DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
USE THE SMALLEST AMOUNT OF PERSONAL ENERGY TO SAVE THE LARGEST AMOUNT OF ELECTRICAL ENERGY.
By Michael Tyas
In my previous article, “Don’t sweat the savings: How a warmer home can make saving a breeze, and let you live like royalty,” I explained how setting your air conditioner to ~26°C, when combined with moving air from a fan in the rooms you occupy, is the most comfortable, and cheapest, way to enjoy the summer. It utilizes your innate homeostasis (sweat) mechanisms to reach perfect equilibrium; you literally cannot feel better in your own skin any other way.
Now, I want to take this a step further to show you how to save the most electricity while using the least amount of effort. The truth is that some energy saving advice requires a lot of effort but only makes a pittance in savings. Screaming at your household to turn lights off was the standard for energy efficiency in the 1990s, but innovation has changed the game. Worrying about a new LED lightbulb being left on all day is almost not worth the hassle, since it uses around 2 cents in 24 hours. Your hot water heater can use 2 cents in 7 minutes! Let’s focus on that for a bit.
This article is guided by a basic conceit; how to use the least personal exertion to save the most electricity. Hanging laundry instead of using a dryer is obviously going to save energy, but hanging laundry requires exertion. For fun, let’s explore the bare minimum that makes the most impact. You’ll be amazed by how much can be achieved without lifting a finger!
3 CATEGORIES OF ELECTRICAL USAGE, TURN’T TO THE MAX!
The logo for electrical efficiency is invariably the lightbulb, but I would argue that the lightbulb is the least of your worries. For the purposes of saving money without sweating the small stuff, there are three broad categories of electrical usage to consider. In order of expense: Heat generation, powerful movement, and everything else.
Heat generation is the biggest hog of your electrical consumption by far. Unless you have a natural gas or heat-pump system, heating typically comprises over 50% of your electrical bill on a yearly basis. In the table attached, you can see that heating with electricity comprise the top tiers of watts used per hour.
The next broad category is powerful movement. Powerful movement uses only a fraction of the electricity compared to heat, but still enough to notice on your electricity bill. These are devices that come with warning labels, like “do not stick your hand in the washing machine while in operation!” It also includes other devices with hidden but powerful moving parts, like the compressor within your
refrigerator which uses electric pumps to compress gas up to 55 psi, something impossible for a normal human to do on her own at high speed. Contrast this with a children’s toy car or a table fan, which move but can be easily overpowered by a person. Relatively weak moving devices use very little energy and are at the bottom of the list.
Speaking of the bottom, the last category that uses the least amount of energy is everything else. Is it a surprise? All devices that mainly produce light, sound, move with weak force, transmit signals, use the least amount of electricity. If left on continuously, they may use less than a dollar per month.
Let’s do a paper experiment! Let’s leave everything on for a month! Turn up the thermostat, leave on the broiler, and wedge the fridge door open! For demonstration purposes, I have included a column for how much these devices would cost if drawing energy for 1 month straight, 24/7. Because we are billed for electricity monthly, I think it’s easier to think about the cost of electrical draw that way. The columns below will show you what are the most, and least, concerning electrical users in your home. This is the start of learning how you can make the biggest change with the least amount of effort!
|Average * Watts used per hour
|$ for one month of continuous use each. **
|Central Air Conditioning***
Oven & Stove
|Window/ portable air conditioner
Smart display or speaker
Cell phone charger
*Appliances come in various wattages, but this average wattage will help you to draw conclusions. **Manitoba Hydro Prices, 2021, at 8.93 cents per kilowatt hour, 1000 watts. Devices that use less than 1000 watts per hour use only a fraction of 8.93 cents per hour. You can add up the wattage until it equals or exceeds 1000, then you know how many hours it will take to cost 8.93 cents. ***10 watts per square foot, presuming a 1500 square foot home. The same home is assumed for the central air conditioner.
SAVE WITHOUT BREAKING A SWEAT:
It should go without saying that no appliance runs 24/7 like it does on the list above. You turn devices on and off as necessary. And even if you leave appliances on, whether a furnace, a stove, or the air conditioner or portable heater, they will cycle into standby mode once the desired temperature is reached.
