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Chasing Electrical Demons to Cut your Power Bill by 80%

1994-kwhWorking in my yard the other day, I happened to notice that my power meter is just about to cross the ‘2000’ mark.

That’s two thousand kilowatt hours, or roughly $200 of electricity. About the amount it takes to drive your Tesla Model S from Los Angeles to New York and back, or dry 570 loads of laundry in an electric clothes dryer, or run a modern laptop computer continuously for 11 years. It’s also about the amount of power the average American household burns in two months.

Yet I installed the power meter you see in that picture in November 2013, and I’m writing this over 15 months later. Somehow, even accounting for all the power used to build this house and live in it since then, with all my welders and power saws, wife and boy, computers and audio systems, lights and appliances, we’ve averaged about 80% less than the average household.

The performance looks even better when you compare against high-income households: one of my Canadian friends ruefully admitted that his power bill tops $900 per month every January as his electric heat pump fights to keep his large custom home warm in the face of Ottawa’s near-arctic winter weather. A Texan friend reports a $300 per month cooling bill for the hottest four months of the year, and even a fellow Coloradan uses over $200 per month with very little climate control at all.

All of this supposed efficiency, even though I live in what I consider to be a bath of glorious electricity consumption.  I have a giant LG fridge that gets heavy use every day:

fridge

I also have this fancyass Samsung dishwasher from Craigslist that runs several times a week in order to protect my lazy hands from the dangers of too much manual dishwashing:

samsung

On any given night when viewed from the park, my house looks like this:

house

There is no shortage of electricity flying around in my residence.

How can this be?

The stakes are large: This electrical advantage saves me tens of of thousands of dollars per decade, and it takes very little effort to maintain it. If everybody ran their house and business like this, we could shut down most of our coal power plants (38% of the nation’s CO2 emissions) almost overnight*.  As with most Mustachian Life Hacks, the key lies in understanding what is actually going on.

1: Measure Everything, then get Angry at Waste

As a quick shortcut for understanding the impact of electricity waste, remember this rule: Every watt of constant drain costs you about $12.63 per decade in lost wealth.

A tiny 2-watt seashell nightlight in your guest bathroom?  25 bucks. A forgotten incandescent porch light that never turns off? $758.00  A hot tub or pool pump that is on for an average of just two hours a day? $1578 burned. If you think a decade is a long time to make such a measurement, think again – ten years is the minimum amount to be thinking about when your goal is to become wealthy.

In my house, devices don’t just get to slurp on power without supervision. I test everything at least once, so I can understand where my power goes and decide if that’s a worthwhile bit of spending. To accomplish this, I use a combination of measurement tools. But don’t be turned off if you’re not an electrical nerd like me – you don’t have to measure everything if you are not so inclined. There is a list of shortcuts coming up too.

efergyThe Efergy Elite Combo system comes with a very small wireless clamp that sits permanently around the main input wires in my circuit panel and measures power consumption right down to the watt with 10 second resolution. You set it and forget it. This power consumption is then displayed on a wireless unit in my kitchen and also logged permanently online, where I can review graphs from my phone or computer:

A day's electricity use: spikes are microwave/coffee machine. Small plateaus are the fridge. Evening buildup is lights and computers until we go to bed.

A day of our electricity use: spikes are microwave/coffee machine. Small plateaus are the fridge. Evening buildup is lights and computers until we go to bed.

By watching the display, I can see how much power it takes when the fridge kicks on, or when I run the dishwasher, or flip on a bank of lights in the kitchen. It also helps me find phantom loads: when you think everything is off, but your household consumption is still over 100 watts, something is wrong. I tracked down three faulty smoke detectors that were burning over 5 watts each and replaced them with units that use under 1 watt. Then I discovered that my Yamaha amplifiers burn 25 watts each if you leave them on, even when there is no music playing. This was bad, because I was often forgetting them overnight.

The benefit of the Efergy is its ability to measure even direct-wired devices: alarms, dishwashers, your central a/c system, or the unwanted pipe heater that the previous owner installed in your crawlspace to prevent frozen pipes.. but then left on for 12 months of the year regardless of temperature (which would cost you $1902 per decade, in case you were curious).

imgresThe lower-tech kill-a-watt meter is ideal for testing individual appliances over a longer period. For example, I was able to determine that my fridge uses 1.1 kwh per day, which translates to 401 kWh per year, or about 40 bucks.

 

 

Another favorite on my lab bench is the clamp-on current meter. Among other uses, this $40 wonder allows instantaneous measurement of the current running through an individual circuit in your breaker panel. It also comes in handy when diagnosing things like a broken electric lawnmower or vacuum cleaner:

This clamp-on current meter lets me measure an individual circuit (fridge 2.0 amps = 240 watts) or the whole house (4.92 amps).

The clamp-on meter lets me measure an individual circuit (fridge 2.0 amps = 240 watts) or the whole house (4.92 amps).

 

2. Put it all into Action

Here are the biggest power consumers in the typical home, and how I have optimized some of their worst guzzling out of my own bill.

Lights

If your interior space is lit with lamps or a few fixtures, it’s an easy fix: make sure they are all running on good compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.  But more recently-built houses (including mine) are usually done with a larger number of recessed lights within the ceiling itself. These produce a nice light with the builder-standard incandescent reflector bulbs but will destroy your electricity budget. Compact fluorescents of this format (PAR30) tend to be poor in quality and slow to reach full brightness. So I bypassed the problems by outfitting my house with the now-affordable PAR30 LEDs – the best bulb I’ve found for the job is the Hyperikon Bulb at Amazon because of its warm 2700k color and reasonable 40 degree beam angle (amazingly good light and under ten buck each now).

But if you look in detail at this picture of some of my interior lights, you’ll notice something odd…

lights

..they’re off most of the time. This is because I built my windows into the side of the house that faces the sun, and keep those windows clean and free from curtains or other obstructions.  This is not always an easy thing to change in your current house, but is a great factor to consider when shopping for your next one. And there’s a much bigger benefit than lower electricity and heating bills: higher happiness. Having a bright, daylit living space will improve your mood, productivity, and entire outlook on life.

Only once house buyers start demanding daylight-oriented design, will house builders wise up and start providing it.

Exterior Lights:

Fancy houses are often designed to look like a luxury resort at night, with landscape and path lighting, uplights highlighting the structure, pool lights, driveway lights, and so on. The quickest shortcut is to live in a smaller compound. But if you do have outdoor lighting, keep it to a minimum and use LEDs in all fixtures since they run for many hours per day. In my house, I leave no exterior lights on overnight at all – the glow from streetlights is more than enough to find your way around at night.

The Clothes Dryer: 

This is an emotional one, since some people consider this appliance to be humankind’s highest achievement. But consider this: even with seven figures in the bank, the MMM family has not even owned a clothes dryer since June 2014. I just prefer hanging clothes to dry outside (or inside if the weather requires it). It’s a meditative and pleasantly physical task, and your clothes smell better and last longer as a side benefit. And it burns very little time, because we only do a single load of laundry per week. You don’t have to go dryer-free to get most of this benefit – just use it more consciously and only wash stuff when it actually needs washing.

Air Conditioning:

We’ve already talked about this here, but the basic idea is to take the opposite approach of certain residents of the American South: use the A/C, but as little as possible rather than as much as possible. Always challenge your temperature threshold just as you should always challenge your physical threshold and seek to do the most difficult things you can handle, rather than minimizing the effort you put out with elevators and self-closing car trunks.

Electric Heating of Anything: 

If you’re stuck with an electric water heater, your electricity bill will exceed mine just in the process of taking showers and doing dishes. Don’t put up with it! These days you can replace an old-school electric tank with a heat pump water heater**. Electric baseboard heat can be replaced by a heat pump ductless system. If you’re stuck with an electric range and you would prefer to cook with natural gas (which is awesome), it is surprisingly easy to add a gas line to your kitchen – I ran my own using the newer flexible stainless steel gas line system available at the major home supply shops.

If you live in an area with a cold climate and oil-based heat, look into a ground-sourced Geothermal heat system. Several years ago, our mutual friend Mr. Frugal Toque (just outside of Ottawa, Canada) ditched his oil furnace and hired a contractor to replace it with a ground-source heat pump. He forked over $25k (after rebates) for the upgrade, but it saves him at least $2000 per year in heating and cooling costs, and the capital value will easily be recouped at home resale time, as heating bills are high on the minds of people in that area.

Gadgets: DVRs, Playstation-type game consoles and cable boxes have gained notoriety in recent years because they can use 50 or even 100 watts when you’re not even using them. This is unacceptable – any vampire over 1 watt deserves to be starved, so you’ll want to shut down computers that aren’t in use. The cable and playstation issue is easier to solve: return the box to the cable company and cancel your service, and sell the game system.. you have more valuable things to do with your free time!

Your Sorry Old Fridge:

Saving the best for last, you may have a chance to upgrade the luxury in your lifestyle while making a good investment at the same time. New fridges often greatly outperform old ones,  because EPA rules and consumer demand have pulled the technology forward.

For example, my neighborhood friend The Garage Grocer replaced an old 1970s freezer with a 2007 model of identical size. Power consumption dropped from 155 kWh/month to 64.5, a savings that compounds to roughly $1582 per decade if invested conservatively. The new freezer cost him around $200 on craigslist. My giant fancy LG fridge uses well under 40 kWh per month and cost me $600 (also on Craigslist but much newer) – but only because I insisted on the  luxury stainless steel model, consistent with the rest of my ridiculous lifestyle.

With the right adjustments, your electric bill can be a trivial affair that feels like a small monthly reward for your thoughtful use, rather than a painful but necessary draining of your bank account.  Happy demon hunting!

 

*If America then went on to read the article about Car Clowns, we’d be down an additional 32%, meaning 70% of our carbon emissions would be wiped out just like that. Who says global warming is such a big deal?

** If you do buy something from GP conservation, try the coupon code MMM for a discount. I don’t get a commission, but the company considers Mustachians an ideal source of business because of our enthusiasm for energy efficiency.

Further Inspiration: in response to this post, a reader named Mark sent me the annual power graph, for his 2200 SF house in Minneapolis. His electric company allows you to compare your consumption to that of your neighbors. Of course, the Mustachian line is the blue one way, way down below any of the other ones, quietly saving him loads of cash.

  • Kane March 25, 2015, 5:55 pm

    Who knew making small tweaks to your energy consumption could affect your power bill so much ! For us we had an extra fridge that we didn’t really need and sometimes used the dryer. Once we cut those appliances out we were able to save a fair chunk on our electricity bill !

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 25, 2015, 8:32 pm

      Aaugh, not the extra fridge! ;-)

      It’s such a huge part of a person’s energy consumption, and it is worthwhile shopping carefully just to get your one fridge to be the most efficient one available. So you can imagine my pain when I walk into someone’s garage and see the old almond-and-woodgrain special chugging away to keep a few cases of Pepsi and a Costco party platter chilled.

      This is just lighting hundred dollar bills on fire, and usually done by people who are nowhere close to being able to afford to do that.

      Reply
      • Monkey Uncle March 26, 2015, 4:26 am

        Hold on there. I looked up typical operating costs for our extra fridge (an early 1990s model) and estimated about $75 a year. We use it to store my home brew, which I make for about 60% of the cost of typical cheap macro brew. We also use it to store bulky (and cheap, healthy) greens and eggs that we buy from local farmers. And the freezer section stores cheap bulk meat purchases (like on-sale pork butts).

        Reply
      • James March 26, 2015, 9:33 am

        Then you’ll like my solution: I got an old fridge door from an appliance recycling place, cut a hole in the wall from my house to my attached garage, built a box around it and insulated the house side to take advantage of the passive heat differential between my heated house and my unheated garage. Now I have the pure luxury of a completely zero energy beer fridge that I can access from both the house and the garage.

        Reply
        • ultrarunner March 26, 2015, 11:40 am

          That’s a brilliant idea. :-)

          Reply
        • David March 27, 2015, 11:20 am

          That’s clever, I’d love to see pictures of this if there are any. I don’t have a fridge in my garage because it seems a bit frivolous but I do enjoy a beer or two while I tinker.

