Even an Energy Auditor can get Bitten by an Energy Hog

I am embarrassed! I was recently bitten by an “energy hog” – an unwanted waster of energy hiding in the deepest recesses of my home.

He snuck in last week while I was using a lot of energy for opening/cleaning my pool. You see, at that time, I was running a big pool pump 24 hours a day, so naturally, my daily electrical usage increased. But I didn’t expect it to increase so much!

As part of the pool cleaning, you have to flush out a lot of water to clean the filter. Then, you have to add hundreds of gallons of water back into the pool. Since I’m on well water, that means running the well pump a lot! And if you’ve read my other articles, you know that pumps are notorious for using lots of energy. So the combination of the pool pump plus two well pumps adds up to big energy use.

So a week went by, and every day I cringed when reviewing the daily power consumption. But I just assumed that it was normal for what I was doing. But then, once the pool got cleaner, and I switched to the low speed pool pump which is much more efficient, my electricity consumption barely dropped. Argh!

For the first couple of days, I just frowned, but was too busy other than to do a cursory look around the house. No lights on in the shed. Nothing else weird going on. How could the usage be so high? But then, we had just entered air conditioning season, so I shrugged it off and cursed my air conditioner.

Finally, I couldn’t take it an more. We had a stretch of cooler weather where we weren’t running the air conditioner and the pool was clean with the pump only using a little electricity, but our electricity usage was still twice what it should be. I had enough!

Armed with my little clamp meter (a device that lets you measure the current running through any wire) I went out to my garage and took apart the breaker box. Confronted with two large boxes filled with wires, I carefully worked through them, one-by-one. Finally, I found a circuit (one of the last wires I checked, of course 😦   ) that was pulling a lot of current!!!

As soon as I looked at the description of the circuit, I knew the problem. It was the wire leading to one of the well pumps. You see, I hadn’t used any water in hours, so the pump should have been off, but here it was, drawing lots of amps. Sure enough, when I went downstairs, the pump was running. For the last week, this stupid well pump had failed to shut off and was using 25 kilo-Watt hours a day – as much as my entire house normally used! This one defective pump system was costing me $4 per day!

Fortunately, I have two wells, so I just turned off that one and am using the backup well. Now I have to get it fixed. Probably another $1,000 expenditure…

Had I not been monitoring my electricity use every day, months could have gone by without knowing anything was wrong, costing hundreds of dollars in wasted electricity. So how can you avoid being bitten by the energy hog? For most people, I recommend the TED (The Energy Detective) 1001 home energy monitor. They’re cost effective and pretty easy to install. No computer necessary. Just a small display unit that shows you how much electricity you’re using at any given moment. It’s what I started with and still use regularly.

A few tips to get the most out of your TED:

  • Learn how much energy your home normally uses. The best time to do this is the middle of the day when nobody is home. Turn off all the lights, the air conditioners, dehumidifiers, pond pumps and everything else that isn’t normally plugged in. This is your home’s “baseline” consumption. For most homes, this should be between 100 and 300 watts.
  • Next, turn on lights and devices that you normally run during the day. Now look at the display and see how much energy you’re using. You might be shocked! If you have lots lights and other gadgets, you might see the number jump up to 1,000 or 2,000.
  • The real test is to look at the number at night when everybody is home, lights are blazing, the XBox and big screen TVs are running and the air conditioner is blasting out the cool air. After you see that, you might want to go live in a cave….

What do all these numbers mean?

In my area, electricity costs about $0.16 per kilo-Watt hour. That’s 1,000 watts used for an hour. A typical house uses 20-40 kWh per day at a cost of $3.20 – $6.40 per day. That adds up quickly – $100-$200 per month.

I like to practice what I call “conscious consumption” – choosing what items I’m willing to pay for and turning off things that are just wasting electricity. For example, I know that the hot tub consumes about 5 kWh per day at a cost of about $0.80/day. However, it’s something that my wife and I enjoy because we both have bad backs. We’re willing to spend the $25/month for that luxury. But I’m not willing to spend $100/month on a fountain next to the driveway or nighttime lighting around the outside of the house. By practicing conscious consumption, you can easily reduce your electric bills by 10%-20%. And if you get your entire family on board, you can learn how to reduce your bills by 50% or more.




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