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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 plug-in 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?

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.

  • Anonymous March 27, 2015, 8:59 pm

    Big sun-facing windows work really well in a cold climate: they help with heating and let in great natural light. However, there’s a reason almost no houses in warmer climates are built with big sun-facing windows: they make it more difficult to maintain reasonable temperatures, especially during the summer. Unless you want to live in a greenhouse, you end up covering your windows during the day.

    However, with the right setup, that does not mean you need to use artificial lights all day. You can block much of the direct light and heat with curtains that still allow a general ambient light through, providing more than enough lighting during the day for most purposes. And then in the winter, when you don’t need to worry about the temperature rising to 100F indoors, you can safely open all those curtains and let in natural light and heat all day long.

    Reply
    • A mom March 29, 2015, 7:57 am

      Overhang. Our 1950s ranch was built with large south facing windows. An overhang allows full sun in the winter when the sun is low and shades the windows ( and walls) completely when the sun is high in summer. This is not hard to do.

      Reply
      • Anonymous March 30, 2015, 1:07 am

        Thats a good idea. Should work at least in moderate latitudes, though at sufficiently northern latitudes even the summer sun can be “low”.

        Reply
  • Kathryn F March 27, 2015, 11:47 pm

    What would your recommendations be for renters who often don’t get to control the types of appliances that are in the house, heating system, etc? We are a military family that moves every two to three years, we choose not to live on base for various reasons. We don’t think of electrical savings in terms of decades (at the moment) as we’ll never be in a house long enough to re-coup initial investments in major energy reduduction plans. Here’s what we try to do: When we replace light bulbs we go for cf or led, we turn off lights as much as possible, push comfort limits with AC/heating. etc. Anything big we can do?

    Reply
  • Saver March 28, 2015, 8:07 am

    Great article. So for those of us non-techies-s. What number am I looking for using the Kil-o-Watt on different household items? For example, I plugged the TV, Roku, Stereo (to which the speakers are connected) etc all into one power strip, and plugged that power strip into the Kil-o-Watt. Which of the numbers on the Kil-O-Watt do I want to track, and what is a good number?

    ps – Have not done all the scientific stuff y’all have, but my electric usage usually 200-300 kw/month, but getting as high as 600 in the summer when the air is going, 4-6 added people are visiting, and the house is occupied all day, and thus cooled all day, for a week or two. So I have a bit of work to do, but it is not terrible.

    Reply
  • Adam March 28, 2015, 8:39 am

    I’ve been working to reduce our consumption, but here in Houston, my electric still runs $400 in summers, even after spending $1,500 on new insulation. I guess I need to get more in to the details.

    Reply
  • SMD March 28, 2015, 10:21 am

    I live in a rental unit and wonder if it is actually possible to use the efergy system. As I don’t believe that I have access to the main power line in my unit.

    Reply
  • Dan March 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

    Writing Dad an email about fridge from Carter administration in guest house…

    In Malaysia, Singapore, and perhaps other countries in Southeast Asia, their outlets all come with on/off switches. Do American outlets constantly drain electricity the way they are built or what is the deal here?

    Reply
    • Suzanne March 28, 2015, 8:08 pm

      Hi Dan,
      I’ve seen these outlet switches in various parts of Asia, too, but they are not everywhere. Power outlets in the US are constantly “hot” so any appliance that has auto-on or charging features drains current. I live in Japan now where electricity costs are high, so I have added individual rocker switches to outlets that have auto-on appliances or appliances with transformers so that if my laptop is fully charged, for example, I can leave it plugged in but the current is off. I’m sure these are available cheaply in most countries. I find them in a 100 yen store (like a $ store in US). Also, I like power-strips that have individual on/off rocker switches for each outlet.

      Reply
  • Leslie March 28, 2015, 12:47 pm

    Because we have gas powered radiant heat via water in tubes in the floor we installed a solar panel to power the new tankless water heater. Both were expensive to install and might take years to pay for themselves. It was beyond our abilities as DIYers. Our gas bill is about 8 to 12 dollars a month in the winter. We don’t have air conditioning so the summer electric bill is not too high.

    Reply
  • Michael March 29, 2015, 11:17 am

    One practical tip on how to save energy is to use the outdoors to your advantage. Now when it’s around 40 F I like to keep lots of my groceries on my terrace which is conveniently accessed from the kitchen. I think it’s quite energy intensive to cool for example beverages from room temperature to drinking temperature. So putting them outside Nature cools them for me and then I can just have the fridge maintain the proper temperature.

