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Saturday, January 5, 2019

How to save on electricity

On my last post, "Living Green, Not Red," reader "StBa" left a comment as follows:
"Wonderful article...thank you! Your electric bill is fantastic. Other than line drying and using LED light bulbs, can you recommend other ways that you save electricity?"

Beyond the fact that we just tend to live dimly (meaning, we don't keep our house really really bright) and not having central heating and air conditioning, I'm not sure I have any brilliant words of wisdom. (Oh wait, we also have a hot-water-on-demand water heater, so we don't have a hot water tank, which saves a lot of electricity/propane.) But this is a good question, so I thought I'd throw it open to readers for advice and recommendations.

So c'mon, folks, help StBa out. What are your best thoughts for lowering your electric bill?

29 comments:

  1. If it is not being used SHUT IT OFF ///.

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  2. Most power companies charge less for electricity used "off-peak." This is called "time-of-use" billing. Off-peak times vary, depending on where you live, and the time of year. You can either call your provider to find out when off-peak rates apply, or you can check it's website. If you're being billed on a "tiered" system, you're being ripped off! Ask to be changed to time-of-use billing. That being done, run your heavy appliances during these off-peak times.

    If you use a dishwasher, turn off the "sanitize" feature. All it does is heat up your dishes; not hot enough to actually sanitize your dishes; just enough to run up your electric bill! On that tack; electricity is the most inefficient way to heat ANYTHING. Gas appliances are WAY more efficient. If you can switch from electric to gas for your stove, heating, water heating, drying, etc, and can afford it, do so. You'll be a winner.

    Climate control; in 2002, I moved into a house built in 1973. It still had the original HVAC (Heat, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) system. I had it replaced after the fan failed. I live in "a hot, dry place." My summer electric bill dropped by half! If you're in the same position I was, and can afford the replacement cost, you'll come out ahead if you replace. If you can't afford to replace, have your system checked out every few years to keep it running as efficiently as possible.

    We use kerosene heaters during the day in our place in the wintertime. They heat the area you're in; not the whole house. Use your head with these! If you've got young 'uns running around, kero heaters are more hazard than help!

    Filters; keep them CLEAN. The drier lint filter should be cleaned before EACH USE. Do this not only for efficiency, but for SAFETY! My dad was a volunteer firefighter when I was a kid. I can't TELL you how many drier fires came across his radio! Along with keeping the filter clean, keep the drier vent pipe clean as well. Your clothes will dry faster. Your drier will run less, and cost you less. And again, it will lower the chance of a drier fire in your house. If you have forced air heating/cooling, keep tabs on the air filters. Change them out a couple of times a year; more often if you live in a dusty place, or have multiple pets in the house.

    Circling back to the washer/drier; run full loads. This sounds obvious, but in practice, many people run these appliances light. Also; don't use the drier as an iron. Running the drier to de-wrinkle your shirt or blouse is, well, ...inefficient...

    If it's not being used for a while, unplug it. Most of today's electrics are computer controlled. Even when shut off, they're drawing electricity!

    Replace your "tube" TV or plasma TV with a newer model. These older TV's use a lot of juice! I replaced a plasma TV with an LED flat panel TV of the same size. The plasma TV drew 450 watts! The new TV draws... 37 watts... Need I say more?

    'Hope this helps...

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  3. Anything that produces heat will use more electricity. LEDs and CFLs emit light without producing the heat that incandescent light bulbs produce. If you are charging your cell phone or a small appliance battery and notice the "box" on the cord or at the outlet gets warm, that "warm" is a loss in the efficiency during the charging process. The box typically converts your AC power to DC to charge the battery and uses a transformer to adjust the voltage.

    Anything that you are not using that has a clock/flashing lights or is warm is using power. (This is so your channels are programmed when you turn on your TV and control it with your remote.) Video games often list a "Resting" use of power when "off". Only unplugged is truly turned off.

    Space heaters, livestock waterers, electric ranges, electric clothes dryers and hot water heaters are some of your largest energy consumers. They all produce heat - intentionally. AC units, well water pumps and to most people's surprise ground source heat pumps (the water circulation pumps) also use a lot of power. (GSHP can use as much or more than a good sized central air unit.)

    Electricty does work for us. Each of us needs to decide how much work we want to do or discomfort we want to deal with -including and beyond the luxuries - to save power. Ever make an Angel Food cake completely by hand? It is work! Using an electric mixer may use power, but sure saves on your arm!

    I hope that I have provided some ideas. Anything to help with home comfort, awnings, insulated curtains, etc. can save heating/cooling power too!

    More ideas? Search "ghost loads" and see how some folks use power strips to help them save electricity. Natokadn

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    1. Along with using insulated curtains, open the curtains on south-facing windows in the winter when the sun is out on clear days, then close them in the midafternoon when the temperature starts to drop.
      In the summer of course, reverse this procedure;
      it will save on your heating/cooling costs.

