family-mountain2

Our family :-)

editors-blog-entry3Can an American family of four use fewer than 200 kWh of electricity per month?

Turns out it can!

We used just 186 kWh of electricity in the month of May here in our 2,100 square foot Aurora, Colo. home – and we didn’t go back to the dark ages in order to do so. We also generated 840 kWh of electricity with our 5.59 kW solar system, or more than four times as much electricity as we used!

[Of course, we still don’t have an electric car and are kind of wondering when a 4-person production EV will finally arrive in Colorado. Hint, hint Nissan — get your act together on the LEAF in the non-rollout states where thousands of folks have reserved a LEAF, but are beginning to wonder if they’ll ever arrive.]

In fact, the only big change we made was to hang nearly 100 percent of our laundry out to dry rather than using our electric dryer, which is far and away the biggest electricity hog in our home. And we did in fact use our dryer about eight times during the Month for short 15-minute bursts to partially dry clothes that tend to wrinkle.

Of course, our monthly electric use is already comparatively low, averaging about 300 kWh per month, and about 250 kWh in the mild spring and fall months here on Colorado’s Front Range. That’s less than half of the monthly electricity use of 635 kWh of average Colorado Xcel Energy customers.

Energy conservation & modern living
Despite what some might think, we live a pretty comfortable, modern lifestyle.

For instance, for our under-200 kWh month of May, we did all of the following:

  • Ran the refrigerator all month — hard to believe, eh? 😉
  • Regularly ran our dishwasher.
  • Regularly used our electric range oven and stove top.
  • Regularly used our washing machine (but avoided using the dryer as much as possible).
  • Regularly used our microwave, electric garage door opener, two desktop computers, electric toaster, electric curling iron, and, yes, our electric lights and lamps — no, we didn’t live in the dark 😉
  • Regularly charged various video and digital camera and cell-phone batteries and kept telephones and assorted other “vampire” devices plugged in the whole month.
  • Had our big, living room 26-inch TV/LCD monitor on for an average of 2 to 3 hours a day – and watched far more TV than normal thanks to having the Boston Celtics (no longer alive) and the Boston Bruins (still alive!) in the playoffs.

Normally, we don’t need to turn on the heat in May. But May 2011 turned out to be an exception. We have forced hot air heat with a 750 watt fan. We turned our central heat on for 15-minute bursts more than a dozen times during this unusually cold May, and we kept the temperature of our house at 63 degrees or above for all of the time we were actually home.

solar-powered-cat-box

Our kitty litter box has a tiny electric fan and filter that runs 24 hours a day to get rid of, well, that not-so-fresh cat box odor.

No one but the cats home
Speaking of being at home: To be fair, no one’s at home in our house from 9 until 4:30 on weekdays. Well, we do have 2 cats, but they can survive temperatures of 54 (or, frankly, below), which is how low I let the temperature drop in our house when we aren’t there.

We did have three sick days in May where we were home “unexpectedly” with a sick child on a weekday, which upped our electricity use, especially since all of these days were ones on which we had to turn on the heat.

Yes, it would have a been a bit harder to go under 200 kWh for May if we’d been at home, 24/7. Personally, though, I think we still could have made it, as we use very little electricity during the day, especially in mild months such as May.

85 kWh always “on”
By the way, according to Google Power Meter, 85 of those 186 kWh we used in May were always on/plugged in and drawing electricity – clocks, telephones, electric cat box air purifier (an especially important electronic device!), electric range oven, microwave, etc.

I have to admit that our own case makes me wonder exactly what it is that other similarly sized homes and households are doing that’s pushing them to 635 kWh – or more – per month.

In sum, we were able to use fewer than 200 kWh of electricity for a full month living a completely comfortable and modern lifestyle – with the exception of using the electric dryer, which we avoided nearly 100 percent in the month of May.

I know, some people find hanging laundry out to dry a drag and I’m sure there are more than a few backwards HOAs out there who think hanging laundry is uglier than mercury, sulfur dioxide, arsenic, and carbon dioxide pollution pumped into the air by our oh-so-aesthetically pleasing coal power plants. I also know not everyone lives in a climate that is as sunny and dry as it frequently is along Colorado’s Front Range (it’s not always sunny and dry here, believe me!).

Hanging laundry not for everyone
In other words, hanging laundry and avoiding your electric dryer isn’t for everyone. However, for a lot of us, it’s the single biggest thing we can do to substantially reduce our home electric use, this, and avoiding, as much as possible, using the central air conditioning (if you have this).

Sure, to get under 200 kWh per month in a mild weather month where you live you might need to do a few more things — although, frankly, we didn’t have to. I’m betting that a lot of American households of four could get to under 200 kWh, or, at least, to under 300 kWh, for at least a few months a year without having to sacrifice modern living in any significant way.

In fact, I have to admit that our own case makes me wonder exactly what it is that other similarly sized homes and households are doing that’s pushing them to 635 kWh – or more – per month.

What do you think: What are they doing that we aren’t?

[Ok, a lucky few might be charging an electric car 😉 — but what about those that aren’t, what are they doing?]

kwh-may-2011

Our Google PowerMeter chart for May 2011. We never used more than 8.3 kWh on a single day, and two days were below 4 kWh.

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