354 comments

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.

  • Mr. FSF March 26, 2015, 11:03 am

    Wow, and I thought we were doing pretty good with our electricity consumption (we also have a 2200 sf home, slightly further north than Minneapolis, so more lighting requirements in the winter months). Seems that we have some work to do!
    Great article though, keeps you focused and puts electricity use in perspective. Too bad that most electricity providers charge you more for the connection than for the actual usage these days.

    Reply
  • RH March 26, 2015, 11:10 am

    I didn’t even know a heat pump water heater even existed. I’ll definitely put one of these in when my 10 year old one bites the dust…may even do it beforehand.

    Reply
  • Eric March 26, 2015, 11:15 am

    Please be careful if you remove the cover to your electrical panel.

    Reply
  • Jeremy March 26, 2015, 11:20 am

    Great post! I cut my power bill significantly when I made several changes:

    1) switched all the most-used lights to LED or fluorescent (in fact, there’s at least one or two more I should change over to LED).

    2) ‘downgraded’ my power-hog of an HTPC to a Mac Mini. The HTPC I had was consuming so much electricity that it was adding at least $15-20+ to the power bill. Ridiculous. Fortunately, my dad had his old Mac Mini sitting around so I took it and upgraded the drive in it to an SSD and added more ram. It doesn’t quite run as well as the original HTPC but it runs good enough to record TV satisfactorily. And it’s cut the electric bill by a significant amount.

    3) Meticulously went around the house “hunting” for anything plugged into a socket, and running it through the Kill-a-Watt meter. These meters are super handy and pay for themselves, so just get one!

    Things I can get better at:
    1) Be more mindful of leaving lights on (even though LED has made a huge difference) as well as running the AC. Last summer was hot in Southern California, and my condo is situated in a position where I get direct sunlight (West-facing) for the hottest parts of the day. It’s the kitchen that gets affected the most too. Not sure how I’m going to deal with this during the next heat-wave but it’ll probably have to be more along the lines of opening more windows and running some fans instead of the AC.

    Reply
  • dand March 26, 2015, 11:27 am

    So MMM, when are you gonna make the *real* anti-carbon step of putting PV panels on that nice steel roof of yours? It won’t take many panels to cover your small annual usage, cheap ones are available on Amazon & Craigslist. You can even buy a used Nissan Leaf & nearly completely eliminate all the money you send to oil companies.

    Full disclosure, I live down the road in Boulder and had a 3.6kW solar PV sytem installed on my roof 5 years back. I still have maybe 6 more years before it completely pays back my out-of-pocket expenses, so at the time it could only be considered a “luxury” item in purely ROI terms. Now panels are *much* cheaper, and an engineering geek such as yourself should be able to handle the entire install and have a great write-up for your followers,

    Reply
    • Andrea Graves March 26, 2015, 9:12 pm

      We got photovoltaic panels here in New Zealand just before Christmas. There’s a write up on my blog here: http://www.peacefulgreenday.com/2015/02/why-weve-gone-solar-photovoltaic-power.html

      What’s really impressed me is (1) those things really work! (2) how much more it’s made us aware of our electricity use (3) how it’s made us change our habits to make the most of the sunshine hours by using the electricity we generate during that time.

      It’s so funny to me how Americans don’t hang their washing out. I almost fell off my chair when I read about MMM draping his washing about the house and being thrilled with his clothes horse thing for drying clothes. Pride of place in a kiwi backyard is a clothes line, and a damned fine thing it is too! It’s even better to also have a carport with washing lines strung under it, so you can hang your clothes out on rainy days also. If they’re still a bit damp at the end of the day, they have 10 minutes in the clothes dryer to finish them off, or go on the clothes horse in front of the woodburner.

      Reply
  • Pamela March 26, 2015, 11:42 am

    I was wondering about surge protectors. If I plug electronics in one of those and then turn it off, does it still consume power while not technically in use. I use one for my TV and DVD player, so I’ve always wondered if just turning it off each night really helps or not.

    I hope this isn’t a stupid question…I don’t understand electricity at all.

    Thanks!!!

    Reply
    • TJ March 26, 2015, 12:00 pm

      I’m going to check on this too once I get a tool to do so, but I don’t think the surge protector does anything until power is being drawn through it to be consumed. If you’ve got a hard mechanical switch that shuts it off, I bet you’re fine. The digital ones can be an unobvious vampire, just like any of the wall chargers for phones, etc. that convert to DC whether it’s charging or not.

      Reply
    • David Robarts July 30, 2015, 3:24 pm

      Usually power strips have a switch that physically disconnects power – so no phantom draw when off. They do tend to have a very small draw themselves when on even if nothing attached to them has a draw; but the power they save by making it easy to turn off the phantom draw of connected makes them worthwhile.

      Reply
  • TJ March 26, 2015, 11:57 am

    Hooked up my energy monitor yesterday and trying out some cloud services to help me make some informed decisions.

    The real challenge here will be modifying this rental house in ways to cut costs without having the freedom to replace water heater, fridge or baseboard heat.

    Reply
  • Juli March 26, 2015, 11:57 am

    Do any of you have a good solar “gadget” charger? I would like to find something to charge phones, my husband’s ipod, etc. But most of the ones I saw on Amazon got poor reviews. One of them said you had to plug it in to charge it halfway, then let the sun charge it the rest of the way – that just seems silly. I would like to see if I can cut back a bit on our electricity usage, and this seems like an easy way if I can find one that works decently without costing an arm and a leg.

    Reply
    • Jackie March 26, 2015, 6:23 pm

      Wakawaka? Solar light and charger.

      Reply
    • Happyback March 31, 2015, 4:16 pm

      I have a Grape Solar one that does my phone easily in a window or even my back car window (when I’m not driving but car is still out in sun when house windows don’t get light). It’s super portable…even can be stuck onto a back pack so you can charge while on a long camping/hiking trip.

      Reply
  • RMF March 26, 2015, 12:02 pm

    Any chance of a house tour of the new home? You put up photos of your old home; it would be nice to see how you are living in the new, smaller space. The new windows you installed and the raised roof look great.

    Reply
  • Cory March 26, 2015, 12:03 pm

    For those of you hang drying your clothes how do you keep them from ending up stiff and crunchy? Every time I hang dry something like a bath towel I have to throw it in the dryer for a few minutes to soften it up. I also have problems with wrinkles in pants and shirts when hang drying and need to throw them in the dryer (instead of ironing them one by one). I feel like an idiot and can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong! Any tips?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 1:54 pm

      I find that any crunchiness goes away within a few seconds of putting on the clothes. And towels don’t need to be hotel-fluffy to be effective. In fact, if you get more Euro-style towels they don’t even have any fluff – a better design in my opinion even though I’m still working through a big stash of conventional towels.

