What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Analyze Your Energy Consumption

When I was growing up we heated with two radiant natural gas heaters on the main floor. Heat rose to the upstairs through a vent in the floor. During the winter months the bedroom windows were iced over and many a morning a scorched by toosh sitting on one of the heaters to warm up enough to get dressed. When we got married we lived in an apartment where heat and electricity was provided but the seeds of being energy efficient had already been firmly implanted. We were young when we bought our first home that was heated with wood as was our next home. The next house we bought was heated by forced gas as was the next one. This house and likely our last is also heated by forced gas.

When we moved here in 2007 we were a lot wiser as far as saving energy and resources. The design of the house meant it would be cheaper to heat The first thing I did was set up a file to track our electric, gas and water usage. Within days the caulk guns were in high gear and most of the lights had been changed out for compact fluorescent bulbs. All of our major appliances are higher end EnergyStar® rated so there would be no further savings that way. The computer and laptop are also energy efficient so short of leaving them off, there would be no further savings. The house itself is brick with the main living area on the lower level mainly below ground. The lower walls are 12 inch thick for most of the living space. The windows are older Dashwood® double pane and are in good condition. The furnace is a Clare MegaSave I that has a secondary heat exchanger that saw very little use other than in the fall as the former owner shut down the house to vacation in the sunny south during the winter. The hot water tank is a 40 gal standard gas tank that while older would not warrant changing out because of its condition. We also have a gas fireplace, gas dryer and gas outdoor grill. We put plastic up on the upper level sunporch that serves as an excellent windbreak on that upper level wall.

I spent some time on the PowerSaverPlus website today. This is an excellent online resource for users of HydrOne in Ontario, Canada. Through a series of questions this calculator determines your annual cost of energy use by appliances and gives you a comparison of how your home energy use is in relation to similar homes in your area. The nice thing about this calculator is it takes into consideration both your electricity and natural gas usage. Other energy sources such as wood and heating oil can also be factored in. The site then analyzes how you are using the energy resources and give you tips as to where you can save more money. The tips include an estimated cost to complete that recommendation as well as the projected savings so you can focus on those modifications that will have the greatest impact on reducing your energy consumption. You can calculate the pay back period for the modification from this information. A surprising number of the tips cost nothing other than effort to put into action.

Note: The following two graphs courtesy of PowerSaverPlus are from the energy analysis I did for our house today.

Monthly Energy Cost Comparison

The calculator assesses your energy usage base on the information you give it. For best results you will need the last 12 months for electricity and gas bills. The electric bill will give you a kWh and an adjusted kWh number. Use the adjusted kWh as that is what Hydro One determines you use. Enter each month into the calculator. Now look at the natural gas bill and it will give you an amount of gas you used in cubic metres. Enter each month of that into the calculator. When both sets of numbers have been entered press next then go to the section for appliances and fill that out. The last section is for tips or you can hit report. The report will give you this graph and the following graph but on the home page when you log in again you will see a pie chart of your energy usage breakdown and a linear chart for similar home comparison in dollars.

The monthly energy cost compares your energy usage to similar homes in your area. As you can see we (pink) use a fair amount less energy than similar homes (purple) in our area. On the home page our comparison chart shows we are just over the half way mark by about $20 of what others use in our area. That means we are basically using half the electricity and natural gas than others are using. This data does have to be used as only a guideline. Houses differ in energy usage based on location, insulation and how well they are sealed as well as the personal comfort levels of the residents. Identical houses can vastly differ in all these factors even if they are side by side. So this chart is best used to note the trends.

First we are well under others most months for energy use but look at January to March. When others were decreasing their overall energy use ours was increasing. I'm still trying to figure out why and can't recall anything major that would have caused the increase overall energy use. One explanation with us being in a rural area is the metres were estimated instead of being read resulting in a bit of catch-up that skews the graph.

Annual Cost Appliances

The annual cost of energy use by appliances is a very useful graph. At a glance is gives you a visual as to where you are using the most energy. That is where you should put the greatest effort to reduce. However, when answering the questions it doesn't give you the options to indicate how long a particular appliance is on. For example it would appear our AC costs are second to heating but that is not the case. This past summer our AC was on for about a total of 5 days because we only put it on when the heat and humidity levels get too uncomfortable. Our main living space is mainly below ground so is naturally cool in the summer greatly reducing the need for using the AC. I also think the computer energy usage is not accurate as they are both very energy efficient and one is only used occasionally. Something that isn't showing in the energy usage is the hot boxes - satellite receivers, adapters, router, and those types of things that are plugged in all the time using energy 24/7.

At the end of the analysis I printed off the 8 page report for our energy files. We are at the point where there is very little major to do to reduce our energy consumption. There are several minor things to do that will save energy. We will be focusing on the following points for energy reduction over the next couple of weeks. You will notice that some of the most commonly recommended tips are not on the list. That is because they have already been completed or in some cases as the dryer vent the recommendations have been exceeded. Other things like air sealing is an ongoing process that you need to be doing year round.

  1. turn computer off at night - This really is not going to save us much but if it ends up being 10¢ per day for the computer, router and satellite box in energy savings it would be an annual savings of $36.50.
  2. seal air leaks in ducts - This is an inexpensive, DIY task that has the potential to save $70 to $117 per year. It pays for itself in well under one heating season
  3. install heat traps in hot water tank - This is another inexpensive, DIY project that can save $45 to $75 per year. It pays for itself in about 3.5 years.
  4. install low flow shower heads - This is a very inexpensive, DIY project that can save $13 to $22 per year in energy savings but at the same time they save on the amount of water used.
These types of energy calculators are extremely beneficial. While they cannot possibly give you a 100% analysis, they can give you a fairly good idea of where your energy dollars are going. At the same time they can give you tips for how to improve your energy consumption. There is no charge for the service either so you can update and reassess your progress as often as you would like.

Garden Gnome