Author Topic: electrical analysis  (Read 7638 times)

Travis

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electrical analysis
« on: January 28, 2014, 11:20:45 PM »
I'm trying to break out where all my electricity is being used, but I'm missing some pieces to the puzzle.  I live in a 1300 sq ft apartment near Fort Lewis, WA with my wife and four year old son.  It looks like we have electric everything.  We also get natural gas as part of the program, but I don't think we're using any of it.  My bill for December was 739 KWh and 6 Therms.  In fact it's 6 therms every single month.  I don't know enough about natural gas to know how much that is, but it never changes so I figure it's for the pilot light in the fireplace which we never use.  The natural gas portion of my bill is $10 for the service, $4 for the gas, and $4 for the delivery of the gas. It literally looks like I'm paying $18 a month for a pilot light.

The yellow placard on the water heater says it can use between 4600 and 5100 KWh per year, but I'm not sure how to compute actual usage.  Does the water heater draw electricity when it's just sitting there? I've read about putting blankets around water heaters to preserve heat, but my water heater is cold to the touch.

There was also a couple weeks in December where I was out of town where I was still using 7 KWh per day.  We turned everything off except for a single lamp on a timer, the router stayed on, the TV was in sleep mode, and the refrigerator stayed on.  Does that sound like 6 KWh per day?

I know that a chunk of my electric bill in winter is heating. On some days we used up to 66 KWh, but drops to as low as 24 KWh.  For contrast my July bill was 483 KWh (no A/C).  We use our washer and dryer once or twice a week tops.  Our bedroom and living room lights are CFL (we have incandescent reading lamps that are rarely used) and the TV is on a few hours a day.  I can't seem to drop below the high 400s.  It seems like I would have to leave for a month with nothing on but the fridge to drop to the energy usage some people post around here. Any ideas?

GuitarStv

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2014, 06:40:27 AM »
TV in sleep mode doesn't mean it's drawing no power.  The fridge can suck a fair amount of energy if it's not an energy efficient model.  Your router probably won't be pulling too much power, but next time unplug it!

If you have a cable box, note that many cable boxes when off still pull a hell of a lot of power (more than a fridge: http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2011-06/least-electric-bill-murdering-dvrs-every-provider).  They draw that power even when "off".  The only way for them to really be off is if you unplug them.

You can drop your energy usage quite a bit by replacing the dryer use with line drying in the dry winter months (get a couple collapsible dryer racks).  If you can, use the gas fireplace as much as possible.  Natural gas is almost always cheaper to use for heat than electricity.

nordlead

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #2 on: January 29, 2014, 08:47:49 AM »
http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2012/03/pilot-lights-are-evil/
pilot lights are evil - His calculation leads to ~5.35 therms/month for a pilot light which is in line with your bill. Electric ignition can save a ton of money if the device doesn't need to always be on (say a furnace in the summer or your gas fireplace).

To measure electricity most people use a killawatt meter (or equivalent). However, I don't know how electric water heaters are hooked up, so I can't say if you can use one or not. Basically a killawatt meter plugs into the wall and the appliance plugs into that with a standard 120V outlet.

Almost everything still draws power when plugged in. Some devices are good and draw <1W, others are hogs and will draw 20W (my cable box draws ~20W regardless of use for no reason, and the DVR one draws ~90W). A killawatt meter would help you find those energy wasters. 7KWh is the equivalent of having 7 100W bulbs burn for 10hr/day, or 291W 24hr/day. I'll give 15W to your router, 20W to a cable box, 5W to the TV, 240W to the fridge, and 4W to the bulb (since it isn't on all day). That gives me 284W/hr so that sounds about right to me, but there may be a small energy waster somewhere, the question is if it is worth your time to track it down for a few days of vacation. A 1W draw running 24hr/day = ~$1 per year.

My personal opinion, is be efficient, and don't be wasteful, but I wouldn't stress over not being under 15KWh/day as that is pretty low already. I really wouldn't even try for 7KWh/day myself as that would mean getting a tiny efficient fridge, tossing my home server and other drastic measures I don't want to take. I will probably be dropping my electric bill by 5KWh/day with a new fridge (old one is from 92) and dropping cable TV though. If I were you, I'd look into replacing the hot water heater and the dryer first (craigslist for the dryer as the technology is basically the same regardless of age). I would supplement my heat with the fireplace, but if possible I'd replace the heat with a gas furnace (may not be cost effective depending on how you currently heat the house).

