Mike at Home: Saving Money in My Apartment

So, what exactly does an energy manager think about when they come home from work?  Probably cold beverages, watching some TV, or playing sports, right?  Nope, we think about how to cut back consumption and environmental impact at home!  This blog is about some of those energy measures I’ve taken at home.  I live in a fairly small apartment, so if you are looking for tips more geared to a full house, check out Chad’s “Chad at Home” post.

Temperature Setback

First things first, my apartment is heated by the dreaded electric baseboard heater, which causes my electric bill to skyrocket in winter.  I also have an electric hot water heater, so I don’t directly pay for any fossil fuels (other than propane and propane accessories for the BBQ).

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Dreaded Electric Baseboard Heater

When I first moved in, I noticed my electricity bills tripling or even quadrupling in winter, so I started meddling with the heating cranking it on and off when I was leaving the house.  This had some impact, but was extremely hard to maintain on a day to day basis.  The solution was to install a programmable thermostat, which automatically sets back the temperature 4 times per day (set back during work and at night).  Basically, it briefly turns on the heat before I get up in the morning, then lowers the temperature during the day, raising it back up before I return home, and lowering it again at bed time.  If you work at home or are retired, you may not be able to set back as much during the day, but can still take advantage of savings at night when you are warm and toasty in your blanket.  If you are worried about odd days where you stay home, you can manually adjust the temperature and the thermostat will automatically default to its settings when it reaches the next programmed time interval.  This measure cut my electricity consumption by 22% year over year.  The thermostat only cost $50 and I saved well over $100 in the first winter.  I should note that the post retrofit winter was significantly colder than the baseline year (average temperature 2-4 degrees C colder Dec-Mar), so theoretically I should have been using much more electricity.  There is a myth going around that temperature setbacks don’t work because the heater has to work harder to bring the temperatures back up, so I pulled the energy numbers from my Toronto Hydro smart meter account to dispel that:

Savings Chart

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Programmable Thermostat

Proper Use of Blinds

I have a western exposure sliding door and I always make sure to open the blinds on a sunny afternoon in winter to pick up the free solar heat.  This really works well in shoulder season and I can often delay heating well into November.  Likewise, I make sure the blinds are closed during the day in summer to prevent overheating the apartment.

Sealing Windows in Winter

Last winter, I applied a thin plastic film over some of the larger windows in the apartment to reduce drafts.  This is a low cost way to prevent cold air infiltration and lower your heating bill.

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Taking Shorter Showers

As I mentioned above, my water heating is also electric, meaning every minute in the shower is money down the drain.  I try to keep my shower time under 5 minutes and also turn off the water while I’m applying soap.  Also, I take showers at night to take advantage of lower electricity costs (and get those glorious 5 extra minutes of sleep/mashing the snooze button in the morning).  If you are interested in more water savings tips, see my previous post on the topic.

Using a Renewable Energy Reseller

Although Ontario’s grid is relatively clean now that we have shuttered all our coal plants, the grid is not fully renewable and still relies on fossil fuels in the form of natural gas and other non-renewable resources such as nuclear.  Various resellers ensure that for every kWh you consume, they will inject an equal amount of renewable (wind/solar/microhydro generated) electricity into the grid through the finance and ownership of renewable energy projects in Ontario.  The reseller I use is called Bullfrog Power.

LED lighting

I have replaced almost all of the lighting in my apartment with low consumption LED bulbs that will last dozens of years without burning out.  I have mostly replaced existing CFL bulbs, yielding an energy savings of about 25% (14W down to 11W per bulb) with the added advantage that LEDs to not contain the neurotoxin mercury.  Buy your own LED bulbs using this $5 off coupon from the IESO!

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Wash laundry in cold water

Unless items are heavily soiled (such as gym clothes) I run the laundry machine on the cold cycle.  Almost 90% of the energy required to wash a load of laundry goes into heating the water!

Furthermore, I typically air dry most of my laundry on a drying rack (except sheets and other large items since I don’t have much space for a clothesline).

Use Air Dry Function of Dishwasher

I never use the heating element of the dishwasher.  Try turning off that option next time and see if you notice any difference.  I find that the dishes are hot enough from the hot water that they air dry just as quickly.

Dishwasher

Minimizing use of AC

My electricity consumption peaks in winter due to electric heating, however it is much more typical for the air conditioning loads in summer to drive peak electricity demand.  The main things I do to cut AC usage are:

  • running a ceiling fan or portable fan before turning the AC on
  • open windows
  • close the blinds to keep the heat from the sun outside
  • wear less clothing
  • drink a cold, refreshing beverage

So far this summer, even on the hottest days, I haven’t had to turn on the AC in the living area unless a lot of people are visiting.  I do, however, turn it on in the bedroom to sleep when the night time temperature stays high (luckily electricity is cheaper at night).

These are a few of the ways I have gone about saving energy at my apartment – I hope you find this helpful and look forward to hearing any additional tips in the comments.

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