Take a walk around your house and visit any part of the house you don't see frequently. This includes attics, basements, crawlspaces, garages, closets, storage rooms, junk rooms, etc. (Sometimes you may have to get down on your hands and knees.) Everywhere you go, look for energy-saving opportunities that you may have been missing.
... sort of.
President Obama deserves our applause not for changing any regulations, or sponsoring a new law, or anything like that — what he did yesterday is require that the federal government follow existing laws. This is a pleasant change of pace, and once that I personally look forward to more of in the future.
All Obama did is issue two memoranda, one to the Secretary of Transportation and the other to the Administrator of the EPA. He asked — fairly nicely, I thought — that these fine gentlemen do their jobs.
In the first case, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 — in 2007, of course. Among other things, this law requires that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) raise American fuel economy standards to 35 MPG by the year 2020, starting in the year 2011. Through some Byzantine logic, the deadline to publish the new standards is March 30, 2009. The NHTSA has known about this, literally, for years now but has not yet published those standards.
And in the second case, the EPA — the agency dedicated to protecting our environment — denied a petition by the State of California to increase air quality standards in California. The EPA has consistently allowed this waiver of federal regulations for years now, but suddenly decided in 2008 that having clean air in California was no longer part of their mandate.
In both cases, America will have higher fuel efficiency — and cleaner air.
Thank you, Mr. President.
According to the latest numbers from the EIA, the average American household spends about $2,000 per year on energy, rounding up for inflation. Since our total cost for energy in 2008 was about $3,200, I thought at first that we had been doing something seriously wrong.
Then I looked at the data a little harder and figured out that the EIA's numbers assume a single-family house of about 2,000 square feet. The EIA says that this average house uses about 11,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 7,000 cubic feet, or 70 therms, of natural gas per year. Looking elsewhere for water data, we also find that this average house uses about 58,400 gallons of water per year, or 78 CCF.
How do these numbers break down for our family?
ElectricityCalculating the average electricity used per square foot gives us a number of 5.5 kilowatt-hours per square foot per year. Multiplying this by the 3,500 square feet in our house gives us an target of 19,250 kWh of electricity per year, about 9% more than the 18,743 kWh of electricity we actually used.
The most important controllable factor in our electrical bill is cooling. We took the normal steps to minimize the our cooling bill last summer but still used about 10,000 kWh for cooling. Here in Atlanta the summer 2008 cooling season was just a little warmer than normal, with 1,847 cooling degree days (CDD) rather than the expected 1,809 CDD.
We made two major changes to cooling in our house last year, one good and one bad. First of all, we spent $800 to install four large exhaust fans in the attic to vent hot air whenever the temperature in the attic exceeds 100°F. It is difficult to quantify the savings but I think the fans will save us about $50 per month during the hot months. Five hot months a year times $50 per month means that the attic fans should pay for themselves in three or so years.
I also installed a portable A/C unit to help make my wife more comfortable. It was very effective at its intended purpose but did increase our electricity usage by about 3,000 kWh, or 16% of the total. For the record, these units are very, very handy and very, very inefficient. I would like to think that if we had not done this, we would have come in dramatically below average for our electricity use.
Lighting and appliances are the second-most controllable uses of electricity, but we did not see much there improvement in 2008. We replaced incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, put timers on appliances that were left on overnight, plugged appliances into surge protectors, and set up the computers to go to sleep when left unattended — but we were already doing most of that in 2007, so there were no real results to report in 2008.
Natural GasCalculating the average electricity used per square foot gives us a number of 3.5 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot per year. Multiplying this by the 3,500 square feet in our house gives us a target of 12,250 cubic feet — or 1,225 therms — per year, about 8% more than the 1,007 therms we actually used.
In Atlanta, the winter 2008 heating season was warmer than normal, with 2,746 heating degree days (HDD) rather than the expected 2,996 CDD. This works out to 9% warmer than normal and would help explain our results. We did insulate the crawl space in 2008, but I cannot actually see whether this made a measurable improvement on our heating bills. Most of our good results can be attributed to keeping our programmable thermostats set to just a little bit less than comfortable — and wearing more clothes around the house.