          Reply
        • judith March 27, 2015, 6:38 pm

          That is brilliant! My son built a wood box next to his fireplace. It is accessible from both sides, and insulated. Am wondering what the temp might be in there in the winter. Would be impressive to keep beer in there too!

          Reply
      • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 11:34 am

        I better start face-punching myself. Our second fridge sits in the patio room, filled up almost entirely with eggs from my wife’s 14 hobby laying hens and her monster bags of spices. Plus we have TWO chest freezers going: one in the kitchen filled-to-the brim with meats and another in the basement practically empty except for a half-dozen or so butchered chickens.

        Obviously, even though I’ve managed over time to reduce my living expenses 42% down to $15,000 a year, I STILL have a hell of a lot to learn and a hell of a lot to do!

        Reply
        • Sarah March 26, 2015, 12:37 pm

          Farm eggs, eggs that have not been commercially washed, are shelf safe for several weeks. NO fridge needed for those!!

          Reply
          • LauraLish March 30, 2015, 12:08 pm

            +1!! Bonus, you’re ready to drop a fresh batch of mayo on the fly with all those room temp eggs!

            Reply
        • BlessingS March 29, 2015, 12:21 am

          Many other countries provide pre-paid power so that you never have to worry about the surpirse $500+ energy bill. That might be something that would work really great in the US.

          Reply
          • Nereo March 30, 2015, 7:30 am

            I’m not sure how providing citizens pre-paid power would encourage the reduction of energy use. It seems to me like that would do exactly the opposite – more wasteful use. Not very mustachian.

            Reply
          • Jennifer April 20, 2015, 8:48 am

            We’ve pre-paid power meters in Ireland – BUT…the unit cost is higher. It tends to be people that struggle with bills that use it – the people that can least afford it!

            Reply
        • Michelle April 3, 2015, 4:27 am

          Just FYI that might help: We’ve been travelling around the world for 9 months and North America is the only place that seems to refrigerate their eggs in grocery stores. They are always found in the aisles.

          Reply
          • brian April 17, 2015, 12:49 pm

            That’s because in the US commercial/grocery eggs are washed which removes the natural protection layer in the shells and so they need to be refrigerated.

            Reply
            • Doug April 20, 2015, 8:14 pm

              So that explains why I saw a lot of non refrigerated eggs for sale in Thailand, but no one appeared to get sick from eating them.

              Reply
              • Andrea April 20, 2015, 8:21 pm

                Yup, always unrefrigerated in the aisles in New Zealand. Most people put them in the fridge when they get home, though, because they do last longer there.

      • Darrell March 26, 2015, 12:46 pm

        An almond-and-woodgrain refrigerator? That’s poor people stuff. I exclusively use avocado green refrigerators just to flaunt my wealth. When people visit, they think, “man, this guy is loaded!”

        Reply
      • casserole55 March 28, 2015, 8:04 am

        I don’t see the need for an extra freezer or fridge. And I do a ton of cooking. My 5 cubic feet of freezer space is plenty for all my frozen produce from the summer (lots of beans and kale), leftovers, stocks, and meat bought on sale. Any more and I’d feel like I was holding too much inventory. It’s kind of like not having more clothes than will fit in my relatively small closet.

        Reply
        • David Robarts July 30, 2015, 11:07 am

          A chest freezer can make a lot of sense depending on your inventory costs and usage patterns for the items you fill it with (If I had one, it’d currently have 50-100 pounds of peaches that I got for free from my neighbor’s tree). Chest freezers are a much more efficient design than a closet full of cold air that falls out as soon as you open the door. I’ve even heard of people using a chest freezer as an ultra-efficent refrigerator (I’m not sure how much modification is needed to set the thermosat to keep it around 36 degrees F and circulate the air enough to keep the temps fairly uniform).

          Reply
      • Ralfeg7 April 5, 2016, 7:13 am

        Get or build an Ice Bear to help reduce the energy consumption of your fridge: http://ice-energy.com/technology/ice-bear-energy-storage-system/ Or you could build yourself a cave make ice in the winter – store it – and build yourself a great icebox to use in the summer months!

        Reply
    • CincyCat March 26, 2015, 9:51 am

      I know a lot of older (grandparent aged) folks that keep a 2nd fridge in the garage or basement for holidays, since the entire family usually comes over & needs to be fed (sometimes for several days). It doesn’t always occur to them to turn it off/unplug it for the 11 months out of the year that they don’t have all the extra mouths to feed… :-/

      Reply
      • Joe Average March 27, 2015, 1:01 pm

        Years ago my grandmother had DECADES of food in her 2nd fridge. Offered me cake from my 1st/2nd/3rd birthday (can’t remember which). I was in my mid-20s then. Ick! Tossed it out the door when she wasn’t looking. Yum – that was good! Naturally she offered me a second piece. Uh – no. Too full. That thought was special, the reality was scary.

        Reply
      • judith March 27, 2015, 6:43 pm

        I had one small chest freezer. As my garden became productive I found i needed more space, especially if I just got an order of organic meat. I got a second small one, and only use that 4 months of the year. I don’t know for sure, but would think that the system is more efficient than one large freezer that would be 1/2 to 3/4 empty 9 months of the year.

        Reply
    • Aging Hippie August 1, 2015, 11:12 am

      The Efergy device sounds interesting – I can no longer see my hourly consumption due to the solar panels, I can only see the net being drawn from the power company.

      The rest of it, mostly old news, tiny effects, or unacceptable lifestyle consequences. I’ve replaced all my bulbs with CFL, and I’m in the process of replacing that with LED as they die, but I would bet that saves no more than $10 a month for the whole house. I have a gas clothes dryer; clothes hung out to dry come out “crunchy”, with unwanted creases or wrinkles, often smelling musty. Towels dried this way lose a lot of absorbency. Gas stove, gas heat, gas water heater – but that’s just trading one too-high bill for another. I have room a/c’s, and I use them when getting dressed to go somewhere that I don’t want to arrive soaked and stinking. I also have ceiling fans and window fans in every room. House has a lot of windows, but the ones that face east and west are covered – saving a few cents on lights isn’t worth sitting in an oven or a giant bill for running A/C all day. My newer STBs and game consoles consume trivial power, as do my newer sleeping computers (checked with kill-a-watt). Extra freezer in garage, a little one that holds low carb products I have to order because they’re no longer available locally, tiny cube fridge on patio, only on when entertaining to hold drinks. I tried putting timers on some lights, but wife didn’t like that so they had to go. Going to try X10 or similar for lights because it can be overridden easily, and returns to normal schedule.

      Reply
  • Brian March 25, 2015, 6:00 pm

    I have been obsessing about this lately myself. I have the Kill-a-watt and use the Belkin Wemo switch to both measure and use my smart phone to kill kill power to my entertainment center/desktop setup when not in use. It is crazy how much sleep mode wastes electricity…

    I haven’t heard of the Efergy Elite Combo, I will look into it for sure. Thanks for another eerily well-timed post!

    Reply
    • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 11:39 am

      Yes, Brian, I too am obsessed with making sure that when I go into sleep mode my appliances don’t also do the same. The last thing I do before heading to the bedroom after turning off all the lights in the main house is to look for any little glowing red or green points of light. They show me “who” is still sucking power, stealing my money, and needing to get really, actually turned off.

      It all adds up!

      Reply
  • James Roloff March 25, 2015, 6:04 pm

    Excellent post!

    As a fellow electric/tech nerd, I also find myself thinking about the energy usage of every device possible. For our household, we noticed that the A/C is by FAR one of the biggest usages of power. Learning to be one with nature, and a little warmth indoors, goes miles on our electric bill.

    After the A/C, just cutting back on leaving lights on is another one. If not we’re not in the room, the light is off. All of our bulbs are either LED or florescent.

    Reply
    • KeithTheConfused March 26, 2015, 8:12 am

      I am glad you said this James! Sure there is good money/energy to be saved by fixing the dam one leak at a time. But I think we can stop obsessing; there are bigger fish to fry.

      The most effective way to reduce energy consumption is by having less space! The number of people per square foot has much more to do with our energy consumption than how many kW’s our appliances use. Is a guest room really necessary? Is it good for kids have so many toys that they need an entire play room? Do kids need their “own” room or can sharing a room teach them lessons on sharing, conflict resolution, and general getting along with people? Does it really make sense for every family to have their own kitchen just for them or could they find a roommate?

      I am not a minimalist; but i wish i was. But one of the laws of the universe state that we will perpetually expand to fill any space available. Thereby, have less space and thereby “need” less things.

      Reply
      • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 11:47 am

        Another way of approaching the space issue, particularly with regards to temperature control, is to only spend money controlling the temperature of the rooms ACTUALLY being used at any given time. When we sleep, the bedroom doors are closed and the heating is directed only to that room. When we are awake, the bedroom doors are still closed BUT now the heating is directed only to the common rooms we are in. And if we move over to the family room to watch a DVD, that room is the one that then gets the heat.

        This works very well for us. Especially if one can anticipate by a half-hour what room you are GOING to be in, so you can get it preheated a little. :)

        Reply
        • KeithTheConfused March 26, 2015, 2:03 pm

          I like that approach because is great regardless of the size of your house! But, the is a lot of other spending directly associated with more space in a home (in addition to heating, cooling, lighting): taxes, maintenance, furnishing…not to mention time! What you are suggesting takes care of the symptoms of a problem; what I am talking about is a systematic solution.

          I guess to sum it up I would say that it takes alot of work and knowledge to track down the power leaks in a home. It is much easier and effective to downsize your home. Obviously this is only true to a certain point; but if you have a 3000 sq ft house and are making sure you unplug the DVD player at night….you are wasting your time.

          Reply
        • Suzanne March 26, 2015, 8:03 pm

          We just completed our first year in our newly constructed 2×6 framed brick home in Japan. We have only installed LED lights and rooms are individually heated and cooled. Our appliances/security/heating/cooling are all remotely accessible by smartphones and an email is sent when the heater/cooler turns on or off . The heater/coolers have readouts of cost of kilowatts/hr for each use. We also have radiant heat flooring (strategically placed) and on-demand hot water heaters (natural gas). Unfortunately, we also have a number of energy wasters, such as electronic heated seat, auto-flush toilets and bathtubs without a filler spout that is temperature and timer programmed or is filled with the push of a button from either the kitchen or the bath (for busy mothers and fathers, I guess), and every light-switch has a green/red LED on/off indicator light burning 24/7. We are clearly in love with technology here but it sometimes defeats our energy efficiency goals (personally, I hate seeing dozens of these little green indicator lights burning–cha-ching)! The one thing that is ubiquitous here is laundry hanging outside. Most families prefer line drying, which may be how people here save the most money on electricity. I believe this is a freshness thing (as MMM attests). Being American-born and raised with a clothes dryer, I cannot do without a dryer, completely, although I try to minimize how much I use it. Surely, doing away with the dryer is one of Mr. Money Mustache’s biggest money savers. Living here has given me a different look at the push-pull that technology can create. In Japan, we are frugal, extravagant, traditional and modern–all at the same time. Here, it is no surprise to see a lovely, expensively turned out, kimono-clad lady driving a frugal moped. In his way, Mr. Money Mustache seems to embrace a similar mix of his own choosing, which is why I prefer this blog to others that seem to emphasize only minimalism. I, too, strive to maximize enjoyment of the options afforded me, such as riding a bike to my expensive (luxury) hair appointments– a conscious decision that may appear to some to be a sacrifice but is actually a joy.

          Reply
      • jj March 26, 2015, 5:13 pm

        ‘I am not a minimalist; but i wish i was’.

        So, what’s stopping you? :)

        Reply
        • KeithTheConfused March 26, 2015, 8:01 pm

          JJ thanks for the kick in the ass!! I need that more often. I tend to get pretty impressed with myself since i am more frugal than pretty much every human i interact (ridiculous is ubiquitous) with; it is good to have someone challenge my idea of what is practical (i hate that word).

          I guess i would say i am stopped by my wife and 3 kids. It would be relatively easy for me to be a minimalist if it did not directly effect anyone else, but obviously it does. My kids are young so they would be fine, and my wife is onboard, but it would probably be characterized a decluttering rather moving toward minimalism. She is open to the idea of a tiny home once the kids are out of the house, SO THAT IS EXCITING!

