Saving Electricity

markbarbieriJuly 4, 2006

I'm working on reducing my energy bills. I'm in Houston, so we've got a very warm climate. My gas bill is pretty low, so I'm not worried about it.

So far, I have done the following:

1) Added solar screens

2) Replaced incandescent bulbs with CFs

3) Reduced the pool pump run times

4) Set up the computers to shut off when not in use

5) Turn off laser printer except when in use

6) Increased upstairs temps during the times of day when we usually aren't up there.

7) Increased night time temps one degree

I'm working on:

1) Adding a radiant barrier in the attic

2) Sealing exterior and attic air leaks

3) Adding additional insulation in the attic

4) Replacing the main pool pump with a high efficency pump

5) Planting more plants near the house for shading

What else makes sense to do?

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We just got a white energy saver class roof .. wowzers - what a difference over the worn out light brown assFalt shrinkles. Roof bottom side is 110F highest right now that I've seen, averages prob around 96 - 105 on the bottom surface of the deck wood.

Added some gila heat control film from homedepot(70%solar heat gain rejection) on some larger N.facing windows - again, another wowzer. Shoot the temp of a hammer sitting on the windowsill in full sun after the film .. 1/2 degree temp rise over my the a/c' ambient. Probably ouchie hot without the film.

Power bill said something like 'This bill, You've used 32 kwh average per day, last yr same period, 54 kwh avd.

Cost per kwh was .085 cents last yr - the past few months with the fuel surcharge it has been averaging 13 cents per kwh. Thats a Big Jump, so I need to save all I can too. Fixing to take apart some wall siding and add foil insulation after reading of its goodness's.

Just ordered some ceramic white paint. I might have an opinion on that soon .. light beigh stucco on block wall now with sun on it was 110F today at 5p. That's the highest I've seen it but 100+ is norm when suns on it. Block will be 90 degrees still at midnite. 'Mass Heat Storage' That one wall keeps the a.c cycling all nite ;(

Might buy yourself one of the non contact temp guns... Maybe that $60 will show you a lot of things to work on. Fun and scary too.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 7:46PM
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Great job! When we lived in North Carolina we installed a large attic fan to pull the hot air out of the house at night and pull the cool air in. During the day we kept all the windows closed, and this night cooling meant we didn't need to turn on our air conditioners so early during the day.

We also painted our roof with white reflective paint, which made a significant difference. Have done this here near San Diego as well.

By solar screens do you mean something that keeps sun from coming in the windows? If not, I'd suggest putting up curtains or blinds for the windows that get direct sun and keeping them closed during the day.

Can you install a solar electric system? We have that on our house now, and at the moment the electric company owes us about $150! At the end of the year, if they owe us money they get to keep it, if we owe them money we pay them. We anticipate that with tax rebates it should pay for itself in about 10 years.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2006 at 7:56PM
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A few more tips:

- Call your electric company and ask if they offer a load-reduction discount. Up here Xcel Energy/Northern States Power/Minnegasco/whoever offer something called a "Saver's Switch" -- in exchange for being able to remotely cut the power to your central A/C for a few minutes every hour during peak times, they give you a 15% break on your entire electric bill during the summer. Not a bad deal for electrical savings you never really feel. :-)

- You also can ask your electric company (or hire someone independent) to do an energy audit. A lot of it will be old news to you, but they should include something called a "blower test," which will let you know if there are any leaks which you can address to prevent the loss of cool air (or warm air, if that ever applies where you live :-) )

- Watch "phantom load" -- almost every electrical device (and especially AC adapter) that is plugged in draws some current. If whatever the plug is connected to is not on, then you're wasting current as heat. Try to unplug things like mobile-phone rechargers, that cassette player you never use anymore, etc. It likely won't be a huge savings, but it helps.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2006 at 2:58PM
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I made "window quilts" for all our windows last winter and it certainly helped keep the cold out. I've recently moved, so I'm sure the new homeowner is enjoying them keeping the heat out, as well. You can Google for instructions on how to make window quilts.

For a heat source, we've converted to a Sun Cloud Infrared heater for all but the coldest days. We only used our furnace 14 days last winter (and 5 of those days were while we were away and HAD to keep the gas-fueled furnace on in case of cold weather to protect the water pipes) and it gets plenty cold here in central Kansas. The Sun Cloud is supposed to cost about $1 per day, and our bills would agree with that. Comparing our gas/electric bills, Nov.-March, to the neighbors (who lived in the exact same townhouse floorplan), we saved enough on our bills to more than pay for the Sun Cloud in just one season. The Sun Cloud is safe to use around children/pets.

One note - we keep our furnace fan on all the time. It helps to keep the ambient air temperature fairly even in all rooms that are heated/air conditioned and it's easier on the fan.

I also try to cook as much as possible in my Tulsi-Hybrid Solor Oven. So far, it's been a VERY good investment. I've made everything from soup to nuts in it. Anything you'd make in crock pot or oven you can cook in the solar oven. I even make our toasted almonds in it (hence the "to nuts").

