Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hitting a 35:2 electrical ratio in December! What?

Let me explain, right off the bat, that the 35 to2 thing is the ratio of the average temperature to the amount of heating (electricity) that has to be expended in kilowatt hours per hour. A power use rate of two kilowatt hours per hour for one day would equate to 48 kWh’s! In terms of money spent, that would be about $5 a day or $150 per average month! (Not a bad heating bill in the mist of winter down here in southwest Missouri)! Let me did a bit deeper.

The month of December, where I live, typically will see daytime highs at around 46°F with overnight lows at about 24°F. (This reflects the 30 year average for West Plains, Missouri which is near where I live)! The average, then, comes out to about {46+24}/2 = 35°F. (Last year, my average was 34.3°F, and so it was pretty close). Back in December 2013, I used 1850 kWh’s of electrical power in my home. That averages out to 1,850/31 = 59.7 kWh per day or 2.5 kWh per hour. Close, but no cigar! So, the challenge this year, will be to knock off that .5 of a kilowatt hour over the course of the 31 days that constitute the month of December. Hope this all makes some sort of sense.

This year (2014), December has been rather warm. As of the 15th of the month the average temperature was 42°F with just 566 kWh used versus a last year mid month total of 1047! Wow! That’s pretty warm! So, this year, I was thinking that perhaps I could do even better than a 2 kWh per hr rate! That’s assuming that we don’t go into the deep freeze for the balance of the month. But, what it that does happen? What’s my plan to conserve energy?

My Five Step Plan
In order to insure that I get through December in the best style I can, I’ve come up with five steps to reduce my heating costs as much as possible. (Note that I’m a bachelor living alone).
    1. Cut back on whole house thermostat settings while heating just one room with space heaters.
      One of the best ways to save on heating costs is to reduce the envelope of space that you have to heat! The rest of the rooms can be kept at 66°F (or lower) while energy efficient space heaters supply just enough heat to keep the room you are living in at 73°F!
    2. Use a humidifier to insure a humidity level of about 35%.
      During the dry and cold months of the year, the energy you expend on a humidifier to keep the moisture levels at a livable range are well worth every penny. Moist air retains heat much better than dry air!
    3. Keep all windows covered with blinds to conserve heat.
      With the exception of those days when bright sunlight streams directly into a room, it's best to keep them covered. I've found that there is a significantly large deviation in temperature reading between a cold window and the surface of a blind or window cover.
    4. Leave those computers on 24/7.
      I have a couple of computers in my heated room that use only a bit of electricity, but which deliver a surprising amount of heat!
    5. Use a ceiling fan to evenly circulate the heat.
      This last is pretty much a no brainer – fans even out the hot and cold spots while also insuring that water vapor from the humidifier is properly distributed.
      So, that’s the plan for this December. If the month continues on a warmer than normal trend, hurray for everyone. On the other hand, if things go into the dumpster, and energy savings I accrue will be appreciated! I’ll update this post at the end of the month to let anyone with an interest know how I did!

      Saturday, December 6, 2014

      The GoodNight LED bulb!

      Want a better night’s sleep? Did you know the light bulb that’s been in your bedroom lamp since…well…forever just might be getting in the way of your body making melatonin – the hormone that helps you fall asleep? Many people spend $200 a year on sleeping pills, or up to $1200 on sleep therapy. It’s time for a better solution. The Good Night ™ LED light bulb originally developed for NASA astronauts on the International Space Station, lets melatonin do its thing. So when you’re ready to sleep, your body is too.

      Review: "A frequent insomniac, I discovered this light engineered by/for NASA. Having also discovered Amazon.com sells it less expensively, I was pleased to receive it with Amazaon's usual good service and delivery. Although a review I read gave the impression insomnia would be gone the first night, I haven't found that so for me. That's an individual thing. I am, however, sleeping better combined with an hour before bed of resting my eyes from TV, and iPhone use. Learning the science behind this light helped me understand my contribution to the insomnia. I gravitated to this product, regardless of the expense, because I've experienced the benefits of light therapy before--reducing the effects of clinical depression. To me if I can get better and more sleep at night, it's priceless."

