I pulled out our gas and electric bills for the past year and entered them into Ennovationz.com to see a chart of energy activity for our household. I then checked in at the Minnesota Energy Challenge to see how our bills stacked up with the average Minnesota household. Here’s the scoop:
We heat with natural gas, and have a natural gas stove, dryer and water heater. We spent $723 on natural gas last year. The Minnesota average is $2,727. I don’t know how we could be so much lower than the average but we have worked hard to increase the insulation in our house, we rarely use the clothes dryer and don’t cook much.
Electric use, on the other hand, is too high! The average Minnesota house/family of our size uses $850 in electricity, the average American family uses $1,147, and we used $1,061. When I look at the graph, I can see electrical use rises in the summer and gas use rises in the winter so clearly it relates to heating and cooling. We are using lots of electricity for air conditioning.
We have a lot of opportunity to reduce electrical use through simple measures like turning off lights and unplugging things, but the bigger challenge will be summer air conditioning. Because of my severe allergies to everything, I keep the windows closed spring, summer and fall. (And closed in winter so we can live.) Air conditioned air has to go through the furnace filters so the first batch of allergens gets siphoned off.
If anyone has ideas (aside from drugs and shots) about how I can address the air conditioning/allergy tradeoff, please comment.
After heating and cooling, refrigeration and water heating are typically the largest energy vampires in the home. I know I am a particularly intensive user of hot water and we have a fairly large hot water heater because we had a family of 7 and frequently ran out of water. Since our water heater only 5 years old and its highly efficient, it will be awhile before we consider a change. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says high efficiency gas tank water heaters have a life cycle of about 13 years and costs about $323 a year to operate (that’s almost half our total gas outlay). They also point out that most people don’t think about their water heater until thy face an emergency so maybe we could think ahead and plan for a different type of system next time — maybe a tankless water heater.
Our friend Ralph was in Germany recently and found that the home he stayed in had a hot water usage meter next to every sink so people could actually see how much hot water they were using. He found this visual reminder to be very helpful in changing his behavior — turning off the water rather than letting it run.
I plan to continue graphing our energy use to see if we do make improvements as we adjust the thermostat up and down. I’ll post later this week about insulation and weatherization.