Condo Blues: How I Slashed my Electric Bills without Moving into a Yurt

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How I Slashed my Electric Bills without Moving into a Yurt

Last March I started my own personal 20% Energy Reduction Challenge . My goal was to reduce the amount of electricity in my 1500 square foot free standing Condo used for the year by 20%.

Everything in The Condo runs on electricity except for the natural gas hot water, fireplace, and furnace.

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I didn’t want to add solar panels or wind turbines to my home because they are a poor return on investment where I live. I also wanted keep all of my current non-Energy Star appliances. Everything I had still worked and it would be too costly and wasteful to replace. But most of all I wanted to see if I could meet my goals this way because a slew of Greenzillas insisted that I couldn’t do it without alternative energy and installing new energy efficient everything. I thought I could.

Of course if something broke beyond repair and had to be replaced during the challenge then I’d replace it with the energy efficient equivalent.

It’s now March 2009 and time to total my monthly results. Turns out that I didn’t make my 20% goal – I BEAT IT. I reduced The Condo’s electric use by 32% during 2008. I used an average of 15 Kwh of electricity a day, and paid only $534.00 in electricity bills for the year. All of this with Central Ohio’s wild mood swings of extreme cold winter weather and extreme hot summer weather!

During the 20% Energy Reduction Challenge project I didn’t suffer or sit alone in dark. I worked at home on a desktop computer in a home office. I still decorated The Condo with outdoor lights for Halloween and Christmas. I kept the refrigerator plugged in. Husband still cooked meals using our electric oven and stove, and I still kept washing full loads of dishes in our dishwasher. And yes, we still used our non-Energy Star central air conditioner in the summer.

How did we do it? With a lot of new habits, and less than $200 in home improvements – most of which went towards switching out the rest of our incandescent light bulbs to more energy efficient models.

  • First I did a home energy audit to get an idea how much electricity we using in 2007 so I could set realistic electricity reduction goal for 2008.

  • I switched out all but 5 our incandescent light bulbs to a variety of energy efficient light bulbs. The 5 incandescent light bulbs are the candle flame type bulbs. I tried the CFL type but switched back to the incandescent models because the candle CFLs looked like 5 little, erm, marital aids in my bedroom chandelier. I’m no prude, but the last thing I want to see before I go to sleep at night is five of those, ahem, facial massagers staring at me from the chandelier over my bed.

  • Killing the vampire power on our electronics made a significant difference in reducing our electrical use.

  • We tried to follow the one person per light per room rule . It wasn’t always possible but it made me more aware that I should turn out the lights after I leave a room.

  • I washed full loads in cold water in my used 1987 washing machine and still saved money on electricity until the washer croaked beyond repair 6 months into the project. I replaced it with a small HE washing machine and continued to wash only full loads of laundry in cold water in it.

  • For the first six months of the project I line dried laundry inside The Condo not so much as an electricity saver, but because my dryer had little dryer fires in it when I used it even though I religiously cleaned the lint trap after each use. I replaced the fire hazard dryer with the companion model to my HE washer and used it for the last six months of the project.

  • I changed how long we kept our outdoor Halloween and Christmas lights on during the evening.

  • We used our small electric kitchen appliances to cook instead of the large electric oven and stove as often as possible.

  • Installing solar shades and keeping the windows open helped cool The Condo during the summer. I also changed when and how I ran the central air conditioning.

Once our new habits took hold, saving electricity became pretty easy. If we can reduce our electrical usage this way maybe you can too. Are you up for the challenge?

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ilex said...

Wow, that's really impressive savings. I haven't switched over to all CFLs yet (about half), but noticed a drop in our bill when I started using the slow cooker more. Slow cooker meals are just freaking delicious. And you get those fab leftovers that are even better the next day...

I'm so getting the facial massager lights for my bedroom, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm up for this challenge, big time! I've bookmarked this blog since every time I visit, I find some innovative and doable ideas that I can use.

We are having a rare sixty degree sunny day here so off to use the outdoor clothesline for a change.

I really, really like the one light per room rule and that is going to be discussed and put into effect very soon. I got up this morning and found not one but four nightlights burning, left on by my not-so-thrifty DH. Why, why, why?

Cathy said...

congratulations--that's fantastic! we're still in the process of replacing our lights--looks like it's really worth it!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Ilex & Cathy - switching your light bulbs over to CFLs/energy eff. bulbs one at time when they burn out is the greenest way to do it because you're using something you already own. Good luck!

Ilex - you are a better woman than I if you can handle those light bulbs in your bedroom!

Anonymous said...

Good for you! I had to go check my charts ... my electricity use also decreased in 2008 by ... wait for it ... 32.5%! High five!

We have 3 people living in an almost 2,000-square-foot house.
- I too get most of my savings from switching to CFLs and hanging out laundry.
- Our house is very cold in winter, and we switched to heating beds with electric blankets instead of using space heaters to keep us from freezing.
- Our stove is gas, but we got a new bigger refrigerator during that time.
- I used a Kill-a-Watt to help us reduce vampire electricity (coffee maker and TV/VCR/DVD most notably).
- We switched to LED Christmas lights.

Our electricity use in 2008 was 21 percent lower than our pre-space-heater use in 2006 ... but our bills in 2006 were $578, and in 2008 they had jumped to $625.

Willo said...

That's great! Congrats!

Sarah Eliza @ devastateboredom said...

I'm working at this one! I'm switching over to CFLS slowly (stocking up when they're on sale lol) and bought a power strip for computer etc... I'm inspired by your example though!

Anonymous said...

