I finally got air-con

(To just see transport-related blog posts, you can use this link — which is also on the top navigation menu)

For years I’ve resisted air-conditioning at home.

Partly it was the cost, partly it was that I really wanted to pursue passive cooling as much as I could — measures that used little or no energy.

To that end, three rooms have ceiling fans, three more have standing fans. The three rooms with the biggest windows have external blinds.

And there’s insulation in the roof. (I haven’t yet explored options for wall insulation or double-glazing, which I suppose I should, especially given it’s a weatherboard house.)

All this helps the house stay cool… to an extent. It’s much cooler than outside on the really hot days, and much better than it used to be, but it still gets up to an uncomfortable 30ish degrees indoors on 35+ days.

This summer I’ve decided to bite the bullet and get an air-conditioner, which will cool the livingroom and adjacent areas.

Split system air-conditioner

Part of what got me over the line was that I finally found an air-conditioning company willing to publish useful information for prospective buyers, rather than making you ring them up and have the sales pitch blasted at you. Thanks Current Force Electrics.

For ages I’d been looking for a rough indication of how much it might cost, and no other company’s web site publishes that type of information. It’s like window shopping but there’s no prices in the window. I don’t know about you, but it puts me off.

Current Force also have useful information helping you work out capacity you need for a particular space, and they clearly explain some of the types of installations, with regard to positioning the outdoor unit. They also do quotes by email, by getting you to send in photos of the space.

I’ve ended up with a 5 KW (cooling) / 6 KW (heating) Fujitsu model, which should be plenty of power for the space, given the other measures already in place.

They installed it on Thursday. It took about 90 minutes. Since then, the weather has been cool, but it’s expected to reach 36 degrees on Wednesday, so air-conditioning will make a big difference to the indoor temperature — and to my power bills, no doubt.

A future house upgrade might be solar power to help offset the additional power, if I can figure out where on my smallish roof it should go.

I’d also potentially consider smaller air-conditioner units in the bedrooms.

My sense is the fans are usually adequate at night — in fact I’m going to get the ceiling fan from the livingroom moved into a bedroom.

But one argument for fitting out the bedrooms with split system units that can both cool and heat is to phase-out use of my old gas central heating in the winter — doing this job with green power (preferably roof-top solar) instead of gas is more energy efficient and environmentally-friendly, and quite possibly cheaper as well.

And if overall temperatures keep rising, it’s probably inevitable that passive cooling just won’t cut it anymore.

House prices in Bentleigh top $1 million – I couldn’t afford it here now

I mentioned the other day that it’s coming up on ten years since I bought my house in Bentleigh (hence the flurry of maintenance).

In that time, the prices here have gone through the figurative roof.

Median house prices: Bentleigh vs metro Melbourne
(Source: RealEstateView)

I didn’t think to save the data at the time, but this document tracks median house prices around Victoria from 1998 to 2008.

In 2005, the median in Bentleigh was $501,000. By 2007, it had shot up to $713,750.

There’s a gap in my info for a couple of years, but it got to about $910,000 by June 2010, before rising and dipping and dropping back to about $765,000 in December 2011.

As you can see from the graph, since then it’s climbed steadily: Figures in The Age recently indicate 14.4% growth in the past year, to a dizzying $1,003,000.

So not only has the median price now gone up about a million dollars, but it’s also doubled in the not-quite-ten-years since I bought.

I should note that although I own a house, it’s on a half-block of land, having been subdivided about ten years before I bought it. The rear garden is a mere courtyard, and it’s really only two-and-a-half bedrooms — all of which means I paid less than the median price.

The increase since means I lucked out on a good investment. Not that I’m planning to sell.

But it also means if I were house-hunting now, I’d be priced out of the suburb I’ve come to know and love.

And with my kids almost grown, I really wonder what the implications are for them and their peers.

Will the next generation be stuck as renters? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s nice to have the option to buy.

The alternative is to buy much, much further out, in suburbs with less amenity and walkability.

Bentleigh East is more affordable than Bentleigh, but is less walkable. Although the street layout is pretty good, access to amenities is reduced: Walkscore says 59 in BE vs 75 in B. And BE is mostly well beyond walking distance to the train network. Even then it’s not much more affordable — only about 10% cheaper, with a median price still over $900,000.

As others have pointed out, the capped public transport fares mean that if train/city access is your priority, it’s now better to look down the line than across from it. Think about travel time, rather than distance as the crow flies.