FrugalSpendthrift

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #3 on: January 29, 2014, 08:49:25 AM »
You might want to get a little meter, so that you can figure out exactly what things are drawing.  Look up Kill-A-Watt.  It was an eye opener to me, to see what each device is actually drawing.

I measured the draw on my washer and dryer and found a significant 'phantom load', where they are still drawing energy when they aren't running.  I need to put a switch on that circuit, so that I can shut that off while not using them.  I was also shocked to find that my home entertainment center (tv, computer, amplifier) was using ~120kwh/ month.  I've since ditched the amplifier and started powering down the computer to minimize that usage.  I have a couple refridgerators, one draws 80kwh/month, while the newer one uses 50kwh/month, so I'm also planning to ditch the older fridge for something more efficient.

And I agree with GuitarStv, if I had electric heat and a natural gas fireplace, I would run the fireplace quite often.

Also, check the temperature that the water heater is set at, it doesn't really need to be above 140, but read up on the tradeoffs.

Nothlit

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #4 on: January 29, 2014, 08:55:20 AM »
The simplest way to figure this out is to get a Kill-A-Watt and actually measure how much power each of your appliances and devices use. Rather than spend $20 for the Kill-A-Watt, see if your local library system has one available for borrowing. Mine did, and I've heard many around the country do.

Standard tank-type water heaters are not terribly efficient. They are keeping the water in the tank warm all the time, whether you need it or not.

Milspecstache

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2014, 09:56:58 AM »
Kill-A-Watt meter will only measure 120v so it won't give you readings for your dryer or water heater.

If you aren't using the natural gas then shut it off (should be a valve around somewhere).  Relighting a pilot light isn't too hard and that would save you from that parasitic draw.

Greg

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2014, 10:23:31 AM »
If you truly don't use the gas, have it turned off by the utility and cancel the service, and save your $216/year for something else.  They will put a lockout on the meter and whoever lives there next can restart it.  Alternatively you can just shut it off yourself but you'd still be paying $14 of the $18 every month if you did that.  It would be better to just cancel that utility, the majority of your gas bill is a fixed cost.

Even when you aren't using it, the electric water heater will turn on and off automatically to keep the water in the tank hot.  This can add up.  If no one's home during the day, you can put the water heater on a timer.

Spork

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2014, 10:25:52 AM »
Kill-A-Watt meter will only measure 120v so it won't give you readings for your dryer or water heater.

If you aren't using the natural gas then shut it off (should be a valve around somewhere).  Relighting a pilot light isn't too hard and that would save you from that parasitic draw.

...or at the rate of use that is implied: use a match.

If the pilot light is hooked up to a safety valve/thermocouple (aka pickle valve, Robertshaw valve, ...) , the procedure for turning it off is "blow it out."   When blown out, you should hear a nice "clunk" in about 30 seconds. 


clutchy

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2014, 11:33:05 AM »
so zero gas appliances?  Personally I'd shut off gas service if I was never going to use it again. 

as far as electricity.  There are a ton of vampires hanging around. 

my basal usage can drop as low as 6kWh's a day but that's about it.  The issue is generally refrigeration or a computer or any myriad of other appliances.

Generally our normal use is about 400-600kWh's a month.  That can go way up in the summer for A/C but generally that's where we are.  We do have gas though and in the winter it's alot cheaper to heat with gas.

is it an on-demand water heater or is it a tank?  If it's an electric tank that sucks........

you can change lighting and turn off excess lights etc but you're looking at picking up pennies off the ground.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2014, 12:15:55 PM »
Kill-A-Watt is the easiest way to measure plug-in 120v loads. For 240v, you could do two different things:

-Buy a European equivalent of Kill-A-Watt and get the appropriate plug adapters. Quick internet search shows they're about the same price.

