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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Water heating – trimming your bills

If you haven’t yet read my first posting about water heaters, I highly recommend that you do so now. Without that foundation, you’re not going to get the most out of this article.

Invariably, this question comes up – “how do I reduce my water heating bill?”

Let’s break this down into a few parts. What affects your bill?

  1. The amount of hot water you use
  2. The efficiency of your water heater
  3. The cost of your fuel
  4. Other inefficiencies

I’m going to address these points one at a time, because each one is important to understand and all impact your energy bills.

Reducing your hot water use

This one is obvious. Reduce the amount of water you use and you directly cut your energy bills. But how can you cut back on hot water use? I’m assuming that you aren’t willing to change your lifestyle because most people aren’t. I mean seriously, if you’ve taken 20 minute showers your entire life, are you suddenly going to start taking 10 minute showers, even if you know it might save you $100/year? Probably not.

Top ways to reduce your hot water usage:

Shower heads

Showers are one of the biggest consumers of hot water. Consider an older 4 gallon per minute shower head. That’s 60 gallons of water or maybe 40 gallons of hot water for each 15 minute shower. Ouch! That’s going to cost a fortune. If you can reduce that to 2 gallons per minute (GPM), you cut that to 20 gallons of hot water without changing your lifestyle. So the first act I would take is replacing the shower head.

But before you rush out and buy new shower heads, you might want to measure the flow of your existing heads. Just turn on the shower and time how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket then calculate the number of gallons per minute. Easy!

  • If you’re not already using a reduced flow shower head (1.5-2.5 gallons/minute) then invest in one. I’m not talking about the pathetic little ones they sell that couldn’t wash the soap off a bald man’s head. I’m talking about nice, designer shower heads, that are designed for efficiency. Things like this one. I’ve used one of these for years and love it. No, it’s not the most efficient one around, but it’s reasonably efficient and it actually works.
  • If you’ve got teenagers who take really long showers, then get one of the 1.5gpm shower heads. They don’t work quite as well, but if they’re taking hour long showers, they can deal with a little inconvenience! If you’re feeling generous, you might get this one or this one.

Laundry Machines

Usually, I don’t endorse getting rid of perfectly good appliances – in most cases, it’s just wasteful. But I make an exception for laundry machines. The new front loaders with high-speed spin-dry cycles are worth the investment on so many levels.

A typical, old style, top-loading washer requires filling the entire tub with water multiple times during the cycle, using up to something like 35 gallons of water. They’re incredibly wasteful! Add to that the fact that the clothes are still pretty wet after the spin dry and you’re paying a lot more to dry the clothes as well. Finally, those agitators are simply brutal on delicate clothes. In all respects, top loaders are simply destined for extinction.

The front loader cuts your hot water usage very substantially. If you want a detailed discussion of them, go to the Energy Star website. They do require a little different usage, and special soap, but that’s a small price to pay for $100-$200 savings per year in reduced water use. They’re truly awesome!

Wash Clothes in Cold Water

You’ve heard it before and I’m going to say it again – the most efficient usage of hot water is not using hot water at all.

With modern laundry detergents, you do not need to wash clothes in hot water, and the savings can be hundreds of gallons per week if you do a lot of loads of laundry. That adds up to huge reductions in your hot water use over the course of a year.

Ok, so maybe you’ll still use hot water for some things, like your kids white socks that they wear outside without shoes or their football uniforms. But for a typical person, hot water wash is a complete waste.

Whole House Humidifiers

Many homes are outfitted with whole-house humidifiers. These bolt on the side of your furnace and introduce water into the air stream to humidify your home during the winter.

Unfortunately, some lazy product designers decided it was a good idea to run hot water through these units to help humidify the air because the hot water will be more “steamy” and work better. So what do these idiots do? They design a machine that runs something like 6 gallons of hot water through the system every hour, even when they’re only using a tiny fraction of that to humidify the air. Why? Because hot water is much more prone to scaling problems, so they run the water to flush out the mineral buildup!

Over the course of a day, that humidifier can be doubling your hot water use, easily. So over the course of a winter of use, that’s adding hundreds of dollars to your utility bills. Horrible. Stupid. Wasteful. These things should be outlawed.

If you’ve got one of these units that runs on hot water, disable it, shoot it, rip it off, and throw it in the trash. If you must have a humidifier (I’ll cover this topic in another post) then get one that uses cold water and a misting system or a sponge-like element.

BTW – I wrote an entire post about central humidifiers and their evils.

Remember to Fix those Drips!

Remember – there’s no such thing as a small leak! Even a slow drip can be gallons per day which means hundreds of gallons per year. That’s dollars out of your pocket and wasted water for absolutely no reason.

If you have a leaky faucet, fix it. Any homeowner should be capable of turning off the water supply and replacing a washer or faucet components. They’ve made it pretty easy for most things. So don’t hesitate. Fix the drip!

Here’s a nice tutorial on the subject.

And if you don’t like to read, here’s a video.

< End of part 2 >

Ok, I’m stopping here for the day. These have been the biggies and I’ve given you enough information to save you hundreds on your water heating bills each year. Now get busy replacing shower heads, buying new washers and dismantling your whole-house humidifiers!