used ~66% more electricity for the same heating/cooling output. You’ll definitely get better energy efficiency with split systems, rather than a ducted system. There is a lot of leakage and other loss of heat.

    On synchronisation, you can get wifi addons (or some devices have it built in). I don’t think a built in central controller is standard. End of the day, controlling my two units individually works fine for me.

  10. Philip

    Are heat pumps, driven by PV cells, more efficient than traditional copper solar collectors with water pumped through them? They certainly won’t be as quick. I’d try to retain solar collectors on the roof to heat the water directly, using PV electricity to run the heat pump as well. I suspect that replacement of about three PV cells with hot water panels would be a good balance. But I haven’t done the sums. And it would depend on the times of use of the water and how much is used at a time.

    Instantaneous electric hot water is available, but it’s the least efficient way to make hot water. It’s a resistive element using about 7000 watts of power to basically run like a coffee machine, heating water as it passes through it. Steer clear of those unless you have copious amounts of electricity available from a renewable source.

    There are devices available for controlling multiple separate split systems, and you could make your own out of Arduino bits if you were that way inclined. You certainly don’t have to spend hundreds on the wacky devices marketed by the manufacturers of the air conditioners.

  11. Roco

    @Daniel
    Two of those three instant hot water units are three phase, so bear that in mind

    Heat pump hot water units can be tempermental, with it being a very high powered fridge
    Low temps (0-5°C) can cause ice to form on the condenser. Most systems automatically de-ice, but is another issue.
    I’d do a bit of research before getting one.

    Also smaller spilt systems are more efficient (Yes, goes against the common trend). You can see this on the EER/AEER for cooling and ACOP for heating on the following link: https://www.lg.com/au/residential-air-conditioners/lg-WH09SK-18
    Higher is better. That is a small 2.5kW one, compare that to a 9.8kW one and you’ll see the decrease: https://www.lg.com/au/residential-air-conditioners/lg-WH34SR-18

    This metric works across manufactures as it is essentially the amount of heat (in watts) that can be moved by 1 watt of power.

    There is only one more efficient way to cool a house, an evaporative cooler, only running a water pump and fan, but it isn’t the same cold as a split system. High humidity and a 10°C drop at best.

  12. Philip

    Remember evaporative coolers use heaps of water and nearly 1000 watts of electricity. The only time they won’t use a lot of water is when it’s already humid (so they can’t evaporate more water into the air) and they become essentially a ducted fan system.

  13. Arfman

    My experience with evap cooling in Melbourne is that it tops up at around 1200w and cools the entire house at a fraction of a whole house refrigerative cooling (and lower than the fans running at full speed on my gas heated ducted heating because it uses larger fans).

    Water usage was a concern when I was considering to install it but it didn’t take a significant chunk of my water bills. Could be because I didn’t have to shower as much back before I didn’t have cooling.

  14. Arfman

    It may be different elsewhere but in Melbourne it seems there was only a handful of days where evap cooling didn’t work effectively by my experience.

  15. number

    Computer monitors and laptop screens still use inches it seems, not just televisions. Screens seem to be one place we’re still using inches for, possibly because of America.

  16. Tony

    Individual split systems may be more economical, depending on how your household functions. I’m frustrated by having to heat/cool multiple rooms when I’m only using one.

  17. I’ve got solar/gas boosted hot water… in principle the heating of water in the panel on the roof must be making a difference, but I’ve never seen it so clearly in the gas bills like when the insulation was installed.

    Given my lack of roofspace, my current thinking is I’d replace the hot water with an electric heat pump unit, get the solar hot water panel removed from the roof, and then put PV panels up in its place.

    On aircon, I’ve got friends with evap, but I think I prefer standard aircon. Good suggestions using Arduino to trigger separate units to come on, though Tony’s point is a good one – being able to selectively switch them on is also good; an advantage over many central heating systems.

  18. Matt

    My parents recently did the same thing as you and replaced and old gas central heating system with individual splits. They have a very very big house, two stories and five bedrooms. The gas system was costing a fortune to run and never really worked all that well anyway.

    We investigated the option of a new ducted system, but there’s a few caveats:

    – With ducted systems it is really important you get the size right. More often than not people buy a system that is either barely sufficient or too small. Undersized systems won’t work all that well, will use more power than they should and will break down more often.
    – Zoning of ducted systems is still in its infancy. The biggest problem with zoning systems we noticed is the central unit is more often than not unable to scale down its power output enough to make the zoning of individual rooms worthwhile – particularly if you know there’s a chance you’ll only want to heat/cool one or two rooms. The Actron ESP system looked the best at this and was able to scale down its output much more than most competing zoning systems.
    – Ducting introduces inefficiencies because the air is heated and cooled away from where it is needed. Depending on the size of your house this may be pretty small, but it is something to consider.

    We ended up deciding on installing split systems in each room instead – eight indoor units in total. The biggest reason was simply that it allows you to heat and cool individual rooms in the most efficient manner possible. My parents rarely need to heat or cool more than 2/3 rooms simultaneously so ducted didn’t really make sense in that regard. Unfortunately the space for placing the outdoor units was at a premium, so we ended up with two multi-split systems (two 6.8kW outdoor units feeding 3 2.5kW indoor units each) and two individual splits (7.2kW) for the largest rooms in the house.

    All the systems installed are Fujitsu and the installer was Ezy Air (a Melbourne based company I would highly recommend). Picking a reputable brand is important, as the cheaper systems also tend to be much less efficient – so I would stick to the Daikin / Fujitsu / Panasonic / Mitsubishi offerings for the best results.

    The results were exceptional and even better than we anticipated. The gas bill was down 80%, and the corresponding increase in electricity use wasn’t all that significant. The amount of additional electricity used does vary, but even taking that in to account it is a cost saving of at least 50% most months sometimes more.

    Regarding the single split vs multi split approach, there are a few pros and cons:

    – Multi split systems allow you to oversize your indoor units (i.e, the capacity of your indoor units can be greater than the capacity of your outdoor unit). If you think it is unlikely you’ll heat/cool all the rooms on the same outdoor unit at once, you might save some money by doing this. On the flip side though if you do use all the indoor units at once, you’ll find they may not work as well and will consume more electricity than a properly sized system would.
    – If the outdoor unit on your multi split system fails and needs to be replaced, it generally means all the indoor units must be replaced as well. That can make repairing a failed unit very expensive.
    – Multi split systems are not as energy efficient as single units because the outdoor unit generally can’t scale down output as far as an individual unit could.
    – Installing a multi split system is generally a similar cost and in some cases can be more expensive than individual units

    In summary, you should carefully consider and discuss with an installer as to whether a multi split system would be beneficial. They generally use more energy and can sometimes cost more to install, but do save on space and sometimes the ability to oversize your indoor units might work in your favour.

    I can’t stress enough the importance of a good installer. They’ll help you on deciding the appropriate size units to install and can also discuss whether multi-splits would be a good option or not!

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