I heat "wash-up" water in an electric kettle and use a small plastic tub for this purpose, rather than filling a large sink full of water. It takes about 3-5 cups of hot water - plus some cold - to do a few dishes or clean up after a meal. At our house, the hot water heater is in the basement and it takes the water awhile to get to the kitchen. All that cold water usually goes down the drain. In the meantime, cold water displaces the hot water in the hot water tank, so it kicks on to heat the water back up to temperature - so more wasted energy. I'll also add that an electric kettle has been proven to use less energy than a kettle on a stove top, and heats water faster than either the stove top or a microwave. We've also learned we can wash our hands in cold water and it doesn't kill us.


    Bookmark   July 5, 2006 at 9:12PM
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We moved to Houston last year.

I switched out the lights to CF, put covers on the recessed lights, window film on the south-west side of the house, 6" more insulation in the attic and sealed all the air leaks I could find.

Our gas usage is 1/3 the previous home owners, our electric is almost as low as a zero energy home. ( zero energy homes in Houston avg 4kwh * sqft ~12,000 year for my home, I'm at 4.5 kwh*sqft now )

The washer/dryer/dishwasher are new and energy eff. The fridge is the original from 92 as are both ac units and heaters. I expect as they go and we replace them we'll get below the 4kwh mark.

Air sealing will give you the most return on your money. The window film was amazing, I could feel the temperature drop as I was filming the window. The light covers can be bought on line, google 'recessed light trim kit' and you'll find lots of options. They look much nicer with the glass lenses too.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 3:40PM
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Mark Barbien,

When you spoke of sealing exterior and attic air leaks, I assume that you meant air moving from the attic to the living area.

You want your attic to be well ventilated in summer - for if it isn't and you've been up there, you know that it becomes like an oven.

Some ventiltors at the peak and some means of air movement in the (soffits? - the horizontal part between the wall and the lower end of the roof). Plus, sometimes, some vents in the gables, if necessary.

Good wishes for keeping the super-hot air out of the attic (in summer, that is).

ole joyful

    Bookmark   July 6, 2006 at 8:19PM
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You've done a lot so far. There's also the other savings resulting from a lifestyle change. Live with it a touch cooler/warmer depending on the season. Turn off the oven a while before you take the food out and let the residual heat continue to cook. Don't oven peep. Use the grill outdoors to keep cooking heat out of the house when a/c is running. Cook more than one meal at a time in the oven. Don't stand staring into the refrigerator/freezer for 10 minutes deciding on a snack. Check the frig/freezer gaskets for leaks. As people hang on doors and yank on them, the doors can twist and a lot of cold air can be lost. You may need to adjust it a bit. (Made an incredible difference on mine). And clean those coils and your dryer vent! Instead of leaving the coffee pot on while you drink your coffee, pour it into a thermos and turn off the coffeemaker. Hang a load of clothes on occasion rather than always using the dryer. Also cut the time a bit and let things be slightly damp. Hang them up and let them finish drying. If you're just going into the bathroom to wash your hands, do you really need to turn on the lights? Etc, etc.

Then there's the other attitude change. As you look around, think "do I need three clocks in this room or would just one suffice?" "Now that Billy is 38 years old, could he get along without the nightlights?" Keeping the thought in front of you helps you focus.

None of these are gangbuster savers (except perhaps a leaking seal on a freezer) in and of themselves. But they all add up.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 4:15AM
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I'm in Houston too and have suffered huge bills as well. Last summer my highest bill was $630.00. Two story house with a horrible design and a pool. Even with 2 units, the upstairs was nothing more than a heat trap. I bought decent floor fans for the bedrooms upstairs, kept my ac at 78 to 80+ (depending on how mad I was at our electrical provider at the moment) and was able to cut my bill down to $257.00 the following month. An amazing difference.

This year, my April bill (an unusually hot month) came in at a shocking $400.00! I got back on my program with the floor fans and raised the temp upstairs and received another shock LOL. $112.00 for May 06!!!! I've NEVER had a bill under $200.00.

Sleeping with a floor fan blowing across the bed was hard in the beginning but now it is like a security blanket.... LOVE THEM. Love the breeze and the soft noise. Keeps you soooo cool at night.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2006 at 9:20AM
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I definitely agree that the attic should be well ventilated. I am working on air leakage from the house into the attic. I took the prior suggestion and bought a temp gun. I quickly discovered that the recessed lights in my ceiling leak horribly. I'll replace them with IC fixtures and make sure they are sealed properly.

We're making many small lifestyle changes. I'm using the power meter to tell me which are relevant. For example, I've learned that all of my phone chargers, remote chargers, and battery chargers used a COMBINED 1 watt when at idle. That's just not something I'm going to worry about. On the other hand my color laser printer was gulping 30 watts at idle, so it is now turned off when not in use.

We already use ceiling fans, so I don't think floor fans would help.

