Hacking your electric bill…aka how I learned to stop drying laundry in the basement

For Christmas last year the Paradise Family was gifted an interesting little device called the Home Hub Elite from Efergy. I originally found out about this energy monitor from the place where I find many of my frugal hacks, Mr. Money Mustache. You can buy the Home Hub Elite on Amazon or directly from Efergy, but there are also many other home energy monitors available that may suit you better.

While we are going to extol the virtues of monitoring your electrical consumption in this post, we want you to know upfront that we’ve had a pretty abysmal experience with Efergy customer service and their online interface, so we can’t directly recommend their products. That’s why you won’t be seeing any affiliate links for them in this post – we only recommend stuff we can get 100% behind.

So, back to monitoring your kWh! Here’s how we’ve been doing monthly since we installed the Efergy (see a few important caveats below).energy

This is only electric, so it is missing all of the energy use by our gas furnace, partly gas washer/dryer, and water heater. I’m pretty sure these are the only appliances we have the use gas. Also, the device was off for a big part of May while I fought to get Efergy customer service to return my phone calls.

Our average usage measured by the Efergy over 2016 has been 342 kWh / month. At first glance it looks like we are doing mega-awesome (you can see some historical data for the US here), but we’re totally cheating here because our air conditioner and furnace are on a different circuit and our Efergy can only measure one at a time. So although we get spikes in our measured usage when we use the air conditioner a lot, this is only factoring in the energy it costs to push the air around the house, not the actual air conditioner compressor which is the major energy hog. We’re looking into getting a meter that can give us the numbers for both.

A nice thing about having an energy tracker in your home is that you can get usage data in nearly any time interval you want. This helps you track down what is using the most energy in your home.

energyday

Above is our energy use so far on the day that I’m writing this, which happens to be a Sunday. Some of the peaks are pretty easy to identify. For example, our air conditioner kicked on at 10pm the evening before (when the set point drops from 82F to 75F) and ran pretty much continuously until 2am. The remaining energy use you see at that point is the dehumidifier in the basement. The dehumidifier was finally satisfied at about 3:45am and turned off. The somewhat regular blips you see are the fridge and other random energy users.

You wouldn’t think we’d be using that much energy just sitting around the house but there’s a distinct bump when we get out of bed. At least part of the baseline there is the dehumidifier coming on again. I can’t say for sure what the huge spike at 10:45 is. At some point around there I dried my hair (~2 kW). Mr. Paradise was in the kitchen making eggs and also used the microwave around that time too, which probably accounts for the rest.

In the afternoon I had the laundry machine running (still a bit traumatizing), and I was using two of the range burners and briefly the broiler.

So, what’s driving up our electric bill? Besides the AC which is by far the biggest, these are the top energy users in our home:

  1. Dehumidifier (0.35 kW)
  2. Lights (About half converted to LED so far, 10-60W)
  3. Kitchen stuff (Microwave: 0.9 kW, Range: ~1.8 kW (while heating), Oven: ~5.6 kW (while heating), Dishwasher: ~1 kW)
  4. Heat (though it’s a gas furnace, the fans to push the air around the house use up about 1 kW)

Being first time homeowners and never having monitored this kind of stuff before, we learned some things we were surprised about.

Dehumidifying costs a lot!

The dehumidifiers cost us about $40/month in the non-winter. It is at least a quarter of our electric bill. We have one in the basement that runs on “auto” and another in the living room that we turn on manually when the hygrometer sensor gets above about 40% RH. Keeping your home (and especially your basement) at a reasonable humidity level is extremely important for the health of your home and family, and can prevent costly repairs later. Multi-thousand dollar mold remediation anyone?

If you are looking for a suggestion, we have two of these and they are both going strong after a year of pretty harsh use.

Having random lights on can really add up

I went downstairs to fool around with the dehumidifer settings and see the effect on the energy usage, but in doing so I turned on the stairway and basement light banks. The whole basement is tied to just a couple of switches so about 20 bulbs got turned on. The energy use rocketed up almost an entire kW just so I could see in the basement.