      While not cheap at about $55 (available at Amazon), this bulb uses only about $1.45 of energy per year while supplying 60 watts of light!

      Sunday, November 9, 2014

      Important cold weather considerations!

      Every year, a sudden cold snap seems to catch many homeowners by surprise! The arctic cold that is forecast to invade southwestern Missouri late Tuesday and then stay for awhile is likely to be no exception. Here are a few things I like to do in preparation:
      1. Unhook all water hoses from the house. While the temperatures are only expected to dip into the 20's, it's a good practice to get this chore done prior to really chilly nights later in the season.
      2. Change your furnace air filter to insure optimum performance during the heating months.
      3. Make up an 'emergency survival pack' for your vehicle. Items to consider are chocolate bars, candles, blankets, cell phone charger, flashlights and whatever else you might need should your car get stuck in a blizzard or ice storm.
      4. Check home foundation or crawlspace vents to make sure they are closed. This can help prevent water pipes from freezing.
      5. Set up a humidifier to help keep moisture in the living areas during exceptionally cold and dry days.
      6. Dial back the central furnace at nights and employ a space heater in each bedroom to help save money. Consider purchasing the Nest thermostat.
      7. Purchase window insulator kits from companies like 3M to help slow the leakage of heat through outside windows.
      8. Have you car battery tested to make sure it's ready for cold starts.
      9. When near zero temperatures will occur, open the cabinets under the sinks and allow water to drip during the coldest times.
      10. Close off rooms that are not needed. The few spaces you have to heat the better.

      Wednesday, November 5, 2014

      November marks the start of winter for me!

      Sure, I realize that the official start of winter is December the 21st. (A day that has the longest night and shortest day, aka the Winter Solstice)! That's nice, but for me, any day that sees temperatures averaging in the forties qualifies it as 'winter like'. And, even though we had one day that saw 70, most were on the cool side. Unfortunately, the trend will only go down hill over the next three to four months! While November sees average readings of 58F to 34F, December averages 46F to 24F with January at 45F to 22 degrees and February rounds out the winter period at 50F and 26F respectively! These readings average down to 46F, 35F, 33.5F and 38F and so are quite cool to cold.

      With electric rates 13% higher this year than last, I can be sure to see quite a bite if this winter is at or below average! Therefore, I plan to to do everything I can think of to employ cost saving devices over the coming months. I am also planning on selling my home soon and on downgrading to something smaller and hopefully more heating/cooling efficient.

      Friday, June 20, 2014

      Energy savings in the summer time is challenging!

      Forsyth MO - In late June, every year, I always grow a little bit concerned about how much money my heat pump is going to burn through just to keep my house cooled down to a still warmish 82°F. With electric rate recently increased to a summertime rate of 0.1149 cents per kilowatt hour (up from .1070 or a 7% increase), I want to make sure I'm doing all that I can to keep my electric bill as small as possible. Note that the Empire Electric Coop also tacks on a $12.52 usage charge to every monthly bill!

      In July, down here in southwest Missouri, we can often get into the low to mid nineties (average high is 89°F), with oftentimes lots of humidity to make things even more uncomfortable. From past experiments, I've already ascertained that when the temperature hits the 90 degree mark, it will typically mean a 30+ kWh power use day to run my whole house and to cool it down to 81°F. Last year, the temperature hit 90+ over 16 times in July! The only thing that save me that year was a surprise cool down toward the end of the month! My total power used, that year, was 674 kWh. That would relate to a $90 electric bill at todays current rates.

      Forsyth MO temps for July 2013
      The Plan

      So, what's my plan for this summer? I want to keep my electric cost as low as possible without frying in the process. I've considered a couple of alternatives, including purchasing a small portable AC unit to cool just my man cave. This unit has a dual function in that it both cools the air and dehumidifies! The SPT 8,000BTU Single Hose Portable AC unit pictured here, sells for $288 on Amazon. The problem I have with this approach is that it also uses power!

