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

Thursday, January 8, 2009

20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge – December Update & Tips

It’s the last month of my 2007 20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge! Let’s see how I did at reducing my home's electric and natural gas consumption by 20% in December.

December Electricity Usage

Even with putting up electric holiday lights and decorations, I significantly reduced how much electricity we used in December. I’m sure that I could have reduced that number by not putting up any holiday lights but I really didn’t want to do that. One of my goals of the 20% Home Utility Reduction Challenge was to prove that I could reduce my electricity and natural gas consumption and not have to endure major hardships or put in huge sacrifices. I like Christmas with all it’s trimmings including holiday lights. To me ignoring the whole thing, as some Greenzillas would prefer the world to do, is a major hardship and huge sacrifice for me. I think that life is a balancing act and yes, you can still have some holiday decorations if it makes you happy just try not to overdo it so that you have so many incandescent lights up that you can see your house from space. Of course, your mileage may vary on this issue.

However, my personal balancing act is paying off. Last December I used 641 Kwh of electricity, approximately 21 Kwh a day. This December I reduced that load to 449 Kwh of electricity, approximately 15 Kwh a day. That’s a 70% reduction in electricity for the month of December! Whoo-hoo!

How I Lowered My Electric Bill in December

  • Let there be sunlight! I noticed if I raised the solar shades to let more sunlight in my office during the day, the room got a little cooler despite my double pane windows and home sealing efforts. Therefore, I keep the shades down on the North side of the house. Fortunately, even when the solar shades are down, they still let in enough sunlight that I don’t have to turn on the overhead office light.

  • Turn off the extra lights at bedtime. I wrestled with whether I should put up Christmas lights or not. It’s not that I’m anti-Christmas light. I’m anti-high electrical usage. Well, long story short I ended up putting up a couple of strings of incandescent Christmas lights instead of lighting the boughs of greenery on the porch rails with two halogen spotlights. I might add that the strings of incandescent lights use more electricity than the halogen spotlights. The difference is that instead of setting the timer on my lights to light the lights from dusk to dawn, I changed it to turn the lights on at dusk and keep them lit for 6 hours. In other words, the outside lights turned off after the Condo Residents were tucked snugly in their beds. Next year, I’m using the LED Christmas lights I won thanks to a contest at Rob’s World. I can’t wait to try them out!

  • Santa lights the Christmas tree! In the past, I turned on the Christmas tree lights every evening up until Christmas day. This year as well as last year, I changed that. I decided to follow the Danish tradition of lighting the tree on only Christmas day although I still stuck with my incandescent tree lights instead of the traditional real candles. I’m all for saving energy but not at the risk of accidently burning down The Condo!

December Natural Gas Usage

December was an estimate month and Columbia Gas estimated the bill high – very high. It’s my fault really, because my gas company allows it’s customers to call in their own gas meter readings on estimate months. I didn’t do that because a nasty case of stomach flu sidelined me the week that the readings were due. I didn’t ask Husband to do it for me, which he would have if I had asked.

Here are the numbers. Columbia Gas says that I used 79 CCF of natural gas in December 2007 which is up 5 CCF from the 74 CCF of natural gas we used in December of 2006. I don’t believe these numbers to be an accurate indication of how much natural gas The Condo consumed in December. I’m still using the same program on the programmable thermostat as November as well as all of my winter energy saving habits. These combined efforts lowered The Condo’s natural gas consumption by 70% in November 2007. Also after checking my spreadsheet, I found that The Condo’s monthly natural gas usage is consistently lower on the months when the gas company took actual gas meter readings.

I’m not sure if I can dispute the gas company’s estimate of my December natural gas bill. Has anyone tred to do this? Did it work for you?

How I Tried to Lower My Natural Gas Bill in December

  • Drink it hot. My daytime and evening drink of choice is a nice tall glass of water. In cold weather I noticed that I’m colder on the afternoons I drank cold water while working than on the afternoons when I drank a hot beverage – usually hot chocolate or hot tea. Interesting. So after I’ve chugged my RDA of coffee in the morning (roughly a gallon) I switch to a hot decaf drink, usually tea made from the mint I dried from my garden last summer.

  • I follow the dog’s lead and try to spend as much time in the warmer areas of The Condo. I like to call it The Blitzkrieg Heat Index because Blitzkrieg is very good at finding the warmer spots in the house during cold weather and the cooler spots in the house during warm weather. The Condo’s built on a concrete slab, which makes the floor on the first floor colder to stocking feet and bare paws than the second floor even though we have carpeting in the first floor living room. I’m not sure if there’s a way to add insulation between the carpeting or vinyl tile in the kitchen (gaaah!) and the foundation slab, other than installing something like radiant floor heat. Given that the flooring is still newish and that radiant floor heat is a major expense plus the new floor covering we’d have to purchase and install over the radient floor heat pad, it’s much easier and cheaper to wear fuzzy slippers while downstairs and sit on the sofa while watching TV or reading than sprawling out on the floor.

  • Layer up. Despite my Danish heritage, I’m one of those people who are perpetually cold, possibly a result of the smidge of UK heritage that’s also in my family tree. On the other hand, it might be a result of me having a cold, cold heart - you pick. Anyway, in winter, I dress in layers and if I’m still cold, I’ll wear long underwear under my layered clothes. Yes, even under dress clothes when I work in a cold office building.

  • Go with the throw. Even when the setback thermostat raises the temperature in the evenings, I still tend to get cold while watching TV downstairs. Husband doesn’t. Instead of lighting the gas fireplace (which sucks huge amounts of natural gas), I grab a throw from the closet and toss it over my legs. Blitzkrieg has an affinity for lying on blankets so he usually asks to join me on the sofa and likes to snuggle up by my side or on my lap. Fuzzy dog sharing body heat? Bonus.

How do you stay warm during the cold months without cranking up the heat?

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Joy said...

You have inspired me to check our yearly energy output more carefully. I was excited to see that this year we spent less than last year despite the fact that temperatures were far colder and the billing cycle had an extra day. All those little steps are paying off! Thanks for joining us this week for Thrifty Green Thursday!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Yes Joy, I was surprised myself how all of the little things we changed around The Condo combined to make a very big difference in lowering our energy consumption!

Rebecca said...

I should really check our energy bills, too. I haven't looked at one in a long time. We have online billing and it's easy to never look at it.

I keep my house at 64. That is very cold for a lot of people, but any higher than that and I feel like it's unbearably hot. At night we turn it down to 58, only because we have a baby. We used to just turn it off at night.

Off to check my bills now. . . .

Rebecca said...

Okay, I just checked my gas bill. It was very interesting. It said we used 38 units (CCFs) of gas in December. Compare that to only 5 units in July! We have gas heat, a gas stove, and gas water heater. The water heater is old but the furnace is brand new and 95% efficient.

Lisa said...

I live with my in-laws so the lowest the temp gets set is 69 or 68. I still freeze cause our house feels a lot colder cause it's very drafty.

I have tons of blankets and a heat blanket and I also layer.

Anonymous said...

I bought LED lights to replace my halogen MR16 bulbs the other day from a website called that I would recommend enthusiastically. They had good service (good phone and email support), great FAQs so I knew what I needed, and competitive prices; also, their shipping was fast and the LEDs were as good as advertised. Excellent ecommerce site

Kristin - The Goat said...

I put on socks and shoes. My feet are cold all the time and keeping my shoes on my feet makes my life much better. I wear a cardigan type sweater and I have a small down throw that is my best friend in the cold.

Robj98168 said...

I am so sorry I didn't get the LED lights to you in time for you to put them up for christmas! I hope you enjoy them

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