Thursday, July 31, 2008

Powering Down, Part 3

As promised, this post will list a number of minor changes that have added up to significant savings in electricity usage at our house. I didn't track how much each of these amounted to individually, and some are probably pretty small, but they really do add up.

I've written about a couple of these before, so let me flip on the wayback machine.

Energy Saving Tip: The Computer

Energy Saving Tip: Yeah, the Lightbulbs

And last time I mentined the clothesline and the cool air strategies.

Besides those, here are some other things we've changed:

- We got rid of our fish tank. We listed our remaining fish on Freecycle and unplugged everything. It didn't really mix well with Amelia's water obsession. Or e5's fish tickling obsession. Or our lack of time and motivation to keep it clean and tidy. And anything that runs 24x7 should really be worth it.

- We got rid of our surround sound system. It's really not that cool, we don't watch that many movies these days, and even if we did, it's too easy to disturb the slumbering cherubs upstairs.

- We got rid of the rarely-used VCR. The few videos we actually still watched were easily replaced.

- We got rid of the satellite TV service and DVR in the bedroom (so rarely used), and put the remaining equipment on a power strip that is turned off when not in use.

- We replaced a computer monitor with an LCD monitor, thanks to a loaner from my office. You should always make friends with the techie people.

- We keep outdoor lights off at night. I don't know how much security outdoor lights actually provide. I mean, we don't even lock our doors out here, and we don't really have that much worth stealing.

- We just turn stuff off when it's not in use. I know it sounds dumb, but it's easy to leave the light over the kitchen sink on, or the bathroom fan, or the baby monitor, or the DVD player. Especially with kids in the house. So I just walk around turning stuff off all the time.

- We put in one of those programmable thermostats. We don't use the A/C much these days, but when we do, it's pre-programmed to stay at 79 during the day and 75 at night, so if we do forget and leave it on, I don't end up sitting on the couch in August with a blanket over my legs. In fact, it rarely kicks on even when we do forget. We'll occasionally crank it down a bit if we're doing a lot of heavy cleaning on a hot day, but mostly it's resting quietly.

- We replaced our dying washer with an ancient Maytag washer. It turned out to be unstable and ineffective, and liked to collect nasty stuff in an unintentional lint trap. So we gave up on that approach and bought a high-efficiency washer. Surprisingly enough, this actually caused a noticeable drop in our electric bill. Not a huge drop, but a drop. It also uses a lot less water, less laundry soap, and it spins a lot more dampness (and soap) out of the clothes, so they dry faster. On the downside, it takes longer to wash a load, but it's not a bad tradeoff really. And of course they don't give away those high efficiency washers...

- We moved our cat box from an upstairs bathroom to the basement. What does this have to do with electricity? Well, since the litter box was close to the bedrooms, we'd keep the bathroom fan on all the time to keep the odor minimized. Not only was that using electricity around the clock, but it was constantly expelling cool air from our house in summer, and warm air in winter.

- I switched from an electric razor to a blade. I didn't do this for the pennies of electricity involved. I just misplaced the electric razor after a trip. And now I'm hooked. The blade does a better job and it doesn't actually take any longer. I'm tempted to try a straight razor.

- I also found that the little rechargeable electric beard trimmer thingy that I use once every week or so will keep a charge for about two months. So instead of staying plugged in all the time, I just plug it in when it loses it's charge. Instead of being plugged in all the time, it's only plugged in overnight once every two months.

- We eliminated our garage door opener. Okay, so this wasn't actually to save electricity, but because I was too cheap to get our flimsy garage door bracket repaired for a second time. We're not so frail that we can't open it by hand. And it's not like we can get a car in there most of the time anyway.

- We "insulated" the shroud around our heat stove, which might just be some kind of code violation, but we've used it long enough to know that what we did is very low risk. Code schmode. It was leaking cool air all summer and warm air all winter like a wide open window. Of course, do not try this at home. And if you do and your house burns down, then you did it wrong. Don't come looking for me.

- We did the "chest fridge" thing. Okay, technically this didn't reduce our electricity usage, since it didn't actually replace our primary refrigerator, but it gave us lots of overflow space for our daily supply of milk and eggs. And the power usage is very minimal.

