Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SIREN Energy Challenge

Last year, we participated in the Southern Indiana Renewable Energy Network's (SIREN) Energy Challenge. The goal was to reduce electric energy usage.

Each month, I entered our current electric usage and the previous year's data into a spreadsheet. The reductions were based on an individual household's consumption, so the percentage reduction was calculated and a winner was declared each quarter. There were quarterly prizes.

We actually won the first quarter, with the largest percentage reduction of all the participants. We received a free solar assessment and a Kill-a-Watt meter as our prizes. Our energy use actually increased slightly during the summer due to the hotter temperatures, but we were back in the game for the 4th quarter. While we didn't win, we did manage to reduce our electricity consumption by an average 22% in 2010 compared to 2009.

Tonight, at SIREN's monthly meeting, they had a special presentation where they asked the quarterly winners to talk briefly about how they accomplished their energy reductions. The winner of the contest was announced - a family that saved an average 46%!

Many of the strategies were similar amongst the three of us who spoke (the same household won the 3rd and 4th quarters). What everyone found amazing in our story was that most of the major things we have done to reduce our energy consumption were made prior to 2009. We saved 22% the hard way, yet we didn't go to the extremes that one family did.

Are you wondering what the others did?

The winning family (2 parents, 7 year old twins) installed timers on everything. They raised the temperature on their central air conditioning to 85º, but used 2 window units (one in the main living area during the day and one in the kids' bedroom at night) which actually reduced the humidity more so that they were comfortable with the higher temperature. They cycled their pool pump on and off throughout the day rather than leaving it on all the time. They hung laundry out to dry. And so on.

The 3rd/4th quarter winners really went to extremes to reduce their consumption, using a camp shower all summer so they could turn their water heater off, not using air conditioning, setting their thermostat extremely low in winter (58º!). I don't remember all the things they did, but I am not willing to go to those extremes.

So what did we do?

  • Well, after buying our house in December 2003, we noticed that the den and some other rooms were very drafty. In February and March of 2004 we replaced the original single pane windows with double pane windows. We could feel the difference in the comfort level immediately and our gas bill went down right away. 
  • We have replaced almost every appliance in the house, which, with the exception of the 2002 water heater, dated to 1986. (2004: dishwasher and stove, 2006: washer and dryer, 2009: refrigerator). 
  • We decommissioned a chest freezer that we were underutilizing in early 2009. 
  • In 2006 we installed extra insulation in the attics. 
  • Chris has the computer programmed to automatically shut down at night. 
  • We turn the power strip that our stereo equipment is plugged in to off when it's not in use. 
  • We've replaced the lightbulbs in the house with CFLs and have actually bought our first LED. 
  • We set the air conditioning between 78º and 80º in the summer and the furnace to 68º to 70º during the winter. When we can, we open windows and run the ceiling fans Chris installed in 2006. 
  • I hang laundry on the line outside, and occasionally in the basement, although not as often as I should. (Dryers use crazy amounts of electricity.)

Notice that the big things were all before 2009, except the refrigerator (which was probably responsible for much of our impressive savings) and the old freezer (which only effected January through March). Sometimes it is the little things, the habits we change. What's that saying? A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step? Well, energy reduction starts with a single switch (off).

We still have work to do. We are currently saving for a new HVAC system, which will do incredible things to reduce both electricity and gas (furnace and water heater are gas). We would love to install solar panels. We may replace more CFLs with LEDs as they burn out, although they aren't necessarily what we want everywhere. A big benefit there is that LEDs don't have mercury, so we don't have to worry about disposal. I need to try to hang laundry out more so we use the dryer less. (I did mention dryers are energy hogs, didn't I? Next time you run yours, go look at your meter spin. It will sicken you.)

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