The 10+ DIY Ways We Cut Our Electric Bill

I did some research to see how all our little energy saving tweaks to the house have actually saved electricity.

It's been a combination of little and big things that has added up measurably. The fact is, our bill is dropping. I'm going to break it down specifically as I can.

I'm going to run through the numbers using summertime, since that's when we really chew through the electricity, mostly due to air conditioning and the swimming pool. I count the summer as May through August. September is still brutal in Arizona, with temps regularly in the triple digits, but I just don't have the September bill in yet.

Here's our actual usage, from the electric bills, for the last three summers, May through August:

Average Billing Comparison

In August of 2012, our electricity use bill was $ 367.06 for the month, but we use an average billing plan to spread the crushing financial pain throughout the year, so the bill was actually $285.00. By August of 2014, our average monthly bill is down to $ 175.00, a whopping savings of $110.00 per month!

Background

We live in a 1979, single-story tract home, in the sun-scorched Sonoran desert city of Phoenix, Arizona. It still has original, single-pane windows and is poor insulation. Although the home has central air conditioning, we spend a great deal of time in our family room which is an addition, supplemented by a stand-alone window-unit style unit. Since we've lived here, we added a fourth person, with the birth of our daughter, now a grade school student. We recognize the increased power consumption of a 4 person family and all the accompanying electronic devices. I figure we hit hour highest power consuming habits in 2012 and remain there today.

Here are some things we've done over the last few years that have had a positive effect on our power bill, big and small.

1. Family Room Lighting 

The Family Room had an old ceiling fan with two 60 watt incandescent light bulbs for a 120 watt total. I replaced it with four, dimmable, LED can-lights that pull 14.5 watts at full power for a total of 58 watts.
Before


After



There are additional bonuses. Each of the four LED lamps puts out the equivalent lighting of a 75 w incandescent lamp for a total comparative wattage of 300 watts of lighting. We more than doubled the lighting in the room, for less than half the power. Additionally, the LED's are much cooler, requiring less air conditioning consumption to fight the heat gain. (Full post here)

2. Outdoor Lighting:

When replacing our exterior light fixtures, we exchanged four 60 watt incandescent bulbs on the exterior for LED light bulbs that simply bathes the area in crisp white light at only 9 watts each, a 204 watt savings.

Yes, you can land a 747 with this light.
We burn two of these lights all night long, for security since our vehicles are parked in the driveway. The savings really adds up. (Full post here)

3. Outdoor Lighting Control

Since we leave some of our outdoor lighting on all night, we always had to remember when to turn it on and off. One night, I didn't turn it on and some punk tried to pound a large Craftsman screwdriver into my truck's door lock, destroying it. On the flip-side, in the winter, we often got home from work to discover we had left the lights on all day.


The real treasure is hidden behind this secret panel.
I replaced the light switch with a programmable time-clock switch. It knows when to turn on and off based on sunrise and sunset. As Ron Popeil said about his rotisserie chicken oven, "Just set it and forget it!" The lights are always off in the daytime now.

4. Garage Lighting

My garage / workshop had three, eight foot long, two lamp florescent lighting fixtures lighting the place. I replaced them. First they were flickering, ugly, and horribly installed. They were noisy and actually looked fire-scorched. I replaced them with four, 4 foot modern florescent fixtures for about $20 each.
Now I just need some light on that back wall, by the miter saw.
The old beasts used huge lamps and a magnetic ballast the size of a brick. I found online that this sort of fixture pulls about 400 watts (when it's in good shape). I replaced them with a smaller fixture using a T-8 electronic ballast that pulls about 59 watts. They throw a ton more light and save power

(400 watts x 3 fixtures = 1200 watts) - (59 watts x 4 fixtures = 236 watts) = 964 watts saved!

5. Ceiling Insulation

The family room addition had a drop ceiling with 2' x 4' chunks of nasty insulation, stained by years of roof leaks. In the full heat of the summer, the window-unit AC just couldn't make the room bearable. After we repaired the roof we re-insulated the ceiling completely, using full rolls of insulation, taping the seams.

Warm and cuddly fiberglass insulation
The room is measurably cooler. It's actually quite pleasant on the hottest of days now. (Full post here)

6. Water Heater Replacement 

The 13 year old water heater died when an element burned out, destroying the unit. I think the slow death was due to a huge build-up of sediment in the bottom of the tank I found during the autopsy. Who knows how efficient the old heater could be. (Autopsy post here)

Fried. Burned to a crisp. Toasted. 
The replacement unit is an Energy Star rated model, with built in smart technology . It actually learns our usage patterns and adjusts water heating accordingly. It also has a neat vacation mode, where you can drop the temperature down to 60 degrees, still keeping pipes from freezing in the winter. Of course that's not an issue here in Phoenix, so I just shut it off while we are gone. (Full post here)


7. Replace the Pool Pump:

This is a HUGE one. When we replaced our failing pool filter and installed the salt water cell, we also replaced the old pump with a new variable-speed unit. This is significant because the old single-speed pump had to run for as long as 12 hours (at 240 volts) to keep water moving in the summer.