      Reply
      • Geek March 28, 2015, 10:01 am

        Do you have any recommendations on the European-style towels (brands, where to buy)? We have an old pair of terry towels that are starting to lose strings on the edges, so I want to try replacing them with the spa/waffle towels. I can find some on amazon and bb&b, but I don’t know if they’re the right kind (and I’d like them in dark blue, white towels seem hard to maintain and I don’t use bleach).

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

          I remember when i was younger I asked my Mom once why she doesn’t hang clothes outside like some of the neighbors. Her answer was she didn’t want birds to poop on them. How weak is that?

          Reply
          • Geek March 30, 2015, 9:34 am

            Not as weak as having a mismatched house ;P

            Reply
    • Metanoeite March 26, 2015, 4:20 pm

      Where I live, hang drying clothes is the norm (I’ve never owned a dryer). This is how I do it:

      * Shirts and dress trousers: With my old washing machine, I simply used copious amounts of softener (filling the machine’s softener compartment to the max) and hung them immediately after the machine finished. This avoided wrinkles for the most part. About two years ago we bought a new washing machine which has a steam finish setting (apparently standard on newer washing machines). This completely eliminates wrinkles and stiffness, even without softener, and uses less energy than ironing.
      * Casual clothes like T-shirts, jeans etc., and bedclothes: Adding a small to medium amount of softener reliably prevents them from getting stiff. They might have small wrinkles here and there, but honestly, who cares?
      * Hot wash (towels, underwear, washclothes): Softener is not recommended for towels, so these do get a little bit stiff. But once you use a towel for the first time, the stiffness goes away quickly, so no problem there. Underwear, on the other hand, is made of thinner fabric and so doesn’t get really stiff anyway; and with washclothes stiffness is not a problem for obvious reasons. If you really wanted, you could always wash towels separately and set them to steam finish, and use softener for underwear.

      Reply
    • Slowdown March 27, 2015, 3:31 am

      Towels: Just shake them out violently before hanging them on the line, and if they are still stiff after drying just do it once more.
      This may also be done with jeans (maybe a little less violently).
      For other clothing: If it is too bad and you cannot get used to a litte stiffness, you can iron them with steam.
      To prevent clothes from getting to hard you could as well soften your water by adding an anti-calcium-powder like calgon. And instead of fabric softener you may use plain and simple vinegar. The smell goes away after a few minutes, but the softness stays. And it is a good cleaner for your washing machine as well.

      Reply
      • RandomDoctor March 28, 2015, 9:18 pm

        +1 on replacing fabric softener with cheap white vinegar. Fabric softener residue actually attracts dirt.
        I also use less than half the detergent I did before by add 1 tablespoon of laundry bicarbonate of soda to each wash – it is cheaper and just as effective.

        Reply
    • CincyCat March 27, 2015, 7:56 am

      I would think that tossing them in the dryer for 5 minutes is still a whole lot better than tossing them in the dryer for 60-75 minutes.

      Reply
      • judith March 27, 2015, 9:30 pm

        I am calling complainypants on that need for softness. Dryers have only been around in a big way for about 40 years. Stiff towels are healthier for your skin…. sloughing off the dead stuff. For me, the first day of their use is the BEST! I live in a windy location, and if the wind blew while they dried, they aren’t stiff and I am disapointed.

        Reply
        • Happyback March 31, 2015, 4:20 pm

          +1

          Reply
        • CincyCat April 1, 2015, 7:11 pm

          Huh? I was responding to the original poster who seemed to me to be beating him/herself up over putting clothes in the dryer for a “few minutes” to soften them up after line drying. I maintain that this is simply not that big of a deal compared to a full 60-75 minute dry cycle. Ergo, “Cory” should not be beating themselves up over it. I’m lost as to how that is complainypants… Are we all supposed to like wearing wrinkled, crunchy clothes? Some of us still have day jobs where we need to look somewhat professional. Some people have skin conditions that make wearing scratchy clothes highly uncomfortable, even for a few minutes. Lighten up…

          Reply
  • woodnclay March 26, 2015, 12:11 pm

    I really enjoyed reading the article and have a question.
    Here in the UK we are encouraged to cover our windows with heavy, thermal lined curtains to reduce heat loss at night. I wondered if MMM or anyone knows what the balance is between heat (and light) gain through all those sunny windows vs the heat loss after dark, without curtains?
    I realise it will depend on the glazing and temperature difference etc but wondered if MMM has a figure?

    Reply
  • Tom Arneberg March 26, 2015, 12:17 pm

    I didn’t see any mention of a whole-house fan. We prefer cool breezes through the windows over air conditioning, so when we built our house in 1998, we had them install a huge fan in the highest part of the ceiling. It blows air out through the attic, drawing it in through whatever windows are open. It goes most nights in the summer to draw in cool air, which keeps the house cool all the next day. We do have central air, but we typically use it only a few times per year — just those nights where the humidity is oppressive and it stays above 70F at night (rare for us here at the 45th parallel).

    Reply
  • HFT dude March 26, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Fantastic post that had me punch myself in the face a few times. I looked at our latest electricity bill and was shocked to realize we used 3600 kWh over the past two months, despite having a gas furnace. We diligently turn off the lights when leaving rooms, put our computers in sleep mode when not in use, etc. The biggest power draw probably comes from the hot water tank, but living in a rental, I doubt the landlord would be keen to replace it with a heat pump water heater. I suspect we have quite a few vampires sucking power away in the background, so I thank you for mentioning the tools to measure consumption, I am definitely getting those!

    Reply
    • Jane F March 27, 2015, 7:45 pm

      Heads up to Mustachians! Many libraries will loan out KillAWatt Meters.

      Reply
  • David March 26, 2015, 12:40 pm

    Does anyone have a recommendation for a good portable, solar-powered fan? It’s difficult to find a reliable recommendation online.

    Reply
  • Chris March 26, 2015, 12:50 pm

    My utility costs for 2014…

    Electricity and water (combined bill) – $2,786.24
    Natural Gas – $1,780.89

    2,500 sf (mortgage free) house. 4 person family. Forced air gas furnace and central air. Pool with 1 1/2 hp pump runs 24/7 from May to October. Gas heater keeps it 90 degrees the whole season. Dishwasher run 5 times a week. 10-15 loads of laundry washed and dried/week. Most lights CFL or halogen. A few incandescent still being used. 2 refrigerators (the second one has ebbs and flows of use and I would like to get rid of it but doubt it will happen. 10 nightlights, most are LED. Gas water heater, 2 fireplaces, BBQ direct line hookup, pool heater.