WaterWe used 80 CCF of water last year, about 3% more than the average. This overage can easily be explained by the water we used to keep our Japanese maples alive last August — but I do have to wonder what our numbers would have looked like if we had watered the lawn even once last year.
Due to the drought in Georgia in 2008, we were forbidden to water our lawns and our average monthly water usage dropped from 36 CCF in 2007 to 7 CCF in 2008. The funny thing is that our lawn still looked pretty good all summer — we got just enough rain to keep it healthy. Unfortunately, we did lose an ornamental spruce by the front door and nearly lost the Japanese maples out back, so I am considering installing a drip irrigation system this spring.
Aggregate 2008 Utility Data
Electricity, in kWh
Gas, in Therms
Water, in CCF
ComparisonsHow did your 2008 home energy usage compare? As you can tell from our experiments here on Energy Watcher, it can be very difficult to know whether your energy-saving efforts are having any real results. Some of the energy-saving tips we bring you are very, very easy — and have very, very small results. Others are very difficult — and can have dramatic results. In either case, however, it is important to have a benchmark from which you can measure your results.
There are several benchmarks available to you:
Instead of buying a separate printer, fax, and scanner, save yourself both money and energy by buying a single multi-function device that does all three functions.
As a side effect, a multi-function device also takes up one-third to one-half of the desktop space of the two or three devices it replaces.
Be sure to plug everything into a plug strip so that you can turn everything on (and off) with a single switch. In addition to being very convenient, this will put a stop to stand-by power usage.
Congratulations, Mr. President, on a spectacular inauguration! We all are — that is, at least 68% of us are — very excited to have you in the White House. We think our government went astray over the past eight years and we have great hopes for both America and our planet under your stewardship. We are very, very happy to see that you have started out the first three days of your Presidency by reversing some of the Bush administration's more egregious mistakes:
- Stopping the use of torture by Americans. Japanese and German soldiers were tried for war crimes after World War II for using torture methods substantially similar to what CIA interrogators used until recently, and were allowed to use until the day before yesterday.
- Closing Guantanamo Bay. This, taken together with the stop on torture and the lawful treatment of prisoners, means that the illegal, immoral, and ineffective secret CIA prisons will also be closed.
- Restoring openness to our government, as intended under the Freedom of Information Act.
- Reversal of the Mexico City Policy, which removes government assistance from any family program which so much as mentions abortion as an option.
Your inaugural speech was both moving and inspiring. As an energy conservation website, you mentioned several items of direct interest to us:
... each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.
We will restore science to its rightful place ...
We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.
... nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
These are words we have been waiting to hear for years now — we were cheering throughout your speech.
You have also published your energy agenda for the next 10 years on the White House website. This is an extremely ambitious agenda and will require both courage and wisdom to accomplish. We are waiting anxiously to see just how you intend to address these goals. If done properly, we can see how it would be possible to create millions of jobs, reduce carbon emissions, increase fuel efficiency, and generally strengthen America — all at the same time — but the resistance you will face in actually doing all of this will be staggering. For what it's worth, you have our full support.
You have listed two agenda items of particular interest to Energy Watcher:
- Deploy the Cheapest, Cleanest, Fastest Energy Source – Energy Efficiency.
- Weatherize One Million Homes Annually.
It is simple to improve home energy efficiency by 10% or even 20% by doing simple things like adjusting the thermostat or weatherstripping windows, but additional improvements have a very slow return on investment (ROI). To get really impressive results requires more insulation or new windows or a new HVAC unit or all of the above, and the ROI on those investments is more often measured in years. At a time when the economy is severely depressed, we wonder if Americans can really afford to make those investments right now.
