What are the biggest electricity consumers in a typical home?

As a baseline, consider that typical homes in the United States consume on average 30–60 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) of electricity per day (=900–1800 kWh per month) at a cost of $0.10-$0.20 per kWh. Those running on electric heat often double these numbers.

  • In homes with electric heat, the heater can dominate all other electric consumers. Heat pumps, while considerably more efficient (1/3 – 1/2 the consumption) than straight electric resistance heat (like an electric baseboard heater) still consume substantial amounts of electricity. Consider that a typical heat pump system uses 3kW – 6kW while running, daily consumption in cold days can easily be 30–60kWh or more. This is why home insulation and air-tightness is such an important way of conserving energy. Same is true if the home is heated with oil, gas or propane – home heating and cooling costs dominate all others, so a tight, well insulated home pays dividends year after year.
  • Electric water heater – consumption varies drastically depending on a family size and hot-water usage. But an average is about 400 kWh per month. A modern heat-pump water heater can cut this in half.
  • Refrigerator/freezer – older units were much less efficient than a modern, EnergyStar unit. A typical range is 40–80 kWh/month.
  • Lighting – with the advent of energy efficient LED lights, this has shifted considerably. A home that has the equivalent of ten, 100W bulbs running 12 hours/day uses 12kWh per day or 360kWh/month. If all those bulbs were replaced by 14W LED bulbs that put out the same amount of light, that would be reduced to 1.7kWh/day or 50kWh/month. Lighting is an area where every home can dramatically reduce consumption by replacing conventional bulbs with LED in high use locations like the kitchen and living rooms.
  • Air conditioner – central air conditioners and their blowers consume from 3–7 kilo-Watt-hours (kWh) per hour of operation.
  • Home electronics – computers, DVRs, TV, stereos all add to a home’s use and together add up to 200W-1000W/hour, every hour. Typical consumption is 4–10kWh/day or 120–300kWh/month.
  • Cooking – electric ranges and ovens consume 2kW–4kW while running and might be operated for an hour or two per day on average.

Other items that add considerably to electric bills but are less common:

  • Pool pumps – most are drastically oversized and run 12 hours a day. A typical pump uses 2500W, so that’s 30kWh/day or 900 kWh/month! Replacing that with a two-speed or variable speed pump can cut this by 75% – well worth the investment.
  • Spas/Hot tubs – outdoor hot tubs use about 6–15kWh/day, depending on usage, design and temperature, call it 10kWh on average. That’s 300kWh/month. Since many people don’t use their tubs during the winter, it pays to shut it down for the winter, saving about $50/month.
  • Ponds – ponds have become very popular in the suburbs but most people don’t realize how much they cost to run. Those waterfalls require larger pumps, consuming 500W–1000W while a basic pond filter pump might use 100W-250W. Consider an average of 500W for 24 hours is 12kWh per day or 360kWh/month.

It’s extremely educational to install a whole-house energy monitor or use an inexpensive plug-in energy monitor to see how much energy each of your devices consume. But watch out, once you do, you may turn into a true energy geek, like me 🙂

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DIY Energy Audit, Part 2: Why Do Heat Pumps (sometimes) Cost a Fortune to Run?

After the first article, Matt collected his utility bills and other background information we need to get started. Here it is:

“Colonial 3,300 square feet. 3 adults one child. 2 Electric Heat Pumps: Large one in basement is Payne, Model Number PF1MNB048; Smaller one in mud room for rooms above garage has no name. Just has large number SA11694 and Model Number BCS2M18C00NA1P-1. Thermostat at 72 now and 70 in summer. Consumption Feb 2013 through Jan 2014 – kWh 5800, 4530, 2815, 1684, 1533, 2346, 1334, 1568, 1719, 3023, 5833, 7349”

I don’t even have to make a spreadsheet for this one!

What this tells us

We have a small-medium family in an average sized development home – no red-flags there.

However, the next items contain the keys to solving this mystery.

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Why do you get Icicles on your roof?

Icicles can do real damage to your home

Icicles can do real damage to your home

Here’s a winter quickie – icicles are a sign that snow is melting from a hot roof rather than a sunny day.

Since we’ve been talking about DIY energy audits, this is one of the easiest ways of seeing if you’re losing too much energy out your roof. If you’ve got lots of icicles or notice the snow melting unevenly, usually in vertical strips, then you are almost certain to have some major energy loss. Often, this can be fixed quite easily since the icicles and snow melt will tell you where the heat loss is. In fact, this works at least as well as the expensive thermal camera that we use in energy audits. I call it the 30 second energy audit! Continue reading

How to diagnose your high heating bills and drafty home this winter

Part 1: Introduction to Winter Energy Audits

Here in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern U.S., we’re getting hit by another deep freeze. Those in the center of the country are probably thinking we’re wimps for complaining about single digit temperatures, but hey, it’s all relative. For us, it’s darned cold!

I’ve been getting a number of questions recently, spurred on by the low temps and associated HIGH heating bills. People are asking: “Help! I got my latest heating bill and it’s astronomical. What can I do to reduce it?” or, the other side of that coin is: “Brrr! My family is freezing. I’ve got the heat cranked up but it’s still cold and drafty in some rooms. What can I do make it more comfortable?”

We’re going to walk through a virtual energy audit “live” so you can follow the thought processes and troubleshooting with me. Hopefully, this will allow many of you to go on to diagnose your own issues and end up with a home that is more comfortable, efficient and safe.

Along the way, drop your questions into the comments below the posts, and I’ll do my best to incorporate answers into the article or answer them in the comments.

Let’s get started!

Edit: rather than doing this as one humongous post, I’m going to break each section into a different post. This should make it easier for people to find the pertinent information and step through the process without it getting too overwhelming.

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Insulating Basement Crawl Spaces

Spray foam on crawlspace walls

Crawlspaces – those nasty, damp, moldy spaces under your home that you dread entering. They’re one of the least understood parts of a home and the source of countless problems. In this post, I’ll review some of the worst problems and how to avoid them.

Crawlspaces often have two big issues:

  1. Water / moisture – leading to mold and wood rot
  2. Cold / drafty – leading to uncomfortable conditions and wasted energy

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Doing your own energy audit and save energy – step 1: Open your eyes

What is your house telling you?

During the winter, as I look around, houses yell out to me. Do they speak to you?

Look at this photo. It’s a beautiful day after a light snowfall. Half of the roof has virgin snow. The other half is totally melted. Clearly, the melted side is losing energy compared with the other side.

This winter, I encourage you to look at your roof after a cold night. If some of the roof is covered with frost or snow and some isn’t, ask yourself why? Sometimes, you’ll think that it’s the Sun melting the snow, but this photo is a perfect example. The roof faces south and gets lots of sun. Half isn’t melted, so obviously, it’s NOT the sun melting the snow.

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Are you unintentionally poisoning your family?

A missing barometric damper

A family friend recently told me of “issues” with their home heating system – “when it runs, the lights get halos around them from all the soot in the air.”

I couldn’t believe it when I heard this, and immediately warned him that the condition likely is making his family sick and could easily kill them. No joke.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the “leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America” – it’s colorless, odorless and quickly affects your brain, knocking you out then killing you. In lower amounts, it can lead to chronic headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea and a host of other problems.

As we tighten up our homes to make them more energy efficient, we have to be particularly vigilant about keeping any combustion devices in the home tuned up and properly vented.

Let’s look at this in more detail….

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