Let me start by saying that I am fortunate to live in California’s San Francisco Bay Area where we have moderate Mediterranean climate. So relative to much of the nation our utility consumptions are modest. But most of the suggestions I make are relevant elsewhere. I live in a modest two-story 4 bedroom 3 bathroom house that is South facing. My average combined electrical/gas as well as my water bills are about $70 each per month and haven’t exceeded $100 for the last two years in spite of rate increases. I currently have no solar panels or heaters.
Let me start with gas usage. I find that during the summer months the upstairs bedroom gets quite hot but the downstairs rooms stay relatively cool. Heat travels upstairs to add to the heat as well as heat from the attic getting through the insulation to the ceiling. Since there are only two of us (children are grown up and live elsewhere) we now have two master bedrooms, one upstairs for winter living and one downstairs for summer living. I have two separate gas heating systems, one for upstairs and the other for downstairs. In the winter we use the upstairs heater and set it to about 68 degrees except when we go to sleep or leave the house when we turn it down to 55. We never use the downstairs heater. When my wife needs to stay warm while cooking downstairs she uses a portable space heater to keep herself warm. In the winter we eat upstairs. We also open the shades of the south-facing windows (double glazed) upstairs during the day to let in the warming sun and close them during the evenings. We have a comfortable sitting area in the upstairs bedroom area where we watch TV and essentially live all winter except when entertaining. The savings in heating just upstairs in winter are sizable. Prior to this our winter heating bills were well over $100 per month.
In the warmer months we abandon the upstairs room and live downstairs where it is cooler. Since heat moves upwards our upstairs bedroom is like an oven on hot days. Using a second master bedroom downstairs in the summer makes it much more comfortable to sleep. Fortunately our winters are relatively short so we spend most of our time downstairs. Actually the upstairs rooms act as added shade and insulation to the downstairs ceiling keeping it cooler downstairs than a single story house. We keep a skylight open upstairs to let some excess heat out. So I don’t need an air conditioner during the summer months (I don’t have one anyway) and can live quite comfortably. I have a 14 ft. roll-up awning that I bought for $450 on the internet that I put outside the downstairs south-facing windows that I open during hot days to provide shade for both house and windows to reduce downstairs sunlight heating and use when relaxing in the shade outside. On the hottest of days I essentially shut down the house by closing all the doors and windows and closing all the window shades to eliminate infrared radiation from entering the house (greenhouse effect). If done early in the day this can keep the downstairs interior of a moderately well insulated houses 10-15 degrees cooler than outside temperatures. I reverse this process during the nights to bring in the cooler fresher air. I use a portable fan to keep the air moving around where we inhabit to feel cooler.
As for saving electricity, appliances is another area where I made some long-term investments to make immediate savings on energy consumption. I bought an energy-efficient refrigerator, dish washer, washer and dryer, oven, and stove. I shopped on the internet for an inductive stove and got a four burner Bosch for $1700 with a $100 rebate which is programmable. I bought a portable one earlier for $90 to try and we loved it so we replaced our old stove. They work really nicely. They only heat the pot or pan that you are using but it must be comparable with inductive heating. It heats thing up much faster than a conventional stove and using about a quarter as much electricity. The stove top gets hot only because the pot or pan in contact with it gets hot. If you can’t afford a full size stove buy a portable one. You need inductive cookware. Aluminum cookware doesn’t work. Another thing we now use almost daily is an electrical pressure cooker we purchased online for $80. It produces no steam while cooking but cooks food under pressure about twice as fast as on a conventional stove. Steam from older pressure cookers wastes energy through evaporation into the air instead of heating food. This is great for cooking anything you would use a pot to cook. It uses very little energy, cooks very fast and is programmable so you can program it to start cooking at some later time and it automatically goes into warming mode after cooking for the programmed length of time. You use less water than a normal pressure cooker and the food seems to have more flavor because none is lost from evaporated steam.
For lighting I replaced all of my incandescent lights with LED lights, CFL’s (Compact Florescent Light), and florescent lights, but the most used lights are now LED. CFL’s are quite cheap, less than $1 and use about 15 watts for a 60W equivalent light replacement but uses mercury, which is quite toxic and a pollutant, to produce UV which makes the white coating glow to put out light. LED lights are still pricy but last for years or decades and use about 6 watts for a 60W equivalent light and do not use mercury. Florescent lights also use mercury and need some work to install but provide fairly good lighting. I use T5 florescent lights that are somewhat lower wattage than the standard T12 florescent lights and smaller in diameter but put out as much light. However they are more expensive.
Water is as expensive as gas and electricity combined so use it sparingly. Water usage is largely dependent upon your watering requirements for landscaping and showers unless you have a swimming pool which are bad for water conservation. Lawns are water hogs so avoid having a lawn unless it is artificial. It is better to use indigenous plants for landscaping that are drought resistant and use a drip watering system for irrigation. Water early in the morning about 4:00 am. to minimize evaporation. Landscape your yard with rocks and other non-organic materials where possible. Think water when designing your yard and landscaping. I have very little landscaping at present, only a few drought resistant shrubs, but plan to landscape with drought resistant indigenous plants and some rocks and gravel. As for showers use water restrictors and take short showers. My wife collects water used to wash vegetables and uses it to water her vegetable garden and indoor plants.
Not only do these measures reduce your utility bills but they reduce the amount of electricity generated by power plants that produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, reduce the amount of gas burned in your home furnaces that produce greenhouse gases in order to heat up your house, and reduce the enormous amounts of water from nature to satisfy our needs, all of which are causing environmental problems.
Good advice all around. May we add one more suggestion? Talk about the impact of overpopulation every time the subject of sustainability comes up.
That is always at the back of my mind: The Mother of All Problems that No One Wants to Deal With