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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Breaking It Down

In the never-ending quest to reduce, I spent the better part of the morning using this website to calculate where our money is going. I say it that way, because it's useful for me to understand that every time I power up my computer (and leave it idle) or turn on a light (and forget to turn it off) or watch a DVD on the television (and then leave the room while the movie still runs with no one watching it), I'm spending dollars.

It's not just wasting energy (squandering our dwindling resources).

It's also wasting money.

From the calculations, one-third to one-half (depending on the month) of our electricity is spent on operating our computers. The monthly total is 211 kwh, half of which goes to operate the one desk top computer (with LCD monitor) that stays on, roughly, twenty-four hours per day, seven days a week, whether or not (which is more often) it is being used. It costs us $17.92 per month to keep that computer powered up.

The second biggest energy sucker is the oven, which uses 124 kwh for two hours worth of use at 350°. I usually run it at a higher temperature, but not quite for that long.

The refrigerator didn't use as much as I thought (although my calculations may be off) at 40 kwh per month, and the calculator didn't provide any information about operating a deep freeze.

The television doesn't use as much energy as I thought, either, but that's mostly due to the fact that we don't turn it on very often. On a side note: I was surprised to discover that operating our old CRT television doesn't use as much energy as powering one of the newer, sleek, very expensive plasma and LCD models. Makes me happy that I have my crappy attitude toward television, in general, which means I would NEVER have spent that kind of money on something I deem less than worthless ... and as a result of saving money, I saved money ;).

According to the website's calculations, we use 502.8 kWh/month. Our actual usage is a bit higher - between 500 and 600 kWh/month, but there were a few things that I couldn't account for, because the calculator didn't have that option and I just have no idea. Things like the septic pump, my printer, the computer router, and our upright deep freezer. I figure with those things excluded, the my estimates are pretty accurate.

So, what to do ...? Because we can't go off-grid and expect to be able to afford a system that generates 502.8 kilowatt hours per month. I've looked into those systems, and they are definitely too much money. What we will be able to afford will more likely be something in the 400 watt range.

The answer will be to replace inefficient appliances and electronic devices, and to conserve.

The no-cost solution to the oven usage is to: 1) plan better; and 2) use the stove top more often. Planning better means that I would use the oven once or twice a week, instead of whenever the whim strikes me. I would spend a day baking bread, and at the same time, bake other things, like pumpkin or pies.

An electric burner operating for two hours uses, approximaately, 50 kwh, which is less than half of what it costs to operate the oven for the same amount of time. I could run two burners for two hours for less than it costs to run the oven. I could also use woodstove more, although now that it's getting warmer outside, using the stove for cooking doesn't really work as well as it does during the deep winter freeze, because I'm not burning the fire quite as hot.

Using techniques like a haybox cooker and doing things like heating water to boil, adding pasta, and then turning off the heat and covering the food, which will continue to cook, will save energy, as well.

Changing those habits won't cost us a thing, but there are some low-cost solutions to the cooking issue, too, which would pay for themselves in a very short period of time.

The low-cost cooking solution is to build an outdoor kitchen. Not only would it provide me a cheaper way to cook our meals, but it would also give us a fixed place for the annual maple sugaring :). If we built an earth oven I could even reduce our cooking costs even further.

The whole topic of an outdoor cooking space is so incredibly broad. Having an outdoor cooking space would offer so many advantages that indoor cooking does not provide, including the above mentioned sap boiling, meat smoking, and wood-fired bread baking. The only dilemma, for me, at the moment, is where to put it to best utilize our space ... and since I want our outdoor kitchen to have a hand-pump well, too ....

But that's a whole other post ;).

Back to the topic of saving, we could cut another 37 kWh/month if we were to handwash the dishes, although our little half-sized dishwasher probably doesn't use as much electricity as the calculator says.

Replacing our circa 1997 refrigerator with a smaller and/or more efficient fridge would save 30 kWh per month (assuming my calculations for how much energy our fridge uses are correct).

We have night lights in the bathrooms, and if I could train myself and my family to not turn on the bathroom overhead lights if they're just tinkling, we might save a few more pennies per month. We already "let it mellow" if "it's yellow", which saves on the amount of electricity the septic pump uses (less water means less pumping needed :).

We've already picked all of the low-hanging fruit (turning off lights, replacing bulbs with CFLs, using power strips for ghost loads), when it comes to lowering our energy usage.

And we took it up a notch when we installed the woodstove for heating.

It's time now to take it to take it even further and start really changing habits. We have to get our every day electricity usage down to what we can reasonably afford to produce ourselves.

Step one: replace the desk top computers with laptops (and at this point, doing without isn't really an option, as computers are big part of our home schooling, could take the place of our television ... and, oh, yeah, I work from home using a computer *grin*).

Step two: build an outdoor kitchen.

Just those two things will decrease our energy usage by an estimated 235 kWh per month ... and the $38 per month we'll be saving could go toward the purchase of our alternative energy system :).

It might seem silly to spend $500 to save $38, but it's not about the short-term. It's about the long-term, and if we spend the money we have today on things that will help us use less energy and make us more self-sufficient tomorrow, I consider that a good investment.