Ardent Eden

Ardent Eden is a place to explore my thoughts about the interdependence of life - humanity and nature - and to engage with others for collective problem-solving.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Powering Down

Analyzing my electric bill yesterday and reading the comments to my post about it got me thinking about ways to most effectively reduce consumption of energy.

Project Outlet Audit

I heeded baloghblog's advice and conducted a little audit of what's plugged in to the outlets in my apartment. Here's the lowdown by room:


  • Outlet #1: (1) power strip that has microwave and toaster plugged into it; and (2) coffee pot
  • Outlet #2: refrigerator
  • We also have a dishwasher and electric oven. I use an electric coffee grinder each morning, and I also have a food processer and mixer. The small appliances are not plugged in unless they are in use.
Living room:

  • Outlet #3: (1) lamp with CFL bulb; and (2) cell phone charger [Damn! I've been trying to keep the charger unplugged when there's no cell phone connected to it.]
  • Outlet #4: stereo
  • Outlet #5: (1) power strip that has computer, printer, air filter, speakers, and desklamp plugged into it; and (2) lamp

  • Outlet #6: (1) extension cord with TV and DVD player plugged into it; and (2) lamp

  • Outlet #7: answering machine
  • Outlet #8: extension cord with lamp, clock and dust-buster plugged into it


  • Outlet #9: cd-player
  • Outlet #10: lamp

Main bathroom:

  • Outlet #11: hair dryer

Second bathroom: no outlets

Expert Advice

Having checked out what we keep plugged in all the time, I think I have a pretty good sense of where the kilowatts on the bill are coming from. We rarely use the overhead lights unless we're in the kitchen or bathroom. Otherwise, we're table lamp kind of folks. Since I don't have one of these nifty devices for measuring kilowatts, I pulled out my handy Union of Concerned Scientists book to check out the chart comparing the electricity used in common household appliances. Here are some snippets from the chart which shows the average electricity use per unit (in KWH/year) of common appliances (when there are multiple units in the house, as with lamps, you'll need to multiply this number by the number of units):

Refrigerator - 1,155

Lighting - 940

TV - 360

Electric dryer - 875

Range/oven - 458

Microwave - 191

Dishwasher - 299

Electric washer - 99

Computer - 77

Once they figured in the impact of multiple units in a household, the UCS's bottom line is:

Overall, the top contributors to the environmental impacts of household lighting and appliances turn out to be, in descending order of importance, refrigerators, lighting, televisions, and far down in impact, electric dryers and stand-alone freezers.

What to Do?

The UCS says that using electric appliances as little as possible is good practice, of course. But the even better practice is to choose the most efficient unit as possible before you bring it in the door and get it plugged in. Since I'm not in the market for any new appliances, I started to feel like I was doomed to have higher wattage than I'd like for awhile. But the UCS also emphasized the benefits of CFL bulbs. I knew that my regular incandescent bulbs were bad. What I didn't know was that only 10% of the electricity used by regular bulbs produces light while the rest goes to heating the filament. Not much bang for your coal use, especially when you consider this incredible statement about the benefits of CFLs:

...if the mix of fuels used to produce the electricity is typical, just one compact fluorescent bulb will eliminate the combustion of three hundred pounds of coal.

Hmmm...I think that I'll have to rethink yesterday's conclusion that I'll wait until my regular bulbs burn out to replace them with CFLs. Instead, I think that I'm going to get two CFLs, for starters, to put in the nursery lamp and the overhead lamp in the kitchen. From my audit and the information from the UCS, it looks like making changes in the lighting department will result in the biggest impact.

By the way, I didn't mention the cost of my electric bill for the 160 KWH month. It was $30.62. Not exactly astronomical, but I know that we can do better. Plus the pollution from coal-burning power plants is just not something that I want to contribute to any more than absolutely necessary. And now that I've made my electricity stats public, I've got an incentive to get that number down before I have to post next month's usage. The bar graph doesn't lie.

I think it would be kind of fun (in a nerdy way) to make a little game out of this. If you're so inclined, let me know what you're monthly KWH usage is from your last bill and then report back when the next bill comes in. Maybe we can hold each other accountable for bringing those numbers down a little bit each month.


