February 17, 2013

January kWh Report

Last month's trend continues; we used more kilowatt hours than the previous month, but significantly less than the same month a year ago. Our daily average usage is up 5 kilowatt hours from December. In January 2013, we averaged 22.35 kWh per day.

I can pinpoint the reasons for this. January was cold and rainy (over 12 inches), plus the work we're doing in the bathroom requires minimum room and surface temps. All of this meant using the space heater to keep the bathroom warm, and not being able to line dry the laundry. I don't suppose it helps, either, that my washer and dryer are old. The spin cycle on the washer doesn't spin out the water very well, and sometimes I have to run the dryer on two cycles to get the clothes dry.

To help conserve our wood supply, I have been turning on the heat pump during the day, whenever the outside temperature is warm enough to produce heat without the auxiliary heat strips. In the evening we heat the front of the house with the wood heater, and the heat pump is turned off. It's cold in the morning, but we've learned to close up the kitchen to stay warm by the wood cookstove for breakfast.

Our house was built before central, forced air heating, so all the rooms in our house have doors. Each room had either a coal fireplace or coal burning heater. The doors kept the heat inside whatever room it was wanted in. One suggestion, when we remodeled the kitchen, was to open the wall between the kitchen and dining room. At the time, I didn't entertain this because that wall was the only wall I had for cabinets and shelves, which my small kitchen needed badly. Now, I realize how much harder that would have made it to keep the kitchen warm. The open concept design is a popular modern floor plan, but this winter I realized why it isn't conducive to zone heating. Or cooling. In summer I can contain  heat generated by canning, and keep it from spreading throughout the house. The wood cookstove though, provides glorious heat and since I use it for all meals, the kitchen stays warm. The insulation and energy star windows we added help with that!

I've also been shutting the doors to my studio at night, to prevent heat loss from the rest of the house. My studio has nine, single glazed windows, all as old as the house is. Nor does the room have insulation. I love the light but it's hot in summer and cold in winter, except on a sunny day when the sun warms the room nicely. My regret is that we do not have enough sunny days! Closing the studio doors at night really help keep warmth in the living room and bedroom. Unfortunately, my desk and  internet connection are in the studio, so I often use a small radiator type space heater to keep my fingers warm enough to type.

Blankets over the windows and doors helps! Eventually
we'll replace the drafty, ill-fitting door with an energy
star one. The energy efficient windows really help too. 

Still, last month we used less than half the electricity we used in January 2012, when we averaged 54 kWh per day. Dan says next year we should do even better, assuming we get the bedrooms done. The corner bedroom, where we sleep, in particular is cold for the same reasons as my studio: old windows and no insulation. Once these rooms have better insulation and better windows, we will stay warmer with less energy output. Then, too, we won't be using power tools and space heaters to get repair and remodeling jobs done.

On a practical level I am not dissatisfied with this month's electric usage.  January's electric bill was $83, and we can live with that. We have enough alternatives that we can make choices about when and how to use electricity. The important thing is that we are learning and implementing lifestyle changes that will better suit us for whatever the future may bring.


Tami said...

Glad to see you using the blankets over the windows, Leigh. I have heavy velvet curtains in the bedroom to block the cold and I still have nails over my hallway openings from the ice storm we had 10 yrs ago. I hung blankets in all the doorways to make one snug room. Moved a mattress in there so we could sleep. One week without power sure makes you appreciate small heated spaces!

Anonymous said...

I am very interested to see this break down. Thank you for sharing, as always :)

Woolly Bits said...

with our shed/studio building we started to think about heating the latter, too. it will have a woodstove, but because it won't be in use constantly I will most likely only light the stove after a longer damp spell (ok, recently we had only longer damp spells:) or when I use it. of course it would be nice to store all my books etc. for crafts as well - but is it worth the much higher costs for heating? I think not. we do have a higher bill right now, too - not surprising with all the power tools etc. we're using - but I think as long as you can pinpoint where you need the "more" and use it for doing up things, you just have to live with it. I have exchanged my freezer, fridge and washing machine though for more energy saving ones and it did make a big difference! no dryer needed because I can hang all our washing over the stove in the living room! wouldn't it be worth it to invest in a small separate spinner for you? it does make a huge difference in drying time and they are reasonably priced, at least over here... you can leave the washing machine on very low spinning as well (if you can choose that), which makes the machine last longer, too...

Renee Nefe said...