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  4. Pete is spot on! Gas/propane is more efficient than electricity. Watch children, though. The only truly severe burns on children I have seen personally involved gas ranges. Kerosene heaters work great, but make sure you can deal with the mess/smell - not everyone can. Ventilation is important for anything that involves combustion - including space and water heaters.

    His filter advice is excellent and should extend to cleaning/vacuuming the coils and/or any heat exchange surfaces on refrigerators and freezers. Natokadn

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  5. I never use an air conditioner, it helps that I do not live in a place like Arizona. But even in the North West we can get very hot summers, especially in Spokane WA. I would always open cross ventilation windows (that were not easy access on the outside) at night and close before 06:00 in the morning. The house would be very cool all day, to help in the cooling I would run a ceiling fan. Worked like a charm. In the winter I use a wood stove, burn dry and seasoned wood for best results, I also run an oscillating fan behind the stove or next to it if no room and this helps move the heat around. In fact I have to remind my husband to use less wood due to the house getting too hot.
    I once had all incandescent light bulbs, so I switched to CFL's I clipped an instant $13.00 off per month. However the light is difficult to live with. These use about 14 watts per bulb, now I have been able to switch again to all LED's, these use about 9.5 watts per bulb, the light is brighter, they are instant on and off, they also helped with lowering the monthly bill.
    Another thing is having a well insulated home, use your dryer less, get a rack for finishing drying damp clothes.
    Take a trip around your home and check out what you can do, no matter how small, like keeping a hardly ever used room (like a guest room) closed to preserve temps. Every little bit will add up.
    To sum up I know a person that would keep an energy hog of an AC running 24/7 and keep some windows open at the same time during a heat wave. She complained that her electric bill would be too high, go figure.

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  6. Insulating a hot water tank (sides and top) with kraft-faced R-15 fiberglass insulation will have a 1-year payback. It is a Do-It-Yourself job. After that is all savings.
    Montana Guy

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  7. Another way to reduce power (gas/electric) use while doing laundry is to do it all at one time, and continually shift the cleaned wet laundry from the washer to the dryer -- this reduces the heat needed to 'heat up' the dryer from one load to the next load. Doing one complete load at a time through the washer and dryer is an INCREDIBLE waste of time AND power!

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  8. Purchase a "kill a watt". You can get one for less than $20. It will tell you what every appliance (on 120 volts) is using. You will be surprised how much some simple things use when they are off. It may only be a few watt's but like a faucet drip it adds up in a hurry!

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  9. I rent an apartment that is all electric. I wrapped the electric hot water tank. I also hung insulated curtains on all windows and patio doors. I switch off lights when I leave the room. In the winter, I use the light over the stove or a night light to provide a minimum level of light.
    Most winter days, I only heat my den and adjoining bath and keep the door shut to the rest of the apartment. I'd rather put on another layer of clothing then turn the heat up.
    SJ in Vancouver BC Canada

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  10. Turn off anything you are not using, especially when you are not at home. We have most of our electronic appliances on a surge protector that is off except when we are using it.

    I second LEDs - and turning off the lights. The Ravishing Mrs. TB quoted to me that if you out of the room more than 13 seconds, turn the light off or it costs money.

    Temperature control is always a large one too. We keep our house slightly too cold or too warm for many, but it does make a difference.

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    1. One more thing: honestly, just becoming conscious of energy use will result in lower usage. Once you are paying attention to it, you will find more and more ways to be frugal in this area just by the fact that you are thinking about ways of reducing it.

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  11. Unplug unused items, lamps, clocks in spare rooms, once you've recharged a device unplug it not only from the device but the wall. Turn down your heat and put a sweatshirt on, while watching TV or reading cover up in a blanket. Put electric outlet and switch sealers behind the outlet plates. We switched out old light fixtures to newer more efficient LED light fixtures, sometimes older fixtures are not compatible with the new LED light bulbs. We water in the early morning hours, it's cooler and allows more time for the water to percolate into the soil before the heat of the day, we also have everything on a drip system reducing waste of energy and water. For our summers, which are "HOT" we use ceiling fans and oscillating fans in the same area. The more the air circulates the cooler it feels, this allows us to keep the temperature set higher.

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  12. It is the intent of the left to drive up the cost of electricity (as well as other forms of energy). So you need to wean yourself off of it sooner or later. If your home is heated with electricity shut it off and install and use a wood stove. Plan to shut off other rooms to reduce the cost and effort to heat with wood. If you have air conditioning then turn it off and even consider uninstalling it. Find ways to be comfortable without AC. Create a list of your biggest electricity users and find a way to eliminate or reduce them.