    Another thing to note about lights during the winters is that if/when they produce heat, that heats your house so the energy is not wasted as such. In the summer on the hand…

    Reply
  • Tomboalogo March 29, 2015, 11:19 am

    unfortunately, I have to agree with my fellow Ontarians. Our Hydro (electricity) costs are out of control. Quebec is 1/2 the price. I have electric baseboard and have been looking at minisplit BUT have determined that the main problem is the home insulation. This house is 2×4 construction. That gives a wall R value of 10. (R-13 batts but with the wood it reduces to R10). 2×6 walls only get you to R13.8 BUT a double stud wall retrofit can get me to R-40 and I can do it room by room as time permits. (Google Saskatchewan house 1977 for more info). As I see it, concentrating on heat source right now is like shopping for a more efficient bilge pump when the boat is full of holes.

    Reply
  • Smart Money MD March 29, 2015, 11:50 am

    I’d imagine that I’d want blinds or curtains over my windows at least for privacy at night! As a previous reader had mentioned, curtains or blinds would crank up the R-value for insulation, but heck, if I kept all the lights on at night, I wouldn’t want people from the park looking in!

    Reply
  • ICFluvver March 29, 2015, 8:54 pm

    A few tips: if you cannot do anything about a hot water tank, turn if off during the day; a lot of utilities charge a lower rate after a certain hour: I turn ours on @ 11 pm, my wife turns it off @ 6 am (early riser). We never lack for hot water. If you are a tenant, replace incandescent bulbs as soon as you move in, save them, and change them back when you move again, taking your efficient bulbs with you. We unplug/turn off everything that is not in use (don’t want no haunted hydro bills), but the HWT was the eye-popper! Be sure to change any heating filters regularly. Your lungs will thank you.

    Great website!

    Reply
  • Shifu Rory March 29, 2015, 9:18 pm

    Small homes in multi-unit buildings, clotheslines, small refrigerators, manual dishwashing, gas stoves, and florescent lights are the norm here in China. I figure, if it’s good enough for 1.4 billion Chinese, it can’t be too much of a sacrifice. Thanks for the great article!

    Reply
  • Phil Pogson March 30, 2015, 5:30 am

    Place old plastic juice cartons full of water into your fridge in every spare spot – this cuts down of HEAPS of power.
    The reason a fridge uses so much power is that every time you open the door, all that cold air escapes and the warm air rushing in needs to be cooled.
    So, by placing bottles of water into every unused space in your fridge, hardly any cool air escapes when you open the fridge – the water bottles act as cold storage. the fridge only has to re-cool tiny amounts of entering warm air
    Try it – it works a treat.

    Reply
  • Eldred March 30, 2015, 1:36 pm

    Man, I’m impressed by MMM’s power usage(or lack thereof). My monthly usage for the past 12 months has been anywhere from 452 low to 794 high, and I live alone. And it isn’t like I leave lights burning in empty rooms – quite the opposite. I don’t really know how it would be possible to drop usage by much. I went out of town the 2nd week of March for my job. Unplugged and turned off just about everything. The only thing that would have been drawing power was one computer, my fridge, one internal light(on a timer), my porch light, and of course my furnace(turned down to 55, or something like that). I was STILL using about 5kwh per day, which would work out to over 1800kwh per year without even being there to burn more power. 15 months to get to 2000kwh in a house that IS lived in is amazing!

    Reply
    • Ottawa March 31, 2015, 6:08 am

      I think it is a little too impressive! While the 2000kwh is from power hook-up day it does not represent normal living conditions. I don’t think the MMM family moved in until 8 June 2014. The Nov 2013 – until move in was construction power only. I think the MMM family were away for 6 – 8 weeks during the summer of 2014 as well.

      As such, I doubt the 2000kwh would be as high as normal living power. Having said that, your power consumption is still high! MMM’s article is a great start to finding those hungry power-sucking appliances and habits.

