Hippies, Hustlers, and Vampires (or Electricity Part 2)

Photo by Neil Brooks

Photo by Neil Brooks

In The Electric Slide: Cut Your Electric Bill in Half we bragged that our electricity usage is less than half the national average, shared our free utility tracking spreadsheet, and suggested tips for low-cost lighting. Today we’ll share the rest of our low maintenance tips for lowering your electricity bill. No unplugging coffee makers involved.

The Hang-Drying Debate

When we first moved our office into the basement to make way for Baby #2, I would go downstairs to get a book and by force of habit, find myself in the laundry room. So step into my office & I’m tell you how to do laundry for less.

  1. Wash in all cold water. 90% of your washing machine’s energy use goes to heating the water. This makes more of a difference than having an HE washer.
  2. Wash full loads. As a mother, I’m a little jealous of anyone who could even consider washing a small load. But all sizes use about the same amount of electricity, so it makes sense to fill ‘er up.
  3. Give your dryer a break. This point is a little more controversial, so here’s my take.

While hippie types dare not waste earth’s precious resources on what the sun can do for free, high-earning hustlers scoff at the time squandered when you could be launching your next business.

I find myself somewhere in between these two extremes. While at home with my kids I can spare 5 minutes a day to hang clothes to dry. Call me uninspired, but I’m not going to be doing anything super-lucrative in 5 minutes a day. When I stopped using our dryer our bill dropped noticeably. Whether it’s worth it to you is a personal preference.

Hang-drying has other advantages, too. It can prolong the life of your clothing and sun-drying can help sanitize and freshen it. Hanging laundry also reduces the amount of ironing needed. To reduce wrinkles, I snap anything I’d iron, fluff it in the dryer for 3-4 minutes with other items from the same load, then put in on a hanger to dry. This is also the best way to reduce the “crispy” feel many moderns don’t appreciate in laundry.

In the summer I dry outside (free laundry tree from a friend), or in my sunroom if it’s raining. In the winter I dry in the furnace/laundry room, which is doubly efficient as the by-product heat of the furnace accelerates the drying time. I have drying lines in the laundry room but also use a small collapsible drying rack like this one.

Hang-drying, like many other frugal habits, doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Any time you forego the dryer saves money. Viewing it as classic rather than extreme frugality also helps.

Playing Vampire-Slayer

Now to the question of whether you should spend your life unplugging all your electronic devices. The short answer is: no! The long answer is…

Think of vampire load as a leaky faucet. It slowly wastes a resource even when you’re not using it. New electronic technology doesn’t draw “vampire load” when devices aren’t in use, and constant plugging and unplugging of items used on a daily basis, such as coffee pots, toasters, or electric kettles, could more quickly wear out the outlet, which cost much more to replace than the dollar or two per year in vampire load.

You will find silent leeches among older entertainment equipment such as amplifiers, CRT & plasma TVs, and elderly desktop computers. If you have an office or living room power strip with lots of gear plugged in, it makes sense to turn off the strip when the devices aren’t in use. Smart power strips are also a great option; they automatically shut off to reduce silent draw during periods of non-use. We scored a free smart power strip by requesting a free energy savings kit from our electricity company.

Certainly worth slaying are old appliances, though they’re not really vampires since you know they are using energy if they’re running. An old refrigerator or freezer can really run up your bill. Consider consolidating to one unit and/or replacing with HE equipment. About three years ago we purchased a new deep freezer for storing our backyard chickensfruits of the garden, and meat stock-up sales, and it clearly isn’t killing our bill.

Assorted Tips

Air conditioning: Embracing our four-season climate helps us weather varying temperatures without racking up outrageous utility bills. We use our A/C sparingly in the summer, though we’re grateful to have it during especially hot weather and when hosting.

Sleep: We love white noise for sleeping and now use a white noise app instead of a fan. An app or inexpensive white noise machine uses significantly less energy than physically rotating fan blades. Battery alarm clocks are also efficient since they use no electricity and the batteries can last over a year.

Everything else: Michael Bluejay created an epic site about saving electricity, complete with lots of calculators. If you want to know how much you spend to do anything involved electricity, check out his site. If you’re super nerdy like us, ask your local library if they lend watt meters, also known as a power meter or Kill a Watt meter. You can plug devices in to it find out how much electricity the device is using.

Don’t forget to track your changes! Here’s our free electricity tracking spreadsheet in case you missed it.

Are you a hippie or hustler when it comes to hang-drying? What are your other energy savings tips?

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12 Responses to “Hippies, Hustlers, and Vampires (or Electricity Part 2)”

  1. Tonya says :

    I have to do laundry at the laundromat so no hang drying for me. I also use a fan for white noise but the app thing could be interesting, But then again, you still have to plug your phone in to charge it, no? I wonder at what point it comes down to nickels and dimes? I have a very small place so I think I’m fairly good when it comes to using “resources” but I supposed there are some more little changes I could focus on. I want to get better at recycling and maybe try composting. I go through a lot of paper towels as well so I could be better about that.

    • Kalie says :

      I didn’t hang-dry before I had my own laundry room, either, although I think it’s a pretty common practice in European apartments. You certainly aren’t going to get rich by switching to the white noise app! We have 3 bedrooms occupied, plus with our backgrounds in energy efficiency, we just can’t help optimizing some easy areas.

      We like composting since have a garden and it saves on soil amending costs. And again, it just feels right to be more efficient and waste less where possible. We’ve reduced our paper towel use a lot by investing in “shop rags” & repurposing old clothes & towels. But we still keep paper towels around for times when sanitation or convenience take precedence.

  2. Amy says :

    More great tips – thanks!

    After I read the Electric Slide, I took out from storage the dozen or so LED bulbs I had gotten during a big sale at Target, and swapped them for some old incandescent bulbs in frequently-used fixtures. I had been waiting for the incandescents to burn out before replacing them, but I decided that was stupid, since I already had the LEDs on-hand. Let the engery savings commence!

    • Kalie says :

      I’m glad you were motivated to switch over to LEDs. I think it is one of those areas that it makes sense to replace them even before they wear out.

  3. Brad says :

    What white noise app do you use? I like it quiet but my girl likes the fan. Drives me crazy to see that fan run for no reason other than noise.

    • Abigail says :

      I love Sleep Pillow. I think we paid $3 for it. It’s got an array of sounds. Personally, I’d choose rain, but my husband doesn’t like it. So we go with the wind option.

    • Kalie says :

      Thanks for the recommendation, Abigail. I actually have no idea which app we use (it’s on my husband’s phone), but I’ll find out & get back to you, Brad. He feels the same way about the fan blades.

  4. Brian says :

    Great stuff on cutting the electric bill. he Kill-A-Watt meter is easy to use and is available online for under $25. I might share these posts on my Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/LifeHackersMastermind/

    Stop by and join for more life hack tips!

  5. Abigail says :

    I’d love to hang things to dry in the sun. But Arizona is so dusty! And Tim has this weird idea that drying gets the last of the detergent out. (Yes, I know it’s not remotely true. But once he gets a notion in his head…)

    I’ve gotten him to hang dry some ridiculously expensive underwear because I refuse to lose those to the wear and tear of the dryer. But otherwise, it’s dryer city.

    I did at least start having him wash everything in cold water.

    And I love our white noise app! We’ve been using it for years with a mere $3 investment.

    • Kalie says :

      Maybe you could try drying indoors to avoid the dust? But that doesn’t address Tim’s dryer theory… It’s nice that it’s so dry there (at least for drying clothes). In the fall and spring here it takes forever for stuff to dry indoors.

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