  • At 10:58 PM, Blogger baloghblog said…

    I can sense your guilt about "coal burning".

    A quick remedy: Green Power!

    I "greened up" nearly 6 months ago, and for a few bucks a month, it is nice to know that I am not burning coal, or firing up the nuke plant when I forget to turn off the bathroom light!

    My electric use for all to see HERE

    Click on the graph - it reads recent to past from left to right. (there is two of us in a 1500 sq ft home)

  • At 11:05 PM, Blogger baloghblog said…

    p.s. I just checked and we used 424 kWh for the past 32 days. = 13.25 kWh/day.

    Still a lot. But, down from 634 January 05 bill - a 33% reduction.

  • At 11:36 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    baloghblog - a 33% reduction is great! Thanks for providing a link to your own bar graphs. I checked out the Green Power site, and it's not available for my utility company unfortunately. You are absolutely right about my guilt re: coal burning. That certainly bothers me much more than the relatively low cost of our monthly bill. Thanks for contributing to this discussion - - you've obviously been thinking about these issues and taking some great steps. That always inspires me!

  • At 11:51 PM, Blogger Andrea Rusin said…

    We used an average of 15.4 KWH per day according to the most recent bill -so that must have been December. For a cost of just under $54, so we aren't breaking the bank here. But still.... I have to think some more about this. It's a big ol' barn of a century-old house. It's hard to think how to improve this. But I will muse on it.

  • At 2:23 AM, Blogger Norene said…

    We are at 165 kWh/mo for the past month, or 5 kWh/day. Lowest for the year was 115 kWh in June, and we were out of town for a week. I wonder what it would take us to dip below 100?

  • At 12:40 PM, Blogger spiral said…

    I was horror-stricken when I first compared our energy bill to yours: our kWh usage on our most recent bill was 403 or 13.4 a day. That's down from 460 last year, which is good, but still. Ugh. Granted, we have a house built in 1925 that has a basement and an upstairs room--it's not exactly an energy-efficient bungalow. I like making it a game to decrease the usage, though, so I'm going to keep on top of things.

  • At 10:37 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Andrea, Norene and Spiral - Glad to have you guys in on our little game about reducing kWh usage before that next electric bill comes in. From my research, I think that lighting is the quickest way to short-term reductions in electricity usage. I also think that using a laundry rack instead of an electric dryer and washing clothes in warm or cold rather than hot water helps a lot. I don't pay for the electricity to operate our washer and dryer, though, so I'm going to have to be a bit more creative!

  • At 4:54 PM, Blogger nulinegvgv said…


    I thought I’d write to say that the compact florescent bulbs you're talking about are quite a bit cheaper in bulk. You can buy a three pack or even a 6 pack in some stores and save money on the upfront cost of switching over. Also, when I switched I went ahead and replaced all my old light bulbs and put the old, used bulbs in the new bulb packaging for storage. There are still a few places where I need more/brighter light and where the compact fluorescents don't work as well- specifically outside. When one of those bulbs burns out I replace it with an old, used bulb. This way I was able to switch over almost completely to compact fluorescents immediately without wasting the old bulbs. Just a thought.

    I’m inspired to audit my own home’s electrical use. Thanks.

    Oh and how much juice did your book say your hairdryer uses?

  • At 9:24 PM, Blogger lauren said…

    Hi nulinegvgv - Thanks for the suggestion about CFLs. I plan to pick up some more, and I'll definitely look for a multi-pack. I also love the idea of saving the conventional bulbs for use where you do need more light. I just couldn't get past the wasteful element of throwing out perfectly good bulbs!

    The Union of Concerned Scientists book doesn't talk about hair dryer usage; I think they try to stick to the biggies. I found this chart of common household appliance energy use though, which is great. It says that a hair dryer uses between 1 - 10 kWh per month. I only use mine very briefly after air drying for awhile and try to skip it on weekends and when I'm not going to work.

    Thanks for the helpful comments --I hope you'll chime in often!

  • At 10:16 AM, Blogger Laurie said…

    Whoa! I can't remember the specifics, but ours was in the 700 range. However, we have turned down the thermostat significantly and made up for the savings in natural gas consumption by electric space heaters in the rooms where we hang out. I'm guessing that if I just get my act together about the electric dryer, I could make a good dent in that.


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