      I’m not saying that MMM power usage isn’t going to be pretty low :-) But, you should be careful of comparing to a non-representative data set…and punching yourself too hard. There are plenty of factors to consider before conducting a comparison. Ideally you would want to figure out your kwh usage per square foot, taking into account that this is potentially only a partial snapshot of total household power consumption (gas has crossover with things like water/air heating and cooking)

      Reply
  • Beric March 30, 2015, 7:26 pm

    Another great piece! I don’t have all the gadgets to hunt the parasites, but our utility provides some level of tracking on an hourly basis and I’m hoping that my recent investment in LEDs will bear fruit. Eight 50w halogens replaced by 5w LEDs in our kitchen alone!

    But, where I can’t bend is on my amp; I’ve owned my Cyrus II for almost 25 years, it plays beautifully and I can’t even imagine having to audition something new. It’s been repaired once – the horror, the horror – and I can’t go there again. I subscribe to the theory that a burning light bulb does not burn out so the thought of turning my amp off and on daily … That just can’t happen.

    Reply
  • Stan March 31, 2015, 6:07 am

    Great article. I would like to point out the ammeter is around the neutral conductor, which carries the imbalance of the 2 hot legs (the neutral carrying 4 amps could be one leg is 100 amps and the other is 96 amps, or one leg is 4 amps and the other is zero).
    The electric utility I work at will give a ‘kill-a-watt’ free if you ask for one. They work well to check voltage, wattage draw and sums up the kWh used by a device plugged into it.

    Reply
    • Blake May 2, 2017, 12:01 pm

      Correct Stan, the 4.92A in the article is just the imbalance between the 2 120V legs.

      The correct way to determine the total power being drawn by the house is to measure the current in each of the two 120V legs and multiply this current by the voltage on that leg with respect to neutral or ground.

      (AL1 x VL1)+(AL2 x VL2) = Total power in Watts

      AL1 = Amps measured on Leg 1
      AL2 = Amps measured on Leg 2
      VL1 = Volts measured on Leg 1 with respect to ground
      VL2 = Volts measured on Leg 2 with respect to ground

      Reply
  • Joe Average March 31, 2015, 7:58 am

    Came home recently and discovered that our electric company power meter was now digital.

    Went exploring on their website and was pleased to find that I can look up our total consumption on their website. Daily/weekly/monthly, etc. We have a big spike in consumption at 7AM for example. Coffee pots? Water heater recovering after a shower?

    I’ll flip the water heater breaker off before anyone showers and see if the spike is the water heater or the coffee pots. Maybe brew our coffee on my inverter/car battery.

    Has anyone considered down sizing to a “large dorm fridge”? That’s what I have in my office at work. Its about 3 ft tall. $180 new. Have not compared it’s electricity consumption to our large fridge at home.

    When I lived in Europe for a few years folks had refrigerators that were about 60% the size of a normal American fridge. Supposedly very efficient and that’s good b/c the cost of electricity was roughly twice what we paid in the USA at the time. Folks there cooked with fresh ingredients more than we do here so they had/have less need for a pantry closet sized fridge. Fewer frozen dinners, less ice cream on hand, smaller quantities of milk, etc.

    Alternatively are the supper high efficiency refrigerators from a number of companies designed for folks “off the grid”. I see them in the Lehman’s catalog. The Sunfrost brand claims an 85% reduction in electricity consumption. About 15 kwh per month. My Kenmore (according to Kenmore’s website) uses about 54 kWh per month. Thats a $51 savings where I live with the supper high efficiency fridge that costs $2K+. If I consider a ~15 year expected lifespan = it just about pays for itself.

    I’m told off-grid folks choose to upgrade the efficiency of their home b/c its cheaper than buying more solar/inverter/batteries.

    Reply
  • Wiggles March 31, 2015, 8:27 am

    Yep. I am buying a home energy monitor after reading this.

    Reply
  • Jen Pinnick April 1, 2015, 11:28 am

    Thanks for this article. It supplied the impetus for us to do a scan of our house. We didn’t find much, but we did find some – a night light that was turning on during the day due to being in a shadowed location, the realization that the phone chargers were still plugged in and pulling electricity even when they weren’t charging. Small but every little bit makes a difference!