    Total cost represents less than 1.5% of household income.

    Reply
  • AJ March 26, 2015, 12:51 pm

    Hey MMM! Thanks to this article I just placed an order for that heat pump water heater you linked to. In the end it will only cost $65 because…

    Cost: $945
    MMM discount: $94.50
    Local power company rebate on that model: $200
    State tax credit for that model: $585

    And actually, since my current heater is still pretty new (came with the house) I may be able to sell it and cover that last $65. Either way, this new one will save me about $20-25 a month.

    Thanks!!!

    Reply
  • Marcia March 26, 2015, 12:53 pm

    omg I love that picture of your kitchen!

    I noticed that our coffee pot was always plugged in. I kept thinking I forgot to unplug it (I only make coffee on the weekends. Weekdays I drink free coffee at work.)

    So my husband tells me he’s been leaving it plugged in so that he can program it overnight on the weekend. I asked “What about the power?”

    He says “Our electric bill is $25 a month”.

    Okay, score one for the hubs.

    Reply
  • Sarah March 26, 2015, 12:54 pm

    We’ve used many of these cost saving ideas for a while. Even our porch light, that sometimes gets forgotten, is energy efficient.

    We live in Alberta, near Edmonton, so our winters are cold, and days are short. But the house we had built has the main floor windows all East facing – that’s where we spend the majority of our day. Our upper windows are predominantly west facing, that’s where we spend our evenings. Even on the coldest days I get enough passive heat from our windows in the winter that we can shut our furnace off for most of the day. In the summer, we have blinds that allow light in, but keep the heat out. Our house is just as warm/cool as the neighbour’s houses, but we don’t pay the higher bills.

    But as a family of 6 (plus a dog) I can only hang some of our clothes to dry. We live in the city, so we have a very small lot, and our yard just doesn’t have the space to hang all our clothes. In the winter, I’m lucky if I can hang one load a week. But I figure as our children get older, their clothes won’t get dirty as fast, so each year I should have less laundry. Right? :p

    But as a way to enjoy life, and save money, I have enough space for 5 fruit trees, a vegetable garden, an herb garden, and tons of flowers. In the house I have 3 citrus trees – I use an energy efficient grow bulb through the winter, in the summer I move them outside.

    It’s a toss up, I could dry all our clothes on a line, or I could have trees. I like the trees. And our energy efficient drier isn’t that bad.

    Even with our dishwasher running 1-3 times a day, our washer running twice a day, the drier running once a day, plus our espresso machine always ready to make a cuppa, our fridge being fully loaded, and having a chest freezer that is not energy efficient (but it was free), our electrical bill is $130 in the winter and $70(ish) in the summer (our flat fees are $45). Yes, we could do better, but for now I’m pretty happy with where we are.

    Reply
  • Karen March 26, 2015, 1:12 pm

    We have a gas water heater. For the months of May thru September we never get above the base price of $10.86\mo. Our gas bill only starts to rise in October when we turn on the heat so it seems that washing in cold water or turning down the heater temp wouldn’t make a difference. We have an electric dryer that I run clothes thru for 5-10 only to remove the wrinkles then hang them on hangers to dry. Haven’t used my iron in over 2 years. Our house came with a hot tub and not using the dryer means we can heat the tub for no additional monthly cost.

    Reply
  • Eric March 26, 2015, 1:30 pm

    Does anyone have tips about lighting a large room? Our house used to be a small church, so our main floor (where we spend most of our time) is one big room with 13-foot ceilings. Previous owners installed four sets of track lighting around various zones – over the kitchen, the eating area, etc. So’s there’s probably 15-20 cans running incandescent floods using an insane amount of energy. We don’t have them all on at once, but without a sizable number lit the space feels really dim and dark at night. I think the answer is to bring the lighting lower with floor/table lamps and maybe some wall sconces, but I’d appreciate any advice from people who know about this sort of thing.

    Also we’ve tried flourescents and LEDs over the years and didn’t find any we remotely liked, but it sounds like LEDs deserve another try.

    Reply
    • Joe Average March 31, 2015, 8:44 am

      Look into those light funnels. Solatube is one brand.

      Reply
  • Dave March 26, 2015, 1:32 pm

    Impressive results.
    Geothermal? Geothermal is more suited for Yellowstone. Wouldn’t think Ottawa has anything like that. Might work in the Canadian Cordillera (Rockies).
    So, maybe ground-source heat pump, GeoExchange, Earth-coupled? Geothermal is just a buzzword similar to the “atomic” clock which is more like a “radio” clock.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 1:46 pm

      Thanks Dave – corrected the terminology on that.

      Reply
    • Rick March 26, 2015, 2:51 pm

      Dave, my neighbor, has a +5000 sq ft home and has geothermal. We are located just north of Massena, NY; in Ontario.

      Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque March 26, 2015, 9:07 pm

      To be fair, everyone around here calls it “Geothermal”.
      If you say “ground source heat pump”, we’re going to look at you the same you look at us when we say “toque” or ask where the “bathroom” is.

      Reply
      • Dave March 28, 2015, 12:07 pm

        True, it is how most people refer to it which was certainly a clever marketing ploy.
        Geothermal Energy harnesses energy stored in the earth (eg. harnessing the energy from the old faithful geyser). Supposedly, there is enough geothermal energy to satisfy all human energy needs but we’d all need to live near tectonic plate boundaries where incidentally there are a lot of volcanoes and earthquakes.
        Our house has an “air source” heat exchanger that takes heat from the house and ejects it into the atmosphere. The “ground source” system transfers heat into the ground and the earth is quite a big heat sink so it’s much more advanced and efficient but not truly “geothermal”.

        Reply
      • Doug March 31, 2015, 3:39 pm

        Further to my previous comment, there are geothermal heat sources all over Iceland. Not all are hot enough for power generation, but are adequate for heating buildings, water, or greenhouses to grow food. That’s REAL geothermal heat in the land of fire and ice!

        Reply
    • Doug March 30, 2015, 3:23 pm

      I’ve always wondered why it’s called geothermal heat. If you want to see buildings heated by real 100% genuine geothermal heat, you have to go to Reykjavik and surrounding area in Iceland.

