Earth Day reminds many people to look closely at how their daily habits affect the Earth’s environment. However, our monthly electricity bills provide a regular, often painful, look at our energy usage, making us wonder what’s burning so much juice.
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Where I live in Raleigh, NC, most houses heat with gas or electric. While home heating bills can get out of hand if we have an especially cold winter, cooling our house during the summer jacks up our electric bill much more and for much longer. We’re likely to run the air conditioning for several months out of the year, and it can get VERY hot here.
Most articles about saving electricity say the same things – unplug devices that aren’t in use, don’t leave the TV on all the time, turn off lights when nobody is in the room and so forth. According to my electric company, none of these strategies will save you much energy or money. Here are some estimated monthly costs of electric devices you might own:
- Blender, two uses per week, three minutes per use – $0.01 per month.
- Can opener, 20 uses per week, 30 seconds per use – $0.01 per month.
- Holiday lights, older bulbs, strand of 100, 5 hours per day – $7.38 per month.
- Holiday lights, newer bulbs, strand of 100, 5 hours per day – $0.49 per month (or less for LEDs).
- Coffee maker – $0.62 to $0.86 per month.
- Computer system left on all day, with printer & monitor, no sleep mode – $8.86 per month.
- Computer system with monitor, two hours/day usage with sleep mode for idle time – around $1.00 per month.
- Dishwasher, four uses per week – $0.85 per month.
- Clothes dryer, six uses per week – $6.81 per month.
- Attic fan, running 12 hours a day – $11.81 per month.
- Freezer – $4.94 to $7.97 per month, depending on size, age and efficiency.
- Gaming system, one-hour usage per day – $0.12 to $0.39, depending on the system.
- Space heater, 1500W, 12 hours usage per day in a cool room – $9.52 per month.
- Oven, three uses per week – $1.23 per month.
- Stove, three uses per week – $0.31 per month.
- Refrigerator – $5.90 to $10.80 per month, depending on age/efficiency.
- Microwave, 30 minutes per day usage – $0.98 per month.
- Television, large CRT, six hours per day usage – $2.21 per month.
- Television, average LCD, six hours per day usage – $2.21 per month.
- Television, plasma, six hours per day usage – $5.17 per month.
- Clothes washer, 8 uses per week (doesn’t include the cost to heat water) – $0.98 per month.
- Water heater, electric – $21.25 per month.
- Lighting, CFL bulb, 24W (equivalent to 100W incandescent) – $0.06 per month per hour of daily use.
- Lighting, 100W incandescent – $0.25 per month per hour of daily use. So, if a bulb is left on all day, every day, this would cost you about $6 per month.
I’d have to multiply some of these numbers by a factor of two or three (such as weekly uses of the dishwasher, stove, oven, clothes washer and clothes dryer), but this information really hammered home for me what is raising my electric bills.
Since we tend to spend most of our waking hours in the same rooms if we’re home, we bought two window air conditioners, one for upstairs and one for downstairs. Window a/c units use a lot less energy and therefore cost less to operate than central a/c.
They let me turn up the thermostat on the central a/c. Even a fairly large 12,000 BTU window a/c unit costs only about $300 to operate for 125 days at eight hours per day. Most folks could probably get by with a smaller 6000 BTU unit.
So, how can you really save energy? Here are my tips based on my research and personal experience.
- Turn up the thermostat during the summer and use a window air conditioner. Be sure to clean the filter regularly for maximum cooling and efficiency and change the filters regularly in your central air system.
- Turn down the thermostat during the winter and use a space heater, only during waking hours and under supervision. Use caution with any space heater, keeping it away from drapes, boxes, papers or anything else that’s extremely flammable.
- Make sure your clothes really need to be washed before throwing them in the laundry. Yes, the kids’ clothes probably need to be washed after every wear. Your clothes? If you have an office job and don’t tend to sweat a lot or dribble food, you should be able to get more than a day out of your pants and shirts. Give them the sniff test and look them over carefully for stains.
- For any lights that tend to get left on a lot, consider replacing the bulbs with CFL bulbs next time they burn out. Personally, I’m a bit skeptical about CFLs, for various reasons. They don’t last nearly as long as their packages claim, meaning there’s little chance that, for most rooms, they save enough money to justify their much higher cost. Some of them also take a few minutes to warm up before they achieve full brightness, so you’re in a dim room for awhile after you turn on the light. They also tend to flicker when used in ceiling fan light fixtures – even the ones that say on the package that they’re made especially for ceiling fans. I’m still experimenting with where CFLs make sense, and reports of the death of incandescent bulbs have been greatly exaggerated.
- Use cold water in your clothes washer. I’ve washed in cold water for so long that I can’t recall when I made the switch. I don’t use any special laundry detergent, and I don’t understand the appeal of high-efficiency washers unless you pay a lot for your water service.
- If you use old Christmas lights, consider replacing them with newer ones, preferably LEDs, especially if you use multiple strings of lights and/or run them for several hours each day.
- Discourage long, hot showers. I don’t have the time for long showers and don’t understand the appeal of scalding water, but this can turn into a very expensive habit for those who do.
Both of the houses we’ve owned have had gas heat, gas water heaters and electric central air. Government research shows that natural gas is the cheapest method of home heating, followed by electricity, propane and oil, with oil costing two or three times what natural gas costs.