Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cutting your Electric Bill

Most of us know about, and have implemented a number of strategies to cut electricity usage. We’ve replaced incandescent bulbs with CFL types, installed a set-back thermostat, and added insulation. It is inevitable that at some point we’ll ask ourselves “is there nothing left I can do?” Here are some energy-saving ideas that you may not have thought of. Take the time to consider these strategies, and let me know if I’ve overlooked anything.

1. We all know to change our furnace filters regularly, but how often do you clean the squirrel-cage blower inside your furnace? A clean blower assembly turns more freely and moves more air. Additionally, lubricate the bearings or bushings in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. When a family member came down with a cold recently, I did something that I’ve always done in the past; I got out the portable humidifier. Out of curiosity I plugged it into my Kill-A-Watt meter. I was surprised by the readings. I found that it draws 285 watts, or nearly as much as five, 60-Watt light bulbs. This type of humidifier produces steam by passing water between two electrodes. Knowing that I could be using a cool-mist humidifier, which probably uses less than 35 watts, I was appalled by how much energy my humidifier wastes. It will cost about $6.00 per month in electricity if I use it for 8 hours each night, but a cool-mist unit will run for the same amount of time at a cost of less than one dollar per month. Purchase a Kill-A-Watt meter and test every electrical item in your home. You may be surprised by the results, and you’ll discover ways to cut back as I did.

3. Consider creative uses for timers. Timers shouldn’t be limited to controlling night lights; there are other ways to use timers to save money. If you seldom watch TV from midnight to 7:00am, you can use a timer to turn off your cable box during those hours. Not only does your cable box use electricity when it’s turned on, it uses it even when it’s turned off (a phantom load). By switching it off for seven hours each day, you’ll save a considerable amount of electricity.

4. Consider creative uses for motion sensors. My kids have their own TV and gaming room. They often fall asleep, or leave the room without turning things off. A motion sensor, connected to the TV’s power strip, would be useful here. The motion sensor below replaces a wall switch.

5. Apply energy-saving settings to your computer. For a Windows-based computer, open the “Control Panel”, and click on “Power Options”. Configure the settings to turn off the monitor and hard-drive after 15 minutes of inactivity. Set your computer to go into standby, or hibernate, after 30 minutes of inactivity. Additionally, use a surge protector/power strip to turn power on and off, eliminating a phantom load.

6. Replace energy-wasting appliances with mechanical ones that serve the same purpose. This includes doorbells, can openers, and alarm clocks. Don’t use frivolous items, like hand-lotion warmers and plug-in air-fresheners. They may use only a small amount of electricity, but it adds up.

7. Use an electric blanket in the winter. You probably already turn your thermostat down at night, but you can turn it down even more and still be comfortable if you use an electric blanket.

8. If you currently have low-voltage outdoor lighting, consider replacing those lights with solar-powered outdoor lighting instead. If your outdoor lights are on a timer, consider burning them for fewer hours each night. Likewise, operate outdoor fountains and waterfalls for fewer hours each day.

9. Consider a bio-fuel stove (pellet or corn-burning), to supplement your furnace. These are available as free-standing units, or as fireplace inserts. They are easy to install and maintain. I use mine to supplement the heat from my furnace, and have cut hundreds of dollars off of my heating bill. Since I’m on budget billing, I enjoy those savings every month of the year.

10. When it’s time to replace your refrigerator, don’t buy one that is too small for the size of your family. Frequent trips to the grocery store will outpace any energy savings you might realize by going with a smaller unit. Look at the energy-star tags as you shop for a refrigerator, and get the most energy-efficient model you can find. If you do, your savings will be significant over the lifetime of the device.

I look forward to your comments, and other energy-saving strategies I’ve missed.



d said...

All good stuff... Thanks again.

I have considered the motion sensor/timer idea, but they suck a few Watts themselves. Our cable box eats 15W so I'd like to do that and might combine it with the thermostat (currently we just turn it down at night and a timer means it won't run much out-of-hours anyway).

Our fridge/freezer upgrade is saving us about 1kWh/day, bringing us down to 6kWh/day gross, 4kWh/day after netting with our solar PV.



Solar John said...

I'd like to try an electronic timer, as I suppose they consume fewer watts than the mechanical one I've pictured here. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

Replacing my refrigerator was the one thing I did that resulted in the biggest reduction.


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