Have you looked into seeing what the cause of your washer & dryer problems are and possibly fixing them? My washer & dryer are 20 years old. The washer is still doing great but it is making some noise so we suspect that it will need a new belt soon. The dryer burned out the heating element about 7 years back and since then we've gone through quite a few new elements because hubby couldn't get the drum to balance, but once he did that last element has lasted about 2 years now...I think. But new heating elements have only cost us around $15 and a few scrapes on the metal of the dryer.

I don't know how your utility companies are, but I'm pretty sure that if we had managed to cut our bills in half (even with their increases) that they would be out here in a flash to figure out why. I don't know how much we've cut back since we replaced our windows, but I do know that the old windows used to get condensation on them in the winter and now just one does. We should probably have it checked out.

Mama Pea said...

Gosh, Leigh, I think you're doing great! The bottom line here is that you're always making progress, moving in the right direction. Plus you KNOW what can (and no doubt will) be done to improvement the situation even more. I suspect we all suffer a little inconvenience (and comfort!) while working toward our ultimate goals. We started out here in northern MN in an uninsulated tin can of a trailer. What we have now is darn close to luxurious efficiency . . . at least compared to that!

Leigh said...

Tami, losing power really is a wake up call isn't it? I should hang blankets over my studio windows, but right now it's storage so things are packed in there except for my desk. I can't get to the windows!

Stephanie, you're welcome. I always appreciate tips I get from others on the same subject.

Bettina, it's a trade off of choices, isn't it? I've never seen a separate laundry spinner here. I did look at wringers once, with the idea we'd use it for pressing sorghum maybe. If the weather is nice, I line hang the clothes of course, and if they don't dry completely then I pop the damp stuff in they dryer for half a cycle. I'd love to have one of those big laundry racks!

Renee, I read once about an electric company that was so successful in getting folks to cut usage that they had to raise rates to keep their profits up. :) Ours probably thinks we switched to natural gas, LOL. Dan has fixed both washer and dryer a number of times but we haven't considered a new heating element. The washer is 27 years old and the dryer about 17. If it wasn't for Dan, I'd probably gone through several sets of new ones by now.

Mama Pea, I'm really happy with our progress. I get tired of being cold sometimes, but then in summer I get tired of being hot. :) I'm just happy to not have those $200 electric bills this winter. So many better things to spend the $$ on!

Laura said...

When we were having single digit night temps, I had to leave my hot water faucet on drip in the bathroom closest to the water heater, or the feeder line from the water heater to the house freezes. There is a gap between the foundation and the sill of this old mobilehome, and in spite of stuffing 8 oz. of wool roving in the hole, there's nothing else that works to keep it from freezing.

My bill went from $74 in November to $120 in December. My January bill, was back down to $70 with the warmer temps.

I try to heat with my wood stove, but have the heater set on 50 - it comes on in the early morning (timed depends on how cold it is), but it sometimes takes a couple of hours to warm the house back up.

I know there's not a lot I can do to fix the problem (I'm renting and this is a very old mobile), but I try to do what I can! Blankets over the doors helps when it's windy as neither of them actually seal well (weather-stipping notwithstanding).

This has been my first full winter here (I've been here a year now), and it's been interesting, to say the least!

Ed said...

I grew up in an old farmhouse that sounds similar to your current house. Old single pane windows and little to no insulation. It was also heated by one wood stove. We relied a lot on electric blankets to keep warm in the winter at night and during the day, we simply stayed close to the stove. That experience certainly makes me appreciate my more modern and tightly sealed house!

Thistle Cove Farm said...

When we first moved to our farmhouse, I hung quilts and wool blankets over doors and windows. I shoveled snow from inside the house to the outside. It's not that cold but it sure feels like it. I'm trying to get my electric bill down but it increased $75 this month...the dust to dawn light on the garage helps with the increase but, I think, the majority is due to space heaters. I hate it but it's less expensive to use space heaters than have the heating pipes freeze and burst.

Kathy said...

One way to save $$$ on windows you don't really need to see out of is using bubble wrap on the panes of glass:

Clean the window then spray plain water on the glass.
Adhere the flat side of the bubble wrap to the glass and smooth over it with your hand, removing any creases or air pockets from it.
Voila! This is an excellent way to add to the R-factor of the window panes. We use it on windows that even have shades or curtains, or that we need light from but not a view.
I learned this one from greenhouse folk and it works like a charm.
Recycled bubble wrap is OK, but I buy it from local stores as there are no fiddly bits of deal with.

Jody said...