          Do you have any insight/tips on what minimalism might look like in the context of a family?

          Reply
          • jj March 26, 2015, 8:56 pm

            Hi KeithTheConfused, I hope you don’t think I was having a go at you as I wasn’t, I was genuinely interested in what you perceive to be in the way of achieving being more ‘minimalist’. IMHO we don’t have to live in teeny tiny houses, but we do need to live more mindfully, thinking & reflecting on why we are buying more stuff, particularly stuff we don’t really need. My partner & I get a kick out of thinking/talking ourselves out of acquiring whatever it is we decided we ‘needed’ so have days of ‘not shopping’!

            Reply
            • KeithTheConfused March 26, 2015, 10:21 pm

              Not at all, I took no offense. I think that in general the “thing” in the way is the value i put on variety. I want a variety of chairs to sit in, clothes to wear,etc. My advocation for small spaces is out of lazyness: if you dont have space to put something…you cannot buy it. LOL. Its easier that having to convince myself out of every purchase based on philosophy alone. Practical beat philosophy practically all the time :) And seriously – thanks for the challenging question!

              Reply
          • Starla March 27, 2015, 1:51 pm

            KeithTheConfused, you could check out the Zero Waste Home blog by Bea Johnson. Its focus is on reducing trash but she has fantastic ideas for paring down & cutting back, & she has 2 kids.

            Reply
            • Stacey March 28, 2015, 5:45 pm

              I secured Bea’s book from the library. A good read, but the only thing we have enacted is using our many cloth napkins, rather than mindlessly reaching for paper napkins or towels. I am impressed with her thoroughness, but I will continue to buy my favorite eyeliner, lipstick, and mascara rather than diddling w/making my own, thank you very much! :)

              Reply
          • Happyback March 31, 2015, 12:53 pm

            Keith,
            Zen Habits.net blog is written by a man with 6 kids who became minimalist to the best of his and his wife’s abilities. He is slowing improving his life, and it’s kind of a fun little read. He has lots of good tips…and with 7 kids, I can relate! Minimalism is MUCH easier with lots of kids…it makes life much quieter, and time with the children, face to face, much easier, as no one is overly distracted by things, clutter, or too many chores (like cleaning out the garage on a Saturday! UGH~)

            Good luck! It’s a worthy goal, no matter how long it takes…just one item a day (or 3, or 5) gets you there in a year or two! ;)

            Reply
  • PatrickGSR94 March 25, 2015, 6:12 pm

    Oh how I long for windows! My 1,300 SF house has a grand total of 5 narrow windows, plus a glass backyard door. And they’re crappy windows at that. I hate it.

    The thing I have about essentially pulling the plug on some electronic devices is that there may be settings that are lost when power is removed. I used to leave my PC running 24/7 but switched it to go to Sleep mode after 15 minutes back a couple of years ago, so that helps. My office’s computers run 24/7 so they can recieve updates regularly.

    Reply
    • Chops March 27, 2015, 11:17 am

      Adding more windows to a house isn’t that hard as it seems (MMMs beautiful living space was once a whole lot darker inside due to only a few poorly placed windows and no vaulted ceilings.) You can bring a lot more south facing light into your house by opening up the walls and put in some new energy efficient windows! Raising the roof MMM style is optional :)

      – Chops

      Reply
    • Joe Average March 27, 2015, 1:43 pm

      Check the power consumption on your sleeping computer. Some still use a significant amount of power. I have a couple of older computers that seem like they are barely asleep – fans still running, etc.

      Sleep = using some amount of power
      Hibernation = totally off, temp files written to the hard drive to allow the computer to resume what it was doing

      FWIW some older computers don’t hibernate very well depending on the hardware and the operating system. Just experiment.

      Reply
      • PatrickGSR94 March 31, 2015, 10:14 am

        It’s Windows 7, and the setting is Sleep in Power Options. Everything in the machine turns off, all fans, hard drives, etc. Only the light on the motherboard stays on. And Windows 7 does a great job with it. I just move the mouse and it wakes up, prompts for my password, and I’m back where it was before.

        Reply
      • PatrickGSR94 March 31, 2015, 10:18 am

        http://www.techhive.com/article/169941/Why_You_Should_Use_Sleep_Mode.html

        My system probably costs 20-30 cents PER MONTH to keep it in sleep mode. Obviously more while it’s up and running.

        Reply
  • Kudy March 25, 2015, 6:13 pm

    I have an electric water heater and electric baseboard heat. I’ve always thought that when I replace the water heater, I could switch to a heatpump system, but I didn’t think it’d be worth replacing right now.

    When I’ve priced out ductless systems, the prices are often quite high installed, I guess I just need to see if it’s the type of project that is doable myself. The other fear with the ductless heat pumps is, the system would *add* A/C to my house, which currently has no cooling, and we’d be tempted to wuss out and turn it on in the summer, totally negating any savings the more efficient heating would provide.

    Any resources on DIY installation of heat pump systems would be appreciated!

    Reply
    • Andres March 25, 2015, 6:56 pm

      Caribou makes DIY heat pump systems, just google “Caribou DIY mini split”. I have no idea about the quality – it’s something I’d like to know about as well. I’ve been pricing out heat pump installs, and it’s something like $9k to have someone do it, versus potentially $3-4k to do it myself. That’s a massive difference. Unfortunately, installation requires pressurizing lines, so DIY of standard heat pumps requires specialized tools or finding a pro installer who will deal with the lines for you..

      Reply
      • soners March 27, 2015, 12:56 pm

        We are neck deep researching ductless mini-split installs. Quotes for a three zoned system came out to be $9k wheras buying the system direct is about $4k.

        In addition to Caribou, the Friedrich Breeze is made for DIYers. If you want wall units, it seems like the way to go.

        We’d like ceiling cassettes so we’re looking at purchasing the system, doing everything we can and then having an HVAC guy come out to charge the lines. We’ll be saving $4k even after considering paying an HVAC person and an electrician to run a 220 line for us–plus we get to do it our way (no ugly line chases up the front of our house, thank you).

        One last thing–our electric company offers a reduced rate for people with heat pumps and some rebates for new high efficiency air conditioners so you might check to see if your local electric does the same and if so, shop with those parameters in mind.

        Good luck to you!

        Reply
  • Robin March 25, 2015, 6:42 pm

    We are working on reducing our energy costs, but we admittedly have a long way to go. We did just replace our electric water heater with a heat pump water heater last month, and we have already noticed a dramatic reduction in our bill. It’s a small start, but it’s a start!

    Reply
    • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 11:53 am

      We replaced our electric water heater with a propane-fueled ON DEMAND tankless water heater. No point (is there?) in keeping water heated 24/7 and donating all that money to the power company! Now, our water just gets heated when and as needed.

      (We just had to learn what the “optimum” water flow settings are on our faucets to maintain a nice steady flow of warm water. A little trial and error took care of that.)

      Reply
  • Jon March 25, 2015, 6:44 pm

    An alternative to a standard fridge for some could be this chest freezer to fridge conversion plan. Won’t work for everyone, but it’s something to think about.

    http://www.aselfsufficientlife.com/chest-freezer-to-fridge-conversion-the-most-energy-efficient-fridge-ever.html

    Reply
    • Trifele March 26, 2015, 5:20 am

      This is really interesting, Jon. Thank you!

      Reply
  • Gen Y Finance Guy March 25, 2015, 6:47 pm

    I don’t really have a comparison point. But we try not to be wasteful and use the air only in the summer at night to get a good nights sleep. We don’t leave lights on inside or out if we are not in the room. We have energy efficient appliances. And as light bulbs go out we are replacing them with more energy efficient ones.

    We have a 3,300 sqft house and an average bill is $50/month. For 4 months in the summer it can run about $100 because of the A/C.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  • Reepekg March 25, 2015, 7:02 pm

    I was going to be all smug about how I was more badass than MMM, because our very low electric bill is one of my favorite things about living in a 2 bedroom apartment despite being able to ‘afford’ a house.

    And then I find out MMM’s bill is STILL lower than mine. Well done, sir.

    Reply
  • Rachel March 25, 2015, 7:20 pm

    I have been looking into getting a new fridge since I recently shattered the bottom glass shelf in ours. During my research, I found that (generally) the most efficient type was the model with the freezer up top, followed by the model with the freezer on the bottom, and the side-by-side model coming in last (Sorry MMM). I don’t know how huge of a difference this makes but it something to consider.

    In the end my husband decided to put a piece of plexiglass (cut to size) to replace the shelf I broke. It is a freezer-up-top model. We are on track to be debt free (except mortgage) by June 28th as a first year anniversary gift to ourselves. We are so close I can taste it, we decided not to let a fridge get in the way of us meeting that goal :) Fridge will have to wait till our goal is met!!

    Reply
    • Happyback March 31, 2015, 12:57 pm

      AWESOME!!! I love this teamwork to reach a very worthy goal!!!

      Reply
  • Frugal Buckeye March 25, 2015, 7:56 pm

    That Efergy energy monitor is seriously sweet, a gold mine for a data junkie like myself. I’ve tried to optimize the energy use in my current home by replacing lights with fluorescents and LEDs where possible (good ROI) and installing a Nest wifi thermostat to monitor and adjust the temperature (not as good ROI because our radiator heated house takes so long to heat up and cool down that it makes more sense to leave it in a steady state operation).

    We also have been able to get by running the window AC units for only the hottest 2 weeks for the past few years. It helps that we have a large exhaust fan at the top of the second floor staircase that pulls cool air into the house in the evenings.

    I’m looking forward to moving out to the country to a much more rural setting and taking advantage of the other tips: more south facing windows and geothermal heat/AC, which has definitely taken off here in Ohio as three of my family members have all had systems installed in the past few years.

    Reply
    • sig606 March 26, 2015, 10:07 am

      I wanted one of those pretty Nest thermostats, too, but ended up going with a cheap/simple $30 Honeywell programmable thermostat instead. I’d be curious to see a real-life study between the two to see when or if the advanced features on the Nest would justify the price difference.

      (I’m also a Buckeye, btw)

      Reply
      • Ben July 25, 2015, 5:34 pm

        I can safely say that I saved around 30% on my heating bills because of the Nest. However, that is mostly because of awareness of what each degree costs me. The Nest lets me see a graph of daily run time for the furnace, from that I could see how much propane was burned each day and how much temperature changes effected that.

        Setting a frequent schedule with the same desired temperature every hour or so during the day also helped protect against my wife getting cold and cranking the temp up XD.

        Reply
        • Valentine October 25, 2015, 10:19 am

          We have saved about $20/month with the nest vs our previous programmable thermostat. Our electricity company had a $100 rebate, so the $150 difference in price was quickly made up. Our bill is now about $100-130 in the summers and $50-90 in the other seasons, depending on how dark it is and how much we turn on the lights.

          Reply
    • Alistair Nicol March 26, 2015, 12:25 pm

      I am closing on a rural 2000 sqft house in Coastal South Carolina in a couple of weeks with a GeoThermal AC Heatpump unit. Unfortunately the orientation is not perfect, but I’m not worried about winter heating at all, although the sellers electricity bills are higher in the winter than summer. It just shows you how efficient those GeoThermal Units are.

      It currently has a standard electric water heater and there is no gas out there. I am considering the best options for electric water heating. Maybe solar is the way to go?

      Reply
      • Julia March 27, 2015, 5:09 pm

        We had solar hot water on our house in Wisconsin and we loved it. I would totally recommend solar hot water, if you’ve got good solar aspect.

        Geothermal is great for AC – it’s like hooking your house up to a cave!

        Reply
      • Linda P. March 30, 2015, 4:08 pm

        Before you begin making any changes to your hot water system, check to see whether your geothermal system also has a desuperheater that captures the heat that is lost in the geothermal system just as part of the loss of efficiency in the system and uses it to help heat up the hot water in the hot water tank. Ours does.

        Reply
  • Mark March 25, 2015, 7:57 pm

    Hah, beat you to it. My electricity bill since moving in in feb 2013: 900 KWh. Did “cheat” a bit by spending two times two summer months elsewhere and switching off the mains during that time.

