Hidden Energy-Guzzlers #9: Where your money is really going

Uncategorized May 09, 2013 1 Comment

I don’t know if you have a similar issue, but keeping a consistent level of warmth in all of the rooms of our house is a problem. Our house is around 3500 sq. feet, and has four bedrooms on the upper level. The thermostat is located in the center of the second floor, in the hallway. I can set it at 78 degrees and it keeps the main floor and the middle of the second floor pretty-much at that temperature. The problem is that two of the bedrooms, which are located at the far end of the house, always feel cold in the winter. We felt that turning up the heat in order to keep those rooms warmer wasn’t a wise thing to do, since it might drive our heating bill through the proverbial ceiling, so we opted for getting a couple of electric space heaters for these rooms. Bad idea. Here’s why: kids live in these rooms.

We bought 1500 watt heaters with automatic temperature regulators (for obvious reasons-kids) with the idea that a portable heater would be a great way to ‘take the chill’ off the morning. We also thought that the kids would be vigilant about turning them off in the mornings when they left for school. Wrong again. What we didn’t think about was that these thermostatically controlled heaters would automatically turn on again when the room got cold, which it did during the day. Once the temperature of the room reached a certain temperature, the heater would shut down. The kids just forgot to turn them off, because they didn’t ‘hear’ them running.

Our energy consultant asked us if we had portable heaters and asked us why we thought they were a better idea than turning up the heat. Of course, we thought it was going to be a cheaper way to bring heat to those cold rooms. He asked us if we knew how much they actually cost us to operate. We didn’t really have a clue. Here’s the reality of how much these things cost to run: At $.17 a KWH a 1500 watt portable heater running three hours a day costs around $23.00 a month to operate. Take that times two and we were looking at $46.00 a month, just to ‘take the chill’ off. Amazing what escapes us. That’s if they only ran the three hours. I could just see the heaters kicking-on-and-off-again throughout the day…with no one home. Add this additional amount to what we paid for the heaters and we felt like idiots.

O.K… so what were we to do? The rooms were still going to be cold if we didn’t do something.
Our issue was not wanting to increase our heating bill by turning up the furnace, but we didn’t want the additional $46.00 or more added to our heating bill, either. He told us that the ductwork in our house, because of the size, didn’t have the capacity to bring the needed heat to those out-lying rooms. If we turned up the heat, the rooms in the center of the house got warmer-too warm for us-even though the cold rooms did warm-up. Besides that, the additional heat seemed to want to kill these great fern plants that we have on the second story landing.

Our guy suggested something that did, in fact, work for us. In order to compensate for the inconsistent heat flow we could spend more money for a higher output furnace (which we weren’t going to do), or we could do the following (which we did):
• Select the temperature range on the thermostat that brought enough heat into the cooler rooms in order for them to be comfortable.
• In the rooms in the center of the house, close the heat registers so they would be less affected by the additional heat and subsequently, force more heat into the cooler rooms. We had to play with this a little in order to get the right balance, but it worked.
• Take the portable heaters out of the room and sell them on Craig’s list, which we did.

After a couple of months we noticed a couple of things:
• Our always-cold daughters stopped complaining about their rooms being cold.
• The overall house temperature seemed more balanced and comfortable.
• The increase in our heating bill increased only by around $20.00 a month-half of what we were unknowingly paying to heat those rooms.
• The ferns aren’t dying.
It’s amazing when one thinks about the concept of Hidden energy guzzlers. They really are hidden, and that’s what makes them so insidious when it comes to the impact that they have on our wallets. I have nothing against energy companies. I want to pay my fair share. Truth is, however, that I’d rather save what I can and spend it on something I enjoy. I figured that, with the amount of money we were going to save by being more energy efficient, I could eventually buy a new sea kayak. That didn’t go over all that well…

Hidden Energy-Guzzlers Part 7: Where your money is really going

Uncategorized Apr 25, 2013 No Comments

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…