Author Topic: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY  (Read 5768 times)

Thedudeabides

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My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« on: June 06, 2014, 06:15:57 AM »
I just got my latest electric bill and it was $14! My consumption is down 50% year over year. I'm very excited.

However, before you get too excited/skeptical I should give you some background:

1) I live in a building in which hot water is included in HOA
2) Cooking gas is included in HOA (for range only, oven is electric)
3) Two person household
4) < 1000 sq ft.
5) electricity is cheap where I live. For reference I used about 7kwh per day which is probably not all that impressive for a household of two excluding hot water, etc.

Here's what I did to reduce it 50%:

1) Replaced > 90% of lights with LED. I have one 35w incandescent left and six halogen under counter lights
2) Installled a Nest a couple months ago. I think this made the biggest difference. Not because of the Nest per SE, but the data it provided. I was able to determine that if the temp is > 54 degrees outside then I don't need any heat if I leave my South facing blinds open. I have also begun to adapt to heat slowly. I live in a part of the country in which I may need AC once a year. Max.
3) I installed motion sensors on nearly every light in the apt. There are only two lamps in the bedroom that are not on motion sensors.
4) I installed Belkin kill switched on everything I could
5) I installed timers on many things. For example, why am I powering my wifi at night? Makes no sense.
6) installed a kill switch on my TV to eliminate phantom draw
7) started using the "quick wash" setting on my dishwasher.
8) started washing clothes less. I usually wear shirts twice before washing

I think I'm probably at the point of diminishing returns at this point but it's become a game to me so I'm probably going to continue to look for ways to further improve.

Mrs3F

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #1 on: June 06, 2014, 07:27:21 AM »
Well done!!

This is an area I'm trying to work on as well.  Could you tell me more about the motion sensors?  I think they could really help in my house since I have two small kids who don't remember to turn off lights.  What kind did you get?  How much do they cost?   Were they hard to install?

OneDogGP

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #2 on: June 06, 2014, 07:30:35 AM »
Thank you for this post!  I never knew about the kill switches or how much juice devices used in standby modes.  I just now purchased the Belkin Energy monitor, their timer switch (for charging cell phones / tablets) and some kill switches from Amazon using Chase points, so net effect will be energy savings for zero dollars outta my pocket!  Love it!!!

Jack

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #3 on: June 06, 2014, 07:56:36 AM »
How much did you spend on the LEDs/motion sensors/kill switches and what do you project the payback period to be?

aj_yooper

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2014, 08:02:49 AM »
You have done a lot to decrease your usage!  However, 7kWh/day is higher than it could be.  Have you put a Kill-A-Watt on your major appliances? 

Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #5 on: June 06, 2014, 09:09:22 AM »
@mrs3f: I purchased mostly light switches with motion sensors built in. They were about $20 and they work great. I installed them myself and it took about 10 minutes. I'm not very handy so my guess would be that most people could do it. It would be great for kids.

@onedoggp: the big energy drain is the TV in standby. Good luck with the kill switches and I hope you like them.

@jack I spent a little over $600 on everything. Break even should be about two years. Then about $200-300 annual savings after that.

@aj_yooper: yeah I agree. I'm frankly surprised it is still so high. Our local public library rents out kill-a-watts, so I think I'm going to get one and test the major appliances. The bill I just got was from April-May. I used the heater for 30 hours. I didn't use much heat in May so it will be interesting to see how much my next bill is.

I would like to target getting into the 4-5kwh/day range.



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Willbrewer

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2014, 08:53:52 PM »
Interesting about the TV sucking electricity when off. I'm going to start unplugging it when not in use. I have my usage down to ~5kwh per day, but that's not difficult in a travel trailer. But like you said, it's a fun game to play. I do unplug my microwave when not using it. Anything with a digital readout when off is a power sucker.

BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2014, 10:36:43 PM »
I'm re-posting my experimentally-derived findings here.  You never mentioned your heating system type. I'll also mention that I had to strain to find even 5 kWh per month coming from phantom loads. I think that's something that's overblown (like trying to get better gas mileage by removing the windshield wipers and glovebox from your car). Yes, you can do it, but it will be a waste of time for the relative savings versus the convenience. Just accept that as a frugal person, you use so little electricity versus the normal American energy hog, so you're allowed to keep electronics plugged in. If you're worried about digital displays - don't. These are LED displays and use almost no electricity.

