Tips for reducing your electric bill by up to 30%

Here in PA, we’re ever so fortunate (sarcasm) to be headed into a new era deregulated electricity. Our utility provider (PPL Electric) has announced that they expect most residential electric bills such as ours to rise about 30%-32%! Somehow, this is supposed to be a help to our electricity cost. We’ve not figured that out yet.

As the old saying goes, rather than curse the darkness, light a candle. If your bill is going to go up by 30%, try lowering your consumption by 30% or more. This will not only keep your cost down, but reducing demand lowers prices for everyone.

So what are some relatively low-investment ways you can reduce your electric bill by 30% or more? Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Setup a clothes line. This is the cheapest way to go solar there is! According to Dept. of Energy statistics, clothes dryers account for nearly 6%  of household electric bills (average).
  2. Go Green One Day – unplugging most of your non-essential electricity for one day a week. This could save most households up to 15% of their electricity cost.
  3. Track down and eliminate “ghost loads” of electricity – appliances that use power when not even on (DVD, TVs, Phones, etc). A Kil-A-Watt is a great way to find these. Conservatively, we think this could save most households 1-2%
  4. Install a high-efficiency, water-saving shower head. Doing so appears to reduce our family’s utility cost. This is not direclty reducing the electric bull by a whopping amount, but reduces our utility costs in an amount that equals approximately 5-8% of our electricity cost. This is roughly the cost of one month’s electric bill! See our recent post for details.

So, the above simple steps could reduce your expenses by up to 31% of your yearly electric costs (by our estimates). None of the above are expensive or difficult to implement or require advanced DIY skills.

Have additional tips? Post em’ in the comments.

Why water-saving shower heads are a good investment

Many people might not think to look at their showers as being a source of potential energy and cost savings. That’s unfortunate, because there’s money to be saved in the shower along with natural resources too.

Consider the following scenario: Here’s the simple math for a family of four each taking a 7 minute with an average water-saving shower head (2.6 gallons per minute, or “gpm”):

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 2.6 gallons = 72.8 gallons per day
  • 72.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.11 per day
  • 72.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $1.46 per day
  • Cost per 7 minute shower = $.37
  • $1.46 + $.11 = $1.57 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $1.57 X 365 = $573.05 per year!

Here’s the math for the savings this family would see by just installing a high-efficiency shower head:

  • 4 people x 7 minutes x 1.6 gallons = 44.8 gallons per day
  • 44.8 x $.0015/gallon = $.07 per day
  • 44.8 gallons x $.02 to heat it = $.87 per day
  • $.87 + $.07 = $.94 per day to purchase water and heat it for showering
  • $.94 X 365 = $343.10 per year!

So just by installing new shower heads, there’s several hundred dollars a year to be saved in water and energy cost. We’ve installed Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome units that cost us less than $15 – money well spent!

As you can see, hot water heating can be a major expense. As we aim for a simpler life, we’re aiming to use less water, and less commercially-provided energy heating the water. Stay tuned for our future posts about our attempts to heat hot water in some non-traditional ways!

First Days with the Chest Freezer as Fridge

IMG_2586

All the parts and pieces finally fell into place for us to setup our Chest Freezer as a Fridge. For those new to this thread, we had purchased a new Energy Star Chest Freezer from Lowes, an external Thermostat Control from Amazon, and put them together to have a super-efficient refrigerator.

We hooked the thermostat up in about 5 minutes. It consisted of unwinding the semi-stiff metal thermostat probe wire, running it up over the back of the freezer, down into the freezer, and across the back. We hid ours underneath a built-in rail used for hanging baskets, so it’s not visible or in danger of getting damaged.

The Thermostat

Once installed, we simply turned the built-in thermostat to it’s max setting, then plugged the freezer into the external thermostat, and then the external thermostat into the wall. The Johnson Controls Thermostat’s plug has a female receptical for the freezer to plug into.

It ran for about 3o minutes to reach our desired temperature of about 37℉, then shut off the power. From then on, it’s run less than 10 minutes per hour.