May we suggest instead that the federal government set as a goal higher energy efficiency for federal, state, county, and local governments? We have all driven past schools, libraries, and government buildings at night where all of the lights are on. Local governments spend massive amounts on public streetlights, half of which goes to illuminate the night sky and obscure the stars — perhaps as part of a public works program, these could be replaced with high-efficiency street lights that just illuminate the ground.
And then, once our governments are leading the way with a high level of energy efficiency, perhaps they could encourage office buildings to meet the same standard? There are fewer office buildings than homes, the managers of office buildings don't have the same incentives to save on energy costs that home owners do, and the impact of energy-saving improvements in office buildings is much, much greater than in homes.
Once again, congratulations on a great start to your Presidency!
Thank you for your time, Mr. President.
As you probably know, I've been talking about "walking around the house" this week. Presumably, you walk around the parts of your house that you live in all the time. If there is a room in your house that you haven't visited lately, you need to take a minute and go there. Are the curtains and/or blinds closed to keep out sun and/or drafts? If you really don't use a room, consider closing off its vents.
Most houses have another "room" that the owners rarely visit, upstairs.
We have a grand two-story foyer with a 24' ceiling inside the front door. There's huge Palladian window, a chandelier, and stairs curving up to the second floor. I was doing some wiring work in the attic a few months back, slipped, and very nearly fell through the ceiling into the foyer below. My wife and kids were watching TV in the family room, heard a tremendous crash, and ran into the foyer to see my legs sticking out of the ceiling. Unfortunately, no one thought to get a camera — I have been told it was the most remarkable sight.
I wasn't seriously hurt but we did suddenly have a huge hole in the ceiling, so we hired some guys to come in and patch it up. They did a great job and today no one can tell quite where the accident happened — from the foyer.
I did, however, go into the attic to change the furnace filters recently and guess what I found?
Our workers had carefully pulled back the blown insulation so that none would fall through the hole in the sheetrock while they were patching it — and once the hole was patched, everyone forgot about the insulation.
It only took about 30 seconds to replace the missing insulation —
— and this time I didn't fall through the ceiling.
What energy- and money-saving opportunities could you find walking around your house?
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, it's a good idea to walk around your house every so often, just to see what energy- and money-saving opportunities you can find. I happened to be outside the back door a couple of weeks ago — and guess what I found?
Now, I know I checked the weatherstripping on every window in the house — was it really four years ago?
Here's an energy-saving tip for you: If you can see through the weatherstripping on a window, it's safe to bet that you haven't been paying attention.
It was the work of a few minutes to first clean up the old weatherstripping:
And then cut a new piece of weatherstripping to fit:
What other easy, quick, inexpensive energy- and money-saving opportunities are lurking around your house?
It's important to walk around the house occasionally. All too often, we assume that nothing ever changes. It always seems to come as a surprise when the roof springs a leak or we discover a crack in a window. Why is that? What I keep coming back to, time and time again in this blog, is the need to pay attention.
I realized that I hadn't been paying attention recently when I walked through our (unfinished) basement and discovered that a piece of insulation had fallen down.
Insulation is normally cut to fit snuggly inside stud wall cavities on regular intervals. In our house, most stud walls are on 16" centers but some are on 12" centers. When the stud wall cavity is non-standard, however, the insulation installer will cut it down to fit — and sometimes it doesn't fit snuggly. When that happens, it can fall out just like this.
Now, I'm not sure just how long that piece of insulation had been flopped over like that. I don't go into the basement all that often, so it could have been months that I wasn't paying attention.
It took about 10 seconds to fix the problem, of course.
What obvious energy- and money-saving opportunities are you missing around your house?
Always set your home office equipment to automatically switch into sleep mode to save on energy costs.
If your equipment does not have a sleep mode, seriously consider investing in new Energy Star equipment.
Insulating your hot water pipes can save you money and make your showers much more comfortable as well. I insulated the first four feet of my hot water pipes a few months back and expected to see some results —
— and didn't.
