Cutting the Electric Bill - Little by Little

Last April I learned that our family consumes upwards of 170% as much electricity as our electric cooperative neighbors. Wowza! Sure, we have a larger than average sized household and a moderately large home (3700 sq. feet, including the partially finished basement.) But still! My dormant competitive streak was ignited, and I wondered if there weren't things we could do to gain traction in this area. Plus, in an economy that has us watching every penny, I didn't want to be squandering any needlessly.

Thus was born my obsession with the box you see above.

That's our electric meter, and it sits conveniently just outside my laundry room door. Every morning at 8 AM I step outside, take a reading, and record it on our oversized kitchen blackboard. Weekly I tally the average daily kilowatt usage.   

It didn't take long at all to begin noticing patterns and discerning which machines were the biggest draws. We had been running two dehumidifiers in our basement for some time, and those babies inhaled power. A bit more fiddling showed which of the two was the bigger energy hog, so I disconnected that sucker and only run the other very sparingly. I don't have a watt-hour meter, though I think it would be great fun and useful to have one. Still, by paying attention to the meter and correlating that to our household activities, it isn't that hard to see what changes paid off. 

I've been crunching the numbers to see what we really used and how much we paid in 2012 vs. 2011. During the first three months of 2012 we used 5% more electricity than in 2011. A dramatic change takes place after April when my campaign began. The last nine months of the year we used 28% less energy than the previous year. We saved an average of $72.50 during these months even though the cost per kilowatt hour increased from 2011 to 2012, and it was one scorcher of a summer. I'm hoping we can continue to gain more ground in 2013.

Here are some other changes we made, more or less in the order they seemed to help:

  1. Lowered the water heater temp. With eight in the house, we take a lot of showers, do a great deal of laundry, and run our dishwasher twice daily, so hot water is a major draw on our power. We can still take a comfortable shower, but just.

  2. During the summer we used the AC sparingly. We've always set the thermostat at 80, but sometimes I nudged it a bit higher. And we opened the house anytime it seemed like it would be worth it. July was one of the hottest months on record. Our electric usage was 30% less than the one from the previous year. We paid $369. My brother who lives next door in a similar sized house but with half the number of residents paid over $700. Keeping blinds closed and running some ceiling fans helped, too.

  3. Started hanging most of the laundry outside on the line. We still use the dryer for towels and underwear, and have returned to it with the snow.

    In case you wonder just how much it actually costs to run a load of clothes in a dryer, you can check out  How Much Electricity Does My Stuff Use?  where you can plug in your own power prices and run numbers with various appliances.  At 14c/kwh, an average load will cost $.46. That doesn't sound too bad. But if you can hang twelve loads a week, over a year that adds up to $287. Eight loads a week will save $191.

  4. Use the oven with less profligacy. We still do plenty of baking, but we try to double up whenever possible. For example, if I'm making baked oatmeal for breakfast (as I did this morning), I often try to make a new batch of granola to restock the canister at the same time. In exchange for the oven, the crockpots have been getting heavy use, and in the summer this pays off double as they not only consume less electricity, they don't heat up the kitchen, requiring more AC.
It's been fun watching our electric usage shrink a bit, but just as significantly, this exercise has been eyeopening about saving money in general. Here are some of the principles this has taught and reinforced for us:

1. Be slow to think that any budget area is "just what it is."
I'd long assumed our electric bill was something we had no control over. Not true!

2. Paying close attention to any area can lead to improvements.
The first step to gaining control over any area is making observations. Where are your energy (or food, education, miscellaneous) dollars going? This is why living on a budget is so crucial to money management and why so many weight loss programs start by having you record ever bite you take. This applies to saving money on just about anything from food to gas.

3. Small changes really do pay off over time. 
I've pooh-poohed some of the things we've done this year as having a small impact. But I'll happily take the $72.50 a month and use it for something else when it means making small, sometimes irritating, but often barely perceptible modifications in our lives.

But don't forget -

4. Every cost savings comes with some kind of cost. It may be in time and effort, or inconvenience or loss of some comfort. You have to weigh out the costs and decide which ones make sense for your family at a given time.


2 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Anne,

    We were able to check out a Kill-a-watt meter from our library so it might be worth seeing if you can get one there. We did have fun with it. :) I found that six hours of having the TV and DVD player plugged in cost as much as one hour on, so now we unplug them unless we are using them. Now if only I could do without my hairdryer...

    Lydia


  2. Anne Says:

    Lydia,

    Oh, that's really cool! I'll ask at our library if they have them, though I will be kind of surprised. (They are great about buying books on request, so who knows, maybe they'd go for a Kill-a-watt too.)

    I was kind of reluctant to write about my electric obsession, so I'm glad to hear that someone else spends time thinking about these thing. :)