Standard shower heads are rated at 2.5 gallons per minute (at 80 psi, a little higher than most houses’ water pressure). 1.5 gallon per minute models can provide a very nice shower (though quality varies, so check Consumer Reports or another reference). Over a ten-minute shower, that’s ten gallons saved. Given Aqua’s marginal charge for water and the cost of the gas to heat those ten gallons, that’s only about 12¢ in savings. But over 500 showers, that adds up to $60.
Each 10 degree reduction in your water heater’s thermostat setting will save you 3-5% of your water heating costs (source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy). For a standard tank type gas water heater, that’s on the order of 10 therms, or roughly $10, per year. You should set the temperature at the lowest setting that keeps everyone happy (particularly the hottest showerer in the house). The analog knob for setting the temperature can be found towards the bottom of the tank. A little trial-and-error may be necessary – set the temperature down some and then wait a day to assess the hot water’s warmth; then adjust some more, if you’re still mixing a lot of cold into showers.
Let’s put this debate to rest: gas – even when “fracked” – is both cheaper and cleaner. The energy content of 0.7 gallons of heating oil is about the same as one therm (or ccf) of gas. The former costs about $2.80 delivered (assuming $4 per gallon) while the latter usually goes for about $1 from PECO. That’s almost a three-fold difference; and while those absolute costs may change, the spread between them won’t likely move much (and it would have to move a great deal to make oil the cost-effective choice). And gas boilers and furnaces generally burn a little more efficiently than comparable oil ones. And there are air quality and climate change benefits to gas, too – it has much less sulfur and about half the greenhouse gas effect per unit of delivered heat.
Use your curtains and blinds to help you save money in the summer and winter. Approximately one-third of a home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. What lets in light and fresh air may also be letting heat escape in the winter or unnecessarily heating up your home in the summer. But you don't have to replace your windows. Using window treatment strategically can make a big difference.
Close your curtains at night during the winter to help hold in the heat. Open them during the day to let the radiant heat from the sun warm your house (especially on the south side of the house.
During the summer, make sure to close the blinds and curtains on the south and west sides of your home during the heat of the day.
If you plan to buy new window treatment soon, consider choosing insulated curtains or blinds, which can be very effective against heat loss in the winter and heat gain during the summer.
Make sure to leave plenty of air space between your furniture and heating or cooling vents. Restricting air circulation will cause your system to work harder, wasting energy, and may leave a room colder than the rest of the house. Blocking an air return vent is even worse; the suction at the return tends to draw in fabrics, which can leave the system virtually gasping for air.
And don’t close down a vent entirely, thinking that then you can put furniture in front. That generates back pressure in the system, which again wastes energy. Instead, look for a control damper where the branch line comes from the main duct. You can close that off without reducing efficiency. Some systems may not have dampers, so ask your heating servicer about it. It may be possible to retrofit them if needed. (And if you're not getting your heater serviced regularly, START NOW.)
Even if your house feels draft-free and cozy, you may be losing a lot of heat needlessly. The right insulation, in the right places, can save 20% or more on heating costs.
But you needn’t go to great expense to gain big benefits. A great deal of heat is lost not directly through the walls, as we imagine, but by the movement of air behind the walls. Cold air comes in around the bottom perimeter of the house – sometimes called the band joist or rim joist – where the walls rest on the foundation, and travels upward to the attic through a kind of chimney effect. In the process, it takes heat from the basement and all the outside rooms. Sealing the band joist and insulating the attic can pay for itself in just a few years.
Watt Whacker, Part 2
Numbers and Graphs
So here, for those few truly dedicated, or desperate, souls who have followed us all the way here, is the proof, the pictures, and the numbers. The data goes back all the way to July, 1996, when our family first moved to Wallingford. Some of the information in the earlier years is estimated, so small year-to-year variations should not be taken as particularly meaningful. Recent data is very accurate.
First, let’s look at the heating cost. For many of us, maybe most, this is the biggest category of energy use.
Note the drop in energy consumption (red line) in 1999-2000, after we installed new windows to replace the original single-pane ones. But nothing much else happened until around 2004, when the price of oil started to climb. Our new heating system, installed just before the 2008-2009 season, reset everything and reduced our heating costs to about what they were twelve years earlier, even without adjusting for inflation, and it’s still going down.
About that red line, which goes with the right-hand axis: it’s adjusted to compensate for the weather, through something called “degree days”, so it’s a measure of my home’s efficiency. (Lower is better.) Degree days, or DD, are a way of calculating how much heating is needed each day through the year, and adding that up. (There are also cooling degree days.) So we measure energy consumption per DD. And by comparing each year’s degree days against “normal” for the area, we can see how warm or cold each year is; that’s the black line with yellow pips. You can see that last year was way below normal, actually a little over 21% lower. So part of my savings this year were due to the weather, but as the red line shows, I made some efficiency gains as well.
What about electricity? Let’s look at the overall energy costs, in which I’ve separated out oil, gas, and electricity, with inflation shown on the blue line.:
Note the big increase in the purple blocks starting in 2004-2005, after we added the air conditioning. Again, the run-up in oil prices is visible in the red blocks along the bottom, disappearing in 2008 when we switched to gas. Between 2007-2008, our base year, and now, our total energy costs have gone from $5861 to $2705, for a total reduction of nearly 54%. And even a more “normal” winter would have added no more than a couple of hundred dollars to that bottom line.
Total savings to date, assuming only that expenses had risen with the CPI: $11,454. Costs to date: $8,000 for the new heater, $3,500 for weatherization, $1,100 for the refrigerator, and a few hundred for LED lamps and other items. About $13,000 total investment, so it’ll be fully paid off this year, but will keep saving me about $3,000 each and every year, forever.
Looking at just the electricity, we’ve invested about $1800, including the cost of the TED 5000, yielding a savings of $776 before adding in the $240 PECO rebate, or over $1000 this year alone – a savings of nearly 44%. Our investments in electricity reduction have been fully paid for.
How’s My Carbon Footprint?
We didn’t start this project to save the planet, just to save money. But look what’s happened to our carbon emissions:
Our total carbon emissions stood at 16.3 tons for our base year, not much different from what it had been since we moved in. That dropped dramatically, to just over 12 tons, when we changed over to gas heat – gas is the least carbon-intensive of all the fossil fuels. Gradual declines followed as we continued to cut our electricity usage.
Starting in 2011, we decided to invest about an extra half-cent per kWh (less than $45 per year) to buy 100% Pennsylvania-generated wind power, out of our electricity savings. Without all that coal being burned, our emissions rate has plunged to less than 6 tons a year, a reduction of 65%.
Interested in tracking your energy usage? Contact the Residential Team at info@aFewSteps.org.