One of the appliances that I thought was in the ‘top 3’ hidden energy guzzlers, the clothes dryer, actually ended up using about the same amount of energy as my flat screen TV. That was a surprise. It would seem (to me) that the amount of energy required to generate the heat necessary to dry a load of clothes would be far greater than that needed to run a flat screen TV. Guess again. We figured our average monthly cost, when running 34 loads a month, to be $13.75. Not bad when you think about it. That’s the equivalent of a cup of Starbucks and a piece of banana nut loaf bread a week.
Our job here, however, is to see how we can reduce our energy expense, so here are some of the things we discovered that can reduce your clothes dryer expense considerably:
1. The ‘load:’ For some reason I have a tendency to pack my clothes dryer like luggage bound for Europe. I haven’t really stopped to think about it, but the inner logic may be that I’m getting more dry clothes for my money. Not true. I found that an over-loaded dryer costs more to operate. I also was told to separate the lightweight clothes from the heavier items and dry them separately. Here again, I would just dump everything in the dryer bin, turn it on for 45 minutes, walk away and let it roll. I found that drying the lighter items by themselves and turning the timer on for only 20 minutes resulted in most of the load being dry. In half the time. Putting the heavier clothes (towels, jeans, etc.) together and setting the time for 30 minutes gave us the same results. I ended-up with less wrinkles as well.
2. The lint screen: This is something that I’m pretty good about. I pull and clean the lint screen each time I use the dryer. I was told that dirty lint screens can cause a dryer to use up to 30 percent more energy-and it can be a fire hazard.
3. Outside exhaust: One thing I didn’t think about was to periodically check the outside exhaust filter. I was told to make sure that the cover fit tightly, so no cold air could leak in. Also, he recommended that I change my flexible vinyl duct with a metal one. Evidently, restricting the air flow can reduce the effectiveness of the dryer, and vinyl ducts have a tendency to get squashed. I went home, looked behind my dryer, and sure enough…my 6-inch ductwork was crunched into about half the size it’s supposed to be.
4. Moisture sensor: I had no idea what this was, or if I even had one. I was told to use it instead of a timed cycle. Interesting…some machines have a ‘moisture sensor option’ which automatically shuts off the machine when the clothes are dry. I went home and checked our dryer and, sure enough, we have one. Now..to figure out how to use it.
5. Spin option: How do these guys know so much about this stuff? If your clothes washer has spin options, choose a high spin speed or extended spin option to reduce the amount of remaining moisture, thus starting the drying process before you put your clothes in the dryer.
6. Solar clothes dryer: There’s always a wise-guy. I totally fell for it, asking him what a solar clothes dryer was. It’s a clothesline. He said that most people don’t need a dryer. They could save themselves the money and hang their clothes either outside (if the homeowners association permits) or inside on a rack. He seemed to think that clothes would last longer and look better, too.
He had some good suggestions that will save us enough money to pay for those weekly Starbucks visits. However, I just can’t see us hanging stuff around the house to dry….
When we first started looking for hidden energy guzzlers in our house I was asked to list (what I thought) were the top three energy guzzlers. Here’s what we listed:
1. Air conditioner – this was, in fact, the number one guzzler at $80 per month.
2. Clothes dryer – This was not as big a culprit as we thought. We’ll discuss this in our next blog.
3. Hot water heater – This was more expensive than I thought it was going to be, as you’ll see.
Our hot water heater is electric, is a 50 gallon tank, and is around 8 years old. We discovered that our average usage runs around 375 kilowatt hours per month. At $0.17 per KWH, that puts our monthly average at around $68.00 a month, which makes it the number two energy-guzzler in our house. I remember buying it based on one thing: its price tag. What I found was this:
Every appliance has two price tags. The first is the price you pay when you purchase the appliance (I went cheap). The second is the cost of operating the appliance over its lifetime. You might be surprised if you consider how much it costs to operate an appliance compared to what seemed to be a good deal when you purchased it. I thought I got a good deal, but found that I’m paying through the proverbial ‘nose’ each month.