      A second approach to saving on energy would be to utilize my basement on the really hot days. The air down there typically runs at about 67°F all year long. It's a finished basement complete with a bedroom and a bathroom, so I may just plan to move down there and see how that goes. Stay tuned for more!

      Wednesday, June 18, 2014

      My power use for the first really warm day of late June!

      For anyone who lives on a fixed income, you live or die based on variable costs like electricity which can fluctuate by as much as 30% from one month to the next. In general, we all get a break twice a year; in the spring and then again in the fall when neither the furnace or the AC is running.

      Thus far, I'd been able to skate by with my AC in the off position until the 17th of June when it began to get seriously hot. By noon on that day, the temperature outdoors read 86°F and seemed headed for 90 or so by the late afternoon. The relative humidity read 60% and that more than anything else prodded me to turn my heat pump to cool to 81°F. In my room, at that time, the reading was 83°F which felt a bit warm. I was running a ceiling fan which helps up to only a point. I had been averaging 15.3 kWh thus far in the month, but felt sure that was going to change upwards pretty quickly! (I was, in point of fact, trending towards a total power use of about 582 kWh through the 16th. The would equate to an electric bill from Empire Electric of only about $80).

      At 12:00 Noon, I noticed I had used 8.8 kWh of power (since midnight) which was not too bad. At that rate (.733 kilowatts per hour) I could normally expect to finish the day at about 17.6 kWh which would be very doable and in line with the monthly average. (That was not be the case, however).

      Quite often in the early summer, we get pop up thunderstorms that serves to cool everything down before moving on. It's not unusual to see the temperatures drop twenty degrees or more as the rain transports cold upper air down to the ground. Unfortunately as you can see at right, the radar over southwest Missouri was not looking very promising!

      A fourteen hundred square foot home such as the one I live in and which is a stick-built ranch style dwelling with a basement (cooling effect) – I can normally expect a buffering effect from the outside temperatures to last for a couple of hours after the temperature gets much above the cooling level set for the AC – or, in my case, 81°F. On this date, we hit the 81'outside' degree mark at 9:54 AM. The AC kicked on, for the first time at 11:01 AM and then kicked off at 11:39 AM (see graph). Poof! A few kilowatt hours of power spent on cooling! Of note also was an attic reading of 108.9 degrees! So, above my head was that kind of head while below in the basement it read 65°F. A temperature that is maintained pretty much no matter what's going on outside! And, there I was stuck in the middle!

      12:43 PM – AC kicked on – outside temperature was then at 86.6°F. Inside was 83.8°F. Attic reading was 110.7°F. Clouds were increasing a bit – the sky was at about 50% coverage. AC was on for 1 hour.

      3:00 PM – The temperature outside was 89.2°F. Inside, it was 82.6°F with an attic temperature of 115.2°F. Power use at that moment was 13.2 kWh. At 3:10, the AC kicked back on. The temp out was then 90°F.

      The AC kicked on two more times – at about 5PM and 7PM, at which point things cooled down enough to retire its operation for the balance of the day. The total power used was 26.2 kWh. Assuming that 15.3 kWh was average, this meant I used 10.9 kWh for cooling. This come to about a buck in terms of cost.

      Tuesday, February 4, 2014

      My heating bills are driving me batty!

      This chart nicely translates into the approx costs per month
      Starting with this past December, my electric bills have skyrocketed compared to what they were in the past! It's been three winter seasons since I've seen heating bills this high. Part of the reason for the increase have been the progressive rate hikes by the local electric cooperative aka Empire Electric. My rates have seen something like a 24% increase in the electric rates since 2010. As a result, I've suffered back to back bills that were well over $200 and fully expect the same treatment after February when all said and done.

      February, which just got started as of this post, could well be a record breaker in terms of cold temperatures. As of the 3rd, my location in Forsyth MO is ten degrees below average and we have five more days that will struggle to see the twenty degree mark for a high!

      So, in an effort to reduce my overall bill for February, I plan to recuse myself to my bedroom while setting the whole house temperature setting back to 66F during the daytime hours. I have a small space heater and a humidifier running 24/7 to help keep conditions livable.