      Reply
      • Dave April 2, 2015, 5:07 pm

        Thanks Doug. Not many people realize that. And a good point it’s hard to harness the available heat energy for power generation but a hot spring/bath/swim is always a nice treat.

        Reply
  • Mizstachio March 26, 2015, 2:08 pm

    We live in a small apartment, and I am not kidding you that our last electric bill was over $250. In addition to electric everything with limited options to change it, our per-kWh rate is effectively doubled by a “secondary carrier” charge (i.e. the power company bills us X for producing the power, and the system that delivers it, bills us about 3/4 X on top of that). I’m still doing the math on the light bulbs; at $15/bulb for CFL/LED, the $1.50 per year cost would have to be less than the wattage cost per bulb for incandescents to justify the expense. Thanks for the tips on the power meters.

    Reply
    • Dan S. March 29, 2015, 4:25 pm

      Holy exploding volcano! Do you have any idea what in your apartment is using so much electricity? Do you have electric heat and live in Yakutsk? Or air conditioning in Kuwait? Do you dry ten loads of laundry every day in your electric dryer? What is your per-kwh rate anyway? Give us some numbers here and surely we can help you out.

      And where does one still pay $15 for a CFL? I remember them costing that much 25 years ago (and I still have some of the ones I bought back then), but nowadays they sell four-packs at my hardware store for about five bucks.

      Reply
      • MiningFrugal March 30, 2015, 4:14 pm

        The GP Conservation link at the bottom of the page (MMM mentions it at the close of this post) had many CFL/LED bulbs in the $2 price range. I used to be of the same opinion as Mizstachio–now I need to get an order ready so I’ll have bulbs on hand to replace my incandescents as they fail.

        Reply
  • Tentor March 26, 2015, 2:22 pm

    We just got our natural gas bill (used for heating, hot water and cooking). Apparently, we used 40% of what the average home with our size used. In related news, our neighbor cheered because after her energy-wasting ex-husband moved out, her gas bill was 700€ lower this time. For reference, we paid a total of 400€.

    Reply
  • Mizstachio March 26, 2015, 2:30 pm

    Observation: depending on where you live, you may be subject to a “secondary carrier” charge for your electricity. The company that produces it charges X rate per kWh, and the company that actually “delivers” it (??) adds a surcharge on top of that. In our area it almost doubles the bill. Check your statement carefully.

    Complainypants observation: All the power hacks you mentioned are a LOT easier in a house vs. an apartment. Along with being able to change your own oil and do minor auto repairs, grow a garden on your patio, dry your clothes outside, and lots of things our grandparents took for granted. DH and I are a long way from buying a house, but all these are definite factors in the decision.

    Reply
    • Joe Average March 31, 2015, 8:47 am

      Visited a friend this weekend. Landlord sees no problem with washer causing the kitchen sink to gurgle and belch sewer gases. Also the drain pipe for the washer weeps water. Also, dryer vents under the house – directly under the house. No exhaust vent out of the house for the dryer.

      There are 100 reasons I’d rather own a house rather than rent.

      Reply
  • Scoop March 26, 2015, 2:39 pm

    In answer to Ma$e and the green pool issue. I know a big 1970’s 20×40 pool is a very non-Mustashian thing to own but it was here when I bought the house over 20 years ago. I have been successively optimizing things to control costs and maintenance over the years and it was too big to sell on Kijiji ;-)

    Look at an ionizer, it dumps copper, silver and nickel ions into the water. The copper kills algae, the silver kills bacteria and the nickel prevents staining in theory although I do have a bit of staining from years of use. Adding the copper this way is more or less equivalent to adding algaecide all the time but the level is automatically maintained. This cuts way back on sanitation requirements, I cut way back on the amount of output from my salt water chlorine generator and way back on pump run time. It only runs in the middle of the night when electricity rates are the lowest. I have zero algae issues when I previously had lots of problems and other than dumping in a couple of cheap bags of salt in the spring and a pail of baking soda to get the alkalinity right I don’t add any other chemicals all year. There has to be something said for not continuously running to the pool store and dumping cash on chemicals and travel. A small controller applies a bit of current to the ionizer electrodes and they erode away into the water, mine last about a year or so and cost about $100. My unit is made by ClearBlue, there are others out there on eBay and stuff, the price of the one like mine has gone way up, was much cheaper several years ago. The concept is so simple that it almost begs one to do it as a DIY project and buy the electrodes, just needs to run a set duty cycle and change the polarity now and then. In terms of bang for the buck the ionizer wins over the salt system, with salt water alone you will still get algae. With an ionizer you can probably scale back to a very small salt system and avoid chlorination hassles and some of the expense. My salt system is over sized, I had it first by a couple of years and I subsequently scaled back the output power. Some sanitizer is still required to oxidize organic material, just a lot less of it.

    Currently analyzing the switch to a variable speed AC pump and optimizing flow rate so there is less energy waste when the pump does run, most pumps are oversized and wasteful. Still need to also install a flow meter though, generally over priced or have restrictive implementations, still analyzing options. The other option is direct solar and a DC pump which is very efficient (50% smaller motor), i.e. take the thing completely off the grid, much higher up front cost though. Another issue is automatic monitoring of flow/pressure in the AC pump scenario, when the filter is clogged up, energy consumption goes up. Not sure yet how I will do that, either a pressure sensor and some custom electronics or monitor current draw by the circuit the motor is on which could be done with a BruTech energy monitor I already own. All of this is still a work in progress, lots of math still required, the payback on the AC pump is only 2-3 years, solar is longer and panel placement is tricky…

    Some other not as obvious things that help reduce pump run time, switched to “The PoolCleaner” from a Kreepy Krauly, still a simple suction type mechanical device but does the pool in a way faster more predictable way. Robots though efficient are not cost justifiable in my mind, have a limit lifespan and potentially eat expensive parts like the Kreepy did. Added a PoolSkim auxiliary skimmer,way better than the built in one, keeps tons of crud from falling to the bottom that then needs to be vacuumed up. Generally a lot of stuff will float long enough to be skimmed when the pump to comes on at night.

    Bottom line, if one manages the algae and dirt issues well, no extra pump run time will be required beyond that required to turn the water over maybe once a day. My setup is kind of set and forget, it can run for days with no manual intervention and the water is always crystal clear.

