Saving money great motivator to conserve energy

By Kathy Schrenk
We moved into a new house five months ago and experienced some intense sticker shock when we got our first electric bill. It was hundreds of dollars. I got on the phone with PG&E, a California energy provider, and a delightful lady talked me through the company's extensive online usage-tracker. It's kind of amazing how much they want to help you use less of their product. (California must be pinching them on that somehow.)

Anyway, we figured out that the main culprit is probably the pool pump. That's right, it's not the heater, it's the pump. We haven't heated the pool once. And even when the pool goes unused for months at a time, the pool company says we have to run the pump several hours every day to keep it from becoming a cesspool.

Now, if we owned this house, solar panels would be a no-brainer. We installed them on a house we owned almost 10 years ago. But we rent. So my M.O. is to figure out how we can use less electricity. I started with the clothes drier. We started out using the drier that came with the house, and quickly figured out it was barely getting stuff dry while taking forever. So we switched it out for the one we had bought about four years ago. It was the most energy-efficient model we could buy without spending close to a $1,000. I also started doing some line-drying: On sunny days, I'll take the larger items from a load and hang them outside. The socks and underwear go into the drier for about 20 minutes (towels I dry fully in the drier). I've installed a clothes line over the bathtub that no one uses and a lot of drying takes place there.

Our electricity billing works on a tiered system. Each month, everyone starts in "Tier 1," where each kwh is priced relatively cheaply. Once you get to Tier 5, the kwh's are the priciest. Each month I get an e-mail alert that says, "You are projected to move into Tier 5 by the end of this billing cycle." Each month until this month, that is, when my email alert said "You are projected to move into Tier 4" Needless to say, I was thrilled that my air-drying efforts were working!

My PG&E bill came in the e-mail tonight, and it says I saved $40 by using less electricity this month. I think it's safe to say the clothes line I bought for $11.50 has paid for itself.

The next step is lightbulbs. Recently a friend who bought a house did a lot of research into the best energy-efficient bulbs. As you may know, LEDs are state-of-the-art and are priced to match. While a run-of-the-mill incandescent (the inefficient kind we've used for decades) cost, oh, a buck, an LED can run you up to $30. CFLs in that category would be more like $5 to $9. LEDs are not tremendously more efficient, but they last forever (decades, supposedly) and don't require special disposal considerations. In comparison, CFLs contain mercury and must be taken to a special recycling facility (hardware stores have these, though). They also don't require time to "warm up" like CFLs and work roughly a million times better with dimmers.

With all this in mind, we headed to Home Depot over the weekend to check out the selection.

Most rooms in our house have recessed lighting, so we started with those. This 6-pack cost $20. I started out by replacing all four bulbs in the kitchen, since much time is spent there and it's one of the few rooms that doesn't have skylights (skylights, btw, are the second most energy efficient thing you can do with your roof). The bulbs do take some time to warm up, but once they do, the light is lovely and it's actually brighter than what we had before.

Next, we tried one of these CFLs in my boys' bedroom. In a word, it's terrible. The light is just horribly cold and unpleasant. I plan to go back to incandescent for now.

There are fixtures with six -- six! -- of these type of bulbs in each of our bathrooms. Again, they take a few minutes to get going, but once they do they provide bright and pleasant light. I plan to replace three or four in each bathroom with two of these.

Finally, I splurged on one itty-bitty LED that ran me $16. It's for my bedside table lamp, which is lovely but the CFL it came with IKEA makes a horrible buzzing noise, even though the lamp isn't dimmable. I installed this bulb and was treated to a wonderful, instantaneous, pleasant light.

My main takeaway from all this is that one of the keys to conversation is money, cash, moolah, plain and simple. I thought I was doing a decent job of conserving energy, at least to the extent I could, but money proved to be a big motivator to get me to up my game.

1 comment:

  1. I think my next project may be to get the garbage company to charge less for the tiny garbage cans that barely fit one bag and much more for the medium size can that easily fits two bags; the price difference is only $8 a month, so no one is motivated to go down to the smaller size!