This AM, with the Kill-A-Watt attached for 12 hours, the unit has used .22 kWh of power. That’s quite impressive and at today’s prices equals a few nickels over $15 for the year if this stays consistent! That’s a whopping big difference from our old fridge which cost $115-$120/yr! We had thought that we’d save up to 95% from what we’ve seen others achieve and we’re currently realizing a savings of 87%. That’s acceptable 😉

How does it work for the family?

The new "Fridge"

So far, everyone really digs the setup. At 14.5 cubit feet, it’s quite a lot of space, it has way more room in it than our previous fridge, and everything is very easy to get to, except by our 4-yr old, which is a bonus since we are always telling her to get out of the fridge! We could literally store twice as much food as previous and still pay 80% less for the power. Not bad, eh? Looking and reaching top-down into the fridge is nice too. We have a bird’s eye view of everything and it’s all easy to reach. Hopefully the pictures give some idea of the setup.

Is it worth it?

A few people have commented that this is not much of a savings. If you just bought a brand-new Energy Star fridge, that might be the case. I wouldn’t go this route had we had a new, efficient fridge (at least not yet). However, if you’re in need of a new fridge, consider this for a minute.

Cost Comparison

New Energy Star Fridge New Chest Freezer as Fridge
Cost of Unit $900 $450**
Electric Cost 5yr. $275 $75
Total $1175 $525

The above prices for the fridge are based on what we’ve seen available in the size range that we would need. **Price includes extended warranty of 4 years and price of thermostat!

That should put things into perspective. Perhaps some people don’t care about saving $750, but we do! Further, our savings will continue year after year. So if you already need a new refrigerator, consider this option, otherwise, find another way to save $30-50/yr.

Reduce Refrigeration Power Consumption up to 95%!

We’re Saving About $135/yr

As I’ve been researching ways to reduce power consumption, I’ve been measuring the annual power use of each appliance in my house (see my post on the Kill-A-Watt for details). When I measured my refrigerator, I found that it used 2.17 Kwh in just 13:22. That means that at our average Kwh cost of $.1007, my fridge costs me $$.3896/day, $11.85/month, and $143.20/year. That might not sound significant, but what if it could be less? A LOT less?!

I’d recently seen some info about using a chest freezer in place of a fridge. I thought the idea sounded whacky at first. It’s being done by many power-miserly people – particularly those who use solar power. You see, refrigerators are inherently inefficient in their design. When you open your fridge door, in goes all sorts of room-temperature air that must now be cooled and the cool air you’ve been paying to cool comes out. This is where a chest freezer has quite an advantage. Aside from being better-insulated than refrigerators, chest freezers don’t lose much cold air when you open them because cold air sinks and hot air rises. You ever notice the open coolers in the grocery store with no lids, yet the contain frozen items? This is because the cold air stays down in the freezer.

So how does this work as a fridge, I mean freezers freeze stuff, and I just want my stuff cool, right? It’s simple:

You take a chest freezer, turn the thermostat to as cold as possible (so that when it’s on, it’s running at full-steam), then purchase a separate thermostat such as this Refrigerator or Freezer Thermostat (Temperature Controller). These have long been used by people who brew their own beer to keep their beverages at given temperature range for long periods of time.

Control your freezer temperature externally

Control your freezer temperature externally

This device (or others like it) plug into the wall, and your freezer plugs into it. It consists of a temperature probe which is placed inside the freezer (no tools required) hooked to a relay that turns the power (at the plug) on and off. This is totally safe and already how your freezer works, so no wear and tear. This just way easier than modifying the freezer’s internal thermostat and voiding warranties, etc.

Once plugged in, your set the external thermostat to your desired temp (mid to high 30’s) When the temperature inside the freezer moves above your set temp, it powers on the outlet, turning on the freezer until it reaches the desired temperature. Once reached, it cuts power to the freezer. Many people who use this arrangement report their freezer compressor running 2-5 minutes per hour!

