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The spikes in our daily electricity use you see in this Google PowerMeter snapshot of our April 2011 electric usage are a direct result of us running our dryer (the middle gray line = 10 kWh).

editors-blog-entry3Call me crazy, cool, or just plain weird, but we’re going to try and use less than 200 kWh of electricity for the month of May.

[No, we do NOT yet have an electric car. That’s because we live in Colorado, not in California, Washington, Arizona, or another of those lucky few EV rollout states in the U.S. Obviously, with an EV, a 200 kWh month wouldn’t be possible!]

As far as I know, we’ve never come in under 200 kWh for a full month here in our 2,000-square foot (this total includes a furnished basement), 3-bedroom home, where four of us have lived for the past five years. But we’ve come damn close, dropping coming in as low as 220 kWh for a full month of usage several times.

Generally, during the spring, summer and fall months, we use between 200 and 300 kWh per month – we’re extremely stingy about using our central AC in the summer, having turned it on once, yes, just once in the last two years.

 

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electric range
refrigeratorSome of our biggest electricity users: Central AC, microwave, electric range and diswasher, and refrigerator.

 

Winter months = more electricity use
During the winter, our monthly kWh usage climbs to between 300 and 450 kWh. That’s primarily because our home heating system is a forced hot air system complete with an electricity hogging 750 watt central fan that blows hot air around our house – with that warm air being heated by natural gas. Shorter days and longer nights are also a factor in pushing up electricity use in winter.

In general, we consume less than half the amount of electricity the typical Colorado Front Range household does, which is about 640 kWh per month.

However, we very definitely do not live in the dark ages.

We’ve got, and use – though sometimes sparingly – all of the conveniences considered “necessary” in a contemporary American home: dishwasher, washer, dryer, refrigerator, toaster, a 26-inch LCD HDTV set, stereo system, DVD player, cable TV, two desktop computers, an ink jet printer and scanner, an automatic garage door opener, an electric range oven, a microwave, an electric tea kettle, and multiple plug in and charge devices — cell phones, video cameras, digital SLR cameras, electronic toys. etc.

All of our light bulbs are CFLs. And I’m fairly anal – but not extremely so – about turning off lights in the house, although I will be VERY anal about it this May 😉

Dryer, AC worst energy hogs
We’re most anal about our dryer and central air conditioning. These are far and away the biggest electricity hogs in our home, and, most likely, yours too.

Hanging a load of laundry out to dry will save you far more electricity much more quickly than putting in CFL bulbs, turning off lights, or turning off the “vampire” loads in your house, e.g. the cable box, etc.

In our household, I estimate that we save about 5 kWh for every load of laundry we hang – and we’ve hung about 60 loads since July 2010. That’s 300 kWh, or essentially one month’s worth of electricity for us. It’s also up to 1,200 miles of driving in an electric car!

In this, our first year with home solar, I estimate we’ll use about 4,000 kWh of electricity and generate nearly 9,000 kWh with our 5.59 kW system. We’re banking those extra 5,000 kWh with our utility, Xcel Energy, for future use for an electric car, though when we’ll actually see production EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus Electric actually being sold in Colorado is anyone’s guess.

We won’t turn our central AC on until it gets to about 82 or 83 in our home. This rarely occurs due to the fact that 95% of our windows face northward. We’re also generally content to use ceiling fans and window fans, with central AC a last resort for those 100+ degree days we sometimes get in the Denver area.

In this, our first year with home solar, I estimate we’ll use about 4,000 kWh of electricity and generate nearly 9,000 kWh with our 5.59 kW system. We’re banking those extra 5,000 kWh with our utility, Xcel Energy, for future use for an electric car, though when we’ll actually see production EVs like the Nissan LEAF or Ford Focus Electric actually being sold in Colorado is anyone’s guess.

Heatless and AC-less in May
So, back to our May 2011 goal of using fewer than 200 kWh for the entire month. It won’t be easy. Basically, we’re going to need to:

  1. Go heatless. Again, this is because of our highly inefficient forced hot air heating system and its 750 watt fan. Going without heat won’t be easy for May 1 and 2, with a high temperature of 46 F forecast for May 1 (it snowed here last night!);
  2. Hang every load of laundry we do in the month of May;
  3. Pretty much continue our already energy efficient living, which again, means paying attention to energy use, while still getting to use all of the “necessary” conveniences of modern American life;

Why aim to use 200 kWh or less in May?

May is typically not too cold and not too hot in the Denver area, meaning, ideally, we won’t need heat or air conditioning in May (though May 1 will be pretty cold, apparently ;-).

Additionally, the days are long, and the nights short.

The final reason: If we use more than 200 kWh for May, we’ve still got June to try again for 200 kWh or less — although we might end up sweltering a bit to get there if we give it another go in June.

How to keep track of your home electricity use
ted1For most American households it’s not that easy to keep track of exactly how much electricity is being used. Generally, you have to wait for your monthly utility bill. Another option is a daily trip to your utility meter. But, if you’ve got the old dial-style meter, this is an inexact science, to say the least. We now use TED (The Energy Detective) to keep track of our real-time electricity use and production. Hook it up with Google PowerMeter and you can keep track of electric use and, if you’ve got solar, electricity production from anywhere in the world. If you’re serious about watching your electricity use, TED, or a similar real-time device, is essential. Without it, it’s kind of like trying to lose weight — without knowing anything about the calorie count of each item you eat.

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