You mentioned the Nest, but I can give you some horror stories on these, as in failing to work for no apparent reason (I've seen two of these do this, both in the dead of winter) - my advice if you live in a place that is freeze-prone during your absence, any thermostat with a battery is a liability. As someone who has fixed many a frozen pipe (shit happens when it's -20F out..) I'd say don't do anything to add to the probability of this occurrence. I've also seen people actually increase their energy use with these combined with modern heating systems. For example, condensing gas boilers, which modulate gas flow (and thus hot water temperature), can be set to operate on a heating curve that slowly brings your home up to the appropriate temperature. These heating units are not meant to be cycled. Any thermostat that promises you heating savings does it exactly that way - the only way it can, by cycling heat on and off. All a thermostat consists of is a fancy switch to connect a low voltage signal to your heating system on and off. Newer boilers are designed to heat your home to the temperature it needs to be, slowly and constantly operating to increase temperature when needed (so cycling breaks the boilers intended operating design and sets it back several minutes when it has to make up for the energy loss of the last cycle off period) There's debate among heating professionals and engineers if it's beneficial to lower your home temperature while you are gone and then bring it back up to temp while you are home. It made sense to do this with say, a low-efficiency oil-based hot-air furnace that could ramp up temperature quickly, but I think the argument has been settled with the newer modulating boilers that take hours to get the house to temp after you drop it down significantly (as in the energy used by having the boiler have to work at a scaled peak efficiency for so long negates the energy savings of dropping the temp down). While you could just set (or override) the boiler controls to work on a different heating curve, this dramatically reduces the efficiency of a gas boiler. Anyway, I've found that the best thermostats are still coil resistance based (they're rarer, but still can be found) or at least do not have batteries.

But I digress. Here's my input on electricity usage:

Not sure what you people are doing. We run 130-160 kWH per month, generally no more than 5kWh per day. We have electric appliances (heat & hot water are not electric driven) and use the stove regularly. We also have heating pads for our dogs that run constantly.

If you want to save money on electricity the formula is pretty simple.

1. Don't use your electric dryer. These can run 2-3kWH per load. We use ours maximum 1x to 2x per week. Dry your clothes inside if necessary - we do it year round, so there's no excuse for being lazy on this. Find a place and do it. Heating elements are ridiculously inefficient and waste a ton of electricity versus their benefit. This is your biggest source of potential savings. Do you know why you can't find an energy efficient dryer? Because they don't exist - they're all horribly inefficient. So are hair dryers, so keep those to short bursts.

2. Don't use your dishwasher. Some are energy efficient but still don't do a good job as just washing by hand. If you have to use it, never use any drying functions.

3. CFLs and LEDS. Self explanatory. Turn them off when you don't need them. Put some nice LEDs in for the lights you use most.

4. Research appliances. Want a fridge with an ice-maker? Stay away from through-the-door models. The most efficient ice makers are located in the freezer. Stick with a basic freezer-on-the-top model. Ours is 14 years old and we know it pulls 40kWh per month and we do use the ice maker.

5. Unplugging electronics to save from phantom loads is a waste of time. I tested various chargers and items (like the TV) that were on standby and the kwH savings were negligible versus unplugging them. Unless you're in an off-the-grid solar-array battery-bank house, saving this 1-5 kwH per month isn't worth the aggravation.

6. Don't worry about motorized appliances, electric stoves or microwaves, or any other electric kitchen appliances. Motorized appliances (blenders, exhaust fans, washing machines) use very little electricity for the functions they perform. The electric motor is an engineering marvel - perhaps the most important invention of the past 200 years. They're able to convert very small amounts of electricity into amazing amounts of mechanical energy. So use these as needed. Also, electric stoves and microwaves are so infrequently used (very few actual minutes of use per day) that even though they may use a relatively high rate of electricity, the total effect is small.

7. Put a switch timer or photo-sensor on anything that needs to be turned off but you may forget. We dry laundry in a bathroom and like to run the vent for an hour to suck moisture out of the air. Click, one hour, no need to remember to shut it off. Taking a shower and a shit? 15, 20 minutes and you're good. Added benefit on dumps is that the air still gets cleaned and the wife is happier when she uses the bathroom after you. You'll never be conflicted between shutting the vent off as you leave the room for energy savings versus letting it run indefinitely to spare the loved ones again.

8. If you have well water, get an oversized pressure tank. Your well pump will run much less frequently and won't have to kick on to give you enough pressure to take the long shower you want.

9. Shut down/sleep electronics. If you're not using it right now, it should be off or standing by. Laptops use far less electricity than desktops.

10. If your electric company has smart meters, sign up for monitoring. Want to know how much an appliance uses? Shut everything down in the house (cut the breakers if need be) except the one appliance you are testing (start with the fridge since you don't want to shut that off). This works good on vacations. If you're away for 7 days and the only outlet and thing in the house running was the fridge then you know all of the kWh for that period went there. Use the fridge as a baseline and then do the same leaving just the fridge and another appliance on, etc.

