No one like to open up the monthly power bill! Especially in a year of record extremes, like this one!
This summer, instead of merely complaining, we decided what we could do about it. Since we had already done some of the big projects (e.g. attic insulation), we decided to focus on simple changes. We did some energy usage testing and set to work. We turned some appliances off, opened (or closed) more windows and made a few more changes listed below.
When the month was over I waited hopefully for the bill to arrive to see if our efforts had made any difference. In the end, our August Electric/Gas bill was $98 versus approximately$150 (deducing from the current bill info) the prior year (though the average temperature was cooler this year). Hooray!! This is the first bill under $100 since… come to think of it, I can’t ever remember a bill under $100.
Here is what we did:
Lights & Small Appliances: Put the 80 watt fluorescent fixture in the basement on a new switch so we could easily turn it off. Remembered to turn it off most of the time. Added some additional power strips and started turning off clusters of electronics—why should the stereo use 20 watts for sitting silent? Unplugged low use appliances like the shredder and (sigh) the treadmill. Really tried to turn things off where unplugging was impractical.
Heating/Cooling: When the energy credits were hot news, there was a lot of controversy about whether insulated blinds would be covered. Regardless of their insulating value (or lack thereof) window coverings can be great for avoiding radiant heat. Close the shades, keep the sunlight from hitting the inside of your house and heating up whatever it touches. We even put some old lace sheets on a couple windows without shades—tacky but effective. Now that the weather is cooler, we are working to open up the shades on sunny days to get the radiant heat in.
Our other great cooling insight was the optimal way to use double hung windows. If you open both the top and bottom the warm air flows out the top and the cool air in the bottom. I was amazed at how well this worked (even better than your standard cross ventilation); by doing this at night (2nd floor only), we found it cooled the house enough to avoid air-conditioning on even more days.
Hot Water: We have a heavily insulated, electric water heater that is already on a timer for time of use rates (pay less from 7 PM to 7 AM) for the cost savings. This year we turned it off completely when we went on vacation. We figured that even good insulation isn’t going to keep it warm for a week. Why didn’t we ever think of this before?
Misc: Since we eat local we have a spare refrigerator and freezer in the basement. A full freezer operates more efficiently than a partly empty one, so we filled empty plastic containers with water to take up the spare space.
In the end we spent under $10 for a couple new power strips, getting this back (and more) the first month. In business we often looked for a payback period of three years. Not bad for a really low budget, really low effort project–one month payback and a greener life. I’ll take it!