    Sorry for the long post, spent lots of time tinkering in this space…

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

    Don’t feel too guilty about using your dishwasher, its usually more efficiency to use an EnergyStar dishwasher than handwashing.

    http://www.treehugger.com/kitchen-design/built-in-dishwashers-vs-hand-washing-which-is-greener.html

    Reply
    • meep er March 26, 2015, 9:09 pm

      According to Energy Star, a newer dishwasher often uses only 9-12 gallons per wash. True, this is “water-wise” compared to the joker who leaves his faucet running for fifteen minutes with a lousy 5 gpm aerator, while washing and rinsing the dishes (thus, wasting 65 gallons of precious H2O. Since the Meep er is CA boy, his fist is getting ready to deliver a punch in the face! ). However, a sink-full of dishes only takes about 5 gallons to wash by hand. Fill one basin with suds, then rinse quickly. Or dip the sudsy dishes in a second basin. Air dry (the lazy but time-saving method) or use a towel. Done. Keep in mind, too, that a dishwasher uses electricity — about 7% of the average home’s annual use when used daily, according to our local power company– mostly for the drying cycle. Hands and a towel use no electricity and are a tried and true method for training kids to help around the house, too. And I think that alone is a solid reason to avoid dishwashers, except for very big jobs….

      Reply
      • Julia March 27, 2015, 11:28 am

        This is why we bought a Bosch dishwasher. Also according to Energy Star, any Bosch you buy will use just under 3 gallons, and none of them (I don’t think) even offer a heated drying cycle. They use between 200 and 300 kWh/year.

        I worked hard to perfect my hand-washing routine at our last house – small amount of wash-water, dip into pre-filled basin or sink to rinse – and when we were researching dishwashers for our new house, I measured how much water I was using. Like you, my usage came to about 5 gallons.

        With a family of four and frequent dinner guests, we decided the Bosch was a good buy. True, we are still using more electricity than hand-washing would use, but esp. living here in CO where water conservation is so important, it seemed like a good choice.

        Reply
        • meep er March 27, 2015, 7:32 pm

          We had a Bosch, too. Both the pump and the computer panel failed within 2 years, so I would not recommend one. However, you are right that the newest machines use very little water and are a big help when the holidays come, or when you tap into your creative cooking arts. Tonight we had four teens over. After dinner, I put the boys to work washing and drying. They were a hoot — two teams were racing to see who could dry the fastest. No kWh used!

          Reply
  • Dan March 26, 2015, 4:16 pm

    I have gas stoves with a gas heating element on the side in almost all of my rental properties. They are very old/no longer made/hard to find parts for so I am replacing them one by one.

    I was planning on switching to electric since I would not need to pay a plumber $100+ per hour to hook up the gas connection. No chance of leaking gas either. Is it really much more expensive to run an electric stove vs a gas stove?

    Also my condo has gas heat but an electric water heater. My electricity bill seems reasonable but I will compare with gas heaters when it is time to replace.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 6:12 pm

      It’s not a huge difference unless you do a lot of cooking – a standard burner might use about 2kW (20-40c/hour) and the oven section 5kWh or so to cook a meal.

      But you don’t need a plumber to hook up a gas range – there’s just one nut on the end of a flexible hose to connect and tighten, just like connecting a garden hose.

      Reply
      • Dan March 28, 2015, 12:19 am

        In MA you actually need a licensed plumber to do gas hookups and work on water pipes.

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache March 28, 2015, 1:30 pm

          Sorry to hear that (Hawaii has the same problem).. I wonder if that particular law was pushed into existence by licensed plumbers?

          Anyway, I’d definitely be quite happy to ignore such a rule if I lived there and was working on my own house, as many in that area do. Just make sure you understand how to do it right, then the rules can be damned.

          Reply
          • Insourcelife March 30, 2015, 2:05 pm

            “I’d definitely be quite happy to ignore such a rule”
            … until there is a fire and your insurance company denies the claim due to unlicensed installation. At least that’s my understanding which hopefully is wrong. I’m capable of doing some DIY work to install a wood stove I’ve been thinking about but this reasoning stops me. And paying someone to do it is way too expensive compared to a Craigslist stove + DIY, so I haven’t pulled the trigger. Increase in rate once my insurance company finds out about the stove is another reason.

            Reply
    • David Robarts July 30, 2015, 3:49 pm

      Can you legally disconnect the old gas stove yourself? It seems to me that if a plumber is require for the connection, they’d be required for the disconnect and having the “pro” connect the replacement at the same time shouldn’t cost much extra – but “The Rules” (and service pricing) are often strange.

      Reply
  • Pengepugeren March 26, 2015, 4:30 pm

    Our household (two adults and a toddler) uses 1750kWh per year. At $0.35 per kWh we have plenty of reasons to keep the consumption low. We pretty much do as you do:
    – Only LED lighting
    – Drying all clothes outside all year round
    – Low consumption utilities
    – TV, amplifier, Xbox etc. is turned completely off, rather than standby. We hardly ever use it anyway.

    I also track our consumption (power, water and natural gas) with a spreadsheet and a little bit of VBA. We don’t need no fancypants Efergy Elite Combo system. Though it’d be fun to have :-)

    Reply
  • Metanoeite March 26, 2015, 4:49 pm

    I found an interesting comparison of household electricity consumption in various countries: http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/average-household-electricity-consumption

    Canada is at the top, followed by the US. In Western Europe electricity consumption per househould is roughly 40-70% lower than in the US. Some of that is probably because of better energy efficiency and insulation (e.g. where I live, three-pane windows and styrofoam/mineral wool insulation have been standard for new buildings since the early 80s), but I suspect that might not be the whole story. For example, air conditioning is relatively uncommon for private homes/apartments in Central and Nothern Europe as it’s not really needed, which lowers consumption. Any other ideas on what might be reasons for this large difference between the US and Europe?

    Reply
    • Starla March 27, 2015, 4:57 pm

      Homes and apartments in the U.S. are probably larger on average than in Europe. Additional electricity to heat, cool and light the additional square footage could contribute.

      Reply
  • meep er March 26, 2015, 5:23 pm

    Back in 2001 the Mrs. and I decided to invest in a 2kw system on our home in sunny Southern California. We were the very first residential users of solar in our little city of Chino Hills. We had an electrician do the actual install rather than a solar company (they cost 4 times as much back then — no kidding!) and got a tax rebate of $2,000 from CA. Our out-of-pocket expenses were $6,100. Now…because of net-metering with SCE and the sunny climate here, we have had many months when we have broken even or had a net surplus of energy production. Mind you, this is in a rather hot interior valley where 90 days of 90 degrees+ is not unusual from May 1- October 1, so for us air conditioning is as important as heating is in Longmont, CO. Prior to the install, and accounting for some inflation since 2001, we have saved on average about $1,300 per year.