-Almost all 240v electric appliances will have a dedicated circuit on the breaker. Tap both sides of the fuse with a multi meter and measure amp draw for a few minutes. Do some math to get a rough idea of consumption.

Spork

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2014, 12:18:39 PM »
Kill-A-Watt is the easiest way to measure plug-in 120v loads. For 240v, you could do two different things:

-Buy a European equivalent of Kill-A-Watt and get the appropriate plug adapters. Quick internet search shows they're about the same price.

-Almost all 240v electric appliances will have a dedicated circuit on the breaker. Tap both sides of the fuse with a multi meter and measure amp draw for a few minutes. Do some math to get a rough idea of consumption.

or a clamp on inductive tester.

Travis

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2014, 01:02:52 PM »
Thanks for the responses everyone. I'll call around today to see if anyone I know or the library has a kill a watt tester.  As for appliances, I live in an apartment so none of them belong to me.  I'll run the fireplace tonight and see how well that heats up the living room. I always saw it as decorative, but if it can provide some heat it might be worth it.  If it isn't, then I'll talk to the energy company and see if it's possible to completely shut it off.  The only thing I have personal access to is my breakers and my water main. 

For the water heater I didn't see a thermostat, but there is a metal plate covering something on the exterior. Is that it?

Greg

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2014, 01:40:09 PM »
Under that metal plate is the thermostat.  You could try adjusting it to see if it helps.  For kids, no more than 120F is recommended. 

Water heater timers are fairly robust and have to be hard-wired.  They do make a bit of timer noise usually, as they're an electro-mechanical device.

Spork

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2014, 02:32:05 PM »
Thanks for the responses everyone. I'll call around today to see if anyone I know or the library has a kill a watt tester.  As for appliances, I live in an apartment so none of them belong to me.  I'll run the fireplace tonight and see how well that heats up the living room. I always saw it as decorative, but if it can provide some heat it might be worth it.  If it isn't, then I'll talk to the energy company and see if it's possible to completely shut it off.  The only thing I have personal access to is my breakers and my water main. 

For the water heater I didn't see a thermostat, but there is a metal plate covering something on the exterior. Is that it?

For what it's worth:  In general, fireplaces make the room colder.  They are decorative.  They take your expensive (heated) air and use it as a source for combustion, then send a very large amount of that up the chimney.  They'll warm an immediate area, but make the house colder over all.

Now: there are definite exceptions
* where they pull the fresh air source from outside instead of inside
* where they have a heat exchanger
* probably others

I heat almost exclusively with a wood stove that has a dedicated fresh air intake from outside and a sealed combustion chamber.  It works -- though it is difficult to get the heat spread across the whole house even still.

chucklesmcgee

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2014, 03:18:04 PM »
For the water heater I didn't see a thermostat, but there is a metal plate covering something on the exterior. Is that it?

Yes! Definitely turn that down- your hot water heater is probably the number one energy consumer in your household!! Open up the plate with a screw driver and crank that down (you may need to use a flathead screwdriver on the thermostat dial). It can take about 24 hours for the temperature to fully adjust, so it may take a bit of fiddling. You probably want to set it so that your shower at the hottest setting on the faucet represents a temperature that's comfortable to you. Any hotter and you're paying to heat water to a temperature you'll never use.

Also you should probably clean out the tank if it's more than 2-3 years old. There should be a spigot at the bottom of the tank. Put a bucket underneath and open the spigot. All sorts of dirty/sandy water should come out. Do this until it's clean. Not only will this improve your hot water, it'll improve efficiency as you won't be paying to warm up sand. Do this maybe once a year.

You can also put pipe insulation around the hot water pipes around the tank- (if you aren't sure which is which, run your shower for a minute, then feel the pipes). This will reduce heat lost in the pipes when you're using hot water, which means you can comfortably set the temperature even lower. Measure the pipes and pick up some insulation.

Also check out MMM's post on using a water-efficient showerhead. Your energy savings from hot water usage will pay for the thing in a month or two easily.




Spork

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #15 on: January 29, 2014, 03:23:09 PM »

Also you should probably clean out the tank if it's more than 2-3 years old. There should be a spigot at the bottom of the tank. Put a bucket underneath and open the spigot. All sorts of dirty/sandy water should come out. Do this until it's clean. Not only will this improve your hot water, it'll improve efficiency as you won't be paying to warm up sand. Do this maybe once a year.



