Condo Blues: Twenty Percent Home Energy Reduction Challenge – Summer Update

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Twenty Percent Home Energy Reduction Challenge – Summer Update

I conducted a DIY Energy Audit using the using the Energy Star Home Energy Yardstick to determine my home’s Energy Performance. My home energy performance grade was Below Average with a score of 3.7 out of 10. The Yardstick suggested I cut my electricity and natural gas consumption by 20%. I decided to do it.

I gave myself the additional goal to make the reductions as sustainable and inexpensively as I could, meaning that things like changing habits, light bulbs, and sealing air leaks with caulk and insulation were in. Replacing everything I own with the newest most expensive Energy Star equivalent or installing an array of solar panels on The Condo were out.

“It can’t be done!” many people cried, “You need to replace those three-year-old appliances with Energy Star equivalents! You need to install solar, wind, geothermal to get low green energy bills!” (Personally, I’d love to install such alternative technologies but it’s not going to do much good until I reduce our energy consumption first.)

So how am I doing? Pretty darn good. The Condo’s electrical use is down for January through July of this year, in some cases I cut our electrical use by 50%.


This is for a home that uses electricity for all kitchen and laundry appliances. Lighting and to power to electric fan in our gas furnace. We also have central air conditioning.

The Condo uses natural gas for heat, hot water, and a gas fireplace. My gas usage is a little disappointing for January and February because our natural gas usage actually increased in 2008 from 2007. Oops.


The higher January and February gas usage made me to look at our natural gas heating habits. I checked that the hot water heater was set at 120 degrees (F) (it was), put a blanket on the hot water heater, turned off the pilot light to the gas fireplace that we only used when the electricity goes out, sealed air leaks around outlets, windows, doors, and the fireplace, and checked the settings of the programmable thermostat. I found that lowering the settings on the thermostat from the default settings helped lower our gas usage quite a bit.

However, the real energy savings came from examining Columbia Gas’ billing practices. Turns out that my gas company only takes an actual gas meter reading every other month. The other months they estimate their customer’s gas usage. In addition, after looking through past bills, they like to estimate our usage high. Fortunately, on estimate months, Columbia Gas allows their customers to read and report their own meters. Once I started doing my own meter reads on estimate months in March (the same month we got a huge freak snowstorm that dumped 10 inches of snow on us ), I noticed that our natural gas use went down. That’s very encouraging.

Do you have any energy saving tips to share? I’d really love to know!

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Anonymous said...

What an encouraging post! I think oftentimes people give up on reducing their utilities simply because they assume that they would need to make big, expensive changes. Kudos for finding out that the little stuff makes a big impact on reducing carbon emissions and utility bills. Thanks for joining Thrifty Green Thursday this week!

AmazinAlison said...

Thanks for sharing your spread sheet! I love spread sheets, so it is motivating to see what you did and how simple it to this in the Green Me house!

I've been feeling at little bit at a loss this year (afraid to compare this year to last year), because we had central AC installed and we had a baby whose room happens to be the most temperature sensitive in the house!

In the winter we got him a space heater and just turned the whole house thermostat down, to try and make up for the difference -- we used to keep it at 65 at night and we lowered it to 63. This summer we've been keeping a fan in his room at night, but I am not sure what we'll do this winter, since the baby is now a toddler and a space heater is now going to be a hazard! Pardon the long comment, your post just got me in the right spot!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Greenbaby - that's why I decided to try to reduce our usage the cheap way. To show that even if you don't live in a very green state (like me) or have the resources (local ordinances, power company help, loads of extra cash, etc.) to install a bunch of alternative energy generators (like me), and you're concerned that getting rid of fairly new and perfectly good appliances that could actually cause more eco-waste than solving an eco-energy problem (like me) that you can still reduce your energy bills without living like the Amish. I respect the Amish but I can't live like them for one simple reason: I like to wear pants.

Green me - glad you found my spreadsheet helpful. I hid many of the columns in the original spreadsheet so it would fit on the page. In reality, it has more columns and calculations to track our usage because I'm a science geek (I suppose that's what happens when you grow up reading your Dad's Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines!)

I have central AC too. Normally our Gas and electric usage flip flop from winter to summer. High Gas in winter, low in summer. Low electric in winter, high in summer due to the AC. Fortunately it hasn't been as hot and humid this summer as it normally is(usually high 80's to 90s from July to August), so we've tried to run the AC less or turn it off and go with fans if the temp is in the low 80's. Not always possible because our bedrooms and the computer room is upstairs and it gets much hotter up here than it does downstairs. And Pekingese are a heat sensitive breed prone to heat stroke if you’re not careful. I don’t’ want our energy conversation practices have a negative impact on the most beloved member of the family! On the really hot days, I do run the AC but try to set it at 75ish degrees. I find that setting my programmable thermostat higher or lower than the default presets helps a lot in curbing energy use without too much of a comfort impact on the family, including the dog.

Rebecca said...

This is really impressive. I especially like the tip about checking your own meter on the "estimate months."

Green Me, we have a space heater in our daughter's room at night. We reduce the thermostat to 59 at night (we used to keep it at 62 during the DAY, but now that we have a baby, we keep it at a toasty 65!) and keep her room warm. Is your toddler still in a crib? My daughter is, so I know she can't run around and knock the heater over. During the day it's unplugged. Once we move her into a real bed, we'll offer her more blankets at night--I think she's getting to the age where she can sleep with heavier layers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Condo ... great job! I don't think you could of done any better! However, if your water heater goes out, you might want to look into a tankless water heater. Might even save your more on water and electric but until keep up the good work!

Mary said...

Very impressive and very encouraging post. Thanks for sharing. I put in a programmable thermostat a couple of months ago, which has an "energy star" default setting. I've kept it on that and it has really helped. I'm more sensitive to cold than heat so, with winter coming, we'll see if I can keep my hands off the thermostat! I'm going to start a chart like yours and keep track of my kwh's. I'm probably not doing as well as I think I am!

Anonymous said...

Linked at

Lisa said...

I really need to do this. I have changed all the light bulbs to CFL, turn off lights and power strips when not in use. I'm sure there is so much more I can do!

One thing I do is during the day if it's not hot outside or really cold I open curtains and use natural light over turning on lights. This works in all our east facing rooms really well.

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