    That’s over 20% ROI/ year !!!!!!

    Yes…we use only LEDs for lighting, hang out our laundry (who the hell needs a dryer here — the winds are like a giant hair dryer!), and have very efficient appliances…but we also have a lavish fish tank and a small above-ground pool (the family’s one BIG luxury) with 1hp pump. My bill for all of last year was about $290 (based on 14 cents / kWh). My neighbor, who is a great guy, but not into “green stuff” and sees my efforts to reduce water and gas and energy use as somewhat left-coast daffy, commented last August that his electric bill was over $500 for the month. One month! I told him there were ways to do a lot better and that I would be glad to help him with an energy audit and some easy ways to cut electricity use. He was mildly interested, but has not taken me up on the offer. Great guy, love him, but I see him as sooooo out-of-touch with these matters. F-150, TWO freezers in the garage, hosing down the driveway all the time….ayyy. MMM is really showing us how it should be done, and will be done, I am convinced, by more and more people in the future…especially if they want to escape the hamster wheel of work-for-a wage and “retire” earlier than 65.

    After all, would you rather give your hard-earned cash to the electric company, or ‘stash it in investments?

    Reply
  • Ryan March 26, 2015, 6:08 pm

    When I went to replace my breaker with an AFCI one (to meet recent code changes) when I was doing electrical work, it constantly tripped. When I eventually found the issue ( a ground touching a neutral screw in an outlet box) and fixed it, the next month, my electricity bill dropped $30.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 26, 2015, 6:23 pm

      Wow! … but I’m surprised that would be sucking down current. The ground and neutral are connected together in the service entrance panel anyway, so if you test them with an ohm meter (with the main power is off for safety) you generally see zero.

      Can any electricians out there correct what I might be missing, or maybe the $30 drop was something else?

      Reply
      • Stefan March 26, 2015, 7:32 pm

        I may be wrong, but in a true three-phase AC production + distribution system (such as the one which Mr. Tesla has invented for all of us), the neutral is the 4th wire, and carried separately. Only in that way the 3 phases are “balanced”. Connecting it to the earth/ground would imbalance the lines, not to mention that it may create spurious currents which could shock you when touching any metallic surface of electric devices. I’ve seen neutral and ground wired together only in some countries in Europe.

        Reply
        • Meep er March 26, 2015, 9:24 pm

          MMM — So Cal Edison has an online version that tracks a house-hold’s energy use and displays it in a very similar way to the Efergy Elite Combo. Free. Very cool charts and graphs of past energy use, hourly use, etc. For your readers in So Cal, just go to http://www.sce.com and register. Then go to the pull-downs that track energy use.

          Reply
        • Waterproof Banjo March 28, 2015, 12:30 am

          MMM is correct. Open up your electrical panel and you will see that the white neutral wire from every circuit is connected to the same bus as the bare ground wire.

          3-phase power is a distraction in this discussion, as it does go to industrial buildings, but US residential power is all single phase.

          Reply
          • Rick G March 29, 2015, 6:43 am

            A GFI breaker tests the hot and neutral wires to ensure that the current going out is equal to the current coming back (i.e., no leakage). If the neutral goes to ground prior to returning to the GFI breaker it will trip the breaker. However, the neutral touching the ground would not increase the electricity usage as MMM is correct the neutral and ground are bonded together in the breaker box. Sometimes the white wire (typically the neutral wire) can be the hot wire (i.e. in a switch leg) – this must have been the case if it was using up power.

            Reply
  • Katie March 26, 2015, 6:16 pm

    MMM,
    Have you ever used something like the Belkin Power Conserve Switch? Any thoughts on if they are worth it?

    Reply
  • Morticia March 26, 2015, 7:28 pm

    I love drying clothes outside and here in South Carolina, I can do so for most of the year, when not raining. However, right now, in this lovely spring weather I am using my dryer because there is so much pollen coming off the trees that everything outside gets covered with it in an hour or two. Cough cough, sneeze. Otherwise, I use old fashioned wooden clothes pins and it helps keep my power bill down.

    Reply
    • Anonymous March 28, 2015, 6:05 pm

      Same problem here. In theory, I could dry clothes on an indoor line (though it’d take a lot longer), but an outdoor line is not an option for us.

      Reply
    • Pengepugeren March 29, 2015, 2:42 pm

      Here in Scandinavia drying out all year isn’t all that wonderful, but it saves us a lot of money :-)

      Reply
  • TJ March 26, 2015, 7:43 pm

    What’s the name of your friend’s electric company? I want my local company to follow their lead!

    Reply
  • Chris Stratton March 27, 2015, 12:13 am

    Great article, MMM. Great to see household energy conservation being given its due. It’s a hard topic to make sexy. One minor edit, though. The second paragraph starts with “That’s two thousand kilowatt hours…”, and the last line reads “It’s also about the amount of power the average American household burns in two months.” Technically, kilowatt-hours is a unit of energy, not power.

    [Throws down Energy Nerd gauntlet]

    Reply
    • Happyback March 31, 2015, 11:34 pm

      Energy Nerd is hilarious…..

      Reply
  • Lars March 27, 2015, 12:47 am

    Great article…we implemented similar processes when we bought a larger home – I’ll explain in another post another day. When shopping for the home, we took our time, looked for positioning as you described, and a high quality envelope at a good price. The home is over 5K sq feet, has no solar…BUT our electricity bill never tops 200 in the coldest month of the year and for 3/4’s of the year, it is often below 70. Did I mention my house is 5K Sq ft. and the bill is often below 70. All this by doing many of the same things MM has described. Let me first get back to the house – a builders house he lived in before he sold it to us – a craftsman with thick walls, good insulation, and windows well positioned and none of them have any dressing to let in the light and warmth and are well sealed in winter. We also have no waste with high ceiling open spaces where the heat floats away. All appliances are efficient and bought on sale, laundry about once or twice a week tops, we hand dry about half the time. The biggie is not leaving anything plugged in over night or ever when we don’t have to…TV’s, small appliances on counter tops, one gaming system for the daughter, space heaters that we use instead of big massive heat pump, and so on. It can be done. Net is, it starts w/a smart, well insulated house but greatly assisted by efficient appliances and monitoring those plugs and usage. We have not even done the lightbulb sweep yet as the builder left us with lots of long lasting bulbs but we’ll reevaluate as each burns out.