I turned them all back off again and did my experimenting in the dark, before deciding that the basement is kind of scary in the pitch dark and that was enough experimenting for the day.

Running the washing machine and dryer doesn’t cost that much

People always say that the clothes dryer is a huge hidden energy cost. This is part of the reason why we usually line dry our clothes.

This afternoon I dug out the energy use specs for the washer and the estimated cost per load is a whopping 1.7 cents (including the gas). I run it three times per week which means it costs less than $3 / year to use.

I couldn’t find specs on the dryer, but based on the energy monitor the energy cost is about 64 cents / load plus whatever the gas cost is. When we first moved in I was drying the clothes on a line in the basement. It wasn’t until we got the energy monitor that I realized this caused the dehumidifier to go on for the whole afternoon in the winter when it normally would never get used.

Drying the clothes downstairs was actually more expensive than using the dryer, plus a much bigger pain in the butt. Facepalm.

Instead, I started drying the clothes upstairs in the bedroom which brought the humidity from an unpleasant ~15-20% up to ~30%. This is a win/win and I highly recommend it if you have trouble with dry air in the winter.

In the summer I dry our clothes outside which is another free option and helps your clothes stay nice a lot longer, not to mention clothing dried outside smells amazing – like a cold drink when you are really thirsty. If that sounds weird, try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Having an energy monitor motivates you to tweak your day-to-day

Mr. Paradise is on a mission to replace all the standard light bulbs in our home with LEDs, which cuts the cost of the lights by about 85%. For now we are careful to avoid leaving them on when we don’t need them.

The baseline usage when “nothing” is on should be about 0.1 kW. The monitor can be used to track down things you didn’t know where using up energy (the printer?!) and to make sure you didn’t leave your flatiron plugged in when you leave the house.

When you see just how long your AC has to be on to bring the temperature down to 75F, you just might kick it up a few degrees. We’ve also played around extensively with the baffles in the furnace room to get the airflow as optimized as possible. We don’t need to be AC’ing the entire basement just so we can sleep at night.

Did we save thousands of dollars by installing our energy monitor?

No. There’s a review for the Efergy that claims the device paid for itself in one month. Seeing as how it’s about $200, what the heck was that person doing before they got the Efergy?

If you are using any common sense when it comes to electricity, this is probably not going to be a windfall for you. It might save you $5-$10 a month, and maybe prevent you from doing silly things like drying laundry with your dehumidifier. Mostly it is going to help you be a bit kinder to the environment, and, depending on the scientist in you, feed your need for data.

Ok, I want to monitor my energy use too! What do I do? Do I have to be an electrician to hook it up?!

To monitor the energy use in your home, you’ll have to be willing to crack into your electrical box and clamp a couple of sensors onto the feed wires. The hardest part of this for us was taking off the heavy door on the panel. These sensors detect the magnetic field of the current passing through the wires, which allows them to calculate how much power is being used. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you could always hire an electrician. It takes only a few minutes, but please do not electrocute yourself.

As far as which product, Efergy is an option, but as we said we haven’t had a great experience with them. The Neurio has pretty good reviews on Amazon, as does the Eyedro (that said, Efergy has 4.5 stars too). Your electric company may also have a product you can use – ours has an app that allows you to see hourly usage for free. I recommend you get one that comes with a handheld device or a phone app which allows you to run around your house and check the effect of turning things on and off – quite a fun way to spend an hour or two. This saves you from also needing to buy a kill-a-watt, unless you need to know exactly how many watts something is using.

Another product we use a lot is the WeMo, which is how I know how much the dehumidifier costs monthly. This little guy allows you to turn a single electrical item on and off with your smartphone, and monitors the energy use and the average amount of time something is running. We hook it up to the living room lights when we are out of town. Ours isn’t programmable but they make ones that are. 

Well, are you on board? What will you find out when you start monitoring your energy use? Let us know!


 

One Comment:

  1. I’ve had a current cost device for two? years. Nice technology. Pretty decent solution. Interesting to see the bump when stuff turns on. Also, seeing the baseline – it always seems too high for me.

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