    Reply
  • Kevin April 1, 2015, 2:25 pm

    MMM: A few things regarding windows: While they are a great source of free lighting, they are a net huge source of energy loss. Even the worst wall has an R value several times higher than the worst window. However, most people really like as many windows as possible. To make this more practical from an energy standpoint, most well-designed modern commercial buildings will use fixed exterior horizontal shading devices angled to allow direct sunlight (and thus free heat and light) to shine in during the winter, while shading direct sunlight during the summer. But there’s still a large net energy loss due to heat passing to the outside on winter nights. You can solve this with insulated interior shutters, but they’re either really expensive or ugly, and are you really going to close them all every night? And sure there are automatically closing ones, but this of course adds even more cost. So you have to be careful when saying that adding windows is a great way to save on energy-yes you’ll save energy on lighting but lose much more than that back to nighttime winter heat loss and summer heat gain (if you air condition at all)

    Reply
  • Kevin April 1, 2015, 2:33 pm

    A question to all Mustachian allergy sufferers:

    How do you keep your window open during the spring & summer allergy seasons without feeling like you’d rather die? The weather is great now for open windows, but for one caveat: we live in a terrible location for allergies (lovely St. Louis, MO) and both are highly sensitive to pollen. We try to avoid even OTC allergy medication as much as possible for several reasons. But it just doesn’t seem possible for us to keep our windows open when all the trees are blooming without getting headaches, congestion, incessant runny noses, and generally feeling like shit. We’ve been wanting to keep the windows open more as we become more mustachian, but keep running into this same problem. Any tips?

    Reply
  • Jennifer Arrow April 2, 2015, 9:50 am

    Thanks for this post. I like to think I have “vampire loads” under control, as I am inveterate unplugger, but this post made realize the computer that lives in the garage that we use as a TV has historically been on ALL THE TIME. I just hit “shut down.”

    Also going to look into the fancy gizmos for monitoring usage, and maybe swap out the lightbulbs in the remodeled section of our home. They sound suspiciously like the ones you describe above.

    Reply
  • semioldguy April 2, 2015, 1:18 pm

    I use solar lanterns for outdoor lighting as my home is not on a street with streetlights.

    Solar lamps can be had fairly cheap, even new, and since they use only their own solar energy to light up at night, they have no additional cost to the energy bill. And with no wiring they are both easy to install and easy to relocate.

    Reply
  • Emily April 7, 2015, 9:33 pm

    I used to think that living in a modest sized home meant that all utilities would be less. But electricity is really based on how much you choose to use. (unless you have electric heat, then it will be more tied to home size)

    We decided to finally tackle our electricity bill in the fall. We ditched the extra freezer, adjusted our hot water tank settings, quit using our dryer, stopped leaving gaming systems on and turned things off when we were done with them. That first month I think we cut our usage by over 70% without upgrading anything! The changes really do add up when you tackle your biggest power users first.

    Reply
  • CanuckExpat April 8, 2015, 12:24 pm

    For the people without dryers, I’m a bit curious what your set-up is like to dry your laundry inside in case of bad whether, and how you do large items like sheets, etc. Our weather is generally great, so we can dry outside all year, however in case of rain we use the dryer, same for bulky items that I figured would be a pain to hang. Would love to know how others get around that.

    Also, in the spirit of I’ll show you mine if you show me yours, he is our usage: http://i.imgur.com/11PRwTS.png
    The spikes you see in Jan-Feb were when we were running an electric space heater for some guests.. yikes!

    Reply
    • Andrea April 8, 2015, 2:00 pm

      Ideally, don’t wash the sheets on a rainy day!
      We have lines under a carport, and a clotheshorse set up also. In winter the big things like towels and sheets go under the carport (because they are quick to peg and unpeg, and may need to be brought inside for extra drying). Little things on the clotheshorse, cos they’re fiddly and the whole thing can be lifted inside to be finished off in the room with the woodburner without any extra processing (e.g. pegging and unpegging). Plus of course the big things would soon swamp the clotheshorse.
      The clotheshorse sits in the sunniest outdoor spot. I only use pegs on it if it’s windy.
      If the sheets/towels need more drying at the end of the day they just get sat by the woodburner semi-folded, over a clothesbasket. That thing chucks out so much heat they are very dry by the next morning.
      All this is easiest because I wash every day. I strive to do it less! Two adults, two children. I find multiple small washes way less daunting than a few big washes. However I usually only do full loads.

      Reply
  • Adam April 9, 2015, 12:59 pm

    Not to nitpick, but if we’re talking compound savings over the course of a decade, shouldn’t we use the same metric in terms of cost (e.g. the opportunity cost of investing $200 in equipment instead of investments)?

    “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.”