Hope this helps.
« Last Edit: June 06, 2014, 10:45:01 PM by BigHammah »

Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2014, 11:11:51 PM »
@willbrewer a fun game indeed! I think I've definitely reached diminishing marginal returns but it is still really fun to see how low I can go.

@bighammah: thanks for all the info! I'm not exactly sure what the heating type is called. The building I live in has central hot water. The hot water is pumped through the furnace and there are electric fans that blow air over coils (as I understand it). I pay for the hot water through HOA dues, which are quite high, and pay for the electric fans running. Obviously if I were paying for electric heat or incorporated the cost of heating the water into my electricity usage, it would be a much different story. In fact, I'm very surprised I'm using as much electricity as I am with the current heating setup. We so use the electric dryer, but typically run the dryer only for a bit and then hang the clothes to dry the rest. I should go the rest of the way and just hang dry all clothes. I suspect a good portion of the electricity usage is coming from the refrigerator. It's a side-by-side unit with in door ice/water dispenser. Good to know about phantom usage. I've also had great luck with timers. I have timers on both bathroom fans as well as the shower light. All set for 15 minutes.  Works like a charm. Thanks again for all of your tips. I'm going to incorporate some of your suggestions and will report back.


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BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #9 on: June 07, 2014, 08:42:57 AM »
Hey Dude, I'm still a little confused on your heat set up. Just trying to figure out how that's related to your use.

I guess my first question is how is heat delivered to your unit - forced hot air through ducts? Hot water/steam baseboards, radiant heaters or underfloor radiant heating, etc?

aj_yooper

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #10 on: June 07, 2014, 10:38:46 AM »
This contradicts BigHammah on phantom loads:  http://www.entergy.com/news_room/newsrelease.aspx?NR_ID=2285  The cable box and dvr are possible culprits, with,sometimes, as much usage as a refrigerator.  We have ours (and our wifi and modem) on switches so we will see how that plays out. 
« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 11:09:24 AM by aj_yooper »

Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #11 on: June 07, 2014, 11:40:30 AM »
@bighammah I took a look at the unit and it is a water source heat pump

@aj_yooper I'm going to get a kill-a-watt and will let you know what I find in my unit


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BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #12 on: June 07, 2014, 02:13:58 PM »
@aj_yooper - that's a press release from an energy company.

I am naturally suspect of such sources of information. Being frugal (and observant), I find that very few entities such as energy companies (which need your money) are going to be truthful with Americans about the real culprits of wasted electricity - namely, luxury appliances. It's very easy to tell people that if you just unplug everything electronic you will see real savings, but realistically it's not that great compared to the tough choices you need to make to seriously cut your energy usage. I went about experimenting with electricity usage a few years ago to explore whether it was realistic to set up an off-the-grid home with a PV system and battery bank. Up here (Maine) you can find cheap land far away from public utilities and you need to figure out what is more cost effective (running hundreds of feet of power lines or setting up off-the-grid).

With that being said, there's a lot more consideration than what can be generalized here. How many appliances/electronics you have, and what types they are come into play. Newer luxury products are energy hogs, it is true (but as someone aspiring to be frugal, you should limit your needs on this end). There are savings to be found here, it's just that in my opinion, they payback/hassle is not worth the effort. Putting kill switches, electric switches (both of which you need to buy), or physically plugging & un-plugging these items to me are just not worth the savings I see. I would hit all the low hanging fruit first, then come back to looking at phantom loads last. I would also work on simplifying your lifestyle to get away from fancy consumer products and go basic every time.

Last year when we went away for a week, I cut every breaker in the house except for the fridge. It was at about 1.3 kWh per day, or 40 per month. Later in the year we went away and left all the breakers on with everything plugged in. We averaged 1.4 kWh per day. We tend to have older or basic items when it comes to electronics. Our modem & router is a combined energy star unit. In general you should look for energy star appliances/electronics (these ratings can be manipulated, but are better than nothing). I also look for appliances with nothing more than just basic red or green LED displays for time, etc.

And just to point out about the DVR & Cable box - there's no need for these. Cut the cord already!!!

