Author Topic: Using Utilities More Efficiently  (Read 5560 times)

lithy

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Using Utilities More Efficiently
« on: October 07, 2013, 12:57:20 PM »
I tried to do some searching and can't come up with any similar topics.  This might get a little rambly because I don't think I fully understand what I need to look at and because of that, my thoughts aren't cohesive.

Recently I have been analyzing our utility bills, this was spurred by the fantastic thread Garbage Arbitrage.  It got me thinking, if vern could pay for a year's worth of garbage for what I pay in a month, what else can I reduce.

We budget for what I feel like is a reasonably frugal, yet not hardcore $200/month to cover our gas, electric, water, sewer, and garbage.

But I began to drill down further.  One thing began to hit me, we will pay about $600 for natural gas this year.  But wait, in fact we will only pay $400 in the gas and gas supply costs, the other $200 is from the gas simply being available to our house even if I don't use a single therm.  Reducing our usage is great, but it has now become frustrating to see 33% of our bill consumed by a fixed cost.

So I began to brainstorm about longer term options.  The only two gas appliances we currently have are forced air heat and a gas water heater.

The furnace is up there in age, so I thought about electric heat as a future replacement option, and getting a solar or possibly electric on demand water heater, and simply turning off the gas. 

Everything I can find to read suggests that I'm going to spend more on electricity than the comparative gas by going this route.  Is this true?  Because I could still pay $100 more for this option and come out ahead with the $200 for the gas connection fee, how would I go about converting my gas heating needs to electric and then doing an appropriate cost analysis for comparison?

Maybe the better option is that when the time comes to replace the dryer and stove, to replace them with natural gas instead of electric, balancing our use between both electric and gas bills.  If gas is more efficient for these appliances this might also make sense.  Any input on this as a possible solution is appreciated as well.

Thanks in advance if you chose to read this and for any advice.

RoseRelish

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2013, 02:48:45 PM »
Power plants burn gas to produce the marginal unit of electricity, which is then lost (to some extent) while travelling on the power lines.

Gas is much more efficient to transport and while your appliances aren't as efficient as a power plant, they're solid. If you could cut gas out altogether and avoid the fixed conneciton fee, the math may change - but I'd use as much gas as I could...especially where you live in PA. At times this summer gas had a negative price in the region.

Only renewable energy (wind/solar) would make using electric everything better. But they're too darn expensive to build to compete with gas at these prices.

gimp

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2013, 02:53:16 PM »
Yep, gas is generally cheaper than electric. But occasionally it flip-flops when gas is really high and your plant burns other things. Especially if it's nuclear, which is awesome, or if wind/solar + subsidies, or hydro.

mustacheme

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2013, 02:54:09 PM »
You might try asking your gas company to prove out the comparison to electricity in your region. I would think they probably have some sort of data put together on that that they use to encourage people to select gas when building and renovating.

Jamesqf

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2013, 02:58:01 PM »
AFAIK, the only way you might get more efficient heating with electric than gas is with a ground-source heat pump.  (Often miscalled "geothermal".) 

Solar space & water heating might be an option, even in Pennsylvania, but it's going to depend on your site & house.  The one thing you almost certainly can do is replace your electric clothes dryer with a solar one - AKA clothesline.

theSchmett

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2013, 03:36:58 PM »
Electricity also has generation and delivery fees,  on my bill (jcpl in NJ) it is calc'd per kWh delivered. So if gas is a fixed fee, consider replacing the electric with gas as electric scales up with use and using gas gets less expensive per therm.

If it means replacing an appliance though, its probably not worth the investment except in the case of an electric dryer or hot water heater (and yours is already gas). Maybe an electric stove if yours is older and less efficient.

DIYRooftopSolar

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2013, 04:02:32 PM »
I'm throwing my vote towards replacing your gas appliances with electric and generating your own electricity with solar panels.  Here's some information on how we've eliminated our household electric utility bill:

http://diyrooftopsolar.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/eliminate-your-electric-bill/

Only renewable energy (wind/solar) would make using electric everything better. But they're too darn expensive to build to compete with gas at these prices.

Solar has become surprisingly reasonable in recent years and if you're using cost comparison data from before 2012, it is completely out-dated.  Here is a peek at our costs in 2010 how much prices have since dropped:

http://diyrooftopsolar.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/sizing-your-solar-panel-system/

daverobev

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2013, 04:13:11 PM »
We spent about $600 on gas last year, plus a couple of hundred for delivery. It's fair - the gas company has to employ people year round, not just in the winter; putting pipelines in is expensive; and so on. It would arguably be less fair to lump all that in to the cost of gas - though certainly beneficial to the smaller users like me.

