Q&A: Cutting My Electric Bill

July 24, 2008
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One of the green-and-frugal changes that I’m most proud of is how we’ve managed to cut our PECO bill since moving into our new house. Granted, in our old house, PECO provided us with both gas and electric–and here it provides electric only since we have oil heat (blech!)–but I clearly remember how electric consumed a greater portion of that old bill, even with gas added on. So when we moved here last year, I was determined to make sure that we used as little power as possible so we would pay PECO as little as possible.

As you know we’ve made a number of changes to decrease our energy usage, including:

1. Switched out our regular light bulbs for compact fluorescent lights

2. Gotten into the habit of turning off the lights when we leave a room

3. Begun using power strips so that when we’re done with an electronic, it is all the way the off and not still sucking phantom power.

And I must say that we’ve done a pretty good job along the way–so much so, that in the recent article on how our family is living green, I talked about reducing our energy bills by hundreds of dollars.

Thanks to that article, I received the following reader question (paraphrased):

Q: What have you done so that your electric bills have gone from $500 to $100?

A: Well, we don’t always get the $100 electric bills, but they have been more common than rare. In our old house, nothing was energy efficient, save for the dishwasher and refrigerator. In addition, we weren’t in the habit of turning off lights or raising/lowering the thermostat as much as we are now. While every month the electric bill wasn’t $500 in the old house, we’ve never hit that high here. Here’s how we accomplish that feat.

* I tend not to turn lights on during the day, and we use task lighting at night–meaning single lamps in a room, not the overhead kind. (I’m writing this is a nearly dark office, with only a desk lamp on.)

* As I mentioned earlier, all bulbs in the house the can be compact fluorescent are compact fluorescent. This really does add up.

* Finally, during transition months, when we need neither air conditioning nor heat, there is absolutely nothing turned on via the thermostat. We open windows as necessary or close them if there is a chill. We let the sun coming through the windows warm the place, or keep shades closed if we want to cool things off. Really, it’s only on these super hot, heat-wave days that the a/c is going 24/7, and I’m sure our next PECO bill will be higher because of it.

I was right on the last part. The day after this reader question came in, we got our PECO bill–via e-billing, so no paper, natch. And guess what? It was $403! That was a real shocker.

Then I downloaded the bill and looked at a graph for the year (which PECO so kindly shows on each bill), and it seems that July, August and September are our high-energy months. They were last year, and they are trending towards being the same this year.

And when you think about it, it makes sense: during those three summer months, we are running the air conditioning more, and we’ve got the pool pump going. I’m sure that those two items alone make our energy use spike. However, during the rest of the year, when we have neither the a/c nor the pool pump going, we use a quarter of the energy that we use during these three months, giving us our lower electric bills.

Since this whole lean, green life is a work in progress, starting today we’re making two additional small changes to reduce our energy consumption.

First, while we’ve taken to raising the thermostat overall, now whenever we leave the house, I’m going to raise the a/c even more. I mean, right now the thermostat is set for 72. In a little while I’ll be walking my daughters to camp. Even though I’ll be gone for only 20 minutes, I’m going to raise the thermostat to 78 while I’m gone. At the same time, whenever I leave, I’m going to switch the a/c to auto so that the fan isn’t running all of the time.

The second thing we’re going to try is not to run the pool pump as much. I don’t think we’ll ruin things if we swim from time to time without the pump running. We only swim for about an hour here and there, so why waste the money running the pump for that hour of time or longer (if we forget to turn it off).

In the meantime, I’ll wait impatiently for those transition months when I can shut off the a/c for good and throw open the windows. October can’t get here fast enough!

10 Responses to Q&A: Cutting My Electric Bill

  1. Anonymous on July 31, 2008 at 4:28 am

    At the beginning of the summer, I started drying my laundry on a clothesline instead of in the dryer and found that it reduced our gas/electric bill by at least $20 per month (our total gas/electric bill is about $130/month so it’s about a 15% drop). I can’t do this in the winter, but since we are in northern California I should be able to hang out the laundry through October… I am pleasantly surprised at the savings and it really isn’t any more work.

  2. Robin on July 29, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    My PECO bill was higher this month than last month and I was bummed. We weren’t even here two weekends in a row! Then I realized that a) summer rates are more expensive than winter rates (why is that?) and b) this month’s billing period was 33 days instead of last month’s 30.

    I have to say I am resentful that even though we are using less energy than in May, we are paying more…

  3. Patrick in Philly on July 28, 2008 at 1:03 am

    At home I’ve switched to CFC’s wherever possible. There was an immediate drop in the electric bill. Luckily, we’ve begun switching to CFC’s at work also and one department collects the used bulbs to recycle. That gives me an easy spot to drop my bulbs off once they finally do blow out.

  4. a conscious life on July 26, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    CFL’s are questionable for me… yes, they claim to save energy… but what about the mercury in them? Are people really going to do the responsible thing and dispose of them properly? And what about if you break one in your home?

    Any thoughts on this?

  5. Stefani on July 26, 2008 at 11:11 am

    I’ll be curious to see the outcome on the thermostat changing thing. I know such data exists for turning off fluorescent lights because I researched that for work.

    Our green team took some static when we posted signs in the bathrooms, “When Not in Use, Turn Off the Juice”. Turns out if a fluorescent light would be off for 15 minutes or more, it’s more efficient turning it off and back on, then leaving it on.

    (We all hate the fluorescents, not just us environmentalists but we’ve changed to CFCs where possible. It’s an older building and we do the best we can when we can, right?)

    Great post, Leah!

  6. Leah Ingram on July 25, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Daisy:

    I’m trying to track down an expert to interview so I can put to rest, once and for all, the question of if it takes more energy to cool down a house after you’ve had the a/c off. I’ll keep you guys posted.

    Leah

  7. Daisy on July 25, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Check with your A/C folks. My maintenance tech told me not to change the thermostat regularly for A/C the way we do with the furnace. He recommended leaving it at a single temperature because it takes more energy to cool the house than it does to keep it cool.

  8. Leah Ingram on July 25, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Jen:

    I'm glad to know that you may have gotten some good advice here.

    As soon as the humidity broke yesterday, I turned off the a/c all together and opened all of the windows. It's been about 36 hours since we had any kind of a/c on, and I'm doing the happy frugal dance!

    Keri:

    Yours is a good question. I'll see if I can find an answer, and I'll post it in a future Q&A! Thanks.

    Leah

  9. Jen A. Miller on July 25, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    I held my breath as I opened my electric bill and sighed with relief that it was only $40 higher (then again, I don’t have AC and my house is small so electric bill is pretty low to begin with). Still, I think making some changes I learned on this blog helped!

  10. Keri M. on July 25, 2008 at 1:30 am

    I thought I read somewhere that raising/lowering the thermostat by more than 8 degrees actually uses more energy, because of how much the furnace or A/C has to work to get the temp back up/down. What does your research show?

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