    For example, how much interest is foregone by tying money (capital) up in a $200 freezer? Not that this changes the fundamentals of the point at all, but it seems like savings/costs should be evaluated with similar metrics lest someone make the mistake of investing a large sum in a more efficient appliance that generates a lower rate of return in terms of cost savings than does the market.

    Reply
  • Christina April 10, 2015, 7:32 am

    One of my biggest compliments came from the city when the utility company asked me if my house was vacant due to my low electricity use! I have a kill-a-watt in Longmont if anyone wants to borrow it for sleuthing. You might be able to check them out from the Longmont library too.. . ? As for daylighting, I have a large covered patio on the south side of my house. To get light in, I installed tubular skylights in the bath, kitchen, and hallway. I’ve had them for about 5 – 7 years now and no complaints yet.

    Reply
  • Andrew YYC April 15, 2015, 2:57 pm

    A fantastic recent creation out of Vancouver for monitoring your household loads: the Neurio. Installs directly in the panel.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcdqRwHVq5M

    Reply
  • Chris April 17, 2015, 11:10 am

    MMM, I am one of those newer home people with a bunch of can lights throughout. However, almost all of my lights in the house use GU24 bulbs instead of edison bulbs. I’ve looked at GU24 to Edison converters (I even have a few) but my can lights are not an adjustable depth, so the bulb will stick out of the end of the can. I found a decent supplier on Amazon of 11Watt GU24 2700k R30 bulbs, but now they don’t carry the same temperature bulbs and it would look plain weird when multiple lights are on in our “great room” layout. I can stick with CFL, but I kind of hate them! The only other option I’ve considered is a LED retrofit kit that has an edison plug on it, and then use the adapter, but I’m worried it wont fit either. What is a guy to do?

    Reply
  • oobito April 18, 2015, 10:10 pm

    2 people living in a 1400 sf house in San Diego with a 3K solar panel. All appliances are new energy efficient models and most of lights are LEDs. Total energy used in the past 12 months was 2069KWH, and total energy produced by solar was 2332KWH. I think I’m doing OK, but don’t know why the output from solar is kind of low.

    Reply
  • Doug April 20, 2015, 8:24 pm

    Wow, that’s not only badass but also quite impressive MMM! If everyone in the United States used electrical energy like you did, a lot of those coal burning power plants could be retired and it would result in a big drop in CO2 emissions. If everyone in Canada, where I live, used energy like you did we could rely solely on the hydroelectric power we have (and a bit of help from the nukes in Ontario) and still have surplus energy to sell to you Americans to help you reduce those CO2 emissions even more.

    Reply
  • Doug April 21, 2015, 9:53 am

    Here in Ontario, where I live, energy rates during peak use hours are going up to 16 cents per KWH as of May 1. Anyone who complains about these high energy costs (and many people will complain about it, I can assure you) should read this posting and comments!

    Reply
    • nostache April 21, 2015, 11:13 am

      Its 16 cents for the core electricity, but add at least 10 cents per kWh for delivery, regulatory charges, debt repayment etc. Its just more incentive to save when you realize that you are really paying 26 cents. Switching to led has never been a better option. Until the end of April its save $5 per bulb with a saveONenergy.ca coupon. I just got 20 bulbs at $2.97 each.

      Reply
  • Karen Farmer April 24, 2015, 8:36 pm

    Home Depot has LED light bulbs on sale for next 90 days. Comparable to 60 watt.
    2 for less than $5. See Clarkhoward or Home Depot for details.

    Reply
  • Lutorm May 10, 2015, 12:15 pm

    Just found this site the other day and have been reading it with much amusement and enthusiasm. Nice job!

    Here in Hawaii, power is ridiculously expensive. When we moved here, we immediately started blowing through $200/month in a house that has no heat and no AC. However, there is also no gas, so the electric water heater and electric range take their toll. Because of the high cost of electricity and federal and state incentives, solar is quite competitive here. The payoff time, even with the high installation cost in HI, is 6-7 years, with panels warrantied for 25 years. Because the grid is getting close to saturation for PV, it’s also kind of a now-or-never deal, so we rushed to get it installed. Now we pay $20 per month for the fixed grid connection cost, since the system is sized to our estimated annual use. It’s awesome!

    However, there’s a funny side effect: We no longer have any incentive to cut our use. In principle, I agree that a heat pump water heater makes so much more sense than a resistive one, but at this point that would only mean giving free power to the utility.