Once I got my hands on a digital thermometer, I tested the hot water coming out of the kitchen faucet, the faucet closest to the hot water heater, and found that the temperature of the hot water fell off 7°F in the 18 feet of pipe between the hot water heater and the kitchen faucet, from 120°F to 113°F. Note that this pipe runs through the crawl space next to our basement that we insulated last year — but the hot water pipe runs under the insulation.
Clearly this is unacceptable.
So what I did is go out to Lowe's and buy enough pipe insulation to insulate the hot water pipe between the hot water heater and the kitchen sink. It runs about $1 per foot and is extremely easy to install — as long as you aren't working in a crawl space. You cut it to fit with scissors, wrap it around the pipe, peel off the protective backing, and stick the two edges of the insulation together. A couple of hours later, this was the result:
Testing with my digital thermometer shows a 4°F increase in temperature at our kitchen sink for an investment of $20 and a couple of hours of my time. There's still a lot of work to do — there may be as much as 100 feet of uninsulated hot water pipe in our basement alone — but I am happy to report that insulating your hot water pipes can have an actual, measurable impact on your hot water bills.
Energy Watcher is proud to announce the publication of its second Google Gadget — Energy Watcher Fuel Economy Tips. What we did is take the fuel economy tips from this site over the past 18 months and condense them into a handy, easy-to-use gadget that you can put on your iGoogle page or even on your own website. (You can see a working example of this gadget to the right under "Energy Watcher Fuel Economy Tip of the Day".) We will, of course, keep adding to this gadget as new tips are published on this site.
Our first Google gadget displays handy energy-saving tips around the house and can be found here.
If you have a Google account — and why wouldn't you? — you can add this gadget to your iGoogle page by clicking this button:
You can also add this handy gadget to your own website for free. We want to get this information out in front of as many people as possible, and we also want to get our name out in front of any many people as possible.
One of our goals in building this gadget was to make it as configurable as possible. So often, the free gadgets you find on-line are hard-coded with a single font and set of colors, and if that doesn't happen to match your website design, well, tough. Not this time! If you decide to use the Energy Watcher Fuel Economy Tips, you can customize all of these elements: text color, background color, font, font size, font style, font weight, text alignment, text padding, border color, border width, and border style. All colors can be specified as web-safe words (black, white, red, blue, etc.) or hex codes (#000000, #666666, #FFFFFF, etc.).
Here are three examples of what you can do with this gadget:
Click here to get this gadget on your website. Right out of the box, Google offers considerable configuration options, the Energy Watcher Fuel Economy Tips gadget offers additional configuration options, and if you still need help getting our gadget to work on your website, drop us a line at Energy Watcher and we'll see if we can make it work for you and your website's design.
Notice, for example, on the second example above, that the title has changed — and is missing entirely from the third example. Unfortunately, Google does not give us control over the formatting of the gadget title, so we remove the title entirely here on Energy Watcher and substitute our own. (Sorry, no, you cannot remove or change the Energy Watcher logo.)
Google knows that you have signed up for the gadget but does not inform us. If you decide to add this gadget to your website, we would appreciate an e-mail. Obviously, the gadget contains a link back to us, but if no one clicks it, we have no way to know who is using the gadget, or for what.
Whenever you buy new
toys equipment for your home office, always look for the Energy Star label to save on future energy costs.
Office Equipment that has earned the ENERGY STAR helps save energy through special energy-efficient designs, which allow them to use less energy to perform regular tasks, and automatically enter a low-power mode when not in use.
The holidays are over! We went to Florida for 10 days in December, which contributed to a dramatically improved utility bill of only $227. I guess one of the tips we should publish would be "Go south for the winter". Cocoa Beach was warm and sunny and entirely wonderful.
Leaving town wasn't the only remarkable thing about our December, however. December was unusually warm, again, just like last year, with 505 heating degree days (HDD). Atlanta typically has 600 HDD in December and a drop of 15% is unusual. We even had 4 cooling degree days (CDD).
November was unusually cold, with an average temperature three degrees below normal, compared to December, which was unusually warm, with an average temperature three degrees above normal. A six-degree swing from month to month means something, right?
