Example of Cutting Electricity Usage by 85%

David Trammel's picture

Kara Stiff, over on the Low Carbonlife website has a post on how her family cut their electricity usage by 85%.

How We Cut Our Electricity Usage by 85%

I always like her posts because she's very detail and numbers orientated.

This is inspirational but not always possible.

I do all those things. My laundry's on a clothesline. We rewear our clothes so the washloads are smaller.
Every set of equipment in the house is power-stripped so I don't pay vampire loads.
I replaced my lightbulbs a long time ago, except where I couldn't or I wanted the heat in the winter.
My thermostat is 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. In the summer, we hit 81 degrees before the AC comes on.
I do the window dance and insulate and all that stuff.
We walk around in the dark, dammit. We hand-wash our dishes. We don't watch TV.

But I still couldn't cut my electric bill that much. I live in essentially an all-electric house! Electric stove, hot-water heater, etc. My oil burning furnace uses an electric ignition and an electric blower.
Worse, I have four adults living in my house and we work from home. On computers.

I get those annoying fliers from PP@l every month telling me how wasteful and profligate I am with electricity; how much less my neighbors use.

My neighbors are old ladies living alone with gas stoves and gas furnaces! Or, the neighbors are gone all day, using someone else's electricity. Or, the house sits vacant most of the time because it's being used as a short-term vacation rental.


We should all be reducing our electric loads but there's a point at which you have to decide which thing you need to stop using all together. I could cut my bill substantially but that would mean plumbing the house for natural gas which I do not want to do for a host of reasons. Not the least of which is that my local gas utility, UGI , is, shall we say to avoid law suits, not as careful as I would like a highly-explosive substance supplier to be.

I'm going to go hang out another load of laundry.

Teresa from Hershey

mountainmoma's picture

As I alluded to below, especially hot water I might guess.

But, for your situation, if 4 people work at home, you realy have household plus office useages. SO, of course you are going to use more than people who have a seperate office. Overall, you should be less than people who commute to work. First, no commute energy used, and also you can control energy use at your home office ( ie., not overly heated or cooled like some office buildings and also less overall space used, and you can choose energy efficient equipment)

You could get a Watts-Up meter, and do a weekly average per person, so one week put it between someones desk power strip and the wall, the next week move it, etc... then you will know how much of the household use is office use and also if it is alot would let you know if any equipment upgrades or changes are worth it

When I tot up our total usage, we use far less energy of every kind than most of the people I know, other than old ladies living alone.
I use so little fuel oil for our furnace (around 300 gallons per heating season depending on how cold it was) that I can't sign up for the year-round payment plan. We don't burn enough.
Same thing with commuting and gasoline use: way, way less than the norm. Planning trips really makes the difference as does walking more.

I do find it specious to say 'I use less of 'x'' and to not count TOTAL energy use. That is, your natural gas usage counts, your gasoline counts, the wood or pellets you burn in your stove counts, your water counts, what you use while away from your home at work counts, how much trash you throw away as a model of your purchases counts; it all counts.

The key is always the same: use as little as you can manage AND be super-efficient about it. It doesn't matter if you swap out your light bulbs for LED's if you then leave them on 24/7 when previously, you turned those suckers off.

Teresa from Hershey

mountainmoma's picture

As an all electric house, I love the riot for austerity calculator ! Because, you are right, it is about the total energy usage, and we all use a different mix !

Riot for austerity still exists, just not too many people actively talking about it.

Yes, we count cords of wood burned, electricity used and gasoline used. Of course purchases and trash. I have hit 10%, when the kids lived here, but not now as a one person household, though I could if I literally never went anywhere. I am still very close and low.

Lets see -- here is a link to the calculator from , well I cant find it. There is a facebook group, but I am off facebook

mountainmoma's picture

I also live in an all electric house, and so does the family in the article he linked to.

Houses are built different, so we all may find different things we can do, and some things are not possible with a given house of course.

My house is actually all electric, it has built in electric heat, and it does get cold here. Electric hot water, electric stove, etc...

Things done here:

- Gave away the 3 window air conditioning units. Built a trellis over the south facing deck and planted grape vines/cold hardy kiwi. Put shade cloth on the trellis in summer for years until the vines grew in. Put in a couple operable skylights to help vent the house in summer nights, to get that heat out. Acclimate to temperature differences. Yes, there are times that it is sweaty all night, not every night. Most days are absolutely over 81'F inside in the afternoon in summer, some mid 90's, but that is a minority of days. Mostly it is fine as we acclimate, but a minority of nights hard to sleep.
- It sounds like in the linked article, that they are doing likewise, just being hotter in the summer after taking what measures they can.

