How to Save Energy at Home – Part 2 of 3

In this article, step 2, it’s time to take your electrical savings to the next level.  It’s easy and you can make it fun.  Make it a weekend project and involve your spouse and family so you get buy-in on the project.  Don’t forget to involve the dog too.  I’m sure Rover would love to learn how to save energy at home, but I’ll leave that call up to you!

What we’re going to do is identify some easy electrical energy savings around the house.  Electrical devices surround us in today’s world.  Rarely do we stop to consider how much energy each of them consumes.  But if you add up the energy used by each of the devices in your house you’ll likely find a few that use much more than you thought.

Let’s start.

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure

Volt MeterWe need to determine the watts used by each device.  Watts = Volts x Amps x Power Factor.  Although you could use a regular volt-ohm meter like shown in the picture, it would be frustrating because it’s necessary to measure in-line current in order to get watts.  You would need to measure current, and then voltage, and then determine power factor.  There’s an easier way that requires no calculations or special wiring.

The Kill-a-Watt meter is the answer.  Plug the Kill-a-Watt meter into the wall or an extension cord, and then plug the device you want to measure into the front of the meter.  Presto, it displays watts (and lots of other stuff).  It costs around $20, so the only way it will break the bank is if you break your piggy bank to buy it.

I’ve provided information on the Kill-a-Watt meter.  Click on the “Resources” menu item, and then choose “Tools and Equipment“.  There’s a link to the meter at Amazon for your convenience.  I have no affiliation with this product and do not receive any commission or other money for sales.  I mention it simply because I’ve used it and found it to be easy to use, inexpensive and accurate.  If you search around on Amazon you’ll find similar meters and most any of them should work just fine.

Take Inventory

Inventory FunnyGet a pad of paper, a clipboard, or something similar to write on while you’re walking around the house.  Walk the whole house, every room, every closet, the garage, etc.  Find every device plugged in and jot down the name of the device.

Lots of stuff, huh?  Now cross out devices not normally plugged in.  A rarely used hand drill in the garage is an example.  We’re mostly interested in devices using electricity a large part of every day.

I like to make a spreadsheet of the list so I can total up watts and calculate the approximate cost per month and per year for each item.  I can also update it easily every year or two.  I include columns for Device Name, Watts, Duty, $/kWh, Cost/Mo, Cost/Yr, and Comments.  I’ve included an example Excel spreadsheet that you can download and modify to suit your needs.  You can download it on the Tools and Equipment page.

On the spreadsheet, “Duty” refers to duty cycle, or what percentage of the total time the device is using electricity.  High wattage hair dryers run a short time each day, so they have a very low duty cycle.  If a hair dryer runs 15 minutes each day, it has a duty of 1% (15 minutes divided by 1440 minutes in a day).  Appliances like refrigerators have many variables affecting running time, so you’ll need to make an educated guess.  Do your best, or do some research on the internet for some guidelines.

Take Measurements

Kill-A-Watt MeterTime to use your handy dandy power meter.  Measure the watts of each device and record it on the spreadsheet.  Make detailed notes, especially notes as to whether the device is running or not.  You’ll notice that I made notes on the sample spreadsheet showing a detailed breakdown for groups of devices like the entertainment center.  I also noted for future reference that the laser printer I put on the example spreadsheet uses 1000 watts when the heating element is on, but only 30 watts in sleep mode.  An appliance with very little usage, like a toaster, is something you might consider leaving off the list.

If you find a device that uses such a small amount of electricity that the power meter cannot read it, then leave it off the list.  Cell phone chargers and other small chargers tend to fall into this category.  Use common sense and be safe.  A dishwasher probably doesn’t have a cord to plug in, so you’ll have to ignore that appliance.  That may also be true for other devices like a security system.

Record the watts used by each device and make your best estimate of its duty cycle.

Calculate Cost of Electricity

Electric Bill SamplePull out a recent electric utility bill.  Find how many total kilowatt-hours you used for the month.  Then locate the total cost of the electric bill for the month.  Divide Monthly Cost by Monthly Kilowatt-Hours to determine your actual total $/kWh.  That’s what you really pay for electricity, which is much higher than what the utility charges per kilowatt-hour.  All the fees, taxes, etc. greatly increase the cost.  Enter the cost on the spreadsheet.

Calculating the cost of electricity isn’t a requirement, but it’s interesting to see how much electricity costs per month and per year for each device.  You might find a surprise or two.  For example, on the sample spreadsheet, the first device is a Bose radio.  The radio was sucking 6 watts while turned off – a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of electricity for a clock display to draw!  A new model of the radio purchased from Bose since then draws negligible electricity (less than 1 watt).

Analyze the Data and Take Action

Look through your list and ask yourself if everything makes sense.  A device drawing electricity 24/7, but with intermittent use is a potential savings opportunity.  Get creative and find opportunities where you can achieve savings with minimal or no inconvenience.

One place a majority of people can save is with entertainment devices.  How much do you use each device?  Can you unplug it when it’s not in use?  A DVR must always be on to record programs.  But you can unplug a VCR or DVD player.  Likewise, receivers can be off (although the clock will lose its time setting).

Plug devices that don’t need power 24/7 into a power strip with a switch.  Then turn the power strip off when you aren’t using the devices.  The savings will add up.

Good luck with your saving efforts!  If you try something and find that it causes too much inconvenience, put it back the way it was.  Inconvenience is not the goal here – that is, for all but the most die-hard energy savers!

Share your savings stories in comments below.  Your ideas can inspire and help others.

Go to Step 3