When I opened my last electric bill, I did an inside happy dance. We had the lowest usage yet in the new house. Our current month’s bill showed 20.22 kwh/day usage in the hottest month of the year down from 38.84 kwh/day in February. I think I even bragged to my better half. Our decision to see how long we could go without turning on the air conditioning was literally paying off. I was radiating pride at our conservation skills.
In a moment of pure hubris, I decided to boot up the computer and compare our electricity usage with other frugal homes to boost my frugal confidence even more. Then came the shock I was not expecting: we’re not as environmentally friendly as I thought.
I never claimed I was a tree hugger. I knew we weren’t the greenest homes. But, I always just assumed that our frugal decisions would automatically also have environmentally positive side benefits without us trying. We live in a smaller home, only have one car, we have new fangled lightbulbs, surely that would put us ahead of our peers? Not so.
It didn’t help that my first look was at a Mr. Money Mustache forum post about electricity use. Most seemed to be in the 10-15 kwh/day range and some were down to 5 kwh/day. How is that even possible?
Rationalizing our Usage
Obviously we use more energy because
- Our house came with an electric water heater, so most people would just have transferred their energy use from their electric to their gas bills.
- I stay at home with Little Miss all day, so instead of using work or daycare energy, we have to use our home’s.
- We live in Canada. Because us having winter here obviously means that I need to have my tv, or kettle, or vacuum, or radio on more than those in the States where the majority of the post commenters lived. Right?
I knew that the third argument made no sense, but my worldview was being turned on its head. We had been reducing usage for months and I felt like there was nothing left to trim.
Finding our Local Average Usage
So, I turned to my local electric company to see what the average use was in our City. The first number I saw for average use was 800 kwh per month. My heart sank. Our usage had only beat that number twice. These weren’t crazy internet posters that were probably lying (the only plausible option to me at the time), these were hard numbers for my neighbours’ actual usage.
I did some more digging and found that in the previous year the average use was actually only 685 kwh/month. We had only beat that number once. Our average was much higher. I had to face facts. We were higher than average energy users. I felt very dirty. And determined.
Taking Action to Reduce Our Consumption
I scoured the house for phantom power. I unplugged our on furnace air purifier, our central vacuum we don’t use, and our phone chargers when they weren’t charging.
I added a power bar to our entertainment unit to shut it completely off when not in use.
I opened up our electric hot water tank and (after considering the pros and cons) lowered the water temperature from a burn risk 140 degrees down to a disease risk 125 degrees.
I shut off the furnace blower that I had been told to leave on all the time at our last house, so was keeping it on here too.
I repeated my catch phrase “save the world” while following my better half’s path through the house turning off the lights.
I signed up for the Peak Saver Plus energy program. It lets the power company shut off our air conditioner for 15 minutes at a time on the really hot summer days. We didn’t really use our air conditioner this summer so it’s not really an issue for us, and we’re going to get a whole house energy monitor for free that I can use to find even more places we can cut energy.
Now I’m just sitting eagerly awaiting our electricity bill that will show our September usage. There are still areas where I know we can do better. I still use our electric drier for our clothes. My daughter turns her room light on all night. Eventually, we will tackle these too. But it will be great to see our usage (hopefully) drop from the number I thought was our rock bottom usage.
Our goal is to beat the average for our city, even with people in the house all day and with an electric water heater.
The next big decision will be how long to wait to turn on the heat. Last week was hot and this week is not. I personally feel that it’s unacceptable to turn the heat on in September but it’s getting pretty chilly in here. I guess that will be another post.
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