    Reply
  • Woof! March 25, 2015, 8:00 pm

    I love you, MMM, but you really have to cut out the comments about video games. Anyone who thinks they’re a mindless waste of time is simply ignorant of the progress made in the past 5 years. I guarantee that my gaming hobby is both more enriching and cheaper than your beer hobby, even taking into account your homebrews.

    Reply
    • Nathanael March 25, 2015, 8:15 pm

      They ARE a — more or less mindless, I’ll grant you — waste of time. I say this as a reforming gamer. Some time wasted is fine: everyone needs to “unplug” (no pun intended) and chill. But I can no longer condone the hours and hours of my life spent killing digital monsters for digital loot and bragging rights. It is far better doing other things, and that includes taking a nap, in my opinion. :)

      Reply
      • Woof! March 29, 2015, 7:52 am

        Clearly you’ve never played Journey, Papa y Yo, Depression Quest, Two Queers At The End of the World, Spec Ops: The Line, Hotline Miami, Papers Please, Minecraft, Garry’s Mod, The Stanley Parable, or any of the hundreds of other games that are way more than “kill monsters, get loot” either through story, design, or a brilliant combination of both.

        So my “simply ignorant” sentence? I’m talking about you.

        Reply
        • Ted April 1, 2015, 4:54 pm

          Video Games as a medium are a waste of time as much as books, movies, television, music, graphic novels or any other form of media are generally a waste of time; that is not generally. There are quality and worthless products in any medium, and dismissing an entire medium of human expression provides nothing to the conversation at all.

          Reply
    • Strabo March 26, 2015, 1:11 am

      I love my games and I play video games for nearly 25 years now. But lets be real, they are a waste of time. 90 % of them a mindless waste (and such filler only increased in many of today’s games). Sure, they can generate great experiences and fun, but it’s not a productive time and generally not strictly worth the investment for the benefit (better hand-eye-coordination, planning, management etc pp). But being a waste and unproductive is ok and fine, as long as it only a moderate part of your otherwise productive live.

      Reply
    • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 11:59 am

      STRATEGY pc games are my thing — and they are anything but mindless. Running a whole virtual army or navy campaign down to the most minute details of ground unit supply, ship fuel consumption, pilot fatigue and what not pushes my mind’s level of concentration forward planning and focus way beyond the “normal” mental settings of everyday life. AND it’s one hell of a lot of fun!

      Reply
      • MustachianGamer/LivingOxymoron March 26, 2015, 1:13 pm

        I completely agree. There is value to some video games, however slight. I’d offer two examples: I love to play Sid Meier’s Civilization 5. At the higher difficulty settings, it encourages long-term, strategic thinking and requires attention to detail and efficiency like no other single activity I have ever undertaken (other than, you know, life). A video game like that keeps a brain alive in the same way a challenging game of chess does. Also, it can serve as a social activity – in fact, I bond with my girlfriend over games of Civ all the time, late in the evening when we have nothing else going on.

        My second example is the exceedingly rare genre of great story-telling video games, such as Half Life or StarCraft. These games have depth. They are a medium for telling a story, and storytelling is part of being a human being. You might prefer reading a book – and I do that often – but sometimes a video game can be a more engaging medium through which to tell the same story.

        Even though there are far more valuable things to do with your time than partaking in mild brain teasers and engaging stories, they are both great ways to unwind at the end of an otherwise productive day. There’s no shame in a little bit of brain exercise and storytelling when the tank has run out for any other purpose.

        Reply
        • tlars699 March 27, 2015, 10:02 am

          Scott, is this you? lol- I have a husband, and our video game selection is pretty much identical to your description.

          Reply
    • Mike June 24, 2015, 10:07 pm

      I home brewed for three years. It neither saved me money, nor helped my waistline. It was the best hobby I ever quit.

      Reply
  • Bec March 25, 2015, 8:30 pm

    What about Solar Lighting? If you can’t afford a system for your house (or it does not make economic sense to do so where you live), you can still buy small solar “lamps” to line your garden pathway should you choose to have it illuminated. They’re about $2 each and power themselves up :) we have these in our garden here in Australia and they provide a decent amount of light and cost us nothing after the initial investment. Great alternative to other *decorative* lighting fixtures.
    Bec

    Reply
    • Belinda March 26, 2015, 5:52 am

      Bec, I’m also in Australia and it just seems really strange to be reading this article, with all these great tips, but without the extra suggestion of installing solar panels! For the North Americans, in Australia, many households (nearly 20%) have solar panels and/or solar hot water. Initially, the solar panels were very expensive, but then you got a good government rebate and the power companies paid you quite well for any excess power you produced. Now, the rebates are lower and you don’t get paid very much for your excess power, but solar panels are heaps cheaper too. – China has become a major manufacturer of them and they have a 25 year warranty. The Australian government is reluctant to invest in renewable energy, so compared to some parts of the world, we don’t have it that great, but I’d be interested to hear about the situation in North America. When I was in Germany 6 or 7 years ago, households were encouraged to install solar panels and they were getting paid really well for their excess. I saw solar panels with SNOW on them and they were obviously still worth installing!

      So, what’s the deal with the solar industry in North America?

      Reply
      • Bec March 26, 2015, 8:57 pm

        Yes Belinda, I noticed the same thing in Germany too! Not a country most people think of straight away for sunshine, yet they produced almost half of their required electricity by solar in June 2014 I think it was! I am honestly surprised that our government doesn’t put more investment into solar. Australia is the ideal place, and there is a lot of desert which could potentially be “solar farms”.
        My mother has had solar put on her house (a full set) about 3 years ago. It will take awhile for the system to pay for itself, however they’re happy with having no bill and getting paid extra for having it. Perhaps the ROI isn’t as great as other investments but a lot of FI people like to see expenditure go down (e.g. elimination of monthly bills) even if that takes time to pay itself off/ROI. Certainly something for younger families to look into putting on their houses! Even a small set can subsidise your bill.

        Reply
      • Stan March 27, 2015, 6:58 am

        Solar doesn’t pay back very quickly in parts of America. Many regions here don’t get sunlight all day every day. A meter squared of solar panel will pay back about $5 a year, not quick payback after paying for the unit and installation even with rebates. I know someone who put $50k into solar on his house, with rebates it cost him $20k and the utility doesn’t ‘buy’ back excess electricity produced but ‘banks’ it if he uses it later and disappears if not used within a certain time frame. I’m with another commenter, I haven’t dropped out of the work force and not trying to pinch a few pennies here and there to survive, I’m working on making more money to save and spend. It’s really not that hard to sell my time since I have sellable skills and am in demand.

        Reply
    • Tom March 26, 2015, 12:19 pm

      In theory, they’re not bad, but the only aesthetic drawback is that they may not all turn on at once (each one detects darkness differently based on location) or stay lit up as long as you like. Minor details, but it was enough to make me dissatisfied.

      Reply
  • Free Man March 25, 2015, 8:41 pm

    I use to have affordable electric bills when I lived in Maryland; $25.00 per month in a 2150 sq ft home. I’m back in the bosom of the land that bore me; Canada. Now my electric bill is $210.00 per month in the winter and $180.00 in the summer! We don’t have AC, heat with wood; and the house is 1800 sq ft. Thank you Hydro One in Ontario! Everything is energy efficient, CFL and LED. People in Ontario are just being ROBBED by our electric supplier. Oh, by the way, Hydro One one is the only provider.

    Thank goodness I am a Free Man, and have been retired and financially independent since age 38. I just feel badly for the other poor schmucks; that are afraid to look at their electric bill each month.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 25, 2015, 8:53 pm

      You’re still using a lot of power to get the bill that high, Free Man!

      Last time I checked the per kWh rate was only 7.7-14c/kWh (http://www.ontarioenergyboard.ca/OEB/Consumers/Electricity/Electricity+Prices)

      If these rates are accurate, it should be easy to have a monthly bill under $30 in that region.

      Reply
      • Hamiltonian March 25, 2015, 9:01 pm

        Actually, MMM, that is only the energy portion of our bills. The typical, all in avoided cost of electricity in Ontario is 21 cent/kWh. Please see my other post.

        At that price though, conservation is kick-ass!!

        Reply
        • LennStar March 26, 2015, 2:21 am

          You can always be happy in the knowledge that we germans pay 27€ cent per kWh

          Reply
          • Slowdown March 26, 2015, 9:14 am

            Yes, and I guess that is the reason why many of us seem to be great energy savers compared to the average US household.

            I (single person, 710 sqft flat) have to pay 42 € a month (base price + consumption of about 1500 kw/h). I still waste a lot of energy, e. g. by leaving lights on while staying in another room temporarily, TV running while working on my PC, old and energy consuming dishwasher, washing machine running more often then really necessary (i. e.: not really full yet, but it’s weekend, time to wash…), still 2 or 3 traditional lightbulbs…

            I am quite sure that I could get my bill down to 35 € without real effort and to maybe 25 € with significant effort.

            My bill is neither high nor low compared to friend, colleagues and family (do not know “official” statistics).
            But on the other hand… I do not know if any of them owns a dryer (line drying is more common where I live), definetly none of us has an A/C (if it’s really to hot in my flat I can always go to my office or in a supermarket ;-), and, ok, German climate is not THAT hot usually.

            Reply
            • Leni March 29, 2015, 2:20 am

              Hi,
              As a fellow German also paying about 27 Cent per kWh, I can only encourage you to try to lower your energy consumption. As you already outlined, it really shouldn’t be too hard. My BH and I live in a 70 m² (750 square feet) apartment and pay 34 €/ month. And that includes electrical water heating for showers and sinks. I don’t think that we are doing much to save electricity – often having 3 or more laptops etc. working at the same time (and we also have some traditional light bulbs left). It’s probably more about being mindful and turning off the lights and things you don’t use .
              Btw. my energy provider sends us statistics with the annual billing telling us how we are doing and giving tips on energy conservation. According to them, efficient enegy usage would be 1000 kwh/year for the first person and an additional 500 kwh/year each for every other person in the same household. The German average though is more like 2000 for the first and an additional 1000 for every other person.
              And here is a nice, little tool letting you compare per person energy consumption all around the world: http://www.google.de/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&idim=country:DEU:ITA:FRA&hl=de&dl=de#!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=eg_use_elec_kh_pc&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&idim=country:DEU:CAN:USA&ifdim=region&hl=de&dl=de&ind=false

              Reply
      • Bram March 26, 2015, 8:14 am

        To be honest, I don’t know what all you people are doing wrong… I live in Belgium and we pay about 23c/kwh. Last year, before we had solar panels installed, we were paying 75€/month (taxes, transport costs, connection costs, rent of meter,… included). Now I guess it will be more like 0-5.

        If I then calculate it back, you state that with ~10c/kwh he should get 30/month? We would be down to almost that.

        Here’s why I’m not impressed: , we have 3 small children under age of 3 and my parents in law live in with us, so all day around there are people home. Also my wife is a complainypants so we use the dryer, around 7!!! times per week (imagine, there could be spiders coming on the clothes in the garden). In the living area/kitchen we also have inefficient lights since I couldn’t find LED lights for those sockets yet.
        Maybe the big difference is that we heat 80-90% on wood (10-20% will still be the central heating on gas) and the hot tap-water is heated with gas? When I read around, it seems everyone is heating with electricity in the US…

        The good news is that I think I’m finally getting through to my wife (with your help!), we might be hanging clothes soon.

        Keep up the good posts MMM,
        longtime reader/firsttime poster!

        Reply
      • Mr. Frugal Toque March 26, 2015, 9:44 am

        So I did a bit of research and the first thing to note is that it’s impossible to get your bill below $21.40 + 13% HST because that’s the flat “delivery rate” for being connected to Hydro. It’s one of the wonderful side effects of privatization of the delivery service.

        The electricity rate is between 7.7c and 14c /kWh, true, based on time of day usage.
        Then you pay the delivery overhead charge ($21.40) + the delivery rate (6.3c/kWh)
        Then there’s the 1.3c/kWh of “Regulatory Charge” and “Debt retirement” (again, related to privatizing the monopoly)
        Then you pay 13% HST on the whole thing.