Great job! Thanks! It's hard for me to switch to cold water wash, but I will keep trying. Thanks for the inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! That's fantastic. I save my stubs and think I'll go back and check my usage and see which way I'm going. I hope I have done as well!

Joy said...

Good for you! Thanks to just a few of your tips I've noticed that our energy reduction has been down every month this year--but we haven't made it to the thirty percent reduction point yet. It's a goal to strive for! Thanks for joining us this week for Thrifty Green Thursday!

Rebecca said...

Wow, I can't believe you were able to reduce your energy bill by 32%! That is really impressive. I think I'm on the other end of the spectrum . . . we've been using more energy than ever. I haven't exactly figured out why yet, but your post has inspired me to look into it and start using less electricity NOW. After our last electricity bill I have been more diligent about turning lights off, but I need to take it further. Thanks for all the inspiration!

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

Rebecca - You might try unplugging your small appliances and electronics after you use them. That & switching out light bulbs are were I saved most of my electricity. I couldn't unplug my stove or washing machine after each use but I put my TV, cable box, etc. on power strips and shut them off at the switch when I turn off the TV. Switching off those electronics - made a huge difference. If you have some items that need to stay plugged in (the DVR) I just put that one on it's own power strip and put any other electronics that you can turn off on a separate power strip. I put little post it notes reminder on items to remind us to turn them off after each use until it got to be a habit.

Rebecca said...

I think you're right. I have been reluctant to turn off the tv/vcr/dvd player because the VCR has a little clock on it that I look at. That is probably costing me money! I could also put our wireless modem, printer, and stereo on a power strip and turn those off.

We could also figure out how to plug in our washing machine correctly. Right now you have to leave all the lights in the basement on while you wash clothes due to some strange quirk of the wiring.

We have energy-efficient bulbs in most of our fixtures, but unfortunately, it's not possible for the ones we use the most. Our main lamp has a dimmer switch. We put compact flourescents in it and they wouldn't stop flickering, so we had to switch back.

Anonymous said...

Awesome job!! Also very interesting to me since I am hopefully moving to Columbus in June and we are looking at condos and townhouses. Nice to know we can keep costs down going that route. ;)

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I qualify as "greenzilla" yet, but I have been doing most,if not all, of your suggestions for a while.I can't say how much it has reduced our energy use as we have been remodelling a 115 year old house over the past 3 years.The house was so drafty and energy-inefficient, the previous owners could barely afford to heat it in winter.We reduced our propane use by 50% the first winter with insulation and weatherproofing, and have over 60 CFLs installed now.Sam's Club has been the cheapest we have found them so far, at @ $12 for 8 sixty watt bulbs.We also went with energy star appliances in the kitchen remodel,and low-flow shower heads to help reduce our hot water use as we have an electric water heater.

One thing you didn't mention is the "smart strip" power strip, which is a surge protector that has a master outlet and several secondary outlets ,plus one or more that stay unswitched.The master plug would be for the computer or TV, with peripherals(monito,printer, DVD/VCR) plugged into the secondary plugs so when you turn off the main item, the phantom power automatically shuts of to the secondary outlets without you having to do anything else,so no problem with forgetting to turn off the power strip.I have several Philips brand ones now that I bought at Walmart for about $20 each, but I saw this type of power strip originally on the Oprah show.We also switched to a thermal carafe coffee maker when I realized the regular ones use almost as much electricity as a hair dryer.Ours takes about 5 minutes to brew, then we unplug the maker and the pot stays warm for about 5 hours.I have also found small battery powered motion-activated lights that we use for hallways and other areas where we don't need much light, or just for a few moments.They are LEDs, and we use rechargeable batteries.It keeps me from having to hound the kids quite so much about turning off the lights in those areas.We had to do something when electricity rates went up drastically a few years ago.I am glad others are trying to conserve our limited resources,too, and saving money in the process.Good luck, everyone!

Anonymous said...

This is soooo impressive! And all your posts describing your progress are interesting.

In one of them you mentioned recharging the Roomba before using it in the morning. Mine takes a good six hours to fully recharge, which can be an inconvenience. With all hard floors, though, I've learned that an old-fashioned broom followed by a dust mop will do the job just fine, without using any electric at all.

After reading yours and your commenters' suggestions, I definitely will check out the "smart" power strip. The main reason I don't shut down my computer & its ancillary gadgetry is that I'm not sure what happens when the Cox cable modem and the Airport router are shut off...will they come back on? Will I have to go through some elaborate reinstall routine every time I power back up?

One thing that's handy in older houses (haven't seen this in new developments around here) is a light switch that controls an electric outlet. The TV & its friends are attached to that outlet, along with three puck lights on top of the TV armoire. The only way you can turn off the lights in the room is to turn off the power to the TV.

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Anonymous said...

This article has also been included in Carnival of Money Saving Tips hosted at Save Few Bucks

Anonymous said...

This article has been included in the Make It from Scratch Blog Carnival at Funny about Money

Anonymous said...

I'd like to see a photo of that chandelier with those light could be good fertility feng shui ?!?

Thanks for the great read and ideas on saving. Love this post!

Anonymous said...

This article has been included in the A Carnival of Everything Home hosted by My DIY Home Tips

gate valves said...

what a great article. using CFL bulbs really saves you a lot of money. great post.

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Energy Saving

moving company said...

Absolutely awesome. This is really impressive energy savings. I can see that you put your best efforts for saving energy about 20% per year and that results in good saving of 32%. This is brilliant man. I never thought about it. This blog is also encouraging me for energy saving. Thanks Man !