Condo Blues: 20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge: November Update & Tips

Monday, December 15, 2008

20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge: November Update & Tips

My goal is to lower my home’s natural gas and electricity use by 20% in 2008. I also want to 
reduce my utilities as inexpensively as possible. Our main focus is on changing habits instead of replacing all of our fairly new and still working appliances and items with Energy Star equivalents. If our stuff wears out beyond fixability then of course, we’ll consider Energy Star items as replacements if applicable. Now that it’s getting colder in Central Ohio, we’ve turned on our natural gas furnace and unfortunately, it’s supposed to be a colder than normal winter. Winter is when our natural gas usage is at its highest, so let’s see how we did for November 2008.

November Natural Gas Usage

We use natural gas for heat, hot water, and a natural gas fireplace in our living room. Once the outside temperature dips to 40 degrees (F), we turn on the heat and switchover to some winter heat saving habits. Our habits and minor home improvements are paying off because in November 2008 we only used 28 CCF of natural gas dowm from the 37 CCF of natural gas we used in November of 20o7, that's a 9 CCF difference folks!

How I Lowered My Natural Gas Bill in November

  • We use the preset program on our programmable thermostat. It raises to 68 degrees when we wake up in the morning, lowers to 58 degrees after Husband leaves for work (I work at home), raises to 65 degrees for evening, and lowers to 62 degrees after bedtime. I highly recommend that if you are buying a new programmable thermostat that you get one with a preset program. It really takes the guesswork out of trying to decide how cold or warm to set the thermostat without worrying about it being so cold that the pipes freeze. (Yes, in Condo Blues fashion, we did have the main water pipe freeze because we set the thermostat too low one winter's eve, oops.)

  • Even with when working at home with the daytime temperature set at 58 degrees I’m able to stay warm without a lot of extra effort or energy. My office is upstairs in The Condo, and as we all know, heat rises – so it’s a tad warmer than downstairs. Surprisingly, I found that if I keep the door to the office shut, the CPU of my computer warms up the room a little bit. Our computers are home built (a more economical upgrade path for us since we’re able to pass old parts between ourselves or on to others who can use them – unlike laptops) and while I don’t recommend using your computer as a replacement space heater it might be a contributing factor as to why I’m not jacking up the heat during the day.
November Electrical Usage

Daylight savings time means that we are turning on our lights earlier and using them longer in the evenings (so I ask you, where is the “savings” part of Daylight Savings Time? Anyone? Anyone?) And like most people’s natural gas furnaces our has an electric fan that helps blow the heat throughout the duct work in The Condo in order to keep the whole place warm. Again, those CLFs and new electrical habits are paying off in lower electric bills, with very little effort. In November 2007, we used 586 KWH of electricity (approximately 20 KWH a day) and lowered that to 458 KWH of electricity (approximately 15 KWH a day) in November 2008. That’s a reduction of 128 KWH of electricity! (Cue Happy Dance.)

How I Lowered My Electric Bill in November

  • Now that it’s getting colder, we are drinking a lot more hot tea in the evenings. I like to use the microwave to make my tea (it’s quick and uses less electricity.) Husband likes to use the electric stove (the water stay hotter in his mug longer.) Nevertheless, the electric stove obviously uses more electricity than the microwave oven. I ended the How to Make Hot Tea argument by buying Husband an electric teakettle for his birthday. Now he uses less electricity to make his hot tea, which I have to admit the electric tea kettle works a lot better than my using the microwave oven to heat tea water.

  • December outdoor holiday light conundrum. I love decorating the outside of The Condo for the holidays. I usually do a few strings of lights on the porch rails and battery operated battery operated candles with light sensors in the windows, sorry, no insane Griswald Christmas light displays here. However, all of my current lights are electricity-sucking incandescents, not miserly LEDs. Since we’re trying to meet this challenge without replacing everything we own, that includes no new strings of outdoor holiday lights. I might skip the outdoor electric lights this year. AEP was very kind to raise our rates and even though our November 2008 electricity use was lower, the rate hike made the 2008 electric bill almost the same amount of money as the November 2007 bill. Thank you for the early holiday gift AEP!

  • That’s not to say we’re being Scrooge and not decorating the outside of the Condo at all for Christmas. I put up all of the other outdoor decorations, everything we normally decorate with except the strings of electric lights. The interior designer neighbor still pronounced my outdoor holiday décor “more festive than mine” (which is nothing – in the cobbler’s son doesn’t have shoes kind of way) so I’m not feeling too bad about just using candles in the windows as holiday lights this year.

  • December indoor holiday light not a conundrum. We decided to follow the Danish custom of just lighting the tree on Christmas Day during our gift exchange. However, we are using electric lights (again incandescents) and not the traditional real candles. While I’m all for saving electricity, I don’t want to it at the risk of burning down The Condo if (when) I get klutzy around the Christmas tree!

Eventually I’d like to add some LED Christmas lights to our decorating arsenal. Some of the reviews I’ve read for LED outdoor holiday lights say that some brands corrode after about a year and given that strings of LED lights cost significantly more money, that’s not something I want to replace every year. Does anyone have a recommendation for strings of durable LED holiday lights?

How do you save natural gas and electricity during the winter months?

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Cathy said...

Wow--I'm impressed you keep your thermostat at 58! I can barely handle 68, but I'm really making an effort this year.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how you can stand it at 58 degrees ... although if our thermostat is set at 62 during the day, my kitchen is often 56 degrees -- brr! I work at home, too, but I turn on a space heater in my office and wear fingerless gloves so my fingers won't break off if I type too fast. Today it's -1 degree here and I'm working in bed under the electric blanket.

LED Christmas lights were worth it to me last year (at least for indoor) - we took advantage of sales and perhaps a Lowe's coupon, and having the tree lit all the time didn't even bump our electricity bill.

Changing our light bulbs to CFLs made a huge difference -- every month this year, our electricity usage has been the lowest ever (4 years of tracking).

Because our house is freezing, we have used space heaters at night to not get frostbite on our noses. Last winter we switched to electric blankets and saved a bundle -- January went from 1,131 Kwh to 466 Kwh!! Again, well worth the investment.

Good luck with your challenge!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Cathy & Cheap Like Me - I'm a wuss about being cold. I think I can handle the house at 58 degrees during the day because I sealed up air leaks around the windows inside & out, at the baseboards, and outlets and light switches. Or becauase I hug my computer at lot. I really like my computer.

Cheap Like Me - We have an electric blanket too. Although since I like to have so many extra blankets on the bed, I haven't used it much so this winter.

Anonymous said...

You have been working on this for quite a while now and you have met some of your goals. Congrats!!! I do not think I could handle 58 degrees. That is just a little too nippy for me!

Unknown said...

Well...she didn't say it drops to 58 only that the thermostat is set to 58 during (part of) the day. It's possible that the temperature never drops down that low or does it?

It's nice to see people doing energy use reductions but I would like to challenge you to cut more. The largest electric bill I've had recently is 300 KWH (5 people, one month bill cycle). That's without any type of solar or wind electricity creation. That number also included a gamer house-mate that used a large desktop 12+ hours a day. My oven and hot water are nat. gas though.

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

James - My indoor thermostat is set and goes down to 58 degrees a day. My home averages using 15 Kwh of electricity a day. I have an all electric kitchen and I work at home. There's not much more that we can cut in terms of electric use.

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