This whole SIREN Energy Challenge has made us even more conscious of how much electricity we use and Will has become obsessed with switching off lights, unplugging appliances, and spending his free time trying to uncover the source of unaccounted energy use every month. We thought we had made some major progress with our new water heater and our conservation efforts and were initially proud of our first quarter results – 11% less electrical use than last year. Then we found out that the winning household cut their energy use by 35% for the quarter!
How did they do it? They made a lot of little changes that we’ve also done like adding attic insulation, installing a programmable thermostat to lower their heat at night, caulking windows, and replacing light bulbs with CFLs. However, they also made two big appliance changes. First of all, they unplugged an underutilized chest freezer, determining that they didn’t need the space. Secondly, they replaced their 1986 refrigerator with a new Energy Star model.
We don’t have a chest freezer but we immediately became suspicious of our refrigerator and got out the Kill-a-watt meter, which confirmed our fears. The old fridge was using 2.6 kWhr/day, which was a big chunk of our daily usage.
Our “Carbon Free Home” book suggested insulating the fridge to try and increase its efficiency so we got some foam insulating board from the home improvement store and stuck it on with double-sided carpet tape. (For those aesthetic types, they suggest building a wooden insulated box around the sides of the fridge and adding shag carpeting on the front for a little extra oomph.) It seemed to help at first but then the electrical usage went back up, possibly because our house suddenly warmed up with the weather. (We survived with the thermostat at 62 all winter long but in May 62 degrees started feeling really cold!)
I suggested that we look into getting a new fridge so Will started doing research and we figured an Energy Star fridge would be at least 50% more efficient, which seemed significant. We shopped around a bit and although theoretically there are SUPER efficient fridges out there, we bought one that is simply VERY efficient from our local box star.
The results so far? The new fridge uses less than 0.7 kWh/day, which is about one quarter of what the old fridge used. Did you catch that? It uses SEVENTY-FIVE PERCENT LESS ELECTRICITY! We’re thrilled and feel like it was totally a good purchase, even though a payback time of 8 years still seems like a lot.
Of course, replacing the refrigerator was relatively painless (at least in terms of our day-to-day lifestyle). We decided to push on into the lifestyle change category in the quest of fame, fortune, and fabulous eco-prizes. Tune in next week as Will regales the world with tales of turning off our air conditioning, our water heater, and our clothes dryer in the quest of using less than 3 kWh/day….
Energy Tracking Note:
kWh/day = kilowatt-hour per day which is calculated by multiplying the wattage that a device uses by the number of hours it runs in a day and dividing by a thousand. Here’s a link to a nice post about estimating appliance energy use provided by our federal government. For real world testing, you can use a Kill-A-Watt device on anything that plugs into a normal outlet (so it doesn’t work for most clothes dryers and water heaters).