Monday, November 16, 2009

All About Electricity and Savings (Part 1)

As some of you know (and some don't), I work for the electric company in Portland, Oregon.  While PGE is a great company to work for (most of the time), the winter season is always the hardest.  Between the holidays and the rising costs of electric bills due to heating costs, it can be frustrating for both customers and the representatives answering calls.

Each year, PGE gives all customer services representatives a "refresher" course on "high bill training."  We go over a TON of material to help us in answering inquiries from customers in regards to higher bills in the winter.  That's what I will be focusing on in this post.  Tips on things you can do around your home to make sure you are getting the most for your dollar.

On average, a household's breakdown of their electric bill is: 60% to heating and cooling, 20% to heating water, and 20% for everything else.  This is assuming they live in an all electric home (no gas).  Ultimately, if your bill is $100, $60 of that goes to heating and cooling, $20 to heating water, and $20 to everything else.

So how do I reduce my electric bill?  Well, there are many ways.  You can visit PGE's website, and we have an Efficiancy section of the website.   Check out this calculator where you can manually figure out what each appliance is costing you per hour, per day, or even per month!  I use this talking to customers ALL THE TIME!

Here are my quick suggestions (which I have learned from PGE's training):
  • Cover your pipes!!  Cover the pipes used for hot water to keep the heat in.  Use covers for the cold pipes to avoid the water freezing.  You can buy pipe covering (like the picture on the right) at your local Lowe's, Home Depot or other home hardware store in your area.
  • Cover your windows with plastic.  Really.  This helps to keep the heat in, and the cold out.
  • Shut doors to rooms you aren't using.  Leaving doors open will cause drafts in your home.
  • Let the sun shine!!  If, by a miracle, the sun comes out, open your drapes or blinds!  The sun is a great, free, way to warm up your home.  Plus, you can turn off lights, and save more!  Double whamey. :)
  • Make sure your water heater is working properly!! The number one reason that people have increased bills in a short period of time is a malfunctioning water heater. 
    • Check for leaks.  There are three places the water heater can leak from:
      • At the water heater itself.  Check for water surrounding your tank.
      • Leaky faucets in the home.  Make sure there is no drippy, leaky faucets.
      • Under the house.  While it sounds like no fun to do so, you should check for leaky pipes under your house a couple times of year. 
    • Check the temperature of the hot water coming out of the faucet.  You should set your water in the kitchen or bathroom on hot, and fill a glass.  Using a thermometer, check the temperature.  Compare that to the setting on your water heater.  The recommended temperature setting for any water heater is 120 degrees F.
    • Flush your water heater at least once a year.  This is something I JUST learned, and was absolutely horrified to learn you are suppose to do this.  For a how-to on this, check Wiki's step-by-step guide.  Can you believe there is gunk at the bottom of your water heater? EWW!!!
    • Heating elements in the water heater don't last forever.  Wiki's How To can walk you through how to test to make sure your heating elements are in working order.  The easiest way to tell if one of them is malfunctioning, or needs to be replaced, is if you seem to run out of hot water faster than normal.  Having no hot water could mean both are out.
  • Turn off the lights you are not using!
  • A full freezer uses less electricity than one that is not.  Since the freezer will have less empty space to freeze and more food to freeze, the temperature will stay at a lower temperature consistently.

Random facts and things you may not know:
  • Most appliances that are plugged in use electricity.  Anything with a little light (microwave w/ digital display, phone chargers, alarm clocks, and yes, even the PS2!) drains electricity.  It may be a little bit, but that could add up to dollars a year!!
  • You will stay warmer if your house is arranged correctly.  Keep your furniture where you sit and sleep on inside walls.  Outside walls and hallways tend to be drafty.
  • If you have baseboard heating, check your thermostats!!  Most of them don't have an "off" switch, only a "low" setting.  This means your heat can come on, even if you are on "low" if the temperature in your house gets below whatever "low" means.  It is very inefficient.  I have baseboard heating in my house, and the heat gets shut off at the breakers most of the year to avoid unwanted heat. 
  • Older style thermostats are extremely inefficient. It may say that you are heating to 65, but the reality is, it could be 60 or 75!  Home Depot has a great device that measures the temperature inside your home, but you can find them just about anywhere starting at $10!

Oh my goodness, I could go on and on with energy savings tips.  I really had to force myself to stop.  Hehe!

While I sometimes don't have all the answers, I have many resources to get the answers I need. With that, I leave you with the open invitation to email me with any questions you have at JAKA(dot)files(at)yahoo(dot)com. I will be more than happy to answer questions and/or find the answers.