The least expensive option is likely to be 'do nothing'. We just had our furnace looked at and the guy recommended replacement - "oh, this kind of furnace gets 50% efficiency maybe, and it's the reason these companies went out of business" - there is nothing to *break* - it has cast iron burners and a fan, that's it! (Well, he's replacing the thermocouple and one other small part, but that's minor).

$7k to replace the furnace, to save *tops* $300 a year in gas. Ain't gonna happen.

We have an electric hot water tank and, here too, the best option is to do nothing.

Turning off the gas will mean your winter electric bills are horrific, PLUS you have to pay for all the new electric heaters (in Ontario and Quebec I think they are a few hundred dollars each - people use them in QC more because electric is dirt cheap and there is less infrastructure for gas - at least in the places we looked).

With solar if there are good subsidies and it is a money maker do it - absolutely - but don't think your 4kW system will keep your house warm in the winter! Each heater is more than 1kW - think how much your furnace runs! (Well - ok, I don't know where you are, but if it's cold - ours runs maybe 1/3 the time). Say 1/3 of every hour for 3 months, multiplied by 6 heaters = 2kW per hour, 24 hours a day (note: these numbers are huge guesses!).

People don't do it. People get oil tanks and furnaces in rural places - because it's cheaper. AFAIK nobody goes gas to electric. The monthly charge for gas is a pain but... better than electric!

teen persuasion

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #8 on: October 08, 2013, 10:25:18 AM »
We spent about $600 on gas last year, plus a couple of hundred for delivery. It's fair - the gas company has to employ people year round, not just in the winter; putting pipelines in is expensive; and so on. It would arguably be less fair to lump all that in to the cost of gas - though certainly beneficial to the smaller users like me.

The least expensive option is likely to be 'do nothing'. We just had our furnace looked at and the guy recommended replacement - "oh, this kind of furnace gets 50% efficiency maybe, and it's the reason these companies went out of business" - there is nothing to *break* - it has cast iron burners and a fan, that's it! (Well, he's replacing the thermocouple and one other small part, but that's minor).

$7k to replace the furnace, to save *tops* $300 a year in gas. Ain't gonna happen.

We have an electric hot water tank and, here too, the best option is to do nothing.

Turning off the gas will mean your winter electric bills are horrific, PLUS you have to pay for all the new electric heaters (in Ontario and Quebec I think they are a few hundred dollars each - people use them in QC more because electric is dirt cheap and there is less infrastructure for gas - at least in the places we looked).

With solar if there are good subsidies and it is a money maker do it - absolutely - but don't think your 4kW system will keep your house warm in the winter! Each heater is more than 1kW - think how much your furnace runs! (Well - ok, I don't know where you are, but if it's cold - ours runs maybe 1/3 the time). Say 1/3 of every hour for 3 months, multiplied by 6 heaters = 2kW per hour, 24 hours a day (note: these numbers are huge guesses!).

People don't do it. People get oil tanks and furnaces in rural places - because it's cheaper. AFAIK nobody goes gas to electric. The monthly charge for gas is a pain but... better than electric!

Had to chime in here about oil tanks in rural places.  In the past oil was cheaper; now it is not.  We have oil out in the boonies because we don't have natural gas.  I just did my annual pre-buy of oil for the winter and it was about $3k!  When we had to replace the old furnace in our house less 15 years ago, oil was .69/gallon.  Now it is ~$4/gallon.

Spork

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2013, 10:30:08 AM »
If it means replacing an appliance though, its probably not worth the investment except in the case of an electric dryer or hot water heater (and yours is already gas). Maybe an electric stove if yours is older and less efficient.

For what it's worth:  I have heard multiple fire fighters proclaim the gas dryer as the single most dangerous home appliance.  If I were replacing (and not using a clothes line) I would still stick with electric even with the higher cost of usage. 

nawhite

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2013, 11:57:33 AM »
We actually are in a 5 year plan to ditch the gas line altogether. We also pay the surcharge for renewable energy from our utility (cost per KWh goes from 10.8 cents to ~13 cents). Kind of an unofficial goal to minimize our carbon footprint but the cost savings are similar to your situation.

The most important item to make this decision to ditch gas work is to use heat-pumps instead of electric heaters. Generally with an electric heater you put in 1 watt of electricity and you get 1 watt of heating out of it. In most places in this situtation gas will be MUCH cheaper per watt of heat.