Our appliances/electronics that stay plugged in-
1 TV, a 14 year old Sony 27" flat screen. When it's off, it's off.
Cable Modem & Router in one
Digital converter for TV for over the air channels.
2 flip phones with chargers
1 DVD player, very basic model
2 laptops, both about 7 years old
1 basic Canon printer
14 year old fridge, freezer on top with ice-maker
Compact Maytag Washer & Dryer - basic models, just smaller than the ginormous ones you see in every appliance store.
14 year old Kenmore dishwasher, no display, just resistance-based controls.
Basic small oven/toaster combo unit
Basic blender
Electric Tea Kettle (gets used 2x-4x per day)
Newer Frigidaire Electric Stove with green LED display for time.
Newer Kenmore Microwave with green LED display.
Old Stereo, Speakers, Record Player, 5 Disc CD changer - no fancy displays. All 90s era products.
1980s Red LED alarm clock
40w heated dog pad & 6w heated dog pad, only plugged in during colder months (6-7 up here).



« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 02:16:25 PM by BigHammah »

BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #13 on: June 07, 2014, 02:24:34 PM »
Dude, if you're paying for a fan that pushes hot air to your unit (it sounds like you may be) from the heat pump system, these can be sized as 500W+ fans (also depends on how far you are from the central heating system). You could easily average 2-3 kWh with one of these fans running per day. You should look more into your heating system and exactly how your electricity panel is related to that system.

aj_yooper

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #14 on: June 07, 2014, 04:13:52 PM »
More info on phantom energy draws with reference to Lawrence Berkley Labs:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2011/09/03/top-26-home-energy-hogs-turned-off/  It is a real thing that can be mitigated. 
« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 04:16:43 PM by aj_yooper »

Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #15 on: June 07, 2014, 04:34:11 PM »
Bighammah: I believe you are right. As far as I know it has a large electric fan that I would guess is at least 500w, possibly more.


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BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #16 on: June 08, 2014, 11:27:10 AM »
AJ, thanks for that. I am not disagreeing that it's a real thing - it's just that someone on these forums (the assumption being that this is a person whom more or less rejects the basic tenets of consumerism) should be so far on the end of the curve that the returns for putting this item at the top of the list of ways to save energy will be negligible versus the cost and aggravation of doing so.

Your link to a Forbes article (not the actual study referenced) is also ironic, being that we know Forbes is not an anti-consumer publication/organization by any measure.

The actual LBL website says this as a way of figuring out phantom load draw:

"Shut the House Down (briefly)...This technique employs your home's built-in meter that is provided by your electric utility. You can measure electricity use with this meter just like the utility does. The goal is to make a brief measurement of your home's electricity while all the appliances are switched off."

I've done this and couldn't find more than 5kWh of waste.  Review my home electronics set up that I posted, and you'll see why. Relatively few items, nothing with LCD or similar energy hogging screens, and the few appliances we do have are mostly energy-star models - most energy-star models use very little standby power.

The Forbes article also says this: "An individual product draws relatively little standby power, but a typical U.S. home has forty products constantly drawing power. Together these amount to almost 10% of residential electricity use."

Forty fucking products!!! Average!!! We have 25 items that I could find. Our daily kWh averages 4 to 5. Most people on this forum should be able to get down to these reasonable numbers (not including heat/hot water), or 2-4 if they're really working hard at it. To shave 10% of these numbers is to me a point of diminishing returns. Like I said, yes you can do it, but I don't think it's worth it. The biggest culprits continue to be energy-hogging appliances while in use. Curb your usage of these and you will have already won 75% of the battle.

BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #17 on: June 08, 2014, 11:31:15 AM »
Dude, if you're around 7kWh per day with your heating system, I'd say that's pretty good. You need to isolate that variable first though - figure out exactly how much power heat uses, then work on the other stuff.

ChrisLansing

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #18 on: June 08, 2014, 06:55:06 PM »
Wow, I'm using more like 13-16KwH per day, so I must be about where you were a year ago.   Obviously I need to do some or all the same things. 

Instead of Belkin kill switches I think I'll just pull the power strips out from under the desks (3 computers for 3 adults) and mount them where they are easy to reach.   They can be turned off for the night.   That will get rid of "standby" draw w/o any additional expense. 

I suspect one of my two biggest "losses" are lights not turned off -so obviously I'll get the photo-eye light switches.   The other problem is AC.   I just got a whole house fan so that might reduce AC need -it has so far but I've only had it in for about a week. 

I'm not sure it makes sense to change my CFLs to LED just to change them, though electric usage would drop immediately.   I'll probably replace the CFLs as they burn out.   I've changed one so far.   


Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #19 on: June 08, 2014, 11:02:18 PM »
@chrislansing great ideas. Those changes will make a big difference. Great idea on the CFLs. I don't think it's worth the extra money to go LED until they need to be replaced.