Let me reiterate again that your lightbulb does not cost $0.65 a month to operate, nor does your furnace cost over $1000, because they are typically turned off! The point I’m trying to make is that when we think about efficiency using appliances, some choices have a dramatic and immediate impact, while others are relatively pointless. We can focus on behaviour that makes the most impact and relax about the behaviours that have the least. Doing the opposite is introducing stress and discomfort into your life with very little to show for.
Below are my personal tips to make the biggest savings with no effort, from highest impact to least. The best part is that all these tips do not require a herculean effort and so should be the easiest to change your behaviour. They have a special focus on maintaining your comfort.
HOME HEATING: IT’S AN ACCESSORY
The winter is creeping upon us after a blazing hot summer, and that will have many households wincing for the pocketbook pain. When you look at the table, you can see that home heating uses tens of thousands of watts per hour. They should be the focus of most concern when tackling energy usage.
One of the least energetic things you can do at home is sit and watch television, but when you’re not moving, that’s when the chill can set in. Instinctively, we crank the thermostat when we feel cold, and then grab a sweater or wrap in a blanket afterwards. This is an out-of-order habit that costs a lot because
it makes the home the primary source of warmth for your body instead of being an accessory to your clothing choices.
Try to make it a habit of including a sweater, long johns, and socks when you wake up and get dressed but before you consider if the heat needs to be turned up. Using layers, you can warm yourself first, instead of relying on your furnace to keep you warm. Everyone has different temperature comfort levels, but the main goal is to keep it as low as you can without ‘feeling’ cold. You should be able to lower your thermostat down, maybe even as low as 20°C, and still Netflix without the chill because your body is wrapped with primary layers of comfort.
If you feel too warm while wearing these extra layers, it’s a good sign that you can save even more! Make it a habit to drop the thermostat by one degree before you shed a layer. By treating your home heating degrees as an accessory to your main outfit, degrees you can add and remove as your body directs, you can regulate your comfort while saving money at the same time. Soon, you will realize where your sweet spot is and not have to think about it anymore.
Layering clothing before touching the thermostat is the easiest way to save the most amount of money while remaining perfectly comfortable. It may even save more than all other items below, combined!
SPACE HEATERS: HUNKER DOWN
As you will see on the table, the space heater uses a fraction of the watts that it takes to heat your whole home with a furnace or baseboards. For rooms that you occupy regularly, like your bedroom at night, a portable heater (or singling out a baseboard) can keep your room warm enough and allow you to drop the rest of the home thermostat at bedtime. Most efficiency experts suggest lowering the rest of your home to 19°C at night.
A space heater has a digital thermostat or a dial with an internal coil thermometer. If yours comes with a dial, turn it until you hear a click. The click tells you when the coil thermometer has activated and you can adjust accordingly. Portable heaters can also come with a timer. I set mine for 8 hours when I go to bed in case I forget to turn it off in the morning.
WATER HEATER: TIDES ARE CHANGING.
Water heaters are large, insulated barrels that keep your water hot for use. When the water is not in use, it uses very little energy. When the water is drawn upon, coil heaters instantly react to replenish the heat, requiring thousands of watts per hour to operate. When talking about saving energy the lazy way, cold showers are far from the mind. Instead, let’s look at one of the biggest users of hot water, and it’s not an appliance at all…It is your crappy washing machine detergent!
Detergent that requires warm or hot water to clean, and not the machine, rules your energy usage! Cold-water laundry detergent has come a long way in the past two decades. Switching to a cold-water detergent can save you 90% of every load because it is heated water, not the powerful agitation of the water, that draws the most electricity. A cold-water wash can cost you less than five cents of electricity, while a hot water wash and rinse can cost up to a dollar per load! Cold water detergent is slightly more expensive than powdered detergent but when you consider it can save you up to one dollar per load, it’s
a worthy investment that pays for itself very quickly. Switch to cold water detergent and your energy bill will shrink, and you won’t have to do another thing differently. Speaking of shrinkage, cold water helps with clothing shrinkage and colour fading, too!
OVEN & STOVE: SMALL APPLIANCE APPLICATION
The oven and stove are the standard for cooking in the kitchen but can be oversized for many jobs. There are many smaller sidekick appliances that can do the same job with a fraction of the energy. The table shows that heat producing countertop plug-in devices are regulated to use 1500-1800 watts max.
· Toaster ovens can still broil, bake, and toast, but the smaller size uses many less watts per serving.