    Reply
  • Forticus July 19, 2015, 12:31 pm

    This article reminded me of the kill-a-watt meter I got some 10 years ago, never used. Just found it and put my fish tank on (aquarium 240 L / 63 US Gallons). The kill-my-day meter reads a prognosis of 15 kWh per week (lights on), some 20% of our bill, or one evening at the cinema per month. While I do not enjoy cinema p(a)laces, I like to observe the little comrades next to my desk at home office. Also the tank … the water … contributes to the atmosphere of the room.
    There are other “fishes to fry” (?), like cutting down subscriptions and membership fees which total higher than my power bill.
    Still I got an unpleasant feeling about my stomach-estimate over serveral years: the fish tank’s power usage would be just 5% of the bill.

    Reply
  • dopey July 24, 2015, 4:47 pm

    Even after reading the post, I don’t know how you keep your electric usage so low, sir. I feel I’m doing everything you are but there have been only three month since I bought this house in 2008 where my usage has been under 200kwh per month. I need to put a killawatt on the fridge and see what that is costing me, although I don’t know what I’d do with the knowledge. I’m not throwing it out. Overall, however, my usage last year averaged 444kwh per month which isn’t bad for Houston, I think. $672 spent on electricity and a much smaller amount on nat gas for heat and hot water.

    Reply
  • Josh July 27, 2015, 1:25 pm

    Between installing a variable speed pool pump, a programmable thermostat, and having two non-energy-conscious roommates leave, my project August electric bill (in Phoenix) is $185. Last year, it was $396.

    :D

    Reply
  • JohnnyAngelBear August 11, 2015, 9:06 pm

    I just found out they have energy meters available for check out at my local library! I’d encourage everyone to look into that option. I live in North Dakota–oil boom country–so if this energy-SAVING option is available up here, I imagine it’s available almost anywhere else, too.

    Reply
  • Dan S. September 5, 2015, 4:07 pm

    Holy phantoms and vampires, MMM! I just took a closer look at that Efergy graph and it looks like your 24/7 baseline is close to 90 watts! How many modems and routers and phone chargers and alarm clocks and smoke detectors are you running in that little house of yours?

    Thanks for recommending the Efergy, though. Just got one myself and used it to get my baseline down to 28 watts.

    Reply
    • Dan S. September 24, 2015, 8:26 pm

      After spending a few weeks with the Efergy monitor I’m a little less enthusiastic about their base “Classic” model. It over-estimates power on some appliances because it merely measures current and multiplies by 120 volts, without taking the relative phase of the current and voltage into account. So it measures what engineers call VA rather than true power. However, for about $25 more Efergy makes a True Power Meter that does measure the phase. I haven’t tried their TPM but I now wish I had bought it instead for the extra $25. Fortunately the Kill-a-watt meter can measure both true power and VA. Using it I discovered that my washing machine’s true power use is less than half what you’d guess from the VA measurement (i.e., it has a power factor of less than 0.5). I also noticed that when I switch off the furnace breaker and hence turn off my smart thermostat, the Efergy says my power use goes up, rather than down, by a few watts. Couldn’t check this with the Kill-a-watt but I figured out how to read the little squares on my power company meter and verified that the thermostat doesn’t actually use negative power!

      Reply
  • Joel January 19, 2016, 3:54 pm

    Wow and I thought I was obsessed with saving energy! Getting rid of a drier? Xbox? PlayStation?

    I have basically replaced everything I can in terms of appliances, then windows, sealing drafts, anything in the house like bathroom fans that are old. Then I went to the bulbs. I use fan lights where I can LED. They run about 4 watts, then utilitech LED at 5.5 watts and 3000k of light. Cree spot lights at 16.5 watts for outside. Then Philips 8.5 watt bulbs. Cree 9 watt bulbs for kitchen. Attic has fresh insulation as does basement. Doors have new seals etc. we will eventually be going solar so the less I use means the more power available to grid.

    As for phantom power I bought smart wall power strips that shut down all other appliances or devices power of the main system is not in use.

    Next on the list is our old well pump which I guess is the original and could save me an additional 100 watts.

    With Utilities saying they need to raise rates because of “demand” despises drops in demand in 2013 and 14. I hope to get the demand as low as humanly possible. Here’s to hoping they can make game consoles more efficient!!!! Great read BTW!

