Conservation and savings

We’ve been in this house for a bit more than a year now, so now we’re able to do same month year-to-year comparisons of our energy use.  We’ve been steadily working on making the house more energy efficient, so I’ve been curious to see what the impacts are.  We’ve replaced the windows, one of the toilets, clothes washer, dryer, boiler, fridge, dishwasher, and stove.  Basically, the only things left to do are the hot water heater and the air conditioner…

So, the envelope please…

  • Electricity — Dominion Virginia Power has a handy-dandy button on its site that generates various comparisons for you once you’ve logged in.  It shows how much you paid in a given month compared to the previous month and the same month the year before, and divides the change out among different temperatures, different number of days in the billing cycle, change in prices, and "customer-controlled use."  So, we paid $71.20 in May 2008, down from $95.02 a year previously.  And the rates went up in that period, so they claim that customer-controlled use saved us $27.28.  So, a decent percentage savings, but not that impressive in absolute dollar amounts.  Even with the forthcoming 18% rate hike, it’s going to take us a long time before the improvements pay for themselves.  (Obviously, the energy savings were not the primary reasons we made these changes, so we’re not upset by this.)
  • Gas — Washington Gas doesn’t offer this kind of comparison, so I have to sort of eyeball things.  We used 13.2 therms last month, versus 63 therms a year ago.  That’s because it took us a while last year to figure out how much energy our old boiler was using keeping water hot even when it wasn’t sending any into the baseboard heaters.  Once we figured out that we needed to shut the boiler off in the summer, it dropped down to 32 therms. (The remainder is for the clothes dryer and water heater, both of which are gas-powered.  Our new stove is also gas powered, but you’d have to work really hard to spend more than a few dollars that way…)  The more impressive comparison is February to March, when our use dropped from 258 therms to 151 when we installed the new boiler.  That improvement clearly is cost-effective, since our February bill was close to $400.*
  • Water — We get billed quarterly for water, and haven’t paid more than $100 per quarter.  While the washer and dishwasher use less water than the old ones, I don’t expect it to make a noticeable difference on our bills.  We put in a low-flow showerhead but I’m guessing that it impacts the gas bill more than the water bill.

Dominion is making a big deal out of their new conservation plan, but I’m pretty skeptical.  Based on my results, my guess is that just showing people how much their energy use costs won’t significantly affect usage unless they also adopt variable rate pricing, where electricity costs a lot more during peak usage times. (Dominion does not appear to be doing that, since their demo says you’d be entering the rates from your bill.)  I think this is mostly an attempt to convince politicians to give them approval for the transmission lines and coal-burning plant they want to build.

* When I see stories like this one about people with $400 monthly electric bills, I have to assume that they have electric heat, and very poor insulation.  I’m not sure I could run up a $400 electric bill in this house even if I ran the air conditioning with the windows open.

Cross-posted to my home blog.  Also, note the new "Environment" category — I’ll go back when I get a chance and add the tag to some of my older posts. 

8 Responses to “Conservation and savings”

  1. Jennifer Says:

    We made enormous water savings in our house (25% I think, year on year) at the same time as Sydney as a whole saved around the same amount. For our house, we think it was more about the low-flush toilets (they have half as well as full flush) we installed than the low-flow showerheads. For Sydney, it was because we had water restrictions so that (among other restrictions) people could only hand water gardens, and then only at night.
    We also went from giving the boys a joint bath every night in our enormous spa bath to giving them a separate shower every morning – I suspect that saved something as well.
    But I don’t believe that the cost is enough for us to save anything for monetary reasons – the information is useful, though, for us to save things so we can feel good about the planet.

  2. dave.s. Says:

    I expect that several of your improvements are going to look swell as energy costs go up. We’ve been doing the easy stuff (windows, etc) one by one. We have a little above-ground pool (‘Pride of Wal-Mart’) for the kids and pump water through a solar panel for it on sunny days. Solar thermal for household hot water can be one of the most cost-effective things: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_hot_water.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    The first month in our new house (April), our electric bill was $150. At the previous house it had been $50. We have gas heat and a gas water heater, so I freaked out & called the utility to see if there had been a mistake. Oh no, said they. The average bill for the previous owners was $250. ?! The only difference between our previous house and this one is 1000 sq ft and a hot tub. So I’m guessing the hot tub is costing us at least $75/mo. Worth it? Not hardly. I’m trying to talk my husband into selling it this summer.
    I am struck by your water bill. It seems very low. Do you not water your yard? In the summer our water bill can be as high as $150/mo. Of course I live in the desert so it could be water’s more expensive here.

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    This year, we haven’t needed to water at all because it’s been raining very steadily. Last summer was very dry, so we did water, but only every couple of days, and mostly by hand (rather than with the sprinkler). We’ve got rain barrels set up now, which should help a bit too.

  5. dave.s. Says:

    Michael O’Hare had a spectacular post headed The biofuel circus at http://www.samefacts.com/archives/energy_and_environment_/2008/06/the_biofuel_circus.php
    “So by all means, lets keep pushing the technological envelope on biofuels, plug-in hybrid cars, reducing vehicle miles traveled (and conservation of all types), solar electric power, and all the rest, partly because they’re all risky and partly because we need all of them, not one big technotrick. What’s wanted is not a silver bullet, but a shotgun cartridge with a lot of silver birdshot.”
    And the theme was that there is nothing out there which looks promising to solve the whole thing, we are going to be in a world of hurt as the pump runs dry, and everything helps. I like the idea of silver birdshot.

  6. dave.s. Says:

    I recommend AGAINST installing heated-seat toilets with exhaust fans in your house….
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/24/AR2008062401285_pf.html
    “..It happens inside the Japanese home, where energy use is surging. And nothing embodies the surge quite like the toilet — a plumbing fixture that has been reengineered here as an ultracomfy energy hog.
    Japanese toilets can warm and wash one’s bottom, whisk away odors with built-in fans and play water noises that drown out potty sounds. They play relaxation music, too. “Ave Maria” is a favorite.
    High-end toilets can also sense when someone enters or leaves the bathroom, raising or lowering their lids accordingly…”

  7. Jackie Says:

    We just installed a new furnace and hot water heater– I’m hoping to see substantial differences in our heating/energy bills a year from now, especially since I’m hoping I’m also hoping to replace our fridge before the end of the summer.

  8. K Says:

    Our gas and electric come in the same bill. In the summer, it is very low. (Last year, I think we turned the a/c on a total of 3 days) In the winter it is sky-high. (especially this winter). We are hoping that a new, more efficient furnace will help with that, but the old one continues to chug along so it is still being used.

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