Author Topic: Utilities Help  (Read 4344 times)

Rebecca Stapler

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Utilities Help
« on: June 07, 2013, 11:49:18 AM »
Our utility bill has averaged $175/mo over the last year, which includes the fluctuations in deep winter and deep summer (yay northeast weather!) After some input from Mustachians, I have looked around and seen places to trim the fat that are easy -- like shutting off fans and lights when not in use and using a Kill-A-Watt to evaluate our energy-sucking devices.

I have a few specific questions about lowering our utility bill, and also am seeking advice generally on things we can do. So, if I didn't ask it please suggest it!

Is anyone in the Boston area selling or willing to loan their Kill-A-Watt? (LOL -- first things first!)

Suggestions for keeping plugs childproofed while also easy to unplug items. (Some of our power strips are covered with childproof covers that are very adult-proof as well. Whenever I open one, I need a tool/break a nail/get a cut when the thing pops open. To avoid buying childproofing items, we plug things in and cover it with furniture, etc., which makes it a PITA to unplug / replug)

Should we unplug our TV, cable box, and PS3 when not in use, or is that going to result in a long turn-on time because things are re-setting? How about our wireless internet router?

We bought a "power line conditioner" many years ago, with our new TV, on the sales pitch that it would extend the life of our TV. It serves as our surge protector for the TV, PS3, and cable box. Is this BS? Is it something that is unnecessarily sucking away power? Or should we keep it plugged in?

We rent a townhome with central air. What can I do to keep the A/C performing efficiently?

We have a loft that we use occasionally. It doesn't have a door, so the hot air in our bedroom goes up there. It has a skylight that we cover up so it doesn't overheat the room. In the summer, we open it at night to vent heat. Should we open it during the day too, or would the outside temp + sun streaming in cancel out the value of that? Should we point a fan up the stairs to get more heat to rise? (or would the cost of leaving the fan on cancel the benefit of venting out the heat?)

Suggestions for cell phone / iPod chargers that will make it easy to unplug them when not in use?

Nothlit

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2013, 12:08:20 PM »
Check your local public library. Many of them offer Kill-a-Watt units for loan, just like books.

I'm not a big proponent of unplugging stuff, mostly because I don't think the hassle is worth the meager savings. But then, I don't personally have a ton of devices that I don't use daily. And most devices these days don't really use much power when they are in standby mode. For example, a device that draws 1 watt on standby would consume 8.76 kWh over the course of a year. Assuming a rate of 14.77 cents per kWh (average in Massachusetts) that's about $1.29 per year in standby power costs. Now, if you have several older devices that aren't quite as efficient and draw 5-10 watts on standby, that might be a different story.

I don't know about the power line conditioner. Some of them are more efficient than others. Your best bet is to run it on a Kill-a-Watt to see for sure. I have never used anything other than a plain old surge protector for my TV and computers, and have never had any problems.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2013, 12:36:15 PM »

I'm not a big proponent of unplugging stuff, mostly because I don't think the hassle is worth the meager savings. But then, I don't personally have a ton of devices that I don't use daily. And most devices these days don't really use much power when they are in standby mode. For example, a device that draws 1 watt on standby would consume 8.76 kWh over the course of a year. Assuming a rate of 14.77 cents per kWh (average in Massachusetts) that's about $1.29 per year in standby power costs. Now, if you have several older devices that aren't quite as efficient and draw 5-10 watts on standby, that might be a different story.


It's good to keep it in perspective like that. Unfortunately, we leave a lot of chargers plugged in for the sake of ease. The outlets we plug them into are hidden from inquisitive fingers, so it's a hassle to plug / unplug. I know chargers are a big energy-sucking culprit.

I think I might consolidate all the chargers to 1 surge protector, maybe that only comes out a night, and charges everything at once. And when not in use, just unplug the whole strip. I will need to get the spouse on board. He currently charges at the kitchen table, which bugs me for other reasons anyway!

daverobev

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #3 on: June 07, 2013, 04:18:11 PM »
How about power strips with a master switch? That's what I use. Computer is on one - monitor, speakers, computer, laptop psu. Goes off when the computer/laptop is (laptop is often plugged in to the monitor while the computer is off at the back).

PS3/TV/cable box (not sure about that - if they store stuff?) - same thing, put them on one strip and turn it off when not in use.

I guess I don't have much 'big stuff' plugged in.

I keep my modem plugged in straight to the wall and only turn it off if I'm going to be away for a few days.

The kill-a-watt will tell you, but new chargers go pretty much dead when not plugged in. Less than 0.0 Watts. So mostly I leave micro-usb things on all the time, but of course unplugged when not in use.

Anything with a power supply 'wall wart' that gets *hot* is using power. Cordless phones, things like that.

But it's true - most of that is minor, vs $175. It will change by a dollar or two, but compared to not using the a/c? Turning the hot water tank down a few degrees? Getting rid of a second freezer?

Do you heat with electric or gas? $175 - is that a *combined* figure or just electric??

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #4 on: June 08, 2013, 07:09:13 PM »

But it's true - most of that is minor, vs $175. It will change by a dollar or two, but compared to not using the a/c? Turning the hot water tank down a few degrees? Getting rid of a second freezer?

Do you heat with electric or gas? $175 - is that a *combined* figure or just electric??

Thanks!

The $175 is total, combined gas (heat) and electric.

Our second freezer crapped out last summer during a heatwave and we haven't replaced it yet. Looking up the energy implications, it looks like it costs an extra $17/month to keep it running! Thanks for pointing that out.

Of to turn down the water heater ...