- Heat. I put in a wood burning stove, as did the family in the linked article. I live in an area of alot of waste wood, wood we need to burn inside to keep from forest fires outside. But, I dont think that your furnace blower should use alot of power, you could check, and if it does, maybe change to an efficient blower motor. You could put in a rocket mass heater ( homemade, uses very little wood) I have been in a home using a rocket mass heater, and they are very effective, as advertised realy. All the air sealing things. My house still needs more of this, even though we are now using way less heating than we used to. I also converted a south/east facing porch into a greenhouse/sunroom, kind of funky, very small realy ( 6 x12 ? ) , but this and the 2 south facing sliding glass doors, now that the grape vines are bare, along with the energy saving measures that have been done, means that I did not heat the house at all yesterday or today. When we replaced those sliding doors, I made sure to NOT use low-E glass in them so I could get the winter heat. It is actually illegal now to buy plain double pane glass in CA ! People have to buy out of state to do passive solar heat gain. Of course, it was 60" this morning and is only 65' now, but the sun is out so it is good. Yesterday it was up to 70' inside the living room.

- Hot water. The things I initially did here are broke now. I had solar hot water plumbed in, I hope to be able to afford to fix the system. The hot water loop thru the woodstove we did for years, but seemed a bit potentially dangerous, especially during power outages as I do not like to rely on a pressure relief valve ! I would love to see how the linked article household does this, the full details. Right now my electric hot water heater is on a timer and I only heat it up every other day or so for a few hours, but nice and hot then, as all the kids have moved out. We used to have the timer set to give the hot water heater power every evening, from about 5pm to 9pm. The idea there is that if it is a sunny day the solar water panels have all day to heat up that tank. All showers and dishwashing would be done in the evening, and this made a nice pattern for the household, people are dirty then from sports, school, garden anyways, you dont get dirty overnight ( except that summer hot night sweat, but then you still have solar heated hot water in the morning). So, a timer can easily be added to any electric hot water heater. The new heat pump hot water heaters are very efficient, as advertised and if your area has rebates for these and your tank water heater is old, that is also an energy saving idea.

- The little things add up. No large screens at my place, laptop computers, TV on maybe once a week. The linked article does not have a refrigerator, but I do. And, my 18cuft, freezer on top, tier III model uses less than 350kWh a year, so that is around 1 kWh a day, which is totally fine. I use an electric tea kettle for hot water. Solar ovens outside in the heat of summer, which also does ALOT to keep the house cooler. But, otherwise, I cook on my electric range and it realy does not add up to that much power. Yesterday evening I used the oven for 3 back to back things, which we wanted the heat from in the house anyways. I have no clothes dryer. I do have an internet router box, which I switch off for night, but realy that only saves a very little.

mountainmoma's picture

So, I went and looked this up.

My 18cuft refrigerator/freezer is energy star rated at 335kWh/year and this energy star, very small freezer only, is rated at 240kWh/year. https://images.homedepot-static.com/catalog/pdfImages/58/58919ebb-a582-4...

Lets round it to a difference of 100kWh a year, or less than 1/3 of a kWh each day in potential savings. If ice is being removed from the freezer twice a day to go to the icebox drawers, it will use more than its rated number, so then even less saved power.

I believe this was the point made by Mr. Electricity too. So, there is alot less room for food storage, food not able to be kept as long, and more trouble moving and cleaning things for no, or exceedingly little, gain in terms of electricity saved.

For now, feel fine sticking with my combo refrigerator/freezer unit. Mine is a CEE tier III, and I do have a thermometer where Imeasured the temps in the unit and turned it down to the recommended temps needed.


A good point though is to NOT use your built in ice maker ! This wastes alot of power, you can read about why on michael bluejays site I linked. But, Mine is turned off and I need to remove it to gain the space.

I never buy a fridge with an ice-maker OR a water dispenser. Based on what repairmen tell me and my own personal experience, they're the first things to break and they take far more space than a Rubbermaid jug of water and a few ice trays. They also make the fridge more expensive.
When I was still a renter, I was out of area for the holidays and my ice-maker line broke and flooded the apartment downstairs! No fault of my own, thank God.

Also, if you want your fridge to last longer, keep the vents clear, both inside the main body and the freezer section. The other thing to do is wipe down the door seals (both parts) on a regular basis. Keeping the rubber gasket seal clean keeps it from failing, a very expensive repair.

Teresa from Hershey

alice's picture

A porch is great for hanging laundry. Anywhere with a roof to keep rain off but not enclosed is a brilliant resource for avoiding using a powered dryer. A wood stove also produces very dry heat which is great for drying anything, veggies, fruit or clothes.

In the north west of England where it rains a lot I have seen in the posher kind of old houses a 'drying room' upstairs built around the chimney breast, literally a room with a mop-able floor, racks, and good ventilation, so that wet outdoor clothes as well as laundry are hung there so they use the spare heat from a stove to dry out. I suppose that would be an ideal site for a heat exchanger to vent the damp air.

MjCrites's picture

I’m in a fairly tiny apartment and, unless the owners wanted to by me a smaller and better stove and fridge and invest in some solar hot water, I’m at about as low as I can go.