        All in all, you can average about 20c/kWh if you’re using a lot of electricity (like me and my geothermal heat pump).
        Your rate would get lower if you keep your consumption under 1000 kWh. (Or at least you used to get a slight deal on the first 1000 kWh)
        But if go even lower, the apparent rate would actually go way UP (if you’re a true miser) because of that overhead fee of $21.40 + tax. For instance, despite not using AC in the summer, my apparent rate in July was over 22c/kWh.

        Reply
        • Hamiltonian March 26, 2015, 11:28 am

          Thanks, FT.
          That is the same as my calculation below. My understanding from solar PV installers who are promoting net metering in Ontario (i.e. if you cannot get a Feed-in-tariff contract) is that they also use 21c/kWh as the rate of electricity displaced by net metering. Typical levelized cost of electricity from a residential 4-kW solar PV system is still north of 35c/kWh so it is not worth it, yet. But these two numbers continue to get closer and closer every year. When they get within about 5c/kWh of each other, net metering will be the preferred choice for those with south facing roof exposure. It will be 5-7 years from now.

          Of course, as you rightly point out, you still have to pay the connection charge of about $21/mo (it varies between utilities). You can bet the utilities will try to raise this to protect revenues as they have in other jurisdictions.

          Reply
        • LoonieITGuy March 27, 2015, 2:25 pm

          We get billed every two months. The last bill was $132.49. Delivery charges for our household is $47.72 + HST.

          Strangely enough, there was an announcement yesterday that our hydro bills will go up. If you’re fortunate enough to be retired early, you’ll get a break on your hydro bill if your household income is less than $28,000 a year.

          Reply
          • Mr. Frugal Toque March 30, 2015, 8:16 am

            There are going to be some weird effects when retirement comes around for us. Since the provincial (Ontario) tax breaks for property taxes are set up around income, and so are the electricity rate breaks, what’s going to happen when people are drawing half their expenses off of TFSAs?
            RRSP withdrawals count as income, but if I can get $14k from RRSPs and $14k from TFSAs (which don’t count as income), it’s going to look like I barely have enough “income” to live. They might have to change their tax credit strategy by then.

            Reply
            • Lisa March 30, 2015, 8:33 am

              That was always the ‘bonus’ Derek Foster (‘Stop Working’ author in Ontario who retired at 34 yo) spoke about – looking like you are poor with respect to income taxes. Some people complain this is using the system because you don’t need the credits in the same way as other low income people do. Yes, maybe if there are more early retirees they’ll have to think of a new system of determining need!

              Reply
            • LoonieITGuy March 30, 2015, 9:57 am

              These were my thoughts as well.

              Could you imagine how supercharged our retirements would be if the federal government delivered on its promise of doubling the TFSA contribution room?

              We’d just need to take out the provincial basic personal amount ($9,670) from our RRSPs yearly and supplement that with our TFSAs and end up paying no tax (or very little).

              With such low income, we’d qualify for a host of other low income programs like the GST/HST Credit… or an extra boost to RESP savings…

              Reply
    • Lisa March 26, 2015, 9:03 am

      I am also in Ontario. Man do we love to complain about Hydro costs (and gas prices). I don’t think we are being robbed especially when compared to other parts of the world or even other provinces in Canada. Are we even paying the true cost of using and abusing the resource?! I’m sure you’ll ‘love’ today’s announcement on the new plan to subsidy those ‘poor schmucks’ hydro costs…

      I also have an 1800 sq. ft. home, but WITH AC, a gas furnace/hot water tank and a pellet stove. I don’t know why your hydro costs are higher, but our Hydro One cost on average is $109/month. I am also RE so at home all day.

      Reply
    • financial planner dude March 27, 2015, 1:28 pm

      Can you please post kwh used not how much you spend, my bill is over a $1000 a year (currently less with the strong dollar) for the exact same usage as MMM.

      Reply
      • Lisa March 30, 2015, 8:26 am

        I wish I could say that we are in line with MMM’s usage too, but sadly we are not, even though I am already employing most of his suggestions for conservation (in part some of my usage likely comes from starting seeds indoors for the garden – need heat and lights…what else? still thinking…).

        To answer you, for the $109/month bill we use on average 466 kwh/month.

        Reply
  • 80westy March 25, 2015, 8:45 pm

    My homemade appliance power monitor saved a few bucks. Take an old extension cord and cut one conductor. Strip the wires and install a crimp-on splicer on each end, leaving the loose end of each splicer uncrimped. Then use your multimeter in current mode to measure across the splicers. Only works for short measurements, but at least can give you the phantom load. It’s free. Splicers keep bare conductors from touching anything accidentally.

    Reply
  • Hamiltonian March 25, 2015, 8:57 pm

    Nice article. Like most typical North Americans, my home consumed almost 1,000 kWh/month on average when I bought it just over 10 years ago. I spent three years tracking energy use to get a “baseline” in order to determine what investments would have the greatest return over a 10 to 15 year period. Then I went to work replacing the electricity hogs. Here are my results since 2008:

    1. Replace electric hot water with tankless natural gas
    – in the typical 2.2 person home, a tankless natural gas system will consume about 30% of the total energy (in equivalent kWh) at point of purchase as an electric tank system
    – in Ontario, where I live, this means that a tankless gas system costs about $50/ year to operate compared to an electric hot water system, which costs about $700/year
    – the tankless system cost me $900 more than a comparable electric (including the unit itself as well as new gas lines and a vent)
    – so, I spent $900 more to save $650/year, but I did it while the government was providing a $600 rebate, so I actually spent $300 more than an electric to save $650/year (!!)
    – in terms of greenhouse gases, they are about equivalent since after conversion inefficiencies and transmission losses inherent in electric hot water heating (i.e. to burn gas, boil water, spin turbines, produce electricity, raise voltage, transmit, lower voltage, distribute, further lower voltage, and then heat water that sits in tank and loses heat all the time) compared to just burning gas to produce hot water only when you need hot water
    Electricity reduction: 3500 kWh/year

    2. Replace refrigerators
    – my prior two fridges (house, and one in the suite) consumed 2100 kWh per year between them
    – my new fridges consume 600 kWh/year between them
    – interestingly, the only difference between the “energy star” and the regular models for these particular fridges was not the price – they cost exactly the same – but the type of shelves in the fridges; the energy star fridges had open racks to allow circulation and the non-energy star had glass shelves and consumed 20% more electricity; I wonder how many coal plants operate so that we can have glass shelves in our refrigerators!?
    – I spent $1200 to save over $300/year
    Electricity reduction: 1500 kWh/year

    3. New furnace
    – like Mr. Frugal Toque, I also priced out a ground source heat pump, and after rebates it was about $25K, with new ducting at additional cost
    – $25K would actually buy me an extremely tight and well-insulated house, so instead I added insulation when I had to replace the siding, and tightened up the entire house, which cost me several hundred dollars (if gas prices rise again, I will consider doing more).
    – where the new gas furnace came into play for electricity is that the new two-speed fan is far more efficient than the prior fan that sounded like a hog, probably because it was!
    – I should also mention while on the topic of natural gas that because the new gas furnace was so much more efficient that the old one, my natural gas consumption dropped about 30%, even with the new natural gas hot water heater.
    Electricity reduction: best guess is 400 kWh/year

    4. New clothes washer and dryer
    – I don’t have the luxury of hanging my clothes inside or outside in the winter, and with a suite a dryer is essential
    – however, the type of washer makes a big difference and my little high-efficiency Bosch runs entirely on cold water (and almost no water at that) and practically dries the clothes mechanically meaning that the clothes dryer uses much less juice
    – while on the topic of water, over I also replaced an old toilet, all of the water consuming faucets, and installed some rain barrels, lowering my water consumption by 60%
    Electricity reduction: best guess is 400 kWh/year

    5. Lighting
    – gains from lighting are easy and important but in a small home like mine, in which few lights are on at any one time, they are modest
    – my replacement of incandescent with LED and compact fluorescent saves me about 200 kWh/year

    6. Summary
    My electricity use went from 10,800 kWh/year => 3,800 kWh/year (and still dropping).
    The totals above add to about 6,000 kWh/year, so the remainder comes from miscellaneous items like more efficient equipment, auto-off switches and power bars, etc.
    My electricity savings are approaching $1500/year, and at the same time my natural gas consumption dropped 30%, and water consumption 60%.

    Finally, some of you might be wondering why electricity here costs about $0.21/kWh. This is the avoided cost, which includes the actual energy cost (about $0.12/kWh) plus transmission, distribution, administration, nuclear debt repayment, administration and taxes, all of which are largely tied to the amount of electricity consumed. In other words, when determining whether something is a good investment pay attention not only to the value of energy saved, but to the total reduction in your bill.

    The Hamiltonian.

    Reply
  • Steve March 25, 2015, 9:25 pm

    Pretty impressive, but a kWh is so incredibly inexpensive! I am willing to be a little ‘wasteful’ I guess, in order to augment my savings while working (which far surpassed what I could save by being a 1000 kWh lower). Yeah, I’m air conditioning an empty house a little sometimes, drying my clothes because I value my time and appearance at work (although other climates would work out fine for a clothes line, but Houston is humid and it’s just really nice to get laundry done and move on). There are so many conflicting calculations – ‘it is more expensive if you let your house temperature ‘float’, then cool it’, ‘it is worse for a CFL bulb to be turned on and off than to just leave it on if you think it will be cycled again within the hour (we have small kids, might as well leave stuff on)’, ‘buy newer appliances, they pay for themselves’. I could try to generate a comprehensive list, but even in the weeds, finance, environment, and family have a very complex interaction. Some of us have ‘work’ piled on top too.

    Reply
    • MoMan March 27, 2015, 12:49 pm

      Yes, I wish I could line dry clothes in Houston, but with the typically high humidity (not to mention the frequent summer rains), it would take a week per load! That same humidity compels us to run the A/C at a minimum of around 84F, otherwise the potential for mold increases — or so I have heard.

      We did replace our windows, added a mountain of blow-in insulation to the attic, added a solar-powered attic fan and an insulated “tent” to cover the attic stairs, which has helped quite a bit. My HOA prohibits solar panels … and metal roofs. Bastards.

      Reply
    • RandomDoctor March 28, 2015, 4:12 pm

      I don’t know about the rest, but you might want to look into CFLs a bit more – my understanding is that there is always a cost saving in turning them off, even if you immediately return to the room and turn them back on.

      Reply
      • Steve March 30, 2015, 8:42 am

        Yeah, I should’ve looked this up a long time ago. From the US Energy Dept (http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/when-turn-your-lights):

        “Since they are already very efficient, the cost effectiveness of turning CFLs off to conserve energy is a bit more complicated. A general rule-of-thumb is this:
        If you will be out of a room for 15 minutes or less, leave it on.
        If you will be out of a room for more than 15 minutes, turn it off.
        The operating life of CFLs is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off. You can generally extend the life of a CFL bulb more by switching it on and off less frequently than if you simply use it less.”

        Reply
  • Val March 25, 2015, 9:55 pm

    I know it was just an aside., but I am blown away by the idea that self closing trunks exist. What a purposeless feature!

    I initially saw that and thought you were being a little harsh, I mean it *is* a bit of a pain if the trunk latch breaks and it has to be shut with bungee cord or some other improvised solution. Mentioned it aloud was informed that there are cars where you just push a button. No one could quite figure out why.

    Reply
    • David Robarts July 30, 2015, 1:38 pm

      I guess it’s to make it easer to close the trunk with your hands full of whatever you just pulled out of it.

      Reply
  • longwaytogo March 25, 2015, 10:29 pm

    Still have work to do in this area. But just wanted to mention I installed the Geostar Hybrid Hot water heater you link too in July of 2013 (after you first mentioned it) and it has been Awesome!!! I was actually heating my water with my oil boiler which un known to me was almost 1/3 of my yearly oil usage. Now I shut the oil off completely from around late march to late October.

    I sourced it locally for slightly cheaper than found online and did install myself. Between fed tax rebate and local utility rebate my out of pocket ended up being less than $400. I am saving $50 a month. So in the 20 months I have had it I’ve saved $1000 netting $600 after install cost. That alone is worth the subscription fee I pay for this website.

    Reply
    • Sibley March 26, 2015, 10:24 am

      What subscription fee for the website? Or are you referring to your ISP?

