Electricity Matters Felix Wong

On Monday, the New York Times described Fort Collins as a deeply green city [confronting] its energy needs and nuclear worries..” It highlighted how Colorado—and Fort Collins in particular—is posed to be a hotbed of alternative energy research and development in upcoming years.

All this talk about energy made me do an audit of my own electricity needs. Posted above is a clip from my latest electricity, water and heating bill summarizing my electrical usage over the last year, with a breakdown of highs and lows. I was (slightly) surprised to see that I am consuming a mere four kilowatt-hour of energy per day, considering that a typical U.S. household consumes 30 kW-hr/day, so about 11,000 kW-hr/year. (Source: http://www.energycustomerservice.co.uk).

In fact, in October of this year I averaged only three kilowatt-hour of electricity a day, or one-tenth what a typical American household consumes. My power bill was a mere $10.21. (Note: on the chart above, the high-consumption months were typically when I had subletters who clearly were not as conscientious about energy conservation, or during the summer months when I ran the air conditioning a little.)

To me, this is all the more surprising considering that 1) I am home a lot and 2) my house is about 2500 square feet total, which is not exactly small (especially for a bachelor).

How did I achieve this? I can think of a few things, listed in order of decreasing significance. (Note that I have natural gas for heating and cooking.)

  1. Since I live alone, I use a stainless-steel compact refrigerator instead of a full-size one. In addition to keeping the kitchen much more open (by occupying one-third the volume) and costing only $200 instead of $1500-2000, the fridge uses about half the power. And yes, there is enough room, even for a guy who only goes grocery shopping once every 5-7 days and primarily eats food that needs to be refrigerated.
  2. I use the dishwasher only on special occasions (e.g., I have lots of guests over). Dishwashers waste a ton of electricity and water! So per my simple living tips, I just hand wash my dishes the instant I am done with them, which is about just as easy as using the dishwasher but much more eco-friendly.
  3. I turn off all my computers at night (and during the day if I am not going to use them for a while). Computers use a surprising amount of power—especially desktop computers.
  4. For my computers, I either use laptops or a desktop with an LED screen. (Cathode Ray Tube monitors use a lot more energy than LED monitors.) Whenever I am stop using a computer, I instantly put it in “standby” mode.
  5. I usually only do two loads of laundry a week. Actually, I can think of several ways I can improve here. I already only use the cold/cold water setting, but I could probably reduce the wash time to the minimum (except when my clothes are super stained). I could also dry clothing in the dryer to the point that they are 85% dry instead of 100% dry, and let them air dry on their hangars overnight. (I’m not going to consider using a clothesline… yet!) I could also be better about only washing clothes when I have a full load.
  6. Again per my simple living tips, I hardly watch TV. Television sets (especially my 27″ widescreen CRT) are also energy hogs.
  7. I installed an electronic timer to turn on my front exterior “welcome” lights roughly from sunset to 10:30pm. This way I don’t have to remember to turn on or off the lights, and the lights are only on for a few hours, not all night.
  8. The downside to the timer is that I cannot use compact fluorescent bulbs with it. Hence, I replaced the three exterior light bulbs with 25-watt incandescent bulbs (the type typically used in a chandelier). Compared to the 75-watt bulbs the previous resident had installed, these use a third the energy.
  9. I normally do not have more than two light switches on at a time—and only at night.
  10. When I moved in, I replaced all of the high-use light bulbs with compact fluorescents.

What else could I do to reduce consumption of electricity? I’m not sure (please leave a comment below if you have any ideas), although it seems like my consumption is so low already that I guess I shouldn’t be obsessing about that!

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3 comments on “Electricity Matters

  1. Comment by Sterling Parkin

    I don’t know if you have a gas or electric hot water heater. Ours is electric. We added a timer for $30 from home depot called the grey box and set it to have the hot water heater run only in the morning (showers) and evening (dinner dishes) for an hour each. It paid for itself the first month.

    I love your ideas on living simple and electricity usage.


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