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Solving the mystery of excessive energy bills


Why is my electric bill so high?

When we moved to a rural island community in B.C. a year ago, we discovered a lot about green building and how to manage our electricity bills. We knew that it was more than just a situation of going from city expectation to rural expectations, because of a handy feature that our utility—BC Hydro—as well as many other utilities provide: an ability to compare your usage with your neighbours.

 

Why electricity and why not?

In our case, we are almost exclusively powered by electricity. Going to electricity—versus natural gas or propane—is increasingly popular in many green-oriented and self-sufficiency interested corridors because it means that a person can make use of solar power, wind power, or hydro power. In B.C. our local utility—BC Hydro—uses primarily power generated from hydroelectric plants, which is a low-carbon source of energy. We supplement this in our case with wood-burning heat as well.

The obvious culprits

Wherever you live, the place to start in any home on energy savings begins with conservation: the less you use the less you pay. Conservation in a home begins with draft reduction and good insulation, fixing water leaks, using water-saving shower heads and aerators on taps, and maintaining anything that heats-up. The bigger up-front investments in upgrading appliances can also quickly pay-off especially when upgrading old refrigerators and freezers; washing machines and dryers; and simply unplugging appliances and electronics when not in use around the house.

There are dozens of tricks that anyone can do easily and cheaply that will conserve energy. Fixing leaky faucets; putting water aerators on taps; unplugging electronic items (or using a power strip and turning it off) when not in use; washing clothes in cold water; tossing a dry towel in with the dryer and opting for hang-drying versus the dryer when possible; unplugging old refrigerators; skipping the heat-drying setting on the dryer; and buying a programmable thermostat so you can reduce your heating (or cooling) at night or when not at home all cost relatively little and can save hundreds of dollars a year. BC Hydro–and probably your power company–will have their energy-saving tips.

Don’t downplay these little lifestyle improvements. Michael Bluejay, the publisher behind the website of the same name, says: “To put in perspective how wasteful hot water is, washing your clothes in hot instead of cold for a year, wastes more electricity than leaving the refrigerator door open 24 hours a day for a year.” Little changes add up. You can read more of his energy-saving tips.

What happens if you, like me, have already done the more affordable conservation and draft-reducing techniques and have done the more obvious appliances and yet your bills are still high?

If you live rurally, high energy use might be more complicated to resolve. In my home, for instance, I have all the usual uses plus I have a deep water well, compressors, a wood-shop with big equipment, a pond with a pump, and lots and lots of buildings with many different sources of light.

If this is you, you still will benefit from all the above, but you may need to think bigger. What is the pump drawing? Could we benefit from solar hot water (in almost all situations this is well worth the upfront investment) or at least save with newer hot water tanks, heat pumps instead of electric baseboard heat and dumping our electric range for a wood or propane cook stove are all on the table. We are also looking at ways to draw the heat from our wood stove further and deeper into our home using in-wall fans, better stove-tops fans, and increasing our insulation in parts as well.

How to discover much electricity your actually using in your home

It is possible to calculate the energy that your appliances and electronics and other home devices are using. BC Hydro provides an online calculator to help you. I used the calculator to discovered that I could replace my very old, top-loading washing machine and save enough in operating costs to pay for it in less than five years. This doesn’t include the fact that my clothes come out less wet and I’m able to dry them in one cycle of my dryer, versus it used to take two. For items that aren’t pre-listed on the BC Hydro calculator (hot water tanks, water pumps, much older appliances), it is possible to get the wattage used in operation from their manuals or online to do further calculations. By doing this, I discovered that my older, electric hot water heaters are likely costing at least $500 each to run. After calculating my obvious energy costs, I still found that my bills are higher—often a LOT— than my calculations. Now what?

If you want to dig deeper into actual energy use and what’s behind it, consider an energy evaluation. It is easy to hire a contractor to do this in just about any urban area. In B.C. an energy evaluation by an approved contractor might help you qualify for discounts and rebates on new appliances and energy-efficient upgrades in your homes. Learn more.

If a home energy advisor isn’t available near you or it doesn’t fit your budget or lifestyle, there are other options. Home energy monitors connect to your meter and report real-time energy use.

The advantage of Energy Savings

The obvious advantage of saving electricity is that it saves money, as well as reduces your carbon footprint. Many places, including B.C. charge more per kilowatt for high users. Every month, when we go beyond the average, we start paying more. Thus, not only do we save money by saving energy, we spend less on what we do use. B.C. has additional benefits to those willing to work on reducing their energy, including a $50 bonus by saving 10 % on their energy bills over time by joining Team Power Smart.

I’ve joined Team Power Smart, I’ve replaced the old washer and dryer with new Energy Star models, and we are in the process of adding insulation to our bathroom (brrrr, it’s cold in there.) We already have aerators on our faucets, power strips for our technology, and have swapped out the old refrigerator for an Energy Star model.

Next we will be either get a Home Energy Monitor or monitor our own usage. We will use this information to decide on whether we need to replace our baseboard heaters, hot water heaters, or begin to save for bigger investments like solar hot-water, a new deep-water pump, or a heat-exchange pump for heating.

Check back to see what I find out and if I am able to meet my Power Smart goals. Read more about how to save energy in your home at thegreenmama.com and visit powersmart.ca for more energy-saving tips.

 

This post is sponsored by BC Hydro but the opinion (an experiences) are my own.

 

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