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #5 on: June 08, 2013, 07:20:52 PM »
Looking at my bills, here's the breakdown:

May:    24 therms   479 kWh
April:   51 therms   366 kWh
March: 55 therms   382 kWh
Feb:   113 therms   500 kWh
Jan:    105 therms  497 kWh
Dec:    73 therms   351 kWh

January and February were realllly cold. I think the electric must have been high because it was heating our water tank? It's creeping up again because the A/C kicked in this month. Hopefully we can ventilate the loft this summer so the A/C costs go down, and see what we can do to make sure the A/C is working efficiently.

Zoe

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #6 on: June 08, 2013, 09:07:58 PM »
I unplug mostly everything that isn't in use. But I do leave our tv/modem/router/xbox plugged into the power strip and I don't turn it off. We have a 2100ish sqft house. 4 bedrooms upstairs and we only use 2. Instead of running the entire upstairs a/c, we just got 2 window units and use them when we are sleeping. We close the bedroom doors so having the main a/c unit running is terribly inefficient. We do use the downstairs main a/c (which is also a waste since we only use the living room and kitchen. Not the front den or dining room, but it's an open floor plan) and it fluctuates between 73-75. We cannot stand being hot, and we have a toddler. Our last bill was a tad over $100. Pretty good for a big house.

Oh, we also bought a toaster oven to heat meals/re heat stuff instead of turning on the big oven.

I was looking at our bill now compared to last year.....we are using HALF the electricity.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2013, 02:08:38 PM »
I unplug mostly everything that isn't in use. But I do leave our tv/modem/router/xbox plugged into the power strip and I don't turn it off. We have a 2100ish sqft house. 4 bedrooms upstairs and we only use 2. Instead of running the entire upstairs a/c, we just got 2 window units and use them when we are sleeping. We close the bedroom doors so having the main a/c unit running is terribly inefficient. We do use the downstairs main a/c (which is also a waste since we only use the living room and kitchen. Not the front den or dining room, but it's an open floor plan) and it fluctuates between 73-75. We cannot stand being hot, and we have a toddler. Our last bill was a tad over $100. Pretty good for a big house.

Oh, we also bought a toaster oven to heat meals/re heat stuff instead of turning on the big oven.

I was looking at our bill now compared to last year.....we are using HALF the electricity.

That's great! We do have 2 window AC units from our last rental, which we don't use because we have casement windows :/ They would solve the AC problem because there's zero need to cool the first floor at night. But our lease prohibits them (not that we could figure out how to put them in casement windows anyway).

I turned the thermostat down a few degrees to see what impact that has. We might not even notice it.

netskyblue

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2013, 03:04:26 PM »
Ask your landlord/apartment office if you may install a programmable thermostat (or if your maintenance person can install one that you purchase, if they don’t want you doing it).  I did this recently, and they were fine with it.

Have you turned your water heater down to 120 degrees?  You probably don’t need it hotter than that for most uses, as it will burn the skin any hotter.  (Maybe for washing the sheets after a sickness, you might turn it up to 130 for that one use.  That hot can be damaging to fibers though, if used regularly.)

Get a low-flow showerhead.  I just bought a handheld 1.5gpm model which I’ll be installing tonight.  Also, take shorter showers.  I just started by “trying” to take a 7 minute shower.  I’ve never gone longer than 6 minutes, and sometimes make it out in 5.  It’s become almost a game.  And I’m a girl with long hair that I wash & condition every day.

As for cooling – get some light blocking drapes and keep them closed during the heat of the day.  Open windows at night with a fan blowing outwards in one window.  This will cause the other open windows to suck in the cooler night air.  These two things can extend your season of not needing AC, unless you live in a climate where it gets HOT early in the year and stays that way.  Here, we’re having a cool rainy spring, so haven’t needed the AC yet.

I don’t unplug the TV as we’d have to go through the whole channel setup thing when we plugged it back in, which isn’t worthwhile to me.  And the modem/router stay plugged in because we’d have the devil of the time getting them going again.  Our ISP is crap.
Do turn your computers off at night and when you’re at work (I unplug my laptop, also).

As I understand it, the biggest energy-wasters in most homes are the water heater, dryer, and heating/cooling systems.  Would you consider hang-drying any of your clothes, or taking off dress clothes at the end of a workday to wear another time, and reduce the number of loads of laundry you have to do?
You also might get away with turning the fridge or freezer a touch warmer.  Put a thermometer in there when you make a change, to make sure you’re still within a safe temp range.

What do you mean about “Suggestions for cell phone / iPod chargers that will make it easy to unplug them when not in use?”  Don’t you just have a charger that plugs into the wall?  Just unplug it from the wall at the same time you unplug your device from the charger.

Rebecca Stapler

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Re: Utilities Help
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2013, 09:12:30 PM »
Thanks netskyblue!

About the chargers ... we don't have open plugs because we have a toddler around. So, all our chargers are plugged in to the wall or a surge strip and hidden away from 3 year old hands that might stick a metal object in them. I think I will set up a surge protector on top of a bookcase, for all of our chargers, and just shut it off when it's not charging anything.

The hot water heater doesn't have degrees, but has markings for "VAC" and  1 - 3. I turned it to 1 (it was on 3), and haven't noticed a difference yet!

We have a programmable thermostat, but I turned the temp up a degree during daytime when we're home and up 2 degrees at night. We'll see if the spouse even notices ;)

While turning down the hot water heater, I noticed that the LL bought the least energy efficient models on the spectrum :(  It's strange, because they installed low-flow shower heads recently and gave us a lifetime supply of CFLs, in an effort to green up the place. Every little bit is nice I guess.

My son just graduated out of cloth diapers, so we won't use the dryer nearly as much (we ran it on low for 60 minutes every other day). I'm really curious to see what kind of difference that makes in our electric bill.