· Microwaves can boil or steam vegetables or reheat meals in minutes compared to the oversized oven or stovetop which take longer to penetrate food with heat, wasting energy in the process by up to 10 times.
· Electric kettles automatically turn off, which turns on the savings.
· Portable induction stovetop burners apply heat instantaneously to the pan and can be set to highly specific temperatures, eliminating the risk of burning food or wasting electricity.
The key is to use the smaller appliance when it can do the job. However, small items that remain on, like a coffee pot that keeps water hot, will continue to drain enormous amounts of electricity. Disable or monitor the heat production convenience features on your appliances or the price of your cup of coffee could leave a burnt taste in your mouth.
DISHWASHER: LET THIS SINK IN
This is going to sound crazy, but did you know you can save more energy by washing just 8 dishes in the dishwasher than handwashing them in the sink? This is how you save energy without breaking a sweat! The dishwasher uses less hot water than washing and rinsing only 8 dishes. The electricity used to create powerful force in the pumps or to spin the wands in the dishwasher comprises very little of the total energy bill for a load.
Of course, a full load is better than just 8 pieces, and the volume discount from filling a dishwasher is where savings can be realized. I like to use the timer feature on my dishwasher so that it washes in the middle of the night. Dishes can be added throughout the day and be ready to put away in the morning.
We’ve drilled down the list of most offensive energy hogs and have arrived at the items of least concern on the bottom of the table. Ironically, saving energy with the bottom of the list may require the most amount of personal energy to achieve a penny here or there. Screaming around the house to shut off lights does more to your blood pressure than your pocketbook! However, there are some effortless tips to squeeze the most out of this list while enjoying the tranquility of your home.
Most modern televisions come with eco-options. Skip the options to dim the screen, that just strains your eyes. Instead focus on options to automatically turn off the television. My television turns it off after a set period if it has received no input. If you forget to shut the tv off after turning off your Xbox, it will remember for you.
Computers and laptops also have an option to schedule automatic shutdowns. I set mine to automatically shut down at 9 PM, and that saves many hours of staying on for no reason.
I declared my love for fans in the previous article, and so I will instead ask you to leave them on low, ALL DAY! A bit of moving air keeps you cooler in the summer and eliminates cold spots in the winter, which allows you to keep the thermostat at a more efficient temperature year-round. It might sound counterintuitive to leave a device on in order to save energy, but it will save you more than it costs. Keeping a fan on the low setting 24/7 for a month will cost under $1.50 but increasing the thermostat by one degree can cost many times that in just one hour.
Your ceiling fan has a switch to turn clockwise in the winter which mixes heated air away from the ceiling and into the rest of the room and produces less of a direct air current on your skin.
We finally get to the lowly lightbulb, the darling champion of energy efficiency. Back when lightbulbs came in the 60W and 100W varieties, leaving them on was a major faux pas. Modern lighting uses just a sliver of that energy and so a tyrannical effort to keep unoccupied rooms dark makes less and less ‘cents’. Especially in the dead of winter, your mental health can be improved by keeping your home bright and cheerful after dark while costing comparatively very little.
To save money without sacrificing my comfort, I use wall plug timers and smart bulbs for the rooms I use most. I set lights to turn on at dusk and off at midnight. This ensures that they are not on pointlessly during the day, but I enjoy the marvelous feeling of entering automatically lit rooms after dark. A typical LED costs $0.001 cent per hour to operate, and even when it all adds up, it is just not worth racing around to turn them off. I turn off all the lights once, before I go to bed.
After all the energy saving you have gained by following my tips above, you have earned the right to splurge!
The saying “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight” may not be a universal truth. The savings that I enjoy by focusing on the biggest offenders on my electricity bill are significant, but I don’t have to work hard at all to achieve it. As a staff member of the Wa Ni Ska Tan Alliance of Hydro Impacted Communities, I am extra cognisant of how precious electricity ought to be regarded, given the deleterious
impacts of hydroelectricity on Indigenous communities and the environment in Manitoba. I hope this article helps you to consider electricity in a new way that makes more sense than it did before, and that you feel empowered to try effortless tips to make big impacts on your energy usage without feeling inconvenienced or uncomfortable. Once you catch the savings bug, you may be more inclined to try some energy saving tips that require a bit more effort.