A heat pump on the other hand uses electricity to move heat from one place to another like a reverse AC. With systems that are installed correctly, if you put in 1 watt of electricity you will get 2-9 watts of heat moved into your house. (Air source heat pumps generally get between 2-5 watts and ground source heat pumps are more arount 4-9 watts per watt of electricity). At that rate, converting electricity into heat is much much more cost competitive with gas.

Heat pumps do have trouble when it gets really cold outside (under about 14 degrees F) so you'll need some auxillary heater in those cases. Some systems use electric heaters, while in our house we have a pellet stove for those really cold times.

Next for the water heater, the same higher cost of heating with electricity vs gas hit us but we realized that we could minimize this issue by using front-loading washing machines, usually just cold water to wash clothes, and getting low flow shower heads. By decreasing our hot water needs, we were able to minimize the impact of paying more for electrically heated hot water. We'll be getting an on demand electric water heater when ours dies in a couple years.

daverobev

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2013, 03:42:31 PM »
We spent about $600 on gas last year, plus a couple of hundred for delivery. It's fair - the gas company has to employ people year round, not just in the winter; putting pipelines in is expensive; and so on. It would arguably be less fair to lump all that in to the cost of gas - though certainly beneficial to the smaller users like me.

The least expensive option is likely to be 'do nothing'. We just had our furnace looked at and the guy recommended replacement - "oh, this kind of furnace gets 50% efficiency maybe, and it's the reason these companies went out of business" - there is nothing to *break* - it has cast iron burners and a fan, that's it! (Well, he's replacing the thermocouple and one other small part, but that's minor).

$7k to replace the furnace, to save *tops* $300 a year in gas. Ain't gonna happen.

We have an electric hot water tank and, here too, the best option is to do nothing.

Turning off the gas will mean your winter electric bills are horrific, PLUS you have to pay for all the new electric heaters (in Ontario and Quebec I think they are a few hundred dollars each - people use them in QC more because electric is dirt cheap and there is less infrastructure for gas - at least in the places we looked).

With solar if there are good subsidies and it is a money maker do it - absolutely - but don't think your 4kW system will keep your house warm in the winter! Each heater is more than 1kW - think how much your furnace runs! (Well - ok, I don't know where you are, but if it's cold - ours runs maybe 1/3 the time). Say 1/3 of every hour for 3 months, multiplied by 6 heaters = 2kW per hour, 24 hours a day (note: these numbers are huge guesses!).

People don't do it. People get oil tanks and furnaces in rural places - because it's cheaper. AFAIK nobody goes gas to electric. The monthly charge for gas is a pain but... better than electric!

Had to chime in here about oil tanks in rural places.  In the past oil was cheaper; now it is not.  We have oil out in the boonies because we don't have natural gas.  I just did my annual pre-buy of oil for the winter and it was about $3k!  When we had to replace the old furnace in our house less 15 years ago, oil was .69/gallon.  Now it is ~$4/gallon.

Please confirm - I was meaning that oil is cheaper than heating by electric. I know natural gas is cheaper than oil. Are you saying it's now cheaper to use electric than oil?

seattlecyclone

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2013, 06:45:08 PM »
I have also considered replacing the gas furnace with electric in the long term. In Seattle almost all of our electricity comes from hydroelectric dams and is quite a bit cheaper than the US average. The gas company charges us about $11/month in fixed costs even in the summer months when we use no gas. That fee is low enough that paying to replace our perfectly good gas furnace probably doesn't pencil out, but I will definitely consider an electric replacement if our current furnace fails.

theSchmett

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2013, 04:27:53 AM »
I've heard that dryers in general are dangerous, particularly if the lint trap and vent don't get cleaned on a regular basis. It stands to reason than any gas appliance has an explosive element not associated wth electric appliances, but I hadn't heard it specifically with gas - I'll have to ask a local firefighter.

It does make me wonder if home owners insurance would go up b/c of a gas dryer.


Spork

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Re: Using Utilities More Efficiently
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2013, 08:05:23 AM »
I've heard that dryers in general are dangerous, particularly if the lint trap and vent don't get cleaned on a regular basis. It stands to reason than any gas appliance has an explosive element not associated wth electric appliances, but I hadn't heard it specifically with gas - I'll have to ask a local firefighter.

It does make me wonder if home owners insurance would go up b/c of a gas dryer.

I think the lint that gets past the trap is the seriously dangerous stuff.  I.e.: the stuff from the trap to the final exit.  I've yet to see any dryer that traps 100% even when the trap is cleaned out with each load.  You end up with an exhaust system full of very fluffy, very dry stuff.  Often these vents run inside walls.  Add flame:  whoosh.