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    1. A few have mentioned it here; there are more and more places in this country where wood burners and fireplaces are outlawed. Many large communities in Minnesota no longer allow you to use your fireplace to burn wood for heat or pleasure. It is still legal in rural areas, but as with other products many wood stove makers have or are going out of business as their products don't meet EPA regulations. Natokadn

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    2. When we sold my mother in law’s home in central California we were required to weld her wood burning stove closed before we sold it.

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    3. There are some jurisdictions where wood stoves are essentially outlawed or will eventually be outlawed. If possible get a approved stove such as a pellet stove. If not then your choice is to go without or move. But the point is don't simply ignore the issue or give up.

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    4. Will you always be able to get pellets? Natokadn

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    5. A lot of this problem (higher costs for energy and of course the possibility of SHTF) must be dealt with the skills and ability to learn that is inherent in "man". Pellets can be made from sawdust (search on google or youtube). Other things then wood based pellets can be used. The only reason I suggested pellet stoves is simply that they are more readily approved by local and state regulators. Another option is a high end approved wood stove, but I didn't suggest that because it seemed obvious. Just as it would be obvious to find, on craigslist or elsewhere, a decent wood stove that could be installed after SHTF or electric prices exceed logic and common sense. I didn't suggest that either because it seemed a natural unspoken choice. The point is do something and do it before it becomes a crisis.

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    6. I have electric heat and live where the winter temp drops well below freezing. Luckily I also pay the lowest electric rate in the country. I have a wood stove and I use it. I live in a small community that will likely never outlaw wood stoves (although my left wing state may). I live in one of the largest pine forests in the world. It is 30-40 miles wide and about a 1000 miles long from the Canadian border down into California. There is so much burnable firewood that the state and federal government burns enough on the ground every year to power New York City and have enough left over to air condition all of Southern California. It is no accident that I live here. The handwriting is on the wall. Do something.

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    7. I asked because I am unfamiliar with them. (We can burn both wood and other fuels in our state.) As long as you can burn wood in them (pellet stoves.) I can't image sawing the quantity (cutting by hand) one would have to do to get enough sawdust to create the pellets, which is why I asked.

      Our neighbors have a corn stove. Not sure if they can grow enough to supply it by hand. (They have enough land IF the soil quality is still good enough - without commercial fertilizer) and there is enough rain...

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  13. No need to live dimly these days with the ability to make an LED light to fit your exact needs with the 12v LED tape and such. LED bulbs for traditional fixture are okay but the traditional fixtures and bulbs were designed for a different light spreading.

    The LEDs on adhesive reels can be made into any shape and provide a linear spread that gives a lot of light for a little energy. Check out a youtube channel, DIY Perks, he's done some innovative lights using the stuff.

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  14. Corn is one of those alternatives to wood pellets. Sawdust can be acquired free or cheaply at a small sawmill. Making pellets isn't that difficult
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viK7y7pD_dQ

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  15. Watch using the washer one load after the other. Repair men have told us to wait a half hour between loads so the motor can cool. It will make the washer last a lot longer they said. That being said you can wash a couple loads even waiting the half hour between them. Then put the extra loads in a laundry basket and dry them one load after the other. I don't know how the dryer is affected if used for a long time though. :) Ask and find out. Sarah

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  16. What I am saying is that in my case there is not a sawmill within 600 miles of me and in a shtf situation they would be cutting without power so both lumber and sawdust output would be way down (without considering transportation). A lot of people would be vying for it. Corn burns hot and fast (high fat/oil and sugar content), but is a nitrogen/water intensive crop and growing and hand processing enough to heat with it would also be a full time job.. you would need to rotate soil often due to nitrogen depletion. (Commercial fertilizers not available.)

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  17. I use my electric dryer for about 30% of my laundry--things like shirts and work pants that would need ironing if air-dried. But when tumble-drying part of a load, I pull out the heavy things that would take a long time to dry (such as towels, jeans). That makes a big difference in overall drying time.

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  18. I appreciate everyone's suggestions. I am incorporating some immediately. Thank you, Patrice, also for opening this up for suggestions.
    I would like to give a shout out to Patrice's article on gardening in the latest Backwoods Home Magazine. It's excellent.

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  19. I have a large kerosene heater. I try not to use it, because it runs thru kerosene in a hurry. A 5 gallon jug of kerosene costs about $50.00. My 5 gallons will last about 24 hrs. total I cannot afford $50.00 even 1x week. I do use it for emergency back up during a storm, etc. Otherwise I use the fireplace, close off most of the house, dry laundry on a line in the utility room, use thermal curtains etc etc. I was using wool blankets (think military issue blankets) from the thrift store until recently, but I needed more than 1 and it was getting crazy heavy and just not truly doing the trick. I now have an electric blanket...which is way cheaper than heating a whole room with an electric space heater. We do what we can. The wool blankets and kerosene heater are on standby.

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