Friday, May 25, 2007

90% - More Numbers (Electricity)

Average U.S. household electricity usage is 11,000 kWh per year. Calendar year 2006 we used 6868 kWh; for the last 12 months we've used 5960 kWh, which shows a downward trend. In 2005 we used 9479 kWh, and in 2004 we used 8241 kWh.

I'm worried about our ability to reduce our usage to 10% of the average. Honestly, we used 1100 kWh just in July last year, a month that saw us with 26 days of temperatures over 100 degrees. I live in an old house, it is poorly insulated, and the A/C unit is over 15 years old. Yes, we would use significantly less electricity to run a new, Energy Star A/C unit, but coming up with the cash to pay for it isn't really in the cards this year.

Therein lies one of the dilemmas we face regularly regarding reducing the energy we use: how to afford to replace inefficient appliances when the reality is that it will take years to see financial payback. We live in southern California, which is not the land of cheap electricity, and still we paid only $910.50 for our electricity usage over the past 12 months, which averages to 15 cents per kWh, including all fees and taxes.

A new unit would cost us over $5K, and would take more than 10 years to pay for itself. We know that buying a new unit is the responsible thing to do; the reality is that we'll keep it limping along until it dies. The longer it lives, the more time we have to build cash reserves, so that we can pay for a new unit without resorting to financing or draining the emergency account.

We do have many Energy Star appliances, installed with our 2003 remodel. The dishwasher is a Bosch, the washing machine is a high efficiency front loader. The range is a dual-fuel Jenn Air with convection (to cut cooking time). We had purchased an Energy Star refrigerator in 2002.

How can we cut our usage? Well, we're almost at 50% right now; that's good. Last year we ran the A/C at 82 degrees; this year we're going to try pushing it to 84 degrees or higher. Last year we ran the ceiling fans all the time; this year I read that we should only turn them on when we are in a room, as they work by the wind chill principle. That should help some.

We're exploring the idea of a basic outdoor kitchen set up. We have a patio-sized propane grill, and are looking into a small cast iron hibachi that could be used with hardwood charcoal or with wood. We're seriously considering something like a Sun Oven (which is something we could take with us when we leave). In terms of summer eating, we're thinking of combining a grilled protein with mostly raw foods. We'll choose one day a week to cook grains, beans, and baked items. The idea is to keep the kitchen from getting hot, thus reducing the need for the A/C.

There are little things we can do. We love the skylight in the big bathroom, however it heats the back room, so we'll close the door in summer. We're going to hang an outdoor blind off the patio to block the western sun on hot summer afternoons. One project I intend to take on is making window quilts for the winter. I've been given a lot of fabric, and I occasionally find it at the thrift store. I'll use thrift store blankets for batting.

I skimp on electricity other little ways as well. I'll bathe or shower when the morning light is good so I don't need artificial lighting. I air dry my long hair instead of using a hair dryer. I open a window instead of running the bathroom fan. I rarely turn on my porch light.

In the kitchen I reach for a knife or handheld grater over a food processor. We soak oatmeal and cook it briefly on the stove rather than running a slow cooker all night. If I use the rice cooker I make enough (rice, quinoa, cornmeal mush) for several meals.

Needless to say, nearly every light bulb in our house is tube florescent or a compact florescent.

One thing we are considering, which will add to our electricity usage, is buying a small, manual defrost chest freezer so that we can bulk purchase grassfed beef and lamb once a year. The one we are looking at averages 274 kWh per year.

There is one thing that I wonder about when it comes to our energy usage? What kind of credit do we get if we aren't buying processed foods? Certainly it takes more energy usage at home to cook from scratch, but for the most part we've opted out of buying pre-made foods like bread, cereal, canned beans, ice cream, etc. which all take energy to manufacture.

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