      Reply
  • LeisureFreak Tommy March 25, 2015, 10:42 pm

    We do need to dump the 1988 fridge and other appliances. All our TVs and peripherals plug into a power strip that I turn off when not in use. I think my biggest issue is ancient appliances that work fine so its tough for a frugal freak to just replace them but the power usage angle may take some of the “I am being wasteful” sting out of it.

    Reply
    • Posted On April 6, 2015, 9:26 pm

      We replaced our 1988 fridge one year ago. It had been drawing about 1600kWh per year. This was a significant portion of our annual consumption. The new one draws about 460kWh per year. Over the first 12 months of owning this new fridge, we used 3600kWh total for our whole house. Previously our whole house was using about 5200kWh per year,or about 100kWh per week. We found the fridge we wanted and waited for it to go on sale. The new one will pay for itself in four years. We are saving around 1200 kWh per year, or 100 per month which is $150 in savings per month. I believe the new fridge cost us 600 dollars. These are rough numbers from memory, but I am sure the worst case is we pay for the fridge in six years maximum.

      Reply
      • Posted On April 7, 2015, 7:48 am

        Using a Kill-A-Watt meter, the old fridge measured about 380 watts when it was running. The new fridge measures about 90 Watts when it runs. Both fridges run for the same amount of time each day, but the new one uses 1/4 the power. There’s the savings right there!!

        Reply
  • techjansen March 25, 2015, 10:44 pm

    For those that fear life without A/C and live in dry and mild climate like Colorado, consider a well-positioned box fan. Find a window a good distance from your bedroom – so you don’t have to hear the fan – that will fit the fan. Setup the fan so that airflow is directed to the outside. Seal the empty window space around the fan with cardboard (or something more aesthetically pleasing). Then open the windows in a few rooms where you want to focus the cooling effect (e.g. bedrooms). Put the fan on a timer and set it to turn on for a few hours starting in the early morning – say 3am – when the nighttime low temperature occurs. Here on the Front Range of Colorado we often have nighttime temperatures in the 50s or low 60s during the summer and I can easily reduce the indoor temperature of our ~1,000SF home by 5-10F with this approach at a fraction of the energy of A/C. I take this approach all summer and I’m running about the same electrical consumption as MMM. Cheers.

    Reply
    • Eldred March 30, 2015, 1:54 pm

      Nice idea – I hadn’t considered a timer on a FAN. That would solve the problem of “it’s still too hot when I go to bed to bring outside air in”… I don’t do it when I get up because I’m out of the house within about 30 minutes(so not enough to cool the house), and of course it wouldn’t do any good to leave it running because the temp heats up while I’m at work.

      Reply
  • Frankie March 25, 2015, 11:34 pm

    You can typically find a lot utility rebates, state tax credits, federal tax credits for energy efficient upgrades – from free cfls to cash rebates on heat pump water heaters and heating equipment, especially if you’re replacing existing appliances.

    Geothermal is sexy…but the install/equipment is still so incredibly expensive that it makes the ROI look sad at the end of the day. You could spend the extra grand(s) improving the shell of your house (air sealing, insulation, maybe windows – all less sexy, admittedly) to reduce the heating and cooling load of the home, thus reducing how hard and often you use your heating & cooling equipment, and make upgrades to higher efficiency equipment(your traditional heat pumps, gas furnaces or ductless heat pumps) for a more cost-effective route that saves you thousands over a geo system.

    Reply
  • GermanStubble March 25, 2015, 11:52 pm

    Wow, didn’t think MMM would use so freaking much electricity!

    My lady and me, we use well under 2000kWh/yr, I forgot, but it might be 1200 or what. The German average for 2 persons seems to be about 2000 (what do they do all day???). But then our house is much smaller than yours, we don’t use power tools, just a dishwasher, an inefficient fridge, two laptops, washing machine, lights that stay on for hours, wasteful cooking in the oven, you name it. No clothes dryer. Also, no kids so far, which certainly helps with the washing.

    Our warm water we get from natural gas, just like the central heating (we also pay much less than the average German housefold for that, but our house is rather well-insulated).

    BTW, doesn’t sad kill-a-watt meter look sad?

    Reply
    • financial planner dude March 27, 2015, 2:00 pm

      i too live in Germany and our two person household our usuage just jumped from 2000 kwh per year to 2600 per year and I can’t quite figue out why. First year here it was hot, 2013 and we ran the A/C a lot last year was cooler no A/C but our usuage jumped 30%.

      Germany has mandated smart meters but unfortunetly in the Munich area they’re not turned on so no real way of measuring our usuage.

      Reply
  • Frugal Bazooka March 26, 2015, 12:07 am

    I was taught at a very young age that magical stuff like electricity costs a hell of a lot and I’d better turn off the damn lights when I don’t need them – thanks Mom!
    I have a few questions though:
    1. In general does EVERY electrical appliance or unit burn watts while plugged in? In other words is there any value to unplugging stuff on a daily basis even if you use that thing on a daily basis?

    2. No mention of the cost/benefit of installing solar roof panels? I know there’s an MMM blog post about that somewhere but it seems like this would be a good place to discuss the pros and cons. In Calif a lot of people are going solar and we’re on the brink of it. The only problem is our electric bill is only $80/month on average and the math doesn’t work for us. Still I wish someone could convince me, I really would like to do it if for no other reason than to stick it to the man.

    ; )

    Reply
    • LennStar March 26, 2015, 2:32 am

      No, not every electrical thingy burns the watts when its plugged. Simple water heater, toaster etc. normally dont. But if you have something electronical it will most certainly use energy.
      It if is warm, its burning. If it makes sound, its burning. Yes, most speakers do burn energy even when shut “off”. I found out one uses 6W whether its on or not. You easily pay more for the energy then buying a new one that doesnt do that (= less then 1W/unmeasurable low when off)
      Modern TVs will definitely always use energy when plugged in. PCs do, too. Printers may be hardware-switched off, but most will at least have stand-by usage if not.

      Reply
      • Dan March 27, 2015, 1:38 pm

        There are some cool devices out there to help kill this type of ‘phantom power’. I’ve got one made by ZuniDigital, but they apparently are out of business now. This is another good one, which also has advantage of being able to adjust the watt threshold for the master device – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000P1QJXQ/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=211189&creative=373489&creativeASIN=B000P1QJXQ&link_code=as3&tag=buykegbeer-20&linkId=ZKIXRONFOHEBTU56

        There may be some question of ROI depending on what devices are connected, but they definitely make a lot of sense when purchasing new a new power strip. They come in most useful for something like an entertainment center where you’ve got power hungry devices like xbox and cable box that can use quite a bit of power in standby mode.

        The way they work is you plug your tv into a “master” port and then other devices like game console and cable box into the subordinate plugs. When the tv is turned off (or more accurately the power draw on that plug is below a certain threshold), then power is cut off completely to the other subordinate plugs after a 15 sec or so delay. There are generally also plugs labeled as “always on” on the same strip in case you need to also plug in a lamp or something that makes sense to operate independently of the tv being on. So great thing is you never have to worry about unplugging those other devices!

        According to this study ( http://www.polygon.com/2014/5/16/5724620/ps4-xbox-one-wii-u-power-usage-nrdc-report ) a PS4 draws 8.5 watts in standby mode and xbox one draws 15.7 watts in the default ‘instant-on’ standby mode, although there is a configuration you can choose to drop that down to 0.5 watts when you enable energy saving mode which takes 45 sec to wake up.

        Cable boxes seem to be even worse according to this latimes article (http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-power-hog-20140617-story.html#page=1), the average set up box with DVR draws 35 watts, or an estimated $8 / month for souther California electric customers!!

        I’d agree that the most mustachian thing to do as far as the cable box would be to just cut the cord! Especially if you were to replace your cable box with say an Apple TV which uses a minuscule 0.7 watts in standby mode and only 0.85 watts when streaming HD content!

        Reply
      • Leo March 28, 2015, 12:06 am

        Very easy way to tell whether something burns energy when off plugged in or not. If you turn it on with a switch or button with a heavy “click” that requires some force to activate, then the switch probably connects the power, and when off it consumes zero. If it’s a light press button or remote that turns it on, then it is definitely consuming power even when off.

        Reply
      • Dan March 28, 2015, 10:46 am

        There are some cool smart power strips out there to help kill this type of ‘phantom power’. There may be some question of ROI depending on what devices are connected, but they definitely make a lot of sense when purchasing new a new power strip. They probably come in most useful in something like an entertainment center where you’ve got power hungry devices like xbox and cable box that can use quite a bit of power in standby mode.

        The way they work is you plug your tv into a “master” port and then other devices like game console and cable box into the subordinate plugs. When the tv is turned off the power (or more accurately the power draw on that plug is below a certain threshold), then power is cut off completely to the other subordinate plugs after a 15 sec or so delay. There are generally also plugs labeled as “always on” on the same strip in case you need to also plug in a lamp or something that makes sense to operate independently of the tv being on. So great thing is you never have to worry about unplugging those other devices.

        According to this study ( http://www.polygon.com/2014/5/16/5724620/ps4-xbox-one-wii-u-power-usage-nrdc-report ) a PS4 draws 8.5 watts in standby mode and xbox one draws 15.7 watts in the default ‘instant-on’ standby mode, although there is a configuration you can choose to drop that down to 0.5 watts when you enable energy saving mode which takes 45 sec to wake up. Treehugger just had an article the other day saying the default instant on mode costs gamers $250 million a year in electricity!

        Cable boxes seem to be even worse according to this latimes article (http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-power-hog-20140617-story.html#page=1), a set up box with DVR draws 35 watts, or an estimated $8 / month for souther California electric customers!!

        I’d agree that most mustachian thing to do as far as cable box would be to just cut the cord! Especially if you were to replace your cable box with say an Apple TV which uses a minuscule 0.7 watts in standby mode and only 0.85 watts when streaming HD content!

        Reply
    • Mrs. PoP March 26, 2015, 4:55 am

      We are in the middle of having a solar system put on our house right now and for us, with the incentives we were eligible for, it made total financial sense to get as part of our long term energy cost savings plan. After incentives, our system will break even after 5 years (current avg bill is $100/mo), and should continue to give us “free” energy for another 20-25 years beyond that. So many of the incentives are local that it might be a better alternative for you than you think!
      There’s still low hanging fruit with our household energy usage which we’ll continue to address as these energy hogs require replacement (appliances, single speed pool pump, leaky windows…), but the timeline on our local solar incentives meant it was too good of a deal not to jump on those while we had the chance.

      Reply
      • Frugal Bazooka March 26, 2015, 11:12 pm

        I really want to go solar, but we’re planning on selling in 5 years and with that timeline it just doesn’t seem logical. However, the next house will definitely have solar no matter what!

        Reply
        • Leo March 28, 2015, 7:47 pm

          You will likely recover the cost on resale though. A solar installation would be quite a differentiator.

          Reply
    • Anonymous March 27, 2015, 8:51 pm

      Anything with a transformer, which includes just about anything digital, burns power when not in use. Anything that you can turn on with a remote burns power. Anything you can turn on with a “soft” button rather than the kind that’s actually connecting/disconnecting a circuit burns power.

      Reply
  • Michelle March 26, 2015, 12:11 am

    We just received our first full-month utility bill since we moved to our new home in Colorado, and it said that we used 50% less than our neighbors. Considering we work from home, I thought that was crazy! Either we are doing really good or others around us are really just that bad.

    Reply
  • Andrea Graves March 26, 2015, 2:15 am

    Hi Mr MMM, oh how I love your blog! I am a new convert.

    I live in New Zealand where we pay 36 cents per kWh, and I reckon salaries are at about the same level, maybe slightly higher. At least most of our electricity generation is renewable, but that doesn’t account for the expense.

    How do your uncovered windows go on cold winter nights? A well insulated wall has a lot higher R value than even double glazed windows, so it seems to me you have room to move on minimising heat loss from them when the sun’s down. Curtains or blinds would surely keep you that bit cosier at night? (A combination of curtains for the doors and roman blinds for the window might work well in that room, which is beautiful by the way.)