The utility guy said that there are a number of things I could do, which included spending $500 on a new, energy efficient unit. Not being inclined in that direction, I asked what we could do to reduce the bill on the unit we have. Here’s a list of things that he suggested:
1. Repair leaky faucets & showerheads. He said to check the faucets and showers in all three bathrooms for leaks. A leak of one drip per second can cost $1 per month. This doesn’t sound like much, but can add-up.
2. This was interesting. He asked if we used hot water when running the garbage disposal. We always used hot water. He said to use cold water to operate the garbage disposal. Cold water use saves energy and is the recommendation of most disposal manufacturers. Didn’t know that.
3. When washing dishes by hand, he said to use a sink stopper or dishpan so water – hot or cold – doesn’t rush down the drain. Remember, too, that hot water running needlessly not only wastes water, but it wastes energy as well. This was news to us, since we often washed dishes by hand so as not to use the dishwasher (see last week’s blog).
4. Set our water heater to 120 degrees, which will produce plenty of hot water and still save energy. I ran down to the basement and saw that ours was set at 160 degrees, which I promptly changed.
5. Wrap your water heater with a water heater blanket, and insulate the pipes where we can. We got these ready-made foam tubes that worked well and were easy to cut-to-size. He said we’d save around 10% on our bill just by doing this.
6. Conserve hot water by installing water-saving showerheads.
7. Last, but not least, this was the big eye-opener. He said to put a timer on the heater that shut it down at night. Candidly, I didn’t buy this. I thought we’d be showering in cool water in the morning, which I wasn’t excited about. Not to worry, he said, because the water in the tank would still be warm, and it wouldn’t take much to heat it up. He said that by turning off the water heater for 8 hours each day, we could save as much as 30% on our bill. To prove it to us he brought us outside the house to where the electrical meter was. He asked us to watch the dial, which was spinning quite fast. He then went into the basement and flipped-off the breaker for the hot water heater. Amazing. The dial (which measures the kilowatts being used) slowed-down to half of the speed as when the heater was on.
His point was this: Why continue to heat water at 120 degrees when no one is using it? A well insulated tank will keep water warm for quite a while. So we put the heater on a timer and decided to turn it off from 11pm to 6am, and from 9am to 4pm, when we are away at work and school. That’s 14 hours that we won’t be heating water at 4500 watts. We also decided that there won’t be any more 20 minute showers. Sorry ladies…
In our first blog dealing with hidden energy guzzlers, we discovered how to save energy by cleaning the coils and checking to see that the refrigerator and freezer compartment seals were, in fact, sealing correctly…which they weren’t. I thought we were through with anything dealing with cooling or freezing. Not so fast, I was told…
My next discovery really falls into the “hidden” category because it’s one of those appliances that are described by the phrase: ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’ It’s our freezer. Not the little one over the refrigerator, but the big one in the garage. And…the one in the basement. Why have two freezers, you might ask? Good question. Especially since neither of them is full. Our thinking, upon reflection, was to have more freezer space for those periodic trips to Costco, when we found ourselves buying more stuff than our little freezer (above the refrigerator) could hold. However, we have never really filled both of these freezers. The big one in the garage is a 16 cubic feet upright and the one in the basement is a 7 cubic foot chest model.
By the way, I grew-up in a small community in northern Minnesota, where we used large freezers to store vegetables grown in the garden and for sides of beef or venison. As a kid I remember that someone was into the freezer almost every day. That’s just the way it was. Everyone had a freezer. But my life is different now. I don’t have a large garden where I grow my own vegetables. I don’t hunt large animals where I need to store hundreds of pounds of game. My only hunting is done at Costco and it just feels like we’re supposed to have one.
We have found that the foods we use most often go into the freezing unit of the refrigerator. When we run out of room there, we put the overflow into the 7 cubic foot freezer in the basement, which on any given day, is around ¾ full. The big one in the garage? Well… it’s ½ full of stuff that we rarely eat, but don’t feel right about throwing away. We might just need it someday. The reality is that we have thrown a lot of food away due to freezer burn.
