I have learned over the past few months that a large part of homesteading is finding ways to maximize your current resources. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, maximization of already existing resources or minimal use of new resources reduces waste and the over-use of natural resources. For example, shopping at the thrift store recycles already existing clothing so that new clothes don’t have to be made in a factory some where while old clothes fill up landfills or the backs of closets. Second, maximizing the use of minimal resources saves money.
A few months ago with the start of summer vacation upon us, warmer weather moving in, and a lot more time spent at home our electric bill began to rise. It was reaching its highest levels since we had moved in to our apartment and I was getting worried. Two people should not need to use as much electricity as we appeared to be using.
I began to do a little research on lowering your electric bill, not really expecting to find many realistically helpful tips. I had researched this before and it seemed like the only things I ever found talked about unplugging everything all of the time. I had tried that in the past and the reality seemed to be that anything easy enough to unplug really didn’t impact the electric bill all that much. Then I ran across one article… one tiny little article, that mentioned turning off the hot water heater during the day when it wasn’t needed. I did a little more research on our specific hot water heater and saw that a quarter or more of our kWh usage could be attributed to our hot water heater. Surprisingly, however, aside from that one little article I couldn’t find a ton of concrete savings info from anyone who had tried it.
Luckily, this information came right at the beginning of a billing cycle so I decided to conduct an experiment of my own. The breaker switch for the hot water heater went off unless either of us needed a shower, in which case we turned it on about 20 minutes prior to the shower to let it heat up and then turned it off immediately following the shower. We have a 40 gallon tank since we live in an apartment, so granted it does take less time to heat up than a larger tank for a house would. The tank is fairly insulated so there was usually enough hot water stored up during the day for hand and dish washing, but other than that we didn’t really need extra hot water. This went on for most of the month with the occasionally forgetful slip up where it got left on for longer than it needed to.
I anxiously waited for the billing cycle to end so I could see the result. (yes, I am ridiculously nerdy, but I promise I actually do have a very busy, mostly normal, life) The result? A reduction in usage of over 200 kWhs and a savings of 20-30 dollars (depending on the bill). It was our lowest bill in a year.
The pay-off for this experiment was well worth the cost. We very rarely were inconvenienced by having the hot water heater turned off. The worst part was having to wait 20 minutes to take a shower, but for over $240 dollars saved per year thats a pretty minimal trade off.
Obviously this may be more of an inconvenience with a larger tank, however there could be ways around it. A larger, well insulated tank can hold more hot water for use even when the tank is off. So even keeping it on at night to heat up, when electricity costs are cheaper, and turning it off during the day and just using what is stored up may be enough to save you quite a bit on your bill. Also, it is important to realize that you don’t need hot water for as much as you may think. I haven’t washed any clothes in hot water in years and my clothes are still clean and stain free and many dishes can be hand washed with soap and cool water and be just fine.
Electric bills are something many people view as an unchangeable, expensive fact of life, but there are plenty of ways to limit your cost and consumption in ways that will save you big in the long run. Have you conducted any electricity savings experiments of your own that have been a success?