    (p.s. I saw in a previous post that you have visited this country and thought we had cheap food. Maybe we did then, or maybe it was just the more favourable exchange rate. As an update, compared to the prices in your grocery list, ours are about double yours now. A good reason to work harder on my vegetable garden and appreciate my urban chickens. Maybe I’ll read about your acquisition of chickens one day!! They are completely Mustachian and SO much fun! Great for homeschoolers. Imagine the science potential in hatching eggs.)

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 2:00 pm

      You’re right Andrea – the best thing I could do in the winter would be uncovered windows by day and have some nice insulated covers/blinds that close at night. I’ll get around to it after I’m done with the more pressing construction.. but for now the place is surprisingly cheap to heat anyway. A few small improvements and we’ll be pretty much done with paying for heat, after which further heating efficiency upgrades would be a waste.

      Reply
  • Patrick March 26, 2015, 3:51 am

    I don’t get the tankless water heater craze. They are so expensive. I don’t believe the ROI math works out unless you use tons of hot water.

    I rent so I can’t swap mine, but it’s from the eighties and uses 1.5kWh/day sitting idle and my fridge uses 1.1kWh/day. That’s barely relevant. I use maybe 2 gallons of hot water for my showers and another couple gallons for dishes. Even if gas lines ran to this property, and I owned it, I don’t think it would be worth it.

    Even with electric hot water we keep our summer bill below 200kWh/month and that’s with more frequent showers.

    Now electric heat in winter…yeah, with the place at 15C during the day and 10C at night we still used 1400kWh in February here in Ottawa and that’s WITH south facing windows and no curtains. I’d be willing to insulate the fuck out of everything and consider crazy heating systems if I owned the place.

    Reply
    • David Robarts July 30, 2015, 2:39 pm

      Actually, tankless water heater ROI goes down as usage goes up. A big part of the savings is not keeping a huge tank of water constantly hot. The biggest risk with tankless is using hot water with wasteful abandon as there is ALWAYS hot water available.

      Reply
  • Free Man March 26, 2015, 4:07 am

    MMM, Ontario has the highest electricity rates in North America; which is why we are loosing all our factory jobs. The delivery charge , debt retirement, and taxes can easily DOUBLE a persons electric bill. It’s insane, like “the Hamiltonian” said. Also, since I live in the Boonedocks, there is no natural gas alternative. My options are propane, electricity, oil and wood. I checked out geothermal, and it would have cost $42,000.00 to switch over. There are currently no i centives. Would like to look into heating the water with wood in the winter; since I heat with it; and Im sure there would be some good savins there. One small savings, is that I don’t pay for water because I have a well. However, to get the water, I need electricity! Damn:) Thanks for all the advice, and I enjoy reading the blog.

    Reply
    • Keith March 26, 2015, 10:33 am

      FreeMan, consider a passive solar heater to reduce your winter heating needs. Where I live the governor has worked hard to protect the monopoly electric utility by allowing a large increase to the base service charge to hurt people with solar panels or a wind turbine. In Wisconsin you have an $18.80 service charge and a $3.15 low income charge (used to give low income people free electricity), plus sales tax.

      I also have a geothermal heat pump. It saves over other heating choices, but sucks current like no tomorrow when running. A small amount of passive solar can cover a large amount of the winter heating costs, lowering electricity usage during the day when prices are higher.

      Reply
    • Alternatepriorities March 27, 2015, 2:55 pm

      Free Man, heating domestic water with a wood stove is an excellent solution. If you’re handy with soldering you don’t need to spend a bunch of money on one those fancy wood boilers. A decent storage tank and a couple of 2″ steel or copper pipes through the base of the stove (preferably in the coals) will provide plenty of hot water for mustachian use. If you have space near the stove for a vertical tank, feed the water from the bottom, return it to the top and include a one-way valve. The warm water will rise causing the system to self circulate and eliminating the circulation pump.

      Reply
    • dave March 29, 2015, 11:12 pm

      At least we have a good Liberal government that will provide us with good high paying government jobs

      Reply
  • EarlyRetirementGuy March 26, 2015, 4:10 am

    Our electricity bill averages at about 220kwh a month or £30. We swapped all our bulbs to LED, don’t own a tumble dryer (clothes dryer as you yanks call it) and our outside lights are all entirely solar powered. Still; got a long way to match MMM’s usage. I’ll admit to having a lot of appliances still plugged in even when switched off. Shall start switching them off at the wall socket when not in use and see if that makes a difference.

    All heating (central and water) is done by gas.

    Reply
  • Under The Money Tree March 26, 2015, 4:11 am

    Nice work. From time to time I sweep the house for ways to cut down power usage.

    When we moved to our current house (5 years ago) the previous owners left a dryer which to date we’ve never used. If we can’t hang clothes outside we sometimes leave then hanging in the conservatory which usually dries them in a day. In winter I will sometimes leave a small low powered de-humidifier in there on a timer to come on for 2-3 hours over night. Uses much less power than a drier and works really well.

    Reply
  • Rick March 26, 2015, 4:26 am

    Patrick, I installed a Bosh tankless system, it cut my gas bill in half. At the time the bill was only $40.00 per month; so it would take an eternity to get the cost back. However, I did it because wifey complained, she was running out of hot water; when she would soak in the tub, and filling the tub to her neck! The other problem I had, was that the tankless system would usually take three times trying to start; before it actually did. Then sometime it would just cut out, so I would have to run down stairs, while leaving the water running in the shower; press reset, watch it to make sure it was working properly; then run back upstairs to have my shower. Suffice it to say, in my new home I have a traditional water tank. Fool me once…as they say.

    Reply
  • Emily March 26, 2015, 4:31 am

    I’m inordinately excited that we own the same fridge. I was already excited that we paid significantly less than retail by doing scratch and dent, but seeing it in MMM’s house feels like a vote of confidence that we made the right move. :-D

    Reply
  • nicoleandmaggie March 26, 2015, 6:16 am

    We just did a post on Monday about recessed lights– we had a (free) energy audit done of our home and that and the attic openings were determined to be two of our three worst energy offenders.

    Since we live in the South, we actually need *fewer* windows facing the sun since that’s what brings in all the heat. The third offender was the need to do an even better job of blocking out the sun-facing windows during most of the year.

    Reply
  • HenryDavid March 26, 2015, 6:38 am

    As a Canadian I’ve been baffled all my life by the “extra beer fridge in the garage.” At least in winter.
    There should be pictures of these things in the dictionary under “pointless.”
    For 6 months of the year, most Canadian garages are already cold enough to chill beer.
    I can even store cans of beer directly on the concrete floor in a basement cold room/pantry. They’re ready to drink.
    In a frosty mug kept on the back deck for that purpose.

    Some call it winter, others call it “free refrigeration.”

    Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque March 26, 2015, 9:48 am

      I’ve always felt that fridges and freezers should be cooled via external air in the winter.

      I mean, shit, there’s so much FREE COLD out there for six months of the year. You just a fan to pull it in.

      Reply
      • HenryDavid March 26, 2015, 9:58 am

        Yes, FREE COLD on tap for half the year . . . even more if you count the sunless hours of the day:
        and yet, it’s necessary to build a gigantic electricity factory powered by, say, natural gas (or coal!); build giant towers holding wires that run for many kilometres; connect said wires to a fridge in somebody’s garage; operate said fridge for a certain number of hours each week to keep the insulated space inside the fridge just as cold as . . . the FREE COLD that was there all along.

        This specific use of electricity makes one wonder about human intelligence.
        And, well, duh, we should all have a thermostat-regulated fan to pull outdoor air into our regular fridges, in Canada. Why don’t we? Tinkerers, get busy.

        Reply
      • SeaEyes March 26, 2015, 3:20 pm

        There is a system to take advantage of cold air for refrigeration in larger commercial systems

        http://freeaire.com/

        Reply
      • Rick March 26, 2015, 8:44 pm

        I have a chest freezer, that was given to me. It is in my un heated workshop. It is unplugged all year when it is below freezing. Then during the warmer weather, I plug it in at night when electricity is cheapest.

        Reply
      • AlM March 27, 2015, 3:22 pm

        I have been thinking about this too.
        A small diameter (3 cm?) insulated air duct, and IC-controlled air pump should be able to keep the fridge at a constant cold temp basically for free over half of the year here in MN.

        I mean, spending electricity to keep my food cool in my warm house while it’s freezing out? Whaaat?

        Reply
        • FarmerPete April 9, 2015, 2:46 pm

          The problem is, the optimal temperature for a freezer is 0 degrees F. It’s not ok to just get below 32F. For a refrigerator, you’ve got the opposite problem. You need to keep it around 35F to be useful. Obviously, you can have a much greater tolerance if you are keeping non-perishable items (Beer).

          Reply
          • Bram April 9, 2015, 11:10 pm

            Sorry, Belgian guy here. I don’t drink beer myself (yes, I’m THAT Belgian). But as far as I know everyone keeps the beer in a “dry and cool room” and only cools the ones that they will drink in the very near future, so let’s say there are 4 beers in the fridge. For me the same goes for about any drink, there’s no need to STORE drinks in a fridge (except for fresh milk), that’s just wasting space.

            Reply
    • Happyback March 31, 2015, 2:19 pm

      LOVE THIS! I really love this whole string of comments…you guys, when you turn that sexy brain on, just make the world a better place!
      +1

      Reply
  • Ma$e March 26, 2015, 6:44 am

    We have a pool at our place, I wish I could not have a pool, but that was part of a spousal compromise I had to make when me moved here. Lets just say that filling it in in NOT a option at the movement (but if I have my way it eventually will!)

    It is heated strictly via solar energy, which is one plus, but aside from that, any advice on how little one can run a pool pump and still avoid a green pool?

    Reply
    • Mrs PoP March 26, 2015, 11:10 am

      My understanding (at least for FL pools) is that you want the water to filter through twice completely. So take the volume of your pool (in gallons) and divide it by the flow rate (gals/min) of your pump. That tells you how many minutes it takes to process the entire volume once. Then double that number of minutes for the length of time you want your pump to run daily.

      The other way people do it is to set it to run for a long time (say 10 hours/day) for a week, then lower it to 9 hours the next week, eight the next… and when you see you’re no longer getting the clarity you want, dial it back to what you had previously.

      Ours is currently running about 5 or 6 hours a day. When the rains kick up in the summertime and we get a lot of freshwater going into the pool and more hours of sunshine, the filter time might need to increase.

      Reply
      • Javahead March 26, 2015, 1:05 pm

        We filled our pool (came with the house) in a few years ago when we got to the point of “replaster and repair or fill it in”. Since we hadn’t used it much (maybe 3-4 times a summer) since our kids were small, there wasn’t much reason to keep it, so we went with “fill”,

        We’d already determined the least amount of filtering needed to keep things clear in summer (4-5 hours a day), and reduced that to 1-2 hours a day in winter (minimum needed then). And still found our electricity bill dropped by over $100 a month once the pool was gone. With reduced water usage and chemicals the overall savings were nearly $2000 a year.

        We paid $6000 for a contractor to pull the permit, buy the fill, and do the work. It’s already paid for itself – and the filled-in pool area serves as our vegetable garden.

        Reply
    • Josh March 27, 2015, 11:40 am

      You may want to look into a variable-speed pool pump – I’m considering one for for my pool. From what I’ve read, energy savings are immense.

      Reply
    • Gina March 27, 2015, 12:00 pm

      When I lived in Tucson I found that I could keep my pool clean with only a few hours a day of filter time during the summer (maybe 4 or 5? It’s been a few years…). But it only worked if I did a really good job with with the pool chemistry. You need to keep chlorine levels in the right range and phosphate levels low. You may also want to consider a newer energy efficient pump. The Pentair Intelliflo looks like a great choice.

      Reply
  • FordTough March 26, 2015, 7:12 am

    Another useful addition is an Ozone Ionic Laundry Purifier I found it on Groupon for $125.00 and haven’t used Laundry detergent since. Also my clothes dry faster and it does not use hot water. So imagine the savings over time not having to buy Laundry detergent or having chemical residue on your clothes.