There’s a bunch of windows in my place which means no need to have a light on in the day time and solar gain in the winter can keep the place warm from about 10A-2P. Lights are L.E.D. And I never need more than 3 on at once. I don’t use my desktop computer or printer very often so I keep them turned off at the power strip. Heat and hot water are communal throughout the building using hot water from a natural gas boiler. I’m in Central Wisconsin, so we could be getting most of our and hot water from solar hot water heaters. Our A/C system is also communal, but I can control access to it at my apartment and most of the time I only use it to cool down my apartment a bit at bed time. The other use of A/C for me is as a dehumidifier. It gets downright swampy around here in August. Laundry is done using shared machines. About half of us in the 12-plex have fold out laundry drying racks that we use instead the clothes drier.

I did try and use as little electric as possible one month and I found that for all of my effort it barely budged the amount used.

We have the same problem. There's a point at which I can't get past (four people essentially all working from home in an almost all-electric house).

We walk around in the dark!

So whose computer do I remove first? (Three of us are writers).

It's a challenge!

Teresa from Hershey

ClareBroommaker's picture

Hi, MjCrites. When you did your month of knuckle-down electric cutbacks, what did you find to do? What do you figure is your biggest use of electricity?

I'm jealous of your being able to get your place warm midday from sunshine alone. But then, if I had that much sunny window, I guess I'd have to fight it in the summer. Is your apartment benefiting from being sandwiched among the others? If you are on the top floor, do you think the building has good under-roof insulation?

MjCrites's picture

The building I live in is well insulated and one story. I have apartments on either side of me to help keep things insulated.

The biggest use of energy for me are my refrigerator and stove, both of which are older, inefficient, and way bigger than what one person needs. My fridge is about 12 cubic ft. and I figure one of about 6 cubic ft. Is all i need. My oven could cook a 20 pound turkey, when it only needs to be big enough to cook a dozen cookies or a 3 pound roast.

David Trammel's picture

Welcome MjCrites, good first post here.

You pointed out some of the trade offs of apartment living. You benefit from the insulation factor and communal equipment access of denser apartment structures and yet, with communal energy metering you don't have much incentive to conserve. I've lived in a couple of apartments like that, though the last was a fourplex (2up/2down) that had communal hot water. Nice because that's one of my few vices, long hot showers. Bad because near the end, the landlord forgot to pay the bill a couple of times. DWP in LA has this habit of shutting you off on Friday and then telling you they can't turn you back on until the next week. Guess its their way of punishing you for failing to pay the bill.

Conserving energy in such a situation to me is much the same thing as learning to grow some food too, be it in containers or flower pots on the balcony. Not as a way to actually contribute to your food supply or cut your costs, but as a way to learn what works and what doesn't during a time that screwing up doesn't hurt you.

I need to do a few blog posts on apartment living again, especially as Spring and planting new veggies is just around the corner.

David Trammel's picture

I got my electric bill today for December. It has my yearly and monthly usage. Since May I've been average around about 250 kWh each month. January and February though were up around 750 kWh each. Total for the year was 4500 kWh. Not sure where that puts me per national average.

I have been using a bit more natural gas this Winter this year than last, mostly because I have more foster cats in the house. Usually I run a small electric space heater in the Office and keep the rest of the house in the 65 degree F range, but I've got one foster I can't let out into the general area yet.

mountainmoma's picture

I have a sub meter for my tenent, he uses electricity for water heater, washing machine, microwave, small refrigerator, internet, desktop computer ( large screen fast for online gaming) and a large screen (flat) TV, "maker" 3d printer box, and sometimes electric heat, sometimes wood burning stove. He uses 100-125kWh a month. He has had months were he is busy and used the electric heat, and it does not go up much. Maybe another 25kWh ?

Things that are efficient for his apartment:
-all lights are LED ( but this is not a big savings, realy)
- The washing machine is only used with cold water, and all clothes are hung up to dry, even when raining, then they are hung up indoors
- The space is not too big, and it has less air leakage than my main house, it is very easy to heat. It has alot of thermal mass and keeps the temperature constant ( COB ( earthen) walls ) It warms up very quickly with one of these, it can overheat, so when this is used it is kept at a low setting once the apartment is up to temp. https://www.amazon.com/DeLonghi-Oil-Filled-Adjustable-Thermostat-EW7707C... This type of electric heat, like the thermal mass walls of the building, is meant for a constant, even temperature.
- He does have a propane stove, but uses only about a gallon of propane every 4 months, he buys it by the gallon bottle

mountainmoma's picture

I just keep the temp at 65'F as the highest temp, 65 is quite nice and liveable. I guess if you arent used to it, just work towards it and you will see, it would be quite hot enough for cats too ! It is not Short Sleeve T shirt temp, of course. I wear a sweater in the house, and the cats just get a bit thicker coat than the summer

We've got our thermostat set at 65 degrees during the day and at 55 degrees at night.
Winter only, of course.

I was setting the thermostat at 64 degrees, a ONE degree difference, and it really hurt. I wan't functioning well. I'm the person who suffers the most from the cold and that's while wearing multiple layers, fingerless gloves, a hat, a lap blanket, etc.

That one degree tick upwards made the difference between tolerance and suffering. Maybe in February, I can go down one degree.

I think as long as you aren't housing tropical birds, 65 degrees is fine for people and animals. My dog and cats never cared.

Teresa from Hershey