Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Few Home Electricity Saving Ideas

Saturdays I like to talk about things each of us can do individually to reduce our GHG emissions. Last week I told you to move house, but if you have not done that, here are a couple of little things I have done. All my electricity is supposed to be green, from Green Mountain Energy, so these things are not directly saving GHG. But the less renewable energy I use the more capacity there is for others. And I save money.

The first gadget does not in itself save energy. It is the Cent-a-meter, and it monitors your electricity usage. It is very easy to install, with a couple of loops around the wires entering your electricity meter. A small transmitter transmits the usage to a battery-powered monitor in the house. This allows you to see how many kilowatts are being consumed on an almost real-time basis. Mine is currently (no pun intended) showing that I am using 1.28 kW. You can switch things on and off to see the effects, and change your habits accordingly, and maybe pinpoint an old appliance which needs replacing. I found I was spending about $50 per month powering electronic equipment on charge or on standby. I will be trying a smart power strip soon.

I was also concerned about the charger for a new cordless phone I had just bought, because I could see no easy way to avoid having it on all the time. (I could maybe use a smart power strip controlled by a table lamp, but I am not sure how many hours per day the phone needs to be charging.) Cent-a-meter told me it used 0.02 kW, so at 16 cents a kWh cost about $2.30 a month. This is less than 1% of my bill so I decided not to worry about it, at least until I have addressed bigger issues.

Cent-a-meter is an Australian product but marketed in the US. It can also show power consumption as cost per hour or tons of GHG per year, instead of kW. It updates either every 12 seconds or every minute in battery-saving mode. I used the 12-second mode only while experimenting with different appliances etc. See or for more details. There are other products which fulfill the same need but which I have not tried. For example, PowerCost monitor seems to do the same as Cent-a-meter, while Kill-a-Watt allows individual electrical appliances to be monitored. (The Kill-a-Watt would probably get a more reliable reading for the phone, because you cannot rely on everything else in the house staying constant.)

The second gadget is for pool owners, and I credit it with a good deal of the savings I have made (see below). It is called a TightWatt, and it replaces the old-fashioned mechanical time control on the pool pump. As we all know, the pump does not need to run so much in the winter as the summer, but how many people go out and move those little peg things on the dial every month?

This does it automatically, so that the pump comes on for less than an hour in depth of winter and gradually increases to about 8 hours. (These are just my settings, in Houston. It is all programmable.) We are in our winter now, and the pump comes on only briefly. The pool is sparkling clear, and I also save on chlorine. See I bought only the single-speed single-pump version, by the way. I have a pool sweep on an old-fashioned timer set to run only for less than an hour, synchronized with main pump in mid-winter.

Pools are very inefficient, and there are other things one can do. The main problem is that they try to force far too much water through far too narrow pipes. One solution is to use larger-bore pipes, and this is being done more now on new pools, but this is not really economical to retrofit. Somewhat easier to retrofit is a half-speed pump. These need to be run for twice as long, but there is still a saving since viscous losses go up more than linearly with speed. I heard about these just weeks after replacing my pump with a conventional one, so I have not made the switch yet.

My electricity bills are running about 25% down on what they were a couple of years ago, even though I have retired during that time and now spend every day at home instead of going to the office. The savings are greater in the winter, so I put a lot of that down to the TightWatt. I have also replaced almost all the bulbs in the house with CFLs. I am still very pro-CFL in spite of safety concerns aired in a previous posting.

My sole experience with an LED was bad though. From BBE, it was meant to be equivalent of a 60W bulb. It is in a closet and I often put it on when I get up before dawn. However, once there is any other light – from the dawn or a light in the room – it is impossible to know whether it was on, with the result that it often got left on all day. Which defeats the purpose and the $30 LED is consigned to the trash. (Well, actually it is in a closet; I am a hoarder!)


RosInSheffield said...

Can I suggest you give your LED to a charity shop? That way someone may get some use out of it.

Tony Welsh said...

Good idea. I think it might suit a blind person because it would be excellent for reading braille at night. Of course driving to the shop would burn up a few hydrocarbons.

Scott C said...

I am sorry to tell you but the Tightwatt is a piece of junk. I am on my third one and everyone has failed. The last excuse they gave was I must live to close to the ocean.
I like the sound of the Cent-o-meter.
Scott C