Some people use a formula like 4 hours + 1 hour for every 10 degrees over 60. Whatever method I used to run it in the summer, it was a long time. Now, we run the thing for a couple hours at high rpm to work the vacuum, then a computer controller drops it to a slow speed, just to keep the water circulating, to filter and generate chlorine. We watched our power bill drop like a stone in the first month of use. (Full post here)


8. Humidity Control Switch

In another effort to defeat accidental power consumption, I attacked the bathroom exhaust fan. It's another one of those energy leeches that gets left on all day, or at least too long. I replaced an old fan that was probably devouring too much electricity to begin with; then I found another gizmo to help even more. 

Fan-tastic. Fan-tabulous. Fan-sational.
This cool switch  turns the fan on automatically when the humidity in the room reaches a pre-set point. It turns it off when it's no longer needed. It also turns it off after a set time, if the fan is turned on manually. (Full post here)

Leviton Switch

9. Kill the thirsty leeches 

Everyone seems to have a family full of battery powered devices these days, from cordless tools, to cell phones, tablet computers, and music players, our walls are bristling with "wall wart" chargers. We fill our pockets, backpacks, and purses and leave the chargers slurping on the juice. By adding simple power strips with an off switch, we are able to cut power to these little transformers. In a fit of overkill, my custom built Ultimate Workshop Power Strip kills off the chargers for my cordless tool chargers in the garage so they don't siphon power until my next weekend warrior DIY outing. (Full post here)


We have the simple surge suppressor style strips mounted on our bedside tables were we can kill off the leeches for cellphones etc. during the day when we are gone.


10. All the rest...

Simply the replacement of a failed appliance does a lot. Our water conserving front-loading washer dryer combo made an immediate difference over the old top load tub style, since the clothing needs much less time to dry. We've found that replacing nearly any old appliance results in energy savings. We've replaced everything but the stove and the AC since we've lived here (when they died) and always look for the Energy Star logo.



As I illustrated earlier, steadily replacing incandescent bulbs throughout the house with energy efficient lamps adds up quick. I'm not a huge fan of compact florescent (CFL) these days. I just don;'t think they have much of an improved life span over incandescent lamps, plus they still generate a lot of heat and have disposal issues. Now that the light color options have improved, I'm liking the LED's much more.


We got rid of our last old school, 10,000 lb CRT style television in the house. The new flat screens cost remarkably less to run, plus they are larger and packed with features. We also replaced our aging desktop computer with a laptop. 



That's it friends more money in our pockets! Have you done anything around the house and actually noticed a measurable drop in your electricity usage? 


Phoenix is closed today due to rain

I thought I'd share a little of this morning's adventure. It rained,... a lot. We've passed the all time daily record, held from 1895 when they started measuring. It basically shut the metropolitan area down.

We don't usually have visible water in the washes, creek beds and rivers. Now we have torrents of flood water in our roads and parks.

Phoenix Flooding #Monsoon2014
Road Closed (Road gone?)
Growing up in Michigan, rain was nothing to be concerned with. Here in Phoenix, it's a big deal. We get flooding when there's one inch. This morning, parts of the valley got as much as five inches. The freeways are littered with cars doing double-duty as submarines. We're trapped in our part of town.

The Great End of Summer Cleanup - Desert Style


I'm ready for this summer to end! We simply suffer and survive this inferno each year here in Arizona. It's hot here from April to October, then it's paradise. We emerge from out air conditioned comfort and enjoy the out-of-doors. I'm working on getting the backyard in shape as well as my garage workshop to get ready for it.

“This shop is part of a social shopper marketing insight campaign with Weave Made Media® and Rubbermaid, but all opinions are my own. #weavemade #FallFixUp http://my-disclosur.es/RgFrEH
Last weekend I cleared the backyard of the explosion of weeds sprouting with the monsoon rains (with a flame thrower!)*. This weekend, I attacked the piles of brush I'd been heaping up.


*OK, so it was actually a big propane torch, not a flame-thrower.

Weed Killing - Taking a flame thrower to this place!

You may have seen how Arizona has gotten blasted with heavy monsoon rains this summer. While we didn't get any flooding in our neighborhood, our desert landscape back yard has absolutely erupted with weeds and scrub grass almost overnight. I need to nip it in the bud before it gets out of control. Some of these weeds will make horrible, painful sticky-burrs, while others make only mildly-painful, micro-burrs that get stuck in your socks as you walk by.
Now that we're headed for fall and winter, most of the country will be preparing for hibernation against the cold and snow. We desert dwellers will emerge blinking in the sun, from our air-conditioned structures to the absolute paradise of a winter in Phoenix. It's time to get this yard in shape so we can enjoy some outdoors time.

I've historically used a chemical weed killer in a pump garden sprayer, but this year we're overrun with little, bug-eating lizards, sweet families of quail, and cute little bunnies (which my daughter is absolutely in love with).  I don't want to poison them.

"No Poison",... not "No Detroit Red Wings"

Wall Repair II - Electric Boogaloo

Following my last post, I have a solid drywall patch installed. This particular piece has the honor of covering an electrical cable buried in the wall. I needed to get that rascal re-connected into a junction box and the outlets fired up again. It would be easier to completely finish the area: seal it up, texture it and paint it, but I didn't have the time to get that far; we'd need power there for the work week, so I planned to re-install the cut-in box that had been there before. 
Like most projects, this one started with a twenty-five foot-long coil of precision digit-ed sheet metal, the sweet measureyness of a tape measure. I matched the height and center location of the outlet on the opposite end of the counter. We don't use the other outlet because it's pretty much right over the sink, not cool or convenient for electrical hair care appliances.