Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fighting the cold, one watt at a time!

Earlier this fall I thought I might try and get a handle on my winter heating bills. I have a modest sized home of about 1600 square feet that is heated solely by electricity via a central furnace that is attached to a heat pump. The house is moderately well insulated and, consumes on average 1,350 kilowatt hours of energy per month. The winter months, however, have been much more expensive averaging 2,167 KWh for each month of December, January and December. At ten cents per kilowatt hour, that meant a combined bill of over $600. Since I do not use the 'average billing method', two hundred dollar electric bills back to back to back can hurt my budget a lot!

So, I figured I would take a stab at improving my energy management skills. To that end, I did a little research, talked to some friends and then developed my personal energy strategy for the winter of 2010-11. I’m not sure how ell this will work out, but I do promise to document the effort for the elucidation (and possible entertainment) of one and all. I hope to publish the results of these efforts as I get through the winter. (I’m personally hoping for a mild one this year).

Energy Wasters

Foremost in my energy savings plan was not to spend a lot of money on gadgets only to realize marginal savings. (That would be too much like how the government does things)! I wanted to first and foremost come up with a sensible energy goal and then plan from there. My initial research indicated that as much as a 15% reduction could be realized just by paying attention to and turning off devices that rob me of power with my even knowing it. I’m referring to electronic stuff like the TV in the living room that is on even when it’s not. Other devices like printers, cell phone chargers, wireless hubs and cable modems also came to my mind. I later found out that, in fact, over 20% of my monthly bill was attributable to these ‘hidden’ devices nickel and diming me to death!

So, the first order of business for me was to go out and buy a few multiple outlet boxes and timers to put these suckers on a lease. One of these went behind my large TV in the living room. I found that not only was it running 24/7 but also the high definition box next to it. That little SOB was using over 200 watts all day and all night. I hooked these to a timer that shuts off at 12 midnight and comes back on at 7AM. Another multiple outlet was placed in my room where my computer, screen, cable modem and wireless server are located. I did not place a timer on these, but rather depend on myself flipping a switch and shutting the whole shebang off before retiring. Finally, I went around the house and unplugged anything that did not absolutely need to be on. That included my printer, a robotic rug cleaner and even a hair dryer. So, that took care of that!

Furnace Setback

Next, I wanted to make sure that my furnace was not forced to heat the entire house at times when some of the rooms were not in use. My solution was to purchase a couple of space heaters that have built in thermostats and which can be calibrated to maintain a certain temperature during the daylight hours. Both were placed on timers also so they would be off overnight and only go one shortly after sunup to warm the Living room and Kitchen areas. I then made sure to set the central furnace thermostat down to 69F. Central to my effort to quantify results was a device I had purchased a year ago call T.E.D., short for The Total Energy Detective. This neat little device can be hooked to a computer to give the user a real time look at energy consumption for the entire house. After I had it installed and got used to the software, I’ve found this to be an invaluable resource. Here is a typical screen shot which gives me a lot of useful information. Especially when I’m trying to track down those mean old energy bandits.

The Total Energy Detective

The way I used T.E.D. was to initially go around the house turning absolutely everything I could think of off. Included were such items as the fridge, the water heater and even my main desktop computer. (In order to see what was going on with TED, I had a small laptop and left the cable modem and wireless server on). With that done, I jotted down the kilowatts still being consumed. I made this figure my baseline amount and then went around the house switching first the fridge and then other devices on an off to get a feel for how much power they consumed. As it turned out, by far the largest was the furnace followed by the water heater and refrigerator. These devices run pretty much all the time. Next, I looked at elective devices like the washer, dryer, dishwasher, microwave, coffee maker and TV. Each was recorded in its turn. When I had finished, I had a pretty good idea of what as using watts (pun intended) and where I needed to look at cutting back. I found, for instance, that a ‘normal’ day used around 30 kilowatt hours of energy. This is assuming no need of either the furnace or the AC. So, that became my baseline level from which to start.

Next blog….space heaters and how to employ them.

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