I'll also be a lot more aware of power consumption when buying appliances. I noticed that one of my computers uses 60 watts at idle while another much slower computer uses almost twice that.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2006 at 11:04PM
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Wow, I'm definitely turning off my 24/7 ready to go printers LOL. Amazing!

mark, I too have 52" ceiling fans in each room, however, they just don't seem to get the air close enough to me - high ceilings everywhere. Even the couple of 8' ceilings don't cut it. The amount of breeze produced by a decent floor fan right next to the bed is incredible. Trust me, it makes all the difference in the world. My bills prove it!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 8:05AM
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Somewhere out there in net land reads that if you're not in the room to feel the benefits of the ceiling fan air movement across your body , turn off that ceiling fan as its just wasting power and generating added heat for the ac to deal with. Makes sense.

I've gotten in the habit of cooking with pots on the smallest burner even if a bigger pot,, with a top on it. Didn't use tops hardly at all in the past.
My standard boil for 7-10 minutes frozen mixed veggies used to take half dial to simmer once it reached boil - now with a top they simmer almost too much at Warm, the lowest dial setting on electric range. Saves some power and keeps the humidity down, contains that steam heat too for lower ac consumption. Soon as I'm done i rush to cool the pot & top under the sink water... so I'm wasting some bucks there but think cheap bucks compared.

Keep whacking off nice chunks of daily kwh's here without much extra efforts.

Just made an evaporative cooler, free of cost - amazing it works a bit. Box fan blowing across a damp dish towel suspended above one of the rectangular hospital plastic sponge bath things. Set it on top of two big deli containers so the towel wicks water up from the hospital container ... floor temp right next to it was 83F, same temp everywhere else in here too, the towel is 77 degrees and 10 feet away a white chunk of cardboard has had lowered temps everytime I check. (waitn on fedders warrantee man, bum fan motor)

    Bookmark   July 10, 2006 at 9:40PM
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mikie, I've heard that a number of times this year. The energy experts say to turn them off when *not using them personally*. It makes sense too. My six ceiling fans went silent real quick! I'm sure their motors appreciated it as I use to run them 24/7.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2006 at 8:59AM
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It's true. Ceiling fans don't cool the air, they just move it. The cooling effect comes from having air blow over your skin. That helps moisture evaporate from your skin. It is that evaporation that removes heat from your body. So if you aren't their, the fan just moves the air around for no good reason.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2006 at 7:36PM
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If you get a thermal blanket for your water heater (about $20) it can pay for itself in a hurry. My electric bill went down about $10 a month when I installed one.

While you're at it, you can lower the thermostat on the water heater.

This assumes, of course, that your water heater is electric. If its gas, it won't help your Kwh a bit... but you'll save gas.

If you have yard security lights, you can get compact florescents for those too. They're on all night long, so the savings on those is noticeable. Also, you can get a solar switch so they don't turn on before sundown and turn off as soon as the sun is up, to reduce the time that they're on at all.

I have an air conditioning unit from 1996 which was an 11 SEER and upgrading to a 2006 model 14 SEER would save me about $20 a month. If you have a '92 its probably 10 SEER so you'd save about $30 a month or so right there. Now, that AC unit will set you back about $4K to $5K, so I wouldn't buy a new one solely in the name of saving electricity, but if it goes out you'll have an opportunity to get a much more efficient one.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 5:19PM
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Our water heaters aren't much of any issue. They are gas. They are turned down to 120 already. This time of the year, they don't do much work at all because attic and pipes are so hot. My problem in the evening is getting cool enough water for the shower.

Our AC units are only about 3 years old but they are the worst possible models that meet code. I have a secret hope that they'll die so that I can replace them with something much better. I'm quite curious about the water cooled units. I'm just not convinced that they would be effective in such a humid climate.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2006 at 6:34PM
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I, too, had a large electric bill for the summer months. This year, I cut back on the AC. Now, what I do is, after shutting off the AC, I have a standing fan that I turn on and let that ciculate the cool air. My August bill came down $23, not that much, but, better in my pocket than the electric companys.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2006 at 2:01PM
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My oil furnace in the basement, including tank and chimney, needs to have an environmental risk assessment before they'll deliver any more oil. Test valid for 10 years.

In the summer when it was hot, I removed a cover on the air circualtion chamber to allow the fan to pull in cool basement air.

Late in the afternoon or in the early evening of an especially hot day I would turn on the furnace fan, letting it push relatively cool basement air up into the house.

As warm house air was moving down into the basement, where it would be cooled somewhat, its relative humidity would go up, so quite likely it made the dehumidifier work longer. I need a dehumidifier to save some goods from molding and rusting in the summer when air entering the basement and being cooled can't hold all of the moisture that it's carrying, so deposits some of it as condensation on goods stored in the there.

I have a couple of room air conditioners, one of which I know doesn't work. I haven't installed the other as I don't have a place to install it easily.

I guess that I should use it or sell it, as their seals dry out when they aren't used, allowing the refrigerant liquid to escape, rendering them useless.

Hope you're all having a great summer.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   August 26, 2006 at 2:29PM
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One of those little sources of energy use which adds up is transformers which convert household current to something less for telephones, radios, etc. If they are constantly warm, they are constantly drawing current. Put them on a switched outlet or unplug them when you you aren't using them.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2006 at 3:42PM
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