While this is good advice... one thing to be aware of:  Water heaters often have cheap crap plastic hose bibs.  When you drain the sediment out of the tank, often the hot water will damage the hose bib.  This is especially true if it hasn't been opened in years and the rubber is old an non-pliable.

While you're at it, you might check the sacrificial anode rod.  Changing that out can lengthen the life of your heating elements.

Travis

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #16 on: January 29, 2014, 11:59:11 PM »
The pipes going into the water heater have already been insulated by the apartment management.  I'll have to talk to the maintenance supervisor whether the heater needs to be flushed.  We've lived here for two years and I know nobody has looked at it since we moved in.  I remember sediment being a huge problem when I lived in Colorado, but I haven't heard about any issues around here in WA.  The apartment management also replaced our shower heads last year.  We can probably hang up more clothes and reduce our dryer usage by a load per week.  What bothers me most is our refrigerator has a manufacture date of 1997 and whatever amount of power its consuming I'm just stuck with.

Emg03063

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #17 on: January 30, 2014, 04:01:43 AM »
If your water heater tank doesn't have a jacket, it can still benefit from an over wrap, regardless,of whether or not it feels warm to the touch.

Greg

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #18 on: January 30, 2014, 09:16:06 AM »
The pipes going into the water heater have already been insulated by the apartment management.  I'll have to talk to the maintenance supervisor whether the heater needs to be flushed.  We've lived here for two years and I know nobody has looked at it since we moved in.  I remember sediment being a huge problem when I lived in Colorado, but I haven't heard about any issues around here in WA.  The apartment management also replaced our shower heads last year.  We can probably hang up more clothes and reduce our dryer usage by a load per week.  What bothers me most is our refrigerator has a manufacture date of 1997 and whatever amount of power its consuming I'm just stuck with.

So you're renting, right?  This doesn't necessarily limit your options, but might.  Is your hot water tank in an outside closet or inside closet?  This will determine how important it is to insulate the tank.  Around Fort Lewis sediment isn't a big deal, but if you owned the water heater routine maintenance would be good advice.  If you can afford it, a new fridge might help save money but '97 isn't super old.  Vacuum the coils (either underneath or on the back) and keep the temp settings in the middle, and limit opening and closing and that's about as good as you can do.  If you could get a newer fridge then I'd recommend a bottom freezer, they're rated as more efficient.  And don't get a giant one. 

Travis

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #19 on: January 30, 2014, 10:29:57 AM »
The water heater is in the back corner of our garage underneath our apartment (2nd floor apartment, 1st floor garage).  The refrigerator is owned by the apartment. I emailed the energy company about turning off our gas. I should hear back in a day or two.

wintersun

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #20 on: January 30, 2014, 11:46:39 AM »
I am curious about insulation: does whether the water heater is in a cellar/outside closet vs. indoors matter?  Ours are indoors, in fact one heats up the closet under the stairs.  Would insulation help to lower our bill long term in that case?  We have incredibly high per KW fees, we pay minimum .36 cents per KWh.

Greg

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #21 on: January 30, 2014, 03:00:52 PM »
If the water heater is in a conditioned space, less heat is lost.  So the benefit of insulating it is reduced, but not zero, because heat is still escaping.

Travis

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #22 on: February 02, 2014, 06:14:13 PM »
Energy company said the $10 fee was for the gas meter on site, but if we want to shut off the gas we can do that and save the $8 a month.  I just need to see the maintenance manager on Monday to do that.

wintersun

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #23 on: February 03, 2014, 06:49:47 AM »
Thanks Greg.  So if the temp is above 60 degrees 95% of the time, would it be worth it to insulate the pipes?

Greg

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Re: electrical analysis
« Reply #24 on: February 03, 2014, 09:41:47 AM »
What is the temperature of your hot water?  120F?  So that's a 60 rise.  Certainly enough of a difference to feel.  While the temp drop would be mostly in the exposed pipes, at 3x my electrical cost I'd certainly do it.  Pipe insulation is pretty cheap stuff.