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Energy Saving Tips for Your Home

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You're looking at your latest hydro bill, it shows you're using about 1,000 kilowatt hours of power a month, and it's costing you money.  Most power companies have moved to charging a higher rate for power use beyond 750 kilowatt hours. How can you reduce your consumption close to the magic kilowatt hours a month?

Much depends on how you heat your house or apartment: If you have electric heating, you're bound to use a lot of power in the winter. But there are some choices everyone can make.

Here's a guide indicating how much power some common electric appliances and equipment could be using each month. Most of this information was supplied by Toronto Hydro, so the cost will be in Canadian dollars.

Because different makes and models of equipment use different amounts of power, all figures are approximate. For the most part, we've used average consumption levels as defined by most hydro companies.

We've given the figures in kilowatt hours; to convert to dollars, multiply by 0.1, as the retail price of electricity is about 10 cents a kilowatt hour in most areas of North America. 

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The link at left holds a pictorial overview of the average monthly cost and power consumption of a variety of common household appliances. Click on it to open it up.

If the picture doesn't open full size in your browser window, click on the photo resize button that appears at the lower right of it.

Chill out in the pool: Not too many people can pull this one off, but if you have an electric pool heater, get used to swimming in cooler water. A typical heater will suck up 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month.  

  • A pool blanket can cut heating costs by 50 to 70 per cent. And a one horsepower swimming pool pump uses more than 1,000 kilowatt hours of power a month if it runs 24 hours a day.  
  • You might consider cutting it back to six hours a day. If that's too little to keep the pool clean, increase in half-hour increments each day until you're satisfied. 

The basement guzzler: Yes, if you have an old beer fridge in the basement, it's probably costing you money, since older models are energy hogs. The typical 20 cubic foot refrigerator in use in 1992 (counting both old and new models) used 94 kilowatt hours a month. So if you have an old clunker chugging away in the basement cooling four cans of Coke and a jar of pickles, unplugging it could save you some real money. If you actually use a second fridge, consider the energy savings of buying a new one: A brand new 1992 model fridge used 66 kilowatt hours a month. An energy efficient model built in 2001 uses only 39 kilowatt hours a month.

Lighten up: Compact fluorescent lights can screw into a conventional socket used by incandescent lights. And the compact fluorescents give off far more light per watt of power used than incandescent lights.  A 60-watt incandescent can be replaced by a 13-watt or 15-watt compact fluorescent. 

  • A 100-watt incandescent can be replaced by a 32-watt compact fluorescent.  Assuming the average bulb burns for 24.5 hours a week, replacing 20 incandescent bulbs of 60 watts each with compact fluorescents will save 96 kilowatt hours a month. 
  • Replacing 20 incandescent bulbs of 100 watts each will save 144 kilowatt hours a month.

The drawback: Compact fluorescent bulbs tend to be bulky and may not fit all lamps or fixtures. They're also not designed for dimmer switches or timers. The bulbs are also much more expensive than conventional incandescent bulbs, but last 10 times longer.

Cheaper heat: If you have electric heat the choice of many apartment and condominium buildings because it's cheap to install you can't escape big hydro bills in the winter. But you can cut the bill back if you can tolerate living in slightly cooler quarters. You save about 3 per cent of your heating costs for every degree you lower the temperature. Taking an 800-square-foot apartment heated by two heaters of 1,500 watts each, plus two of 750 watts each, lowering the temperature two degrees Celsius will save 81 kilowatt hours a month during the winter.

Cheaper cooling: According to National Research Council data, you save 3 to 5 per cent in energy for every degree you raise the thermostat during air conditioning season in the summer. Using a 1,500-square-foot house with central air conditioning, you'll save 32 to 53 kilowatt hours a month during the summer by raising the thermostat two degrees. You might also think about a ceiling fan to provide cooling that cuts your use of your air conditioner. Even running a ceiling fan 24 hours a day consumes just 43 kilowatt hours a month; running a room air conditioner 50 per cent of the time uses 12 to 18 times that much power. A portable fan uses twice as much power as a ceiling fan.

Hot water: Electric hot water heaters consume lots of power about 700 kilowatt hours a month for a family of four people. Please don't reset temperatures outside manufacturers' recommended guidelines. (Water that's too hot can burn; a tank that's too cold can breed bacteria.)  Still, there are ways to trim costs without adjusting the temperature. 

  • Get a water heater blanket to improve the insulation of the tank - it can trim costs a good 50 percent.
  • The U.S. publication Home Energy organization says low flow showerheads can trim power use by 12.6 per cent, or 88 kilowatt hours a month. 
  • For laundry, consider cold water washing where possible, and cold water rinsing at all times. It will save 4 per cent of laundry costs, or 28 kilowatt hours a month for a family of four.  
  • A clothesline can save you money. Running a dryer 20 hours a month will cost you 100 kilowatt hours. A clothesline's operating costs are zero. 

Small savings

  • A dishwasher that runs 20 times a month uses 13 kilowatt hours a month on the heat dry setting. Switching to air dry saves 10 per cent. 
  • A computer uses twice as much power as a television, on average. A television in use 200 hours a month uses 20 kilowatt hours. A computer racks up the same energy usage in 100 hours of use; the monitor soaks up the bulk of the energy, so set it to shut down after 10 minutes idle time - and ditch the screensaver because it's not saving you any electricity!

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