The motion sensors are great. I have grown to love them. It's so nice to not have to worry about turning lights on and off.

snshijuptr

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #20 on: June 09, 2014, 09:21:17 AM »
Because nobody has mentioned it here, check out Mr Electricity http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/

aj_yooper

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #21 on: June 09, 2014, 04:06:20 PM »
BigHammah, I only read Forbes for the articles and don't look at the pictures!

unix_kung_fu

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #22 on: June 09, 2014, 04:29:54 PM »
MAybe someone can help me.. I live in an apartment where most of the lights are on dimmer switches, and it is my understanding that CFL bulbs are dangerous in those, so I have not replaced the old bulbs on those yet.

What about LED bulbs, same thing? And is there a CFL and/or LED special bulb for dimmer switches? We are renting and in here at least one more year so I'm not sure if it's a wise investment, likely not.

BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #23 on: June 09, 2014, 07:31:45 PM »
@aj_yooper, that's a relief. You can read as long as you call bullshit where you see it. We don't want to be pushing their ideas like saving 20% of your income is a noble goal.

But I do agree you're right that phantom loads can be significant depending on the products. My feeling is mostly that many of the products are unnecessary. I'm a small sample size, but I have found that just going basic with most things really cuts the waste. I'd say get everything under control, then go for cutting down on wasted standby power. Always do the math though first before investing in rigs that may cost 20 years to pay for themself...

I love this gem from Forbes:

"3. How much you should be saving. The answer: 20%. Not sure how we arrived at this number? Look no further than the 50/20/30 rule, which divvies up your monthly budget as follows: 50% is reserved for essentials (think mortgage, rent and groceries), 30% is allocated for your lifestyle choices and at least 20% goes to “financial priorities,” which includes your debt payments, your retirement contributions and your savings. Here’s more detail on the why and how of saving a fifth of your paycheck."

They start reasonable that 50% of your income should go to essentials. This being America, we'd assume the minimum 1 car per person recommended ratio, preferably a late-model with a size-able loan, is included within the total.

Then there's "lifestyle choices." So if you take home $100k, you should spend $30k on whatever the fuck you feel like?

Then we read on, 20% of savings include retirement contributions (shouldn't this come off the top, tax free???), savings AND debt payments (so is that where the vehicles are covered?).

So there you have it, a serious magazine goes by a mysterious rule (or is it a theroem?). An incontrovertible dictum that there is a 50/30/20 rule that you must live by. So you should spend more on frivolous stuff then you save. Now I see what I'm doing wrong. I don't buy enough shit.

BigHammah

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #24 on: June 09, 2014, 07:46:33 PM »
unix kung fu, I wouldn't go investing in converting CFLs to LEDs unless you're planning on staying awhile. Many CFLs do have difficulty with off the shelf dimmers, while LEDs tend not to. They do make CFL/LED dimmers, but they basically step voltage down in fixed increments versus putting it on a resistance-based power down. I wouldn't suggest using them or trying to dim CFLS (even the "dimmable ones" which typically work with a specific dimmer and have three+ brightnesses built in). If you do find a LED you have to have, try it with a basic dimmer switch first, you;ll probably find it will work. CFLs in general also do not use that much more energy than LEDs of equivalent brightness. If you're stuck with the dimmers and have to buy LEDs, you can always take these with you. It will never hurt to try the dimmer with a CFL - it's not going to damage or ruin the builb. The problem with CFLs is that they are self ballasted and typically accept only a very specific voltage to work correctly. And the dimmable ones don't let you get the light to the lower level you may want.

Put LEDs in the lights you really have to have them in. 1000bulbs.com is a good place to buy any type of LED you want. Otherwise stick to the CFLs. Stick to a basic toggle dimmer (one that looks like a regular switch that can be stopped anywhere in its range of motion is good) for LEDs. Dimmers actually don't save that much energy, believe it or not, because the excess (unused) power that isn't turned into light is let off as heat.

So basically CFLs and dimmers don't mix. LEDs and dimmers do. And finally, don't ever buy an overpriced specialized CFL/LED dimmer unless you absolutely have to.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2014, 07:51:43 PM by BigHammah »

unix_kung_fu

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2014, 08:24:45 AM »
BigHammah, thanks for the explanation.

Thedudeabides

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Re: My electric bill was $14; Consumption Down 50% YoY
« Reply #26 on: June 13, 2014, 09:06:59 AM »
Just received my most recent electric bill. It is $12.71 for the month at 5.2 KwH/day average. Only five hours of heating according to my Nest report as opposed to 20 the prior month which means that my HVAC fan is around 1000w.

I'm very curious about what comprises the monthly energy usage so I'm going to get a kill-a-watt from the library this month and test everything.