    Reply
  • Selva February 10, 2016, 10:00 am

    Coming from a developing country where the life style was way too simple compared here (times changed, there people catching all wrong habits faster than ever), I can see how much of waste produced by people in USA. I bought a big fluorescent light for hall, replaced all incandescent with cfl(some days it can get u cancer).
    Each room all per power connected to one or two power extensions, and when I go out of room, just switch off one switch you can’t miss.
    Consume what is needed vs what is desired makes the change to bill and life.

    I have a very general question though. I lead a simple frugal and mmm life, but after you committed to someone, how did you managed to get her sacrifice the common non mmm practices? Girls loves to shop. How did you handled all sensitive topics? Or did you for real lucky to get a replica of Mmm?

    Reply
    • Suzanne February 10, 2016, 10:17 pm

      Selva,

      I am long experienced marriage and family therapist and many times “opposites” attract for a reason. She likely sees your dedication to saving money and feels secure with you. Unfortunately, that means she will expect that your saving ways will off-set her spending ways.
      There are many women of all ages who have seen how important it is to conserve resources and save. You just haven’t found her yet. By desiring to change her, you are telling me (and her ) that she is not the right one for you. I’m sure you know that only you can change yourself and that no one convinced you to be “you.” So it is for all of us. If Behavior is 80% of communication then she is telling you through her actions. Good luck to you.

      Reply
  • Patrick March 23, 2016, 3:49 pm

    My first year in Colorado began last summer. We went without A/C and our typical electric bill was around 600-670kw-hr per month running fans for cooling and opening the windows at night. This was achieved with electric range, electric double ovens, dishwasher (frequently used), french door massive Kenmore elite fridge, washing machine (front load) AND a clothes dryer (heat pump Kenmore unit). While our heating and hot water are natural gas, I lean towards being “anti-natural gas”. Granted methane is more efficient directly heating the home and water compared to the grid here in Colorado, it doesn’t beat the cleanliness of the solar power system we had installed in October. We’ve racked up so much excess electricity that we picked up a few resistive heating element type electrical heaters to distribute in rooms for my wife (I prefer keeping the thermostat at 65 or 66 in the winter). Trying to get to mustacian levels one element at a time.

    Reply
  • Dan April 5, 2016, 8:49 pm

    Dude, we have the same fridge! I may have you beat though. Picked it up broken at a yard sale for $75. The owner said “it will work for 3-4 hours then turn off”. Needed a condensation defroster grid- $24 off amazon. Literally, one of the best sub-100 dollar purchases I have ever made.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache April 6, 2016, 7:23 am

      Good to know Dan, if my fridge ever gets that symptom I’ll take a look at this defroster grid thingy (even though I hadn’t heard about that part until this moment). Congrats on the deal, and for saving that giant chunk of luxury from the landfill!

      Reply
  • Arthur May 3, 2016, 7:48 am

    The idea of allowing your indoor temperature to rise may be fine in some climates. However, as a Mechanical Engineer in the HVAC industry doing a lot of work in the humid parts of Central and South Texas, I can tell you that bigger problems will GROW inside your home if you only pay attention to temperature and disregard the need for dehumidification. For example, we set our thermostat at 77, but last night my AC was running here near Austin, TX because I also have a humidity control function that runs the AC to keep the indoor humidity levels at 55% RH or below. I control to 55% RH because (taking into account the accuracy of the thermostat’s sensors) it is the best way to make sure I DO NOT see indoor humidity levels above 60% RH. Our pergola-mounted 8.1 kW solar power system offsets between 70% to 130% of our power use (depending on the time of year and how much the AC runs), but that’s a topic for another comment at another time.

    Reply
  • Vanessa June 5, 2016, 9:59 pm

    Awesome post – I love the long term approach about how little things, like a nightlight here or a lamp there, can add up to serious money over the course of a decade. So many articles focus on what you’ll save a month – it doesn’t sound like much fun to make changes for $2 or $12 a month but a long term forecast is really motivating!

    I was also excited to see Ottawa get a shout out. Yes, it gets COLD here in the heart of winter. But we live in a 1,300 square foot town house and we happily spend under 150 a month for heat (natural gas) and hydro. Obviously being in a townhouse has it’s benefits as we get ambient heat from our neighbours. When we first moved in, our furnace was over 30 years old and when we got our first bill, it was a full 90% less than what the previous residents were paying! I didn’t think we our heat and energy savings efforts were that extraordinary but clearly we were using much less than the ‘average’ family.