    Reply
  • thejuntotimes March 27, 2015, 3:10 am

    Currently living in a house sharing with 8 housemates, so unsure of what our energy consumption is! But looking forward to trying out tracking these different things when I get my own place.

    When travelling in Bolivia I stayed at a man’s house who had a porch light, which was attached to a battery, which was attached to a generator stuck to a bicycle. For him, enough battery for 9 hours porch light, meant 30 minutes on his bicycle. They were off the electricity grid so didn’t have an electricity bill FOR THE WHOLE HOUSE. How great is that? Have you ever tried experimenting with stuff like leg generated power? Never done it, but it must be fairly easy to set up!

    Reply
  • gr8bkset March 27, 2015, 5:05 am

    I automate turning off of vampire video/audio devices in my entertainment center by connecting all the ones that can be shut off to a power strip, then that power strip to a timer with a couple of tabs for setting the on and off times. I remove the ON tab and set the OFF tab at a time that i know i should be in bed (such as 1am). The timer automatically remembers to turn these devices off every night and i turn them on manually when i need to use them.

    Reply
  • GK March 27, 2015, 7:52 am

    How do you deal with drying t-shirts? When I used to hang dry my t-shirts in the past, the neck holes would stretch out over time and make the t-shirt ghetto looking and unwearable. With the dryer, I keep a t-shirt for 5 years at minimum before wearing it out.

    Reply
    • Jodi March 27, 2015, 8:29 am

      Two options: Hang them from the bottom, or put them on a hanger. I have 25-year-old t-shirts that look great until the day the fabric gives it up entirely!

      Reply
    • Julia March 27, 2015, 2:37 pm

      I hang shirts upside-down, so no stress on the shoulders or neck-hole to pull them out of shape. It probably helps too that I have a high-efficiency front-loading washer that spins out most of the moisture before they even get hung on the line, so they’re not very heavy to begin with.

      Reply
    • judith March 27, 2015, 10:08 pm

      I hang t shirts across the line at the chest area, and the clothes pins attach at the arm pits. No stretching or visible scrunch marks.

      Reply
  • A couple thoughts.... March 27, 2015, 8:13 am

    These ideas might be too extreme for most, but who knows. First, caught a Ted talk on taking cold showers. Started doing that and have not used hot water in a shower since. Part of the process develops the mental toughness as it is a hurdle in the middle of a cold winter to not use the hot water, but leaves you feeling unbelievably invigorated. And it was not so much the hot water for the shower I wanted to save but the 45 seconds of water to fill up and warm up the supply line. Second thought is that last summer I started building a house on a site in a mountain location. I had water supplied from an irrigation system through a rather extended above ground hose. The hose was always filled as it is a gravity fed main line irrigation line off a mountain stream and it would sit in the sun all day long. Low and behold, I had a hot shower on a daily basis from the hose sitting out in the sun…a pseudo-sun shower. Should work for a hose in a yard off a spigot from the house as well. Finally, started washing dishes by hand as I live alone and it was as easy for me to clean up after each meal as to load and unload a dishwasher (which seems to be an activity I have never enjoyed for some reason). More of a mindfulness pursuit than an energy reduction focus but it also saves a good deal of hot water. Between that and just reducing the temperature I maintain an old craftsman home at; natural gas consumption is down about 70% over the 2 years of implementation. Some ideas anyhow….

    Reply
  • Jodi March 27, 2015, 8:28 am

    Excellent post, thank you. And now, in the style of Car Talk: ‘m wondering if you can resolve a longstanding debate in our household: Does it take more energy to turn lights on and off, or to just leave them on? I know that the answer for incandescents is pretty simple (turn ’em off!), but I have for years heard different arguments about fluorescents and LEDs. I find a variety of answers, none of which are definitive enough to satisfy me. (Please help me win this one….our house looks like an airport runway…)

    Reply
    • meep er March 29, 2015, 12:24 pm

      If MMM does not mind, I’ll help you here a bit. Whenever you turn off a light or electric appliance with a switch, you are breaking the flow of electricity through the wires. This means that the second you turn off the lights, the energy flow stops. So…just turn them off when not in use. The argument about LEDs vs CFLs is legit, but both consume a lot less energy than the old incandescent bulbs. I use LEDs. They light up immediately. With LEDs there is no need to wait for the halogens to warm up as is the case with CFLs . Also, LEDs are a bit cleaner for the Earth. CFLs have a little mercury in them, so they need proper recycling, which the big-box stores offer. LEDs are bit more expensive right now. But the variety and quality of light provided by LEDs are excellent, so I like them best. Either way, you cannot go wrong.

      Reply
    • Mr. Frugal Toque March 29, 2015, 7:58 pm

      The only things to watch out for, when looking at on-off punishment, is something like a motor starting up and stopping.
      Since we’re talking about a light switch, as meeper points out, you’re always better to turn it off.
      The only exception – and I’m not sure is CFL is as bad as tungsten and where LED falls -is that you could be going through lightbulbs faster by power cycling them.

      Reply
  • K March 27, 2015, 9:16 am

    As a fellow electrical nerd (with a playstation, Wii, etc.), I couldn’t recommend a product like this more:
    http://www.amazon.com/Take-Charge-Smart-Power-Strip/dp/B005DTBCD2

    I have a similar model (couldn’t find the exact one) on my TV and computer. When the TV is off, the PS3 and Wii don’t get to be power-vampires. When the computer is off, the monitors and printers don’t get to be power-vampires. Paid for itself in the first few months, now its all savings.

    Side note – my power bill is lower than MMM (take that!), and I have “used” -186 kWh so far this year ($33.63 total bill, which is mostly connection charges). Solar panels FTW (2 years into a 6 year payback cycle). Power bill over the last 15 months was a total of $240, including the connection charges (which MMM omitted).

    Reply
    • Gina March 30, 2015, 4:48 pm

      I didn’t know that this type of power strip existed. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  • Brian March 27, 2015, 10:29 am

    Thanks as always for the details, you give the rest of us something to aspire towards!

    I too have an extra freezer, and i purchased the kill-a-watt so i can get a better idea of how much juice it is chugging every month. On the flip side, we use it all the time, but perhaps not enough to offset its costs. Looking forward to finding out!

