Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saving Money on My Electric Bill

Shortly after I retired in 2008, I undertook a major effort to save money on my utility bills.  Since I was no longer getting a regular paycheck, I was super sensitive about my monthly expenses.  Reducing my utility bills was something I had some control over since they were usage based.  It was easy to rationalize:  reduce my usage = reduction in my expenses.  I looked at as a way of giving my self a pay raise.

The first thing I did was go thru all my utility bills for the prior 6 months and develop a spreadsheet to track what I was using.  At the time, I was using about 850 kWh of electricity per month and burning about 900 gallons of oil per year for heat and hot water.  Comparing my usage to the average for my area based on my size house, I found I was way over the average user.

As background, my house has about 2,000 sq. ft. of living space.  I built it in 1987 and thought it was pretty efficient with 2x6 construction and energy efficient windows.  I have a well, so there's no water or sewer bill to deal with.  I heat with oil and have my hot water also off my boiler.  I have no central air but have an in-ground pool that runs in the summer.  They are four adults living in the house.

So, the next thing I did was to have a free energy audit done by Mass Save.  They came in and checked all my systems, check my insulation, and did an air leak test.  They found I had lots of air leaks and made a series of recommendations which included;
  • seal the air leaks around the foundation, heating pipes, and fireplaces.
  • replace all my incandescent light bulbs with CFL's,
  • install programmable thermostats,
  • insulate my heating pipes in the basement and insulate my bulkhead door,
  • add 6 more inches of blown in insulation in the attic, and
  • replace my tankless hot water off the boiler with a SuperStor indirect water heater
I hired the Conservation Service Group (who Mass Save recommended) who came in and sealed all the air leaks, replaced the light bulbs (this was free), and added the insulation.  This cost me about $1,200.  It was discounted by Mass Save because I had the energy audit.  I then had my heating contractor put in a new 45 gal. SuperStor indirect water heater. This cost me about $2,200, but I got a $300 rebate for doing this from Mass Save.  I did the basement insulation and the thermostats.

The results of all this were as follows.  I cut my electric usage from 850 kw down to about 750 kw.  It was about a 12% reduction and put me slightly above the regional average.  My oil usage went from 900 gals per yr down to about 700 per year.  A 22% reduction and again I was very near the average.  And I was saving money.  My annual savings were about $850.  My $3,100 investment would pay for itself in 3.5 yrs.  I was very pleased with the results.

So, now its 2014 and my electric supplier (National Grid) just jacked their supply rates up by 37%.  I got my first bill with the new rates and and experienced some sticker shock.  I had used 783 kW (close to my average) and the bill went up about $40.  Ouch!  That was enough to move me to action.  I got our my handy Kill A Watt and went looking for savings.  Here's what I found and how much I project to save.
  • Roku Streaming Media Player - We have one on the main living room TV and its always plugged in.  It uses 5 watts whether you are watching or not.  I plugged it into the Smart Strip Energy Saving Power Strip that I use for the theater system and DVD player.  This strip cuts off power to all the devices when the TV is powered off.  It stops parasitic power draw.  The Roku does to need to boot itself and connect to the network each time so now there's a couple minute delay until it does this.  Projected monthly savings:  3 kWh
  • Cable Boxes - I just had to install two of these last month because my cable company went all digital and started scrambling their signal.  I only have cable for basic network TV but I still needed the boxes. These babies each draw 23 watts when their plugged in no matter whether you press the power button to watch TV or not.  We rarely watch TV in our bed room so I put this one on a power strip with an on/off switch and kill power to it when we're not watching TV upstairs.  When I flip the power strip on, the box does take about 3-4 mins to boot up.  Projected monthly savings:  12.2 kWh
  • Son's Xbox 360 - This bad boy has a power supply the size of a brick and a parasitic draw of 22 watts when it's shut down!  I put this one on an Energy Saving Power Strip also.  Projected monthly savings:  9.8 kWh
  • Basement Grow Lights - In the winter, my wife keeps some of her summer plants in the basement under grow lights.  She's been doing this for a few years now.  She has two sets of dual fluorescent lights that draw 90 watts in total.  The lights are on a timer.  She had them set to be on 19 hrs per day.  I carefully approached her on this duration (normally I don't mess with the wife's plants having a track record of weed wacking them to death) and she felt 12 hrs of light was more that sufficient.  I adjusted the timer.  Projected monthly savings:  18.9 kWh
  • Switching High Usage CFL's to LED's - I switched out some high used CFL bulbs that draw 20-23 watts with LED's that draw only 10-11 watts.  I've done four so far.  I also found a rogue 100 watt incandescent bulb in my sons room and swapped that out with a LED.  I'm going to do some more of these.  Projected monthly savings:  11 kWh.
This was all low hanging fruit and easy stuff to do, but I was able to knock off about 55 kWh off my usage.  Its only 7% from last months bill and will save me only about $10 per month, but it feels so good.  And I'm going to continue my quest searching out watt-wasting appliances.  Very efficient homes in my area use about 500 kWh per month.  I know there's more I can do because, when we go to FL in the winter and just my sons are home my monthly usage drops to about 600 kWh.

Just as a footnote, I checked my phone charger with the Kill A Watt and it uses 4-5 watts whether its charging the phone or not.  I only plug it in when needing to charge my phone, but I know some who leave it plugged in all the time or plug it in and leave it overnight. My phone charges within 2 hrs so leaving it in longer just wastes money.  I believe the same goes for laptop and camera chargers.

If anyone has some ideas or feedback on what you've done to save on your electric bill, please leave me a comment.

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