How cool. We made significant changes from 2011 to 2012 too. One of which was line drying laundry. We've cut our electricity usage by more than 1/3 this year. It's very rewarding. We're glad to hear you're working hard on this too. Have you called your electric company and asked about grants. They might have programs for subsidizing your window replacement goals.

Renee Nefe said...

Here's an idea if you have any full sun windows http://www.ehow.com/how_6401547_homemade-solar-space-heater.html

or maybe some more wood stoves for the other rooms? Ooh! You could get a bed warmer (or fashion one) and heat it on the stove and then toast up the bed before climbing in. ;o)

Leigh said...

Ed, Sandra, and Kathy, I distinctly remember replying to your comments with a comment. But it's not here! Darn Blogger.

Ed, I hadn't thought about electric blankets. Of course, I do have a nice furry 4-legged foot warmer named Riley. :)

Sandra, shoveling snow from inside to out reminds me of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. Sounds like you've made some improvements too.

Kathy, thanks for the tip! I have bubble wrap around, but that sounds like an idea worth buying some.

Jody, it is rewarding! And good for you and Belle to make such a significant cut. I'm not sure about our power company offering grants, but that would be worth looking in to.

Renee, thanks! Sounds easy and inexpensive to make and so worth a try. I've thought about those bed warmers! I've also thought about investing in some soapstone bricks that I could wrap in towels and tuck in at the bottom of the bed. :)

Practical Parsimony said...

The bubble side goes toward the window if you use bubble wrap to insulate.

I am a fan of doors. My house is 111 years old, no insulation and single pane original windows. The house is drafty and cold! I have always kept the hall door closed, isolating the second store and downstairs hall from the first floor. On the first floor, I live in den, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and the formal dining room. I don't use it as a dining room.

The bedroom door is closed in the daytime, as is living room and sewing room. Basically, I live in den and kitchen, with bath and laundry. Even the bedroom door is closed.

In the summer, I always opened the whole house and had a whole house window ac. It did not cool the whole house, just the rooms adjacent.

Fortunately, I like a coolish house. Unfortunately, I don't like the floor draft I have to contend with!

Practical Parsimony said...


about the bubble wrap window insulation.

Anonymous said...

I"ve been admiring your self-sufficiency and especially your dramatic non-use of electricity. And I was especially envious of how little kWh you mentioned using in your last post. But this post mentioned how much you're actually paying, and I couldn't help but think, "whoa, we spend just a little more than that with a huge kWh usage." I figured it out. Here in MA I'm spending $0.137 per kWh while yours appears to be $1.53 per kWh. A dramatic difference. I live in an all-electric house with only an assist with solar pre-heated hot water and a wood stove we tend to use only during rare power outages. And since the floor plan is open concept, we don't get much savings from closing off doors. It's interesting what different geographical regions will charge for virtually the same product. --Sue in MA

Ron said...

Fantastic! You guys are really doing great.

Leigh said...

Linda, thanks for the info and for the link! Much appreciated.

Your house sounds worse than ours, LOL. Bigger too, which I know would make it harder to heat. Once we get our rooms set up the way we've planned, we'll be shutting off the corner bedroom all winter to conserve heat. If I could figure out another place to set up for my computer to go online and my desk, we'd do the same to my studio!

Sue, you made me go and do the math. The 22.35 kWh per day average was based on a total kWh usage of 693 for 31 days. For that we actually paid $82.77. Using those, I calculated the cost per kWh to be around $0.119. I didn't give you all the facts! We also have an outside light, rented from the power company, which adds a monthly $7.75 to the bill. Cost is actually my primary motivator at the moment. Plus eventually we'd like to not have to need the electric company at all, which means drastic lifestyle changes that we'd better get used to now.

Orange Jeep Dad, thanks!

Renee Nefe said...

I have to admit that I've gotten quite addicted to my electric mattress warmer. It is like an electric blanket, only it's a mattress cover. The plan is that hubby turns it on when he goes to bed at 9pm and then I shut it off when I come to bed. However if he goes to bed late, then the bed isn't warm enough for me to just shut it off...so I leave it on until I wake up sweating. :p
But I've thought about using my bread brick to stay warm with. ;)

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Always love reading your posts, Leigh. We live in an all-electric house built in the '80s. We only use our wood burning stove to keep the living area warm, the bedroom doors are kept closed. Our high ceilings with loft area aren't much help, however we do have a ceiling fan that keeps the heat on the lower level. Although we do get a discount on our electric bill due to our fixed income, we spent $95 last month (two freezers in the garage and the hen house gets heated at night) . . . so we're not complaining.