    Reply
  • MoneyCat March 27, 2015, 10:42 am

    We’ve been averaging about $50/mo for electricity, but we live in NJ where electric bills tend to be rather high. We got it down from about $100/mo by raising the thermostat to 80F in the summer and 65F in the winter, unplugging everything that isn’t being used, switching entirely to CFL bulbs and only using the minimum number required at night, charging computers and cell phones at work, etc. It really isn’t hard to decrease your electric bill. We recently decided that we don’t want to pay an electric bill at all, so we have had solar panels installed on our house. It meets all our needs for the house and we also use it to charge up my wife’s plug-in hybrid car.

    Reply
  • ellen March 27, 2015, 11:33 am

    Perfect timing! We got quite a shock when our Feb bill came in- we had doubled our consumption from last Feb and the bill was triple last Feb with new fees, rate increases. That’s hard to ignore. And ridiculous for two people who live in a small ranch house, even accounting for record colds. Need some “stache , stat.

    Reply
  • takeahike March 27, 2015, 1:18 pm

    Just received my electric bill: Calgary Alberta. Direct Energy charges
    Fixed delivery charge 23.55
    Variable delivery charge 12.41
    Rate Riders (no clue what that is) 12.08
    Muncipal Franchise Fee 10.19
    Administration Fee 6.47
    Gst 5.42
    Total 70.11, that’s right folks.. $70.11 before I’m even charged for usage.

    My usage cost: 43.63.

    Grand total 113.74

    Geeze Louise!

    Reply
    • meep er March 29, 2015, 12:41 pm

      Wow. Our utilities have legitimate costs because paying employees and reinvesting in infrastructure are not free. All of us understand that. But several of these fees in Alberta really remind me of the “junk” fees that home-loan lenders tack onto the paper work when funding a loan. A delivery charge, an administration fee, and a tax — that’s all you should see. You guys need to raise the roof!

      Reply
  • Rachel March 27, 2015, 5:08 pm

    Wait, how much did you spend on your upgraded cabinets? When we bought our fixer upper, we kept our seventies cabinets, but we remodeled them ourselves with paint and new handles for about 100 dollars.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache March 28, 2015, 10:36 pm

      Good for you, Rachel – I was much more spendy and replaced or rebuilt everything in this house except the exterior bricks and floor/foundation. The cabinets are from Ikea and totaled around $4000.

      Reply
  • Kayla March 27, 2015, 6:04 pm

    As my lightlbulbs burn out, I’ve been replacing them with more energy efficient bulbs. I also try to remember to always shut things off when I leave a room and unplug things I’m not using. Good tips!

    Reply
  • Anne March 27, 2015, 6:16 pm

    What is your gas usage? Would love an idea of your total energy consumption.

    Reply
  • JP March 27, 2015, 7:08 pm

    I have learned so much from you and saved so much since I started following. I bring my lunch, make coffee at home, built a home gym for $700 to replace a $60/month gym membership, etc. The one thing plaguing me is my water bills at my rental properties. I recently got a quarterly water bill from a 2 family for $1300. So I replaced a toilet, shower head and sink and talked to the tenants. From another 2 family, I got a monthly bill for $400. Any ideas for issues like this, some which are out of my control?

    Reply
    • meep er March 27, 2015, 7:49 pm

      Hi JP,
      Living in CA, my family has made a huge effort to cut water use. You’re off to a good start with the shower heads. My advice: first, check with your water utility. Many of them will audit a system for major leaks for free. You might try swapping out the aerators on all faucets, too. We have eight sinks (one in the kitchen and seven in the bathrooms), and I found that most were 2.5 gpm. The new ones are 1.5 gpm, and nobody has noticed the difference. But I suspect two things are driving up that bill — laundry and outdoor water use. If you supply the washing machine for the renters, swap it out for a front-loader. Front-loaders use 1/3 the water 1/2 the kWh of most top loaders. Then look outdoors. You might consider drip irrigation and heavy mulching for borders. It’s common practice here in CA to use drip, heavy mulch, and hardy plants that can handle long stretches of little water. Consider replanting over time as well, especially the lawn. They suck up a lot of water. Try this website for tips: http://www.bewaterwise.com. Good luck!

      Reply
      • JP March 28, 2015, 8:17 am

        Thank you so much Meep er. I think if I made these small changes to each of my rental units I would see a drastic difference in water cost. After I got my rediculous bill I called up both tenants in the 2 family. One tenant had a sink that dripped constantly and didn’t have a shower head, I guess it just disappeared. The other tenant had a toilet that ran all the time. With a space you don’t see everyday I guess communication is also a big factor. Some tenants don’t know that they would be helping you by letting you know what’s going on in their apartment. Over time I’m going to convert everything to high efficiency. The ROI is out of this world on energy efficient modifications. Thank you so much for the advice.

        Reply
        • judith March 28, 2015, 9:13 am

          Why not have the tenants pay the utilities? They would alert you to problems as they arise then. With the present set up they don’t have to take responsibility for their usage. What if one or all of them love 1/2 hour showers?

          Reply
          • JP March 28, 2015, 4:17 pm

            Judith, We have tried to have the tenants pay for everything possible. For 2 of our multi -families, we converted from oil to high efficiency gas so that we could have the tenants pay( because it’s tricky splitting up oil use). However, when it comes to water, most houses have one water meter and therefore the owner typically pays for it. I have yet to see an ad for a rental apartment that says, “tenant is responsible for water use.” If I am missing something and you or someone you know has experience with having the tenant pay for water, please let me know because I am in!

            Reply
        • Saver March 28, 2015, 9:13 am

          For rental property, you have it right – communication is key. Another is getting into your units regularly, such as quarterly to change filters on air handlers, and/or check batteries on detectors. I have an official looking sheet I use for this, put the date and a code on the battery and take a pic of it. I advise the tenants that I must do this for risk management and I need to sign off on it, so a pic from them is insufficient. It is for their own safety etc. Once you are in the unit you can check for things such as runny toilet and dripping faucets.

          Another strategy to employ concurrently for utilities that are metered but that you pay for (ie that are included in the rent) is to give the tenants a monthly or quarterly allowance for usage that is included in the rent, and then a per unit cost for anything they go over on the allowance. Be careful how you structure this, because some jurisdictions are very picky about “reselling” utilities. However, this gives the tenant skin in the game to conserve and report drips, etc. I have found a leaky toilet can cost up to $40 /month.

          Reply
          • JP March 30, 2015, 4:12 pm

            Thanks for the feedback Saver. I can’t believe when I bought these places I budgeted $100/month/property for Water and Sewer. Even if I made all the necessary water efficient changes we would be looking at more than that. It’s good to know there are ways to adjust for it though. Onward and upward!

            Reply

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