Monday, 19 August 2013

Slashing Hydro Consumption.

I really resent Hydro One because they make it extremely difficult to be frugal. No matter how much we cut back on our energy use –  and we have, from 31kWh per day in 2009 to the current 18kWh per day – our hydro bills continue to increase.  I feel like we're in a race with them, we find ways to cut consumption while they're looking for reasons to increase the bill. So far, they're winning.

In order to not just gripe but to actually do something about our hydro use, we decided to sign up with the Government ecoEnergy Program in May/09. This allowed us to receive an energy audit which pinpointed where we needed to make changes and these included reducing air leakage, moisture levels and standby power.

Air Leakage.  This was a huge problem for us but one which we managed to reduce by 35% so far. Our original house was built in 1909 with several additions over the years so the fact that we we had air leakage was no surprise. We  checked for drafts by taking an incense stick around and holding it near windows, exhaust vents, foundation cracks, door frames, electrical outlets, baseboards, light fixtures, etc. to find out where the drafts were. Once we knew that, we first went all around the exterior of the house, sealing where the foundation joined the house and any cracks and openings around doors, windows, etc. We next caulked where the phone and dish-wires went into the house. Inside, we applied weather-stripping where needed, then caulked around the baseboards. Finally we installed foam gaskets on all the electrical outlets. One thing we've overlooked so far has been to tighten the attic hatch but that will be done shortly.
In order to seal the place for next winter, we'll be repeating the incense stick process to check for new leaks so we can get them sealed before winter does set in.
If you're not sure how to do any of this, just google it - that's what I did and found an amazing amount of really helpful information, many with step-by-step illustrations.

Moisture. Too much moisture can have an effect not only on the amount of energy used but also on health. Its not that difficult to tell if this problem exists - mould/mildew growth, musty smells or fogged and/or frosted up windows in the winter - are the signs to watch for. The fortunate thing is that moisture is usually a fairly easy-to-resolve problem.
  1. Check with for a hygrometer, used to measure the moisture level in the air, which should be between 30% and 50%. These units don't cost very much.
  2. If there is a dirt floor in the basement or crawl space, this should be covered with heavy polyethylene, sealed and weighed down. 
  3. Use the bathroom exhaust fan during a bath or shower.
  4. Use the range exhaust fan when cooking.
  5. Make sure exhaust vents, for bathroom, kitchen, and dryer are vented to the outdoors.
  6. Avoid drying firewood indoors.
  7. Avoid steam cleaning carpets in the winter.
  8. Use a dehumidifier, but don't let levels go below 30% which could aggravate allergies and other health problems.  
Standby Power. We were told that 10% of our electricity was being used by not turning off the power to our TV, computer, microwave, etc. Even when we think we've turned the appliances off, many of them, along with home electronics, continue to use electricity - called standby power - to operate features such as clocks, timers, touch pads or to receive signals. We purchased power bars, all with surge protectors, to use with these units. The TV and DVD player are always used at the same time so are plugged into the same power bar which we turn off as soon as we're finished watching. Our receiver can't be turned off since it needs to be on to be updated, so its plugged into a separate smaller power bar. My phone charger, printer, and modem are all plugged into the same power bar so all can be turned on/off at the same time. My Internet receiver is always left on so it has its own power bar as does my laptop. Using power bars makes it easy to control power use, which not only saves money and electricity, but may make the equipment last longer. 
More Standby Power Tips: 
  • Turn the computer off when not in use - most electricity waste occurs when they are left on for extended periods of inactivity. Avoid using screensavers - they will cause the monitors to consume the same amount of power as when it is running normally.
  • When buying new home entertainment equipment, look for the ENERGY STAR or  EcoOptions stamps of approval - they use up to 50% less electricity in standby mode.
More Energy Saving Tips:
Some of these tips we've put in place, while others we're still working on. In the case of a hot water heater we're checking out the "flash heaters" which only come on when hot water is needed. I also moved my dryer right out of the house and use either the clothes line or drying rack to dry my clothes - I realize this is probably not for everyone but works for me. 
  • Insulate air ducts and hot water pipes that run through unheated areas of the house. Insulate plastic pipes only with an approved type to insulation to avoid damaging the pipes and fittings.
  • Insulate the hot water tank, then turn down its thermostat.
  • Add plastic film over single pane windows - this can reduce heat loss by 25-50%.
  • Install ceiling fans - by running them in reverse, rising warm air will be circulated back down to the living area.
  • Install dimmer switches - turn off lights when rooms are not in use - install motion sensor lights in bathrooms and seldom used areas - switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • Replace furnace filters regularly - install a programmable thermostat - lower the temperature at night.
  • Make use of drapes - they keep the sun out in summer and the heat inside in winter.
  • When replacing electronic equipment or appliances, compare energy efficiency ratings.
  • When replacing a clothes washer, do so with a front-loading washer - use cold water, whenever possible.
  • Add water-saving fixtures: low-flush toilets and shower-flow restrictors.
  • Install and use a clothes line when the weather permits.
  • Use timers to delay the use of appliances until off-peak hours.
  • Only run dishwashers when full and choose the air-dry settings.
  • Refrigerators - keep coils and air inlets clean, ensure the door seals are tight, keep it full, but not overloaded.
  • Keep freezers full. If food supply is low, store extra clean blankets or other such things in there. It takes a lot more energy to cool air then a solid substance. Extra Money-Saving Tip: When the contents in my freezer start to go down, I start watching for the 10Kg bags of flour to come on sale - at 50% off. I then use these as a filler product which doubles the savings - low cost flour and lower hydro cost.
  • Plan your energy use so most can be used during off-peak hours.
Well, I think that about covers it. I may have forgotten one or two things but doing any of the above, considering of course that they need doing, will make a tremendous difference in cutting energy use and, as a bonus, will also cut your greenhouse gas emissions which will benefit us all.

My final gripe: Our actual electricity cost is just 48% of the bill while 52% is for charges that have slowly been slipped in over the past number of years, including a debt retirement charge for a debt that we all know has long been paid off. Why are we not screaming about this? If the bank continued to charge us interest for a loan that no longer existed, we'd be up in arms, so why do we tolerate this? Something to think about during the next provincial election campaign.

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I want this blog to be interesting, informative and current. Your comments let me know if I'm on track, so comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks - Lenie