So, you've had a whole house energy monitor installed at your home - and now it's time to save energy, right?
Your first bill comes in and there's not much change in your energy consumption. It's weird, since it FEELS like you're saving more. You recall the times you glanced over at the monitor, noticing you're a hundred watts over your baseline and searched out the unattended lights left on.
Don’t worry, the problem isn’t with you! Although the instant gratification of seeking out and eliminating wasteful sources of electricity is encouraged and helps you get engaged with your consumption, your energy monitor can do a whole lot more!
Let’s take a look at the big picture…
Say your average daily usage is 20kwh (this can be found on your electric bill). During that daily average, let’s say you’re able to catch a few lights left on, which was wasteful for an hour or two. To make this point, we’ll say you have 60w incandescent bulbs. You just saved 180watthours of energy. So, how do affect the rest of your daily 19.820kwh?
A word of caution, you will need to invest some time to take your energy savings to the next level. However, this could be a fun activity that you can get the whole family to participate with.
We need to tackle 2 aspects of your energy consumption: 1) reducing your baseline by at least 25%, and 2) addressing the top 3-5 energy hogs that you most frequently turn on.
#1. Your energy baseline is the power demand of your home when your activity is at its minimum. A good time to check this number is right before you go to sleep (Note: make sure you are aware if your refrigerator’s compressor is humming when you take the reading). This number is composed of devices and appliances that need passive power to maintain things like clocks, timers, memory, or constant operations, such as your phone, alarm, and internet router. Also included with this number are phantom loads and improperly calibrated devices that are inefficiently costing you money each month. Small loads of power over long periods of time can make a significant impact on your bill. The 2,400 watt microwave may have that 'wow' factor, but give the 60 watt porch bulb enough time and it'll consume more energy!
- Remove phantom loads by unplugging unused powerstrips, removing charging stations when devices are fully charged and investing in smart-strips, which help deliberately cut off phantom energy.
- Check your appliance manual for recommend settings, such as temperature or sleep/energy saver modes. If you have an extensive entertainment center, a smart-strip would help consolidate powering down all your devices at once. (see the great Kanu video posting on power strips!)
Revisit your baseline number, then rinse & repeat until you are comfortable with this passive consumption. Think about this: When your whole house is empty for an extended period of time (ie a trip or vacation), this baseline represents the minimum electricity your home will be eating up while no one is there and nothing is being 'used'. Measure your comfort level with that.
Now, don't go overboard, either. Every home is bound to have energy loss and unless you want no hot water or spoiling refrigerator food, you're going to have to live with some baseline energy level. Even older household wiring can amplify usage. The main goal here is to be aware of what makes up your baseline and remove what you don't need or want.
#2. There is no official definition for an "energy hog", but let's quantify it as inefficient equipment that powers on with (or because of) activity. Most typical hogs in Hawaii homes are electric water heaters, A/C units, DVRs and older TVs, refrigerators, dryers and computers.
Let's go over how to identify your Top Hogs (that's kind of a catchy name). We're going to cut the power to your home, so find some time to make sure you're not upsetting anyone else in your house.
- Switch off all your circuit breakers (if your load center legend is faded or missing, now would be a good time to keep a pen handy). You may need to leave on the one breaker if your energy monitor is powered by your panel. If you have a battery powered one, shut everything off. Your monitor and outside meter reading should be 0.
- Begin switching individual breakers on and walk over to the area that is being powered (kitchen, hallway, bathroom, etc).
- If you have significant readings from a circuit being on, but you haven't started switching any equipment on, then it's time to start unplugging things from the wall. Get a good handle on what contributes to the passive reading.
- One at a time, turn on and off each powered equipment in that area and mark down the energy monitor readings (with that pen you grabbed).
- Not everything will have a 'switch' and you may need to get creative to induce it to turn 'on'. If your refrigerator is not humming, then you may need to open the door to help trigger a temperature drop. The same thing goes for your water heater and A/C (if the room is cool enough, only the fan will be powered). Equipment with multiple stages, such as a dishwasher, don't use energy consistently, which may require a little patience in collecting multiple readings to get a good sense of its behavior.
From this, you should be able to develop a good picture of your home energy profile. Now, you can rank your highest sources of energy consumption! Keep in mind the difference between power an energy when ranking your equipment. Take into account duration and frequency of use.
Another important thing to think about when addressing your equipment, appliances or devices is this: How can I adjust my routines to make my home more efficient? Energy hogs are greatly affected by HOW you use them. Of course, getting more efficient equipment works as well, but I'd like to make the assumption of working within current means; Doing a whole home makeover is not the universally feasible option.
- Are there doors or windows you can close to allow your A/C to work easier?
- Are you able to maintain a comfortable temperature with fresh air?
- Are you using 'economy' and energy saving modes on equipment that offer it?
- Is the appliance or equipment the right size for its current use?
- Is it feasible to reduce food storage and eliminate the need for an extra refrigerator/freezer?
- Can you coordinate showers so the water heater doesn’t need to kick on multiple times during the night?
Check out my other article about appliances to learn more about specific Energy Hogs and how to 'tame' them.
Take some (or all) of these steps and you will likely see a more significant reduction in your energy bill! More importantly, you will equip yourself with a powerful ally - awareness and educated about how things operate in and around your home.