How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1920.
How long to the city? Metropolitan Town Planning Commission map circa 1920 — See blog post

For instance, along the Frankston line, spend another 10 minutes on the train (instead of fighting your way into the station car park every morning, or battling with hopeless feeder buses or facing a long walk) and you can be in somewhere like Edithvale, Chelsea or Carrum, at a cost of about 40% less than Bentleigh.

I’m sure it’s similar on other lines — though beware of train service frequency. For instance, out from Sunshine is quite good towards Sydenham, but the trains to Deer Park are hopelessly infrequent.

Of course there are other factors such as proximity to friends and family, crime levels, access to schools and shops and parkland.

And it’s still expensive of course. If you’re house hunting, or will be in the future, I wish you the very best of luck.

The central heating stopped working

As you can see, I just love getting up in the roof and having to try and get the heater working.

Delighted as always to be up in the roof messing with the heater

Not that it happens often, but yesterday the heater stopped going. Following the relighting instructions, the pilot will light, but after waiting the specified minute to switch it to full On mode, goes out again.

Argh.

Waking this morning, the house had cooled to 11 degrees overnight. Some people on the Interwebs with this problem suggested trying again after it’d been off for a few hours, but doing so this morning was not successful.

So I’ll be calling in the service people.

The heater is the wonderfully named Brivis Wombat 92. I assume that means it’s a 1992 model, probably installed in the house when it was renovated around 1995. Hopefully it’s just a minor issue for a service person to get it going again. Would rather not be without it for too long.

Update: via Service Central (a suggestion from Kev on Twitter) I found a repair bloke who could come out today. They replaced the injector and the thermo-whatsit, and the beast works again. Total cost including parts about $320 – which sounds like a lot, but apparently it would have cost even more to call out Brivis to do it.

Going solar – when should I jump, and how many panels?

Pondering adding to the solar hot water on my roof with PV panels for electricity generation.

My last electricity bill says I used up 659 kWh in 92 days, costing $187.61 (only including the cost for power and the 100% GreenPower surcharge; excluding the $76.41 service charge which I’d incur no matter how much power used)… that adds up to 2614 kWh in a year costing $744.32, or about 28.5 cents per kWh.

According to Origin Energy’s online quote (which I’m using as a rough measure, because I use them at the moment and they have a 2-years interest-free deal — obviously other companies may have better offers):

  • a 1.5 kW system costing $2315 will generate about 1971 kWh in a year
  • a 2.07 kW system costing $4315 (which includes a $250 discount because I got the solar hot water through them) will generate 2628 kWh in a year
  • a 2.76 kW system costing $5815 (ditto on the $250 discount) will generate 3626 kWh in a year

Leaving aside feed-in tariffs, and assuming for a moment that every kWh generated I actually use (which wouldn’t be the case), theoretically the 1.5 system would save me $562 per year, taking about 4 years to pay off.

The 2.07 system would pretty much save me the full cost of power every year, but take almost 6 years to pay off.

The 2.76 system would give me an excess of about 1000 kWh of power each year. The feed-in tariff is only 8 cents per kWh these days, so I’d be saving $744 plus another $80 or so, so it’d take about 7 years to pay off.

Some factors to consider:

If I cave and get some kind of cooling system, then my energy consumption will of course go up.

From what I understand, PV panels are dropping in price pretty fast. The longer I wait, the cheaper they’ll be (which is why I’m a little cynical about the ads you see on the telly implying if you don’t get in and order quickly, you’ll end up paying more).

Meanwhile, electricity prices are expected to rise only moderately in the next few years.

The bigger the system, once paid off, the greater potential in future years to make more money back from the feed-in tariff.

But I also need to check how much space I actually have left on the north and northwest-facing sides of my roof, given the solar water panel already up there.

And of course, once I jump in and switch to solar, I’ll be markedly reducing my personal emissions, which will be good!

The noise

Two mysterious noises have become apparent in the last few months. Both are virtually imperceptable in the daytime, but at night, in my quiet street, I can hear them from my bedroom.

First there was the humming. It started sometime last year. It doesn’t seem to be in the house anywhere – I tried turning off all the power one night at the fuse box, and I could still hear it. No, it’s not coming from the Smart Meter. It might be some way off but resonating with something nearby, as often I can merely tilt my head slightly and I can no longer hear it.

More recently a kind of “gloop” sound has started from somewhere on the bathroom-side of my bedroom. I assume it’s the drains doing something weird, as when it first started occurring, I checked and double checked there were no leaking taps.

Happily neither of these keep me awake at night. But I’m intrigued.