Here’s what I discovered regarding the economics of having this extra freezer space in my life. At $0.17 per KWH, the large freezer is costing me around $24.00 a month. The small one is costing me around $12.00 a month. That’s $36.00 a month for freezing mostly air. We were told that the fuller a freezer is, the more efficient it is. We were also told to make sure the coils in the back of the freezer were clean. Another thing was to check for ice. Check for ice?? It’s a freezer! Of course there’s going to be ice! What he meant was this: If we had ¼ inch of ice in our freezer (which we did on the big one), it’s acting as an insulator and is causing the freezer to work harder and use more electricity. Talk about adding freezer insult to injury.
It was recommended that we get rid of one of the freezers. If we wanted to keep the big one, then make sure the empty space is filled with sturdy plastic jugs filled not quite to the top with water. If we decided to keep the small one, it would cost us less electricity, but we felt it might limit us in terms of space.
It’s amazing the clarity that can come with a bottle of wine and a pizza. We decided to get rid of the large freezer. Here’s why:
• It would cut our ‘extra’ freezer costs from $36 down to $12 a month
• It would free-up needed space in the garage.
• It would cause us to use more discretion when shopping at Costco, and buy only what we have room for.
• It would eliminate the waste of freezer-burnt food.
• The utility company offered to haul the big freezer away for free if we couldn’t sell it on Craig’s list.
Another $24 a month saved, plus garage space gained as well as some needed changes in our shopping habits. Who knew that our utilities energy efficiency ‘coach’ would turn-out to be a financial advisor as well.
So far, on our journey toward the reduction of unnecessary energy use, we have dealt with three of our ten energy guzzlers: the refrigerator, the flat-screen TV, and the air conditioner. This blog deals with an energy guzzler that, to me, came out of left field: the notorious swimming pool and hot tub filter pumps. No kidding. How often do you stop and consider just how much energy it takes to keep your pool and hot tub clean?
My answer? Never. That’s because we hardly use them, yet pay the same amount as if we were using them 7 days a week! Here’s how it breaks down for me:
• Swimming pool filter pump: Runs approximately 8 hours a day and costs me an average monthly cost of $37.00
• Hot Tub filter/pump: This is an older unit (115 volt) which is set at 100 degrees, and found that it is costing me $43.00 a month, even with an insulated cover. That’s in a warm climate.
So both units are running me around $77.00 a month. In the summer months we use the pool on a daily basis and rarely use the hot tub. In the winter months (gets down into the 40’s) we often use the hot tub but rarely use the pool. When we considered the “ROI” (return on investment) for these appliances, based on their usage, we decided to make some changes.
First of all, the hot tub. How can something so much smaller than the pool cost more to run?? I have a buddy who used an infra-red gun and showed me that heat is leaking out from my tub onto the deck. In other words, the deck lit-up. I’m unintentionally heating my outside deck. Upon inspection, we found that the Mickey-mouse insulation that originally came with the tub was mouse-fodder. He helped me take two-inch foam block and glued it to the insides of the tub housing, which made a huge difference in keeping the heat in. No more heating the deck.
We also decided to just shut-off the hot tub during the summer months. Finally, we were told when we did use the tub, to not leave the jets on unless we were using the tub. It seems that the jets like to inject COLD water into the tub which, in turn, needs to be heated. We think that we can shave around 50% off our hot tub energy bill.
Next, the pool. I found that running the pump 8 hours a day doesn’t significantly improve the cleanliness of my pool, but it does significantly increase my energy bill! I set my pump to run no more than 4 hours a day during the summer and we’re still trying to decide if we want to shut it off completely, or run it for only a couple of hours in the winter. Also, I have an older model, power-hungry, single-speed pump and am considering moving to one of the newer variable speed ones. I have found that the cost of the new pump would be well worth the investment, and along with shutting the pool down in the winter months, will save me around 40-50% of my annual pool bill.
So…if I can reduce this energy use by 40%, that’s a $30 monthly savings. I’d rather spend that on lunch after church one Sunday than give it to PG&E! Come to think of it…the money I will be able to save by reducing the energy usage of all 10 of these energy guzzlers could be enough to buy us lunch every Sunday!