- We moved both our chest freezer and chest fridge to the basement, where it's always cooler, thus giving them less work to do.

- Any meat that needs to be defrosted is moved from the freezer to the fridge the night before, which eliminates the microwave time, and often results in meat that's more tender and more evenly cooked.

- And finally, whenever I go into work, I always turn off the UPS battery pack under my desk. I mean, I take my laptop home with me. Who cares if the power goes out overnight or when I'm not there. Well, especially since I'm only there one day a week. Those UPSes can suck a surprising amount of power. Of course, this has zero impact on our home electricity bill, but it makes me feel good and probably even saves the company a few nickels.

There are probably a few others I'm forgetting. The trick is to just be conscious of what you have that uses electricity, how often you use it, how much you actually need it, and how much of an energy hog it is.

There are lots of other tricks that don't apply to us, but may apply to you. If you have an electric hot water tank, for example, you can put it on a timer so that it's not heating water 24x7. (And yes, it does use less energy to let the temperature drop and bring it back up again than maintaining a fixed temperature. This has been discussed at length in many places, so just trust me. Or go dig it up.) If you have electric space heating, obviously there are a ton of winter heat retention tricks and techniques. Insulation and sealing cracks is a huge deal, especially in older houses. I know of some people who put foil-backed foam insulation on the non-coil sides of their fridge and freezer and get a big boost in efficiency. Of course I also know at least two people who have given up their refrigerators entirely. And plenty of people out there get by without a TV and all its friends. Some even claim to like it better that way. Where I live, these people are usually burned at the stake as heretics...

But the point is to just look around. Be aware. Get creative. Pretty soon you'll be anxiously checking the mail for your next electric bill to see if you beat your previous low.

And watching those bills go down is not a bad thing as energy costs rise and the economy teeters on the edge of the Abyss. We signed up for the "budget billing" option, which evens out seasonal highs and lows and bills us a fixed amount each month based on previous usage. At the end of 12 months, it was time to settle up the differences between our predicted usage and our actual usage. We had a $91.97 credit.

Oh, and there's that whole acid rain / mercury emissions / blowing the tops off mountains / global climate change / pollution thing. Just in electricity, we've shaved about 6,500 lbs of CO2 per year so far from our original baseline.

For more ideas, more thorough analysis, more projects, and more pretty graphs, be sure to check out the "Half" project over at They have all kinds of cool ideas over there.

Happy conserving. Feel free to post comments with other tips or ideas that have worked for you.




At 8/03/2008 9:17 AM, Blogger katecontinued said...

I got so caught up in the computer tips yesterday I commented there. Duh! In my own life the computer is the #1 draw and it is on practically 24/7. It needs to be because I have an arrangement with 2 neighbors - on my wifi network. I need to keep it on for them.

Your indirect saving are really worth celebrating. Like the catbox being moved to the basement, defrosting the meat in the refrigerator - generally just paying attention to behaviors.

I have no refrigerator or freezer, no television. I keep microwave around, but find I only use it to reheat coffee and make popcorn (brown bag stapled shut).

But, my life is a cakewalk as there are no little ones. Well done, Rob. That 6,500 lbs figure is pretty impressive.

At 8/03/2008 5:05 PM, Blogger Katie said...

Great tips here! Thanks for sharing what your family is doing.

At 8/05/2008 5:23 PM, Blogger Wendy said...

I love the little things you've done that make such a difference. It proves that just paying attention can really have a huge impact.

We've done a lot of the things you mentioned - with the exception of moving things into the basement ... because we don't have a basement ;). I am trying to talke my husband into considering moving our deep freezer outside during the winter. It's one of those commercial models that can be outside. I think we'd have a huge savings. We wouldn't even have to plug it in.

The biggest change we've made, though, has been line-drying the clothes. I haven't used my dryer more than a handful of times in the past two years.

At 8/07/2008 8:59 AM, Blogger e4 said...

Kate - You may not need your computer on for your wifi to keep working. You might do some testing with this. It depends on how it's set up, but a lot of times, you just need to keep the wireless router powered.

...and I think you've mixed me up with Rob. My real name is a closely guarded secret. Unless you read H&H...

Thanks katie & wendy. Yeah, the dryer is a huge one...


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