How We Got Our Utilities to $100 a Month

In the spring of 2012 our electricity provider, BGE, installed a SmartMeter on our house. This meter identifies energy consumption in more detail than a conventional meter. Online we can view graphs that break down our energy usage by month, day, and hour. Earlier this month Jeremy and I received a letter in the mail from BGE. It featured these awesome graphs (click to enlarge):

Energy Comparion Line Graph Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 9.17.26 PMCompared to similar homes (and efficient similar homes), we used 71% less electricity over 2012 – implying savings of $1646 a year. That made us feel pretty good! Every year we strive to cut back our utility usage a little more. So, it was helpful to know that our energy consumption was way below average.

Utilities BillsThese graphs represent our spending on utilities from Jan 2010 to Dec 2012. We moved into our home in June 2009, so we did not include any data from 2009 because it would be incomplete for comparison. The bar graph shows our total spending on utilities (electricity, gas and water), while the line graph shows trends per month. From 2010 to 2012 we decreased our total spending by 26.6%, from 2011 to 2012 by 14.8%. In the monthly graph you can see how our energy usage spikes at certain times. Most of these spikes can be explain by temperature changes – using more heat (gas) or air conditioning (electric).

Our 2012 average cost per month for utilities was $102. We’re hoping to do even better this year! We want to share our energy and money saving strategies. First I will break down what we are doing to save money in each utility, and then analyze our current consumption and make plans for how we can save even more.

Heating and Cooling
Here are some posts that detail what we have done to save on heating and cooling costs:

  • Have a home energy audit
  • Seal up drafty windows
  • Cover fireplace vents when not in use
  • Insulate the attic hatch
  • Make sure exterior doors seal tightly
  • Close blinds to keep the house cool in the summer and open blinds in winter to let in warm sunlight. Our honeycomb blinds with window tracks help us achieve this and prevent drafts. Insulated curtains can also help keep your home warm in the winter and reflect daylight in the summer to keep it cool.
  • Use a hot water bottle to warm your bed at night to save on nighttime heating costs
  • It’s more efficient to use a space heater to heat the room that we’re in, instead of heating the whole house
  • You can dress warmly instead of raising the temperature
  • Minimize the difference between your high and low temperature settings
  • Consider the needs of house plants and pets before you set the temperature too low
  • Use a programmable thermostat

Natural Gas
Our home uses natural gas for heat, the water heater and the dryer. When you look at our consumption graph, our usage spikes during the winter months.

Gas Usage From 2010 to 2012 our total cost of natural gas decreased by 43.7%. From 2011 to 2012 it decreased by 36.8%. The main reason for the decrease from 2011 to 2012 is due to our switch to a third-party provider who charges less per therm. We have also made a few improvements specifically to save on gas:

  • Turn down the temperature on the hot water heater
  • Insulate the hot water pipes. This should also decrease water usage, since it should help water get hot faster and stay hot longer – leading to water running less.
  • Use cold water to wash clothes
  • Air dry laundry items that would take longer to dry in the dryer (like jeans)

Electricity
From 2010 to 2012 we decreased our total spending on electricity by 21.3%, but only decreased from 2011 to 2012 by 1%.

Electricity SpendingWhat is interesting to note is that this graph represents cost, not usage. In 2010 we have a gap in our data. A huge snowstorm hit and BGE was not able to read our meter during that time. Now with the SmartMeter, we won’t have to worry about that happening again. Also, our energy consumption may have decreased, but the cost per kWh has increased – causing this graph to be misleading. Next year we will be able to compare by kWh since our SmartMeter is able to collect more detailed data.

Here are some ways we save on electric. Most of these you’ve heard before:

  • Use LED light bulbs and dimmer lights
  • Select Energy Star rated appliances – like our refrigerator
  • Put computer to sleep when not in use. We also just reduced our number of desktop computers from 2 to 1
  • Unplug appliances when not in use – we turn off our ice-maker most of the time
  • Clean the refrigerator coils so that it runs more efficiently

Most of our electric savings come from keeping the house cooled efficiently, as you saw our electricity use spikes in the summer (and I covered those tips under heating/cooling). What was interesting to see was the SmartMeter’s breakdown of our hourly use. According to BGE, we use the most electricity, on average, during 9 and 10 pm. The graph shows a spike of 1.5 kWh at 9pm. The graph makes sense though: the kWh start to rise around 6:00pm, when we come home from work and cook dinner. Then we usually spend some time on our computers and at 8:00 pm we usually watch a movie or television show together. So, this high usage around 9:00 accounts for the television and Playstation being in use for a few hours. And during this time of year we are also running our space heater and afterwards heating up our hot water bottle. We really like our routine, so we tried to think of how we could modify it to use less power. Our best idea was to watch television in the living room rather than in the “media room”, because it is warmer upstairs. In the summer months it will be cooler, and more comfortable downstairs.

Water
Over the past three years our water bills have varied slightly but hover around $18.80 a month. Our most expensive bills are for the winter months. This makes sense to me, because I am always waiting for the water in the shower to get hot! Here are some things we are doing to conserve water:

  • Low-flow shower head in master bathroom shower
  • Calculate the flow-rate of your faucets – you can install low-flow aerators
  • Wipe dishes, instead of rinsing, before putting in dishwasher (this is a new habit we are trying to form).
  • The basics: don’t run the water while brushing your teeth or lathering up your hands; don’t water your lawn.

We are currently looking into adapters to convert our toilets into dual-flush toilets. Water is probably the area where we could stand to make the greatest improvement – not just for frugality, but for morality.

I hope that you found this post helpful. Maybe there were a few practical tips that you haven’t tried before. Next January I hope to share what improvements we’ve made with our energy use. Maybe we can get those utility bills to under $100 a month.