Tag Archive | electricity

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?

The Electric Slide: Cut Your Electricity Bill In Half


Now that you’ve put those Christmas lights away, we’ll show you how to lower your electricity bill by up to half. In fact, it’s almost wrong we haven’t written about this yet. Neil is an electrical engineer whose specialty is power and energy. And I used to develop curriculum for a green energy education company.

Together, we’re an energy-saving team with an electricity bill of less than half the national average. The average residential US electricity usage is 911 kWh per month; ours was just 371 kWh per month in 2015. We’ve watt-metered a few devices in our day and can show you how to cut your energy use without wasting your life on silly tasks like unplugging your toaster.

The Electric Slide

The average American electricity usage slides slowly up each year, even with all the HE options now available. I’m sure expanding home sizes and technology use are partly to blame. We’ve found ways to fight the upward slide without living in the dark or giving up modern conveniences. In the last five years, we’ve doubled our human occupancy but steadily decreased our usage. Mostly our improvement is owed to the power of tracking. We’ve recently made much of why we don’t budget, but we do track our expenses and continually seek ways to reduce them.

In fact, utilities are a prime example of an expense for which tracking is superior to budgeting. Seasonally variable costs and fluctuating rates make utilities a slippery item for budgeting. Paying an average “budgeted” plan lacks precision as you’ll almost certainly over- or underpay. So people are left with two options: guess, or budget what you spent last month. The latter is essentially the same as tracking, but lacks the power to adjust behavior unless it’s compared over time.

Tracking in an organized, graphic fashion where you can watch the trends over time is the best way to fight the upward electric slide. No one needs to read a whole post about turning off the lights or unplugging electronics. The behavior that can actually change your variable utility costs is tracking them.

The “No Impact” Myth

Failure to track electricity use perpetuates the “no impact myth” that turning off a light or two won’t make a dent in your bill. But you’ll never know if your changes are helping if you don’t track your bill month by month. The myth that your behaviors won’t substantially impact your utility costs is not only fatalistic, it’s false. Thus tracking is the first step toward lowered utility bills.

Pricey home meters can be installed to track your usage, but of course we’d never pay for something we can easily accomplish for free ourselves. To slide your electricity bill down instead of inevitably up, help yourself to our free utility tracking spreadsheet. Our data is there for example, but you can easily overwrite it with yours. Check your past usage, available online through many utility companies.

Of course, tracking alone can’t alter your bill; you need some changes to track. In this post we’ll tackle the topic of lighting, going beyond the obvious “turn off the lights” to simple strategies that will save money and improve your quality of light. And Wednesday we’ll share a few other heavy-hitting cost reducers that help us keep our bill below half the national average without sacrificing time or convenience.

Evict the Incandescents

It’s hardly news that indcandescents are becoming obsolete. Even though compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and LED bulbs cost more upfront, they pay for themselves in energy savings. An LED bulb uses 1/6 the amount of energy as a comparable incandescent, and lasts 20 times as long. LEDs have recently dropped in price, making them an affordable and highly efficient option for the average consumer. If you have ANY incandescent bulbs in your house, I urge to replace them with equivalent LED bulbs.

If you’re overwhelmed by switching out every bulb in the house, begin with most-used bulbs in living rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, and entryway chandeliers. Then work your way to bedrooms and bathrooms (which might already have fluorescents). Newer technology in CFLs and LEDs produces a higher quality of light than old-school types; in some studies their light quality has been preferred by consumers to traditional bulbs.

You may be able to score some free bulbs by contacting your local energy provider about promotions or energy savings kits.

Let There Be Light

Our sunlit living room on a partly cloudy day.

Our sunlit living room on a partly cloudy day.

We use daylighting as much as possible, opening the blinds even when it’s partly cloudy to supplement or replace electric lights. Try turning off lights one at a time to see how much of a difference they actually make during the day. Often it’s negligible.

If this sounds time-consuming, rest assured that it quickly becomes second-nature, especially as you soak in the all the sun’s benefits. Studies have demonstrated that sunlight improves people’s mood, productivity, and health. I don’t know a human who doesn’t feel happier on a sunny day than a gloomy one.

I’ve noticed that in many homes, most lights are left on all the time. But why compete with the most powerful light source in the solar system? We take the opposite approach by turning off all the lights and adding one or two as needed. Kids can complicate the equation as they notoriously forget to shut off light switches, but we’ve noticed that our son has picked up on the habit through our modeling rather than nagging. He even tells us not to waste electricity!

Again, tracking is your first step toward lowered utility bills. Savings across several bills could add up to well over $100 per month. I’d be mad if I lost $100 bill every month, which is why it’s well worth it to me to employ a few simple steps to save that sum. Please check our free utility tracking spreadsheet, enter your numbers, and watch the magic begin. Happy tracking!

Do you track your electricity usage? How do you save on lighting costs?