Reducing Our Electrical Usage: One Year Later

About a year ago, I wrote about wanting to reduce our electrical usage as compared to the previous owners of our house. As it turns out, they averaged $165/month for electricity during the year before we bought the house, and my goal was to reduce our usage as far below theirs as possible. There’s nothing particularly significant about this number – I just thought it would be a useful exercise to try and beat it. Unfortunately, I only have information on the average amount of their bill, and not on the actual energy usage. Thus, increased energy prices will obscure at least a portion of our improvements.

For background, our house is roughly 3, 000 square feet, fully electric (including the hot water heater and furnace), and located relatively deep in the southeastern United States. Anyway, we now have a year of electrical bills to look back on, and guess what? We’re dead even with the previous owners at $165/month. A few thoughts on this…

First of all, we also have a larger family (four vs. two kids) which makes cutting our usage relative to the previous owners somewhat of an uphill battle. Second, I don’t have good data on average temperatures over the periods under consideration, but the majority of our winter and summer electric usage is heating and cooling. Thus, a particularly hot summer or cold winter during one year or the other would make this a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison. We’d really need to have data over a longer time period to make a truly accurate comparison. Finally, while we’ve done a lot in the way of cutting corners, including bumping up the thermostat in the summer and installing compact fluorescent bulbs throughout the house, we’ve also increased our electrical usage in two notable areas. First, we got a bearded dragon last fall and have thus been running a 100W basking bulb plus a UV bulb for roughly 13 hours per day. We also installed a dehumidifier in our crawl space last fall, and it runs pretty steadily during the warmer months.

All in all, I’m reasonably pleased with our performance so far — holding even with the previous owners in the face of increased energy costs constitutes a small moral victory if nothing else. We’ve made a couple of additional changes recently that will hopefully help with energy efficiency in the coming months/years. First, I finally got around to insulating our garage door (more on this in the future). We also recently replaced our front door with one that not only looks much better, but is also far more energy efficient (by which I mean it doesn’t have huge gaps for air intrusion all the way around it). And now that I have a year’s worth of data on actual usage as opposed to cost, I’ll be better able to keep track of things going forward.

11 Responses to “Reducing Our Electrical Usage: One Year Later”

  1. Anonymous

    I am an energy saving nerd but not to the point where I am uncomfortable and have to make drastic changes in my lifestyle.

    1) Ok, if you have a hot water heater, please know that this appliance is without a doubt the most inefficient thing in your house. All the hot water heaters I’ve seen can have there thermostat adjusted by simply unscrewing a plate towards the bottom and adjusting the gauge (normally with a screwdriver). So perform this test. Go into your bathroom and turn your tubwater on as hot as it will go. If you cannot comfortably hold your hand under it, chances are it doesn’t need to be that hot for your showers, washing machine or dishwasher. Over the next several days, adjust the temperature on the heater and do the test again until you find a good temp. For mine, I have it as low as it can go and it is plenty hot for me. In the winter, you may have to adjust it back up if preferred or if you have several kids that use alot of water.

    2) If you have a dishwasher, do not select the auto-dry or warmer or whatever it is called. If you simply open the dishwasher after running it, the warm dishes will dry pretty fast, thus avoiding the 30 minutes of running that heating element.

    3) If you have an attic, you may find it very much worth your while to invest in a $100-150 attic fan. If you are handy, you can install it yourself easily. If you have a fan, you can open some windows on the bottom floor of your home and the fan will draw air from the outside (usually at night after it has cooled off), thru your home, up to the attic and out the vents in your roof. This effectively gets rid of all the 100 degree air that is trapped in your attic after a hot day. Run the fan for several minutes, close the windows and then your A/C will have an easier time cooling the house.

  2. Average over the past year was 1921 KWh/month (yikes!), and the median was 1722 KWh/month (a freakishly high February skewed things a bit).

    As I noted above, our house in entirely electric, so this includes running our furnace in the winter, our hot water heater, and our clothes dryer. Also keep in mind that there are six of us, which means more bathing, more dishes and more laundry. And my wife is home full-time so we can’t get away with cutting back on heat/air during business hours. Not to mention that our house is 1200 sq ft bigger than yours.

    But… It sounds like our power is way cheaper than yours.

  3. Anonymous

    Please, tell me how many kwh you use? We have a 1800 sq ft house, two people, and we pay $180/month. We only use 600 kwh on average a month, I have two years of statements, and it used to be $150, but rate increases have pushed it up. I know I pay a lot but what’s your usage for $165?

  4. Michelle: What comment? The only things that I delete (or never get posted in the first place) are spam comments or those that contain graituitous self-links without adding to the discussion.

    Oh, and no… I don’t want to “pollute my food chain.”

  5. Anonymous

    If you haven’t already done so — look into putting an insulating blanket on your hot water heater — I work at an electric company and that is one of tips we are supposed to pass along to people when they call about energy conservation. I bought one at Lowe’s a few months ago when my husband and I bought our first house and it was under $15 – and not hard to put on.

  6. @MITBeta: Yep, you read my mind no the tax credit. It’s 10% of the cost of the door (not including installation) up to $500 total credit. I just need to go online to the manufacturer’s website and get the form substantiating the energy efficiency. As for the degree days, you’re right that I could adjust for it, but I’m not sure that it’s worth the trouble. Might be interesting to do if I end up with time to kill at some point.

    @Lulu: We use some solar lighting outside, but hadn’t really considered it indoors. Neither of our main bathrooms are particularly bright (on has no windows) so I’m not sure how well they’d work.

  7. Anonymous

    You might want to look into using solar lamps for some of your lighting needs. They are pretty cost effective in my opinion. You can get four for $14.99 at Walmart and if you put two of them in the bathroom then you do not need to turn on the lights when you go in there at night. They also make great night lights if your children are young enough to want those.

  8. Anonymous

    You should be able to find data that compares heating degree and cooling degree days on average as well as for the recent past. Check out this link. If you need help deciphering/analyzing I can oblige off-line.

    Also, you can probably get a tax credit or reduction for that energy efficient door.

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