So just how much does this save? Most people report an electricity use doing this between .10 Kwh to .4 Kwh per day. Our current average Kwh price is $.1007 (just a hair over ten cents). That means that doing the above will cost you between $.01 and $.04 cents per day. That’s between $3.67 and $14.70 per year! You will not find a fridge that approaches even half this energy use. Because I bought a new energy star freezer, I am projecting somewhere in the middle – $.20 Kwh/day. This is twice the cost that many people are experiencing, but I don’t like to get my hopes up. If I am anywhere close, my cost will be just $7.35 to run my freezer fridge for one year. That’s a 95% cost reduction. It could be even better, it could be even worse. Even if it were $.40 Kwh/day, the cost will still be less than $15 for the year, an 89% improvement!

Have a hard time believing that? A brand-new Energy Star freezer will use about $38 per year as a freezer – it’s right on the tag. When it’s used in the energy-sipping capacity like this, it uses a fraction of that energy.

Of course, you have to 1) have or obtain a decent chest freezer 2) have a place to effectively use a chest freezer as a fridge 3) and purchase or make an external thermostat capable of powering the unit on/off frequently. In our case, we had the willingness, the room, but not the freezer or thermostat. We decided on purchasing a new Energy Star 14.8 cu.ft. freezer for $398. We purchased the above thermostat as well. This unit should be going strong for 5-10 years, long after we’ve recovered our purchase price.

If this is something you want to consider, I recommend the following:

  1. Use a Kill-A-Watt to measure your power use and determine your real kwh cost per day
  2. Multiply this cost by 365. If you live in PA, remember that once we experience deregulation this winter, power cost will likely rise at least 30%.
  3. Consider if you can purchase or locate a decent freezer
  4. Consider if you can purchase or construct a thermostat relay (I could not build one for the cost of the one above)
  5. Consider if you could live with a chest freezer rather than a traditional fridge.
  6. If so, Consider the cost savings over 3-5 years after your cost to purchase the freezer (if need be) and a thermostat.
  7. If the cost is justifiable, go for it!

Regarding the last item, my wife was suprisingly willing to do this after going and looking at freezers. There’s some nice benefits of this approach:

  1. It can be hard to see items in the freezer, harder to reach them, etc. The top-down effect of using a chest freezer offers a bird’s eye view of the contents.
  2. The chest freezer doubles as quite a bit of effective work area
  3. The former refrigerator area can be re-factored into a pantry, more counter space, etc.
  4. The right chest freezer can be nicely organized. Ours came with four nice sliding baskets that make it easy to organize.
  5. Should you decide to implement an alternative source of power (solar or wind), the less power you need, the better.

This might not be for everyone, but we’re excited to give it a shot!

I’ll post an update in a few months with my power usage.

Audit Heat/Cooling Loss to save up to 20% on heating and cooling cost?

I spent some time today using our utility company’s online self-help portal to determine some areas of cost saving measures. Without a doubt, heating and cooling is the #1 area of energy use in our home – and probably most homes.

Some of their tools show a savings of up to 20% by fixing areas of air infiltration throughout the house, as well as sealing leaks and drafts in the duct work.

In searching on Amazon, I discovered a device for $49 that scans for thermal differences so you can actually KNOW where the leaks are. I am wondering if anyone I know has had experience using this device. Here it is – Black & Decker TLD100 Thermal Leak Detector

Please comment if you’ve used it. I am considering getting this as soon as possible.

Audit your own electricity usage for $35

A few months ago, I purchased a P3 International P4460 Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor!

FInd Appliances and Devices quietly draining your electric bill

FInd Appliances and Devices quietly draining your electric bill

This nifty device allows you to see what kind of electricity your plugged-in appliances use. Simply plug the Kill-A-Watt into the your outlet and your appliance into the Kill-A-Watt and let it sit. It will show you the Kwh that your appliance uses in the time it’s plugged in.

This is very handy for seeing if some appliances have “ghost loads” – that is, they use electricity even when not in use. This is common in many appliances – especially those with “brick” plugs.

I have to admit, there’s two things I hate about this product (not enough to warrant not having one):

  1. Once you unplug the unit, the data you just recorded is gone, so make sure you write it down before you unplug it!
  2. There’s a rather obvious design flaw/annoyance where you cannot plug this and any other plug into a standard double outlet. I would highly recommend something like Power Strip Liberator Plus, 5 Pack to allow you to plug this into an outlet without interfering with other devices. These things are handy for those times when you cannot use all the outlets on power strips because bulky plugs take up to much space too!