I wish I knew.
In the November 2008 article I planned an experiment to keep the garage doors closed to see if it would have any measurable effect on our heating bill — and then we left town for 10 days, spoiling the experiment. I do know that the garage feels warmer when the doors are closed. Now if I could just get the girls to close the blasted things more often ...
The average cost of electricity is almost down to nine cents per kWh, which is fairly typical for the winter months around here but does represent a savings of 6/10 of a cent per kWh over December last year. It's not just at the gas pump — energy prices are drifting downward. Our costs per unit for natural gas and water was also at their lowest points in the past 13 months. (I will still use 10 cents per kWh in my cost calculations because it's easier and the average has been near 10 cents for a long time.)
Our water usage was actually up for December, which doesn't make much sense because we were out of town for 1/3 of the month. It's something I will be keeping an eye on.
I have some DIY projects planned around the house of January — we'll see if I can get to them this month.
December 2008 Data
Electricity, in kWh
Cost / Unit
Gas, in Therms
Cost / Unit
Water, in CCF
Cost / Unit
Here we are in the first full week of the new year — how are your New Year's resolutions holding up? According to people who track these things, the most popular New Year's resolutions are, in no particular order:
- Lose Weight
- Manage Debt
- Save Money
- Get a Better Job
- Get Fit
- Eat Right
- Get a Better Education
- Drink Less Alcohol
- Quit Smoking Now
- Reduce Stress Overall
- Reduce Stress at Work
- Take a Trip
- Volunteer to Help Others
I have a suggestion for some new New Year's resolutions that will save you real money and coincidentally help save the planet.
- Go to the hot water heater and check to see what temperature it is set at. If it's more that 120°F, turn it down to 120°F. Each degree you turn the hot water down will save you about 1% on your hot water bill.
- Without telling anyone, walk over to the thermostat and turn it down a degree. If no one complains, repeat until someone complains. Each degree you turn down the heat will save you between 3% and 5% on your heating bill.
- Go out to your local Lowe's and buy a 10-pack of compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) for about $50. (Don't bother with the cheap ones — the good CFL bulbs light up just like an incandescent but use 1/3 as much power.) Go around your house and replace bulbs in hidden places like table lamps and bathrooms. Over the lifetime of the CFL, each bulb you replace will save you about $20.
- Pay attention to how your family — and everyone else — uses energy. For decades now, we have tended to assume that energy was essentially free because the cost was so low. As you must have noticed, this is changing, and changing rapidly, too. We cannot make effective changes to our lives without first becoming aware of what we are doing.
Clean the lint screen on your clothes dryer! If the lint screen is full of lint, your dryer has to work harder to pull air through it. Drying clothes will take longer and use more energy.
If you lick your finger, you can pull up those fine little wisps of lint from a nearly-clean lint screen.
A couple of years ago we rented one our rental houses to a bachelor. At the end of the lease we went in to clean it up and get it ready to rent again and I happened to check the lint screen on the dryer. I really wish I had gotten a picture — there was layer after layer of lint built up on the lint screen, a geologic record of every load of clothes he had ever dried, white then gray then blue then white again. As far as I could tell, he had never cleaned off the lint screen. I shudder to think what his electric bills must have been like.
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Energy Watcher Archives
- Walk Around the House
- Obama Raises Fuel Efficiency Standards
- Our 2008 Energy Usage
- Multi-Function Home Office Equipment Saves Space —...
- Dear Mr. President
- Walking Around the House Some More
- Walking Around the House Again
- Walking Around the House
- Put Home Office Equipment To Sleep
- Insulating Our Hot Water Pipes Again
- Energy Watcher Fuel Economy Tips
- Buy Energy Star Home Office Equipment
- December 2008 Utility Bill
- New New Year Resolutions
- Clean the Lint Screen on Your Clothes Dryer
- ▼ January 2009 (15)
- ► 2008 (101)
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Energy Watcher Data at Our House
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