    When we got our new, ultra high efficiency furnace a few years later, the company in question swore up and down that we’d be saving a fortune each month in our heating costs but we really saw very little difference – proof that habits and patterns can matter just as much in some cases as the efficiency of the appliance. So my advice to anyone with an old furnace is to take heart – you can still see a considerable reduction in your costs.

    Reply
  • Michael August 13, 2016, 8:25 pm

    Dear MMM,
    I own a Panasonic heat pump water heater and tank. If you have time, you can check them out.
    Here’s the benefits:
    – Uses CO2 compressed gas for insane pressure, resulting in tank temperature of 90 degrees Celsius
    – small tank of 350 Litres at 90 degrees means we have about 750 Litres of water at a ‘usable’ temperature of 39 degrees C
    – in-house displays for water usage (great for challenging family for more efficient showers, seeing dishwasher water usage (7L) vs. doing by hand (35L) etc…)
    – stays hot 24 hours
    – heats only at night when electricity rates are at their lowest
    – can be turned off and on on a schedule (going on vacation and don’t need hot water, but turn on automatically the day you come back)
    – stays outside of your house, freeing up basement space
    – allows me to monitor bath water temperature, and can automatically maintain bath water temperature by circulating the bathtub water through the hot tank
    – can re-heat bath water if you want to use it twice

    cons
    – doesn’t work in super-cold climates (?), maybe

    Reply
  • Terry October 11, 2016, 8:07 am

    What brand of smoke detectors did you use for your replacement that draw 1 Watt?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 11, 2016, 8:52 am

      Hi Terry, I still have a bit of research to do before I can find a hardwired one I recommend (both the high-power ones and lower-power ones I’ve tested are a bit fussy with false alarms). But if you’re replacing existing units, you could consider this one: https://www.amazon.com/First-Alert-SA305CN-Lithium-Battery/dp/B00O8MVWAI/

      It’s a battery-powered detector with an included battery that lasts as long as the entire detector, so power and batteries are no longer a consideration.

      Reply
      • Terry October 14, 2016, 8:56 am

        I like the security of all my smoke detectors being interconnected with wire (I’m OK with the unit being battery-powered), so I will wait for your hardwired recommendation.

        Reply
  • Jeffrey Y February 6, 2017, 11:13 am

    Have you ever measured how much the Efergy unit consumes itself?

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 6, 2017, 4:18 pm

      That thing runs either on batteries (3 x AA and I’m still on my first set from 2015), or a 5 volts DC input if you supply your own adapter. Based on the longevity of these batteries, the AC equivalent it would only a few cents per year if you had a good adapter.

      Reply
      • Jim H February 9, 2017, 12:21 am

        Hey MMM-

        I bought the efergy unit in Jan 2016 based on your recommendation and it has been eye opening!

        We finished 2016 with a 25% reductiom in kilowatts used compared to 2015. That reduction was on top of double digit declines the previous 2 years!

        One question for you, the resting heart rate of the egergy unit is 0.12 when everything is off in the house. I believe the 0.12 is the smoke detectors. Does that seem about normal to you or is it a high number? Let me know what you think.

        Thanks for the life changing blog. I have read it from beginning to end and have officially become mustachian including the bike commute to work 5 days a week!

        Reply
  • Rezwan Razani July 11, 2017, 7:25 am

    Great post! I’m sharing this one. But quick fact check: You say, “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” – But the link goes to an article which says, “Existing power plants are the largest source of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for 38 percent. Much of this pollution stems from aging, coal-fired power plants.” In other words, 38% is the entire electric power plant contribution, and coal is a fraction of that. I’m not sure what fraction, but it’s not the whole 38%. So, yes, if we run our houses like you suggest here, and everyone drops electric use 80%, that would probably shut down the coal plants and you could shut down a few natural gas plants, and leave the renewables, hydro and nuclear to cover everything.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 15, 2017, 4:29 pm

      Yup, you got it! My statistics were hasty in that case, but I still hold that it would work: if we combined reasonable electric power use, with “checking the box” whenever possible with our electricity companies to specify renewable power (and heck, even adding solar panels and storage as appropriate on our properties), we could easily have carbon-free electricity within just a few years.

      Reply
  • Rebecca March 4, 2019, 3:56 pm

    What if you have a gas water heater? I need to replace mine. What’s the best and are there any rebates for gas water heaters?

    Reply

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