I think this is $35 well spent since it will help our family unplug costly devices. Decide for yourself!

Money and Water Saving Showerheads

Recently, one of our showerheads broke. In shopping for a new one, I wanted to find a new showerhead that met several criteria:

  1. Affordable (no $100 showerheads for our family!)
  2. Energy Efficient (water conservation saves water and heating energy)
  3. Flexible – I am a tall guy, and we also have little ones. We need something that accommodates a wide range of sizes and positions.
  4. Quality – I chose Peerless because I’ve had good experience with them so far, they’re affordable, and best of all, have a lifetime warranty.

I could not really find an off-the-shelf solution I liked entirely. Most showerheads that include a flexible hose are 2.5 GPM (gallons per minute) – water-saving yes, but not quite enough in my opinion. I really wanted to get 1.5-1.6 GPM. The showerheads that save more water don’t usually have any flexibility and are usually under-powered too. Also, my wife wanted to maintain having a flexible hose showerhead so that we could shower the little ones.

My solution? Combine several showerheads and/or parts. Basically what I did was combined some items from several off-the-shelf showerheads with some stuff we already had to get the best of everything for less than many showerheads would cost. Now, I have a showerhead that combines fixed and flexible, is adjustable, affordable, and energy-saving. We could reduce our water usage (for showers) up to 40% and reduce our hot water usage, thus saving some electricity.

I ended up purchasing the Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome which we scored from Walmart (we usually hate shopping there btw, but didn’t have time to wait for Amazon) for $9.98. This gem of a showerhead was not only less than $10, it also uses 1.6 GPM – a full gallon per minute less than most showerheads. Yet, it seems to have a powerful spray pattern equitable to a 2.5 GPM showerhead. Very easy to install!

I also picked up a Peerless 4″ Sunflower Showerhead with Arm. I love the arm idea because it allows me to be able to stand under the showerhead (at 6′ 3″, this is usually impossible and I have to do squats to wash my hair). My wife didn’t want to give up the hose-mounted showerhead that we already had for the kiddos. So, I combined them! I simply replaced the fixed head of the existing two-headed showerhead with the Sunflower unit. Now, I have an affordable solution that meets everyone’s needs. I plan on buying an additional Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome from Walmart and replacing the Sunflower head so that my fixed showerhead is 1.6 GPM and my flexible showerhead is 2.5 GPM. This is a good compromise in my opinion.

If one were to do this from scratch, it would be pretty simple. This would allow for efficient showers that accommodate all size people, but also more forceful showers when needed. Here’s roughly what you would need:

  1. Buy a Peerless Sunflower Showerhead with Arm ($24.98) – if I can find just the arm cheaper, I would do that but most I have found have been as much as the entire showerhead system above.
  2. Buy an affordable matching showerhead with a flexible hose ($12.98)
  3. Buy a Peerless 76154 1.6 GPM Water-Amplifying Showerhead, Chrome ($13 at Amazon)
  4. Buy a Alsons #861-237 MP Chrome Shower Diverter
    to your liking ($2.03)
  5. Optional: Flow Control Valve ($2-$10)- let’s you slow the water down, or shut off while shaving or lathering up yet without turning off or adjusting the hot and cold supply thus saving more $$$.

Total cost for an adjustable two-headed, water-saving, flexible showerhead?  $49.98-$59.98. I know there are cheaper alternatives, but I think this is a reasonable price to get so many features in a showerhead setup.

To put it all together, you would first optionally attach your flow control valve (item #5), follwed by the diverter (item #4). To the main outlet of the diverter, you’d attach the adjustable arm from item #1 above. Next, remove the showerhead from item #1 above and replace with item #3 – the water-saving showerhead. To the other diverter outlet, attach item #2.

Doing the above, you’d have one extra showerhead which you could sell, give away, or tuck away for a plumbing emergency sometime.

These are just some ideas for anyone who has a hard time finding the showerhead of their dreams without spending $100.