    Reply
  • Jay March 26, 2015, 7:15 am

    We live in an all-electric townhome in Pennsylvania and investigated switching from electric hot water heating to a heat pump water heater (which would have to be placed in our basement) several years ago. This is what dissuaded us from switching: (1) Expense — heat pump water heaters cost about twice as much to buy/install and may require periodic professional maintenance, (2) Noise — the heat pumps can be annoyingly audible (55-60 db is typical) if you have a living space nearby, (3) BTU loss — heat pump water heaters chill the air around them, which would make our main house heating system (heat pump) work harder to overcome a cooler floor above the basement and cooler basement (that contains lots of ductwork). It turns out that we use very little hot water because of our doing laundries in cold water, having 0.75 gpm showerheads (which aren’t used every day), and being willing to wash hands in cool water (instead of drawing a few gal of hot water from the tank each time to warm up the faucet water). We also have our hot water tank wrapped in an insulating blanket and we have put insulating sleeves on all of the hot water pipes in the basement.

    Reply
    • jestjack March 29, 2015, 9:04 am

      There is no comparison between regular water heaters and Hybrid (heat pump) water heaters. I installed a Geo Spring about a year ago and my electric bill…”fell off the table”. GE predicts savings of well over $300 per year and I’m well ahead of that. Add to this the generous rebates from utilities and discounts and it’s a no brainer. What sealed the deal for me was the fact that I heat my home with wood adjacent to the area that the hybrid water heater is located. So the water heater is drawing warmed air from the area from the woodstove, extracting the heat and returning the cooled air to the area. Then in the Summer this water heater acts as a portable air conditioner and dehumidifier for the same area. My “payback” on the unit should be about 2.3 years and came with a 10 year warranty…Just my 2 cents….

      Reply
      • Steve March 29, 2015, 7:48 pm

        Did you notice with your GeoSpring the noise issue that Jay mentioned?

        Reply
  • Gwen March 26, 2015, 7:32 am

    And my roommate wonders why I yell at him for leaving the lights on or forgetting to turn the leaky shower faucet tightly enough. Before he moved in, I was #3 in the neighborhood for lowest energy consumption, and now we hover in the 70/80’s. I’m moving to a new apartment shortly, and made sure to factor the estimated utility bills into my decision. I also turn off all my “fun stuff” when I’m not using them (TV, gaming consoles, computer, etc). Great article!

    Reply
  • Insourcelife March 26, 2015, 7:47 am

    I started obsessing about our electric usage a few years ago and one thing that really helps to put things into perspective is recording kwh used along with $$ paid each month. Takes a second to do in a Google Spreadsheet each time I get an e-bill and I have 7 years of history to play with now – older stuff was entered all at once from the old bills to build up history. I also have similar numbers for gas and water usage for a complete picture of utility usage. It was interesting to see how much our bills went up on average after our son was born. Just like tracking money, tracking utilities makes you much more in tune with what’s going on and motivates you to find and eliminate waste.

    Reply
  • MyFrugalChicago March 26, 2015, 7:50 am

    What do you use for a breakeven point when looking at electric saving options?

    For example, I have a kill-a-watt and looked my current fridges energy use. From my numbers and what I see on a new fridge, the payback would be approximately 10 years. I.e. if a new fridge is $400 and saves me $40 a year over the current fridge.

    I am also trading less energy use for a giant thing in the landfill. So not sure the environment wins either.

    If I got some kind of benefit from a new fridge like colder ice or fancier water, I could maybe justify it.. but for replacing something with the same thing, it usually seems not worth it if the payback isn’t in 5 years or less. Is there a general rule of thumb you use MMM?

    Reply
  • Mike March 26, 2015, 8:20 am

    Here’s what I struggle with.

    Indeed, there are many ways to “save” money on electricity. However, many of these ways cost extra money. Super efficient appliances cost more. Same for LED bulbs, thermostats, an on. Plus gadgets to measure energy consumption- they aren’t free either. I agree you will save money overall as opposed to not doing any of these thing, but the savings are always greatly overstated.

    Also, I never have any luck with the LED bulbs- I have about a dozen LED 12-year bulbs, and 5 have failed inside of 2-years. What the hell?

    I prefer to direct my time, energy, and money in ways that will generate more money (“savings”) than the pursuit of lowering my electric bill.

    Great article, and I think you are brilliant.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 11:57 am

      Hey Mike,

      In all these efficiency projects, there is an underlying quest for a reasonable annual return on investment (ROI). So I try to only recommend things that will save at least 10% of their purchase price per year. So a $1000 water heater would need to justify itself with over $100/year in savings, and so on. If you choose wisely, you can do better than 20%, which is better than almost any investment you’ll find.

      Since I’m somewhat ideological about energy consumption, my own threshold is even lower. So I spent $170 on the Efergy wireless system, without even doing the math on whether I’d turn a profit. It’s worth it for me to be able to gather the numbers and share them with others.

      LED bulbs: I now own about 50 of them of all shapes and sizes, and have NEVER had a single one go even remotely on the fritz. You’re either getting badly made bulbs, or you may have a noisy electric supply in your area. If so, it may need some sort of line filter in the breaker box, which would also protect electronics.

      Reply
      • Dan March 26, 2015, 4:06 pm

        I actually dropped my CREE les bulb on the tile floor today. The plastic didn’t break. I plugged it in and it worked! Wow what a mess an incandescent or a cfl would have been!

        Reply
        • Jonas March 30, 2015, 6:17 am

          When I bought my new LED bulbs online, one of them arrived broken in the package. I should say the glass “bulb” cover was broken, but since it was going in a ceiling fan fixture where the bulb was completely covered, I tentatively installed it anyway…and it worked! Even with a shattered lens. I’d like to see a CFL or incandescent do that.

          Reply
  • Max March 26, 2015, 8:27 am

    Hey MMM-

    Great post. I work from home and have a pretty sweet espresso machine. The boiler takes about 12 minutes to fully heat up. Since I enjoy espresso pretty much all day, I leave the machine on until around 3 or 4 pm. Would it be more energy efficient to power up and turn it off for every single use? Or is leaving it running the most efficient way? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 12:00 pm

      Yeah, it is almost ALWAYS more efficient to turn off items and then re-heat them, rather than leaving them hot. This applies to houses when you go out for the day, car engines when you stop to wait for some reason, ovens, and your espresso machine too.

      You will probably save quite a bit by not keeping that big chunk of iron and water at boiling temperature all day.

      You also might want to watch that espresso habit – I’m an addict too, but keep it to 1-2 per day ;-)

      Reply
      • Bram March 27, 2015, 5:16 am

        Hey MMM, I don’t know if you know this, but I read once not too long ago, that for a (diesel?) car engine it is only worthwhile to stop it whenever you will stop for 10 seconds or longer. My car has an auto start/stop system, but with this in mind I try to only let it auto-stop (releasing clutch while gear is neutral) when I estimate that it will be for more than 10 seconds.

        So apparently an engine consumes more in the 1st second of starting than in 10 seconds of running stationairy…

        Reply
        • Julia March 27, 2015, 6:09 pm

          I have a diesel car (VW TDI) and I was told that diesels are very good at idling – more efficient than gas engines. So, the math is probably different for gasoline powered cars.

          Reply
  • Dan March 26, 2015, 8:35 am

    If you can install ceiling fans in living areas they can dramatically reduce AC use. I installed one in my bedroom and only had to use AC when temps rose above 90F.

    Reply
  • Jay March 26, 2015, 9:09 am

    We live in an all-electric townhome in Pennsylvania and investigated switching from electric hot water heating to a heat pump water heater (which would have to be placed in our basement) several years ago. This is what dissuaded us from switching: (1) Expense — heat pump water heaters cost about twice as much to buy/install and require periodic professional maintenance, (2) Noise — the heat pumps can be annoyingly audible (55-60 db is typical) if you have a living space nearby, (3) BTU loss — heat pump water heaters chill the air around them, which would make our main house heating system (heat pump) work harder to overcome a cooler floor above the basement and cooler basement (that contains lots of ductwork).

    It turns out that we use very little hot water because of our doing laundries in cold water, having 0.75 gpm showerheads (which aren’t used every day), and being willing to wash hands in cool water (instead of drawing a few gal of hot water from the tank each time to warm up the faucet water). We also have our hot water tank wrapped in an insulating blanket and we have put insulating sleeves on all of the hot water pipes in the basement.

    Reply
  • Margit Van Schaick March 26, 2015, 9:11 am

    You may laugh, but one of the most useful ways I’m able to lower the heat at night and thereby save kwh is a featherbed! A friend of mine (born in England ) uses two, one piled on top of the other. With the kind of Winter we’ve just experienced here in Vermont (unrelenting day-time temperatures often single digits F and nighttime often 10-15 below), this low-tech solution made me happy.

    Reply
    • Julia March 27, 2015, 11:07 am

      Yay! Us too! Our bedroom is actually unheated, with only storm windows (no heavier windows) and an un-insulated floor (it had been a porch, converted to interior space). Even when we had a freak week including below-zero nighttime temps in November here in northern CO, and before we had put plastic over the windows, we stayed warm under our two feather quilts (and wearing multiple layers of clothes and down vests). Although it was hard to get out of bed in the morning!

      Reply
  • Acroy March 26, 2015, 9:15 am

    Nicely done MMM and a great article!

    To be a devil’s advocate – what kind of ROE do you get by tracking down “three faulty smoke detectors that were burning over 5 watts each and replaced them with units that use under 1 watt” over the target 10yr interval?

    Personally, I have a modestly efficient 2,000sq ft house populated with 7 people, and a big-ass pool. I pat myself on the back for using 500kw-hr/mo; which is significantly under average for my neighborhood (my utility company has a handy feature that allows comparison to neighbors)

    But this is 4x your use. Well done!!

    Reply
  • Martin March 26, 2015, 9:28 am

    MMM keeps his ketchup upsidedown? WTH!?

    Reply
    • RetiredToWin Alex March 26, 2015, 10:33 pm

      Of course! I do the same for my ketchup AND my mustard. AND my shampoo in the shower. This puts the power of gravity to work to allow the extraction of as much of the contents of those containers as possible. It beats the hell out of trying to get the stuff out by swirling a knife inside the container!

      Reply
  • CincyCat March 26, 2015, 9:57 am

    We noticed a dramatic drop in our summer energy bill after we installed new windows this past May. Granted, our summer was milder than most years, but … What does this have to do with electricity? Often, upgrading windows, or replacing leaky doors, etc. helps save you big time on energy bills. I noticed that even on the hottest/muggiest days, the AC wasn’t kicking on nearly as often as it used to. Also, our finished attic bedrooms didn’t get as hot/sticky as they normally do at night (which was the main reason we had to keep the AC thermostat so low in the first place). We are on a quarterly re-balanced level billing plan with our energy company, and already they’ve dropped the bill twice! It went from $220 a month to $159 – and consumption is still dropping. We still have a credit balance even after this past winter. I also have a nerdy excel spreadsheet & graph that I keep, similar to the linked chart, because I want to compare YOY as well as months or years when we have more extreme weather than usual.

    Reply
  • Tara March 26, 2015, 10:45 am

    I am interested in replacing the baseboard heaters, as I have lots of big windows and my heating bill in Montreal in the winter for a small 1100 sq ft condo is ridiculous. Last year we did an experiment with putting up interior storm windows, which helped a lot, but the system my husband devised caused a fair amount of drywall damage to the window frames which I did not like. I will show him the ductless heat pumps and see what he says. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
    • Sarah March 26, 2015, 12:55 pm

      I just replaced the baseboard heaters in my 540 sq ft condo with Convectair wall convection heaters. Looks so much better and they are programmable while the baseboard heaters were not.

      Reply
      • Tara March 26, 2015, 2:42 pm

        Thanks Sarah – did you find that your electricity bill went down after installing them? Wondering if they are more efficient than the baseboard heaters.

        Reply
        • Sarah March 27, 2015, 10:12 am

          I just installed them (DIY with the help of an electrician friend!) so haven’t received a new bill yet. Although to be honest I haven’t even turned on the heat since January because my unit is south facing and I have neighbors all around and am kept surprisingly warm by them. All the research I did pointed to the convection heaters being more efficient than baseboards. I also was able to decrease from three baseboard heaters in the living room to just one convection heater which should save energy as well.

          Reply

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