Monday, January 7, 2019

Energy Conservation in the Home: I'll Show You Mine...

I know this is just one tiny piece of the puzzle, but there IS an effective way to get people to reduce their energy usage in their homes: publicize how much their neighbours use. A recent study found that if people think they're neighbours care about the environment, and if they're shown how much energy their neighbours use relative to their own use, then people will use less energy in a race to be the least wasteful.
"The US firm Opower sends over 60 million households around the world energy bills that show their own energy consumption in relation to how much energy their neighbours consume. Providing this information has led to customers decreasing their energy consumption -- to date, this intervention has saved more than $2 billion USD in energy usage."

The problem with implementing something like this is a concern with privacy. If the city publicly displayed bills by neighbourhood, people might try to reduce their usage. But it couldn't even be average bills per neighbourhood or else people will still free-ride on their neighbours. We need people completing individually for the least amount of usage possible. Except the government will never allow companies to post this kind of information openly, which is not such a bad thing.

But we CAN share ourselves!

So here are my monthly averages for 2018. I have little idea where I fit relative to others in my neighbourhood. But I do know that if I find out my numbers are higher than most, that would spur me on to some significant changes. We have four people in our house all the time, and one of them is perpetually freezing cold so cranks the heat whenever I turn my back, plus two additional bodies (a bf and gf) who eat and shower here at least once or twice each week.

My water usage this year averaged to 15.4 m3 per month (that's about 500 litres each day!). I have several water barrels that I use almost entirely in my garden, so the spike in July is more likely from drinking, showering, and clothes washing than from watering. That seems outrageous considering how much I avoid doing laundry and how casual we tend to be about toilet flushing. But I do love a long shower, sometimes more than one in a day when it gets sticky hot outside. This says the average Canadian uses 250 litres per person each day, so we're using about half the national average (since there are four of us), but there are still ways we can reduce that number.

My natural gas usage this year averaged to 221.2 m3 each month. That includes a natural gas water heater as well as my only source of heat. This is where the long showers show. This says the average Ontario home uses about 201.3 m3 each month (or 90 GJ/year), and that's enough to make me want to lower my consumption. But I'm not convinced everyone will be affected by the cross-province numbers as much as they would by their own neighbours that they have to face each day. I'm a bit surprised that we're higher than average because we don't ever wash laundry in hot water, and we keep the house pretty cold (as long as I'm on it), but the walls of my house are leaky and difficult to insulate at this point. The basement and attic are sealed and we have new windows, but I haven't found someone able to insult the wall without destroying all the built in cabinetry.

My electrical usage averaged to 487.3 kWh per month, which is taken mainly from the nuclear plants around these parts (the green line in the graph below just indicates the average temperature each month), and only 4% is from burning fossil fuels, although I'm still not entirely sold on the benefits of going full nuclear. Nationally, residential consumption is at about 1,000 kWh per month, but we can't really compare living here to living on either coast or way up north. I didn't factor in the solar panels because they don't affect usage; they give us money, not energy.

I'm not sure what happened last January to get that spike. It was really cold, but we don't heat with electricity. The general higher use in winter is likely from being inside more often, with the lights on for more hours, heartier meals on the stove, more cups of tea, and more layers of clothes to wash. We do have a small space heater in the basement bathroom which we turn on whenever it dips below -10 after our pipes froze one year. I don't have air conditioning, which helps keep usage down in the summers.

My fatal flaw is ridiculously long showers, which affects both the gas and water bill. Anyone else care to share??


David Leung said...

I don't have any recent data to share since I just moved in to a detached home for the first time since moving out of my parents' home. I'm also from BC where we pay a flat water fee for the year. I am not sure who holds the data for household water use so I can't give that info even for my small apartment. I imagine that water use is high because of the washing machine and dishwasher.

My Hydro bill for a small apartment is about $16/month. It's about 10kWh per day or say 300Kwh per month. BC only uses power from dams as far as I know although they do trade energy with Alberta. I don't know what Alberta uses for electricity.

In my new house, I know that the previous owners were spending about $300/month on hydro. I think they had all the lights on all the time. I use a programmable thermostat now that's connected to my smart phone. I don't really need to adjust too much. The temperature is set way down while we're at work and we have it starting up to warm up the house when we get off work. It is also set a few degrees lower after 10pm, when we usually go to bed.

My apartment did not have a monitor for natural gas use since natural gas is covered by strata fees.

Stephen Mumble said...

Those are reasonable usage levels for an average sized household.

For me it is just me and my daughter - and two cats!
It is a smaller home (about 1,200 sq feet) and while we have a big yard I don't do much watering of lawn or garden - using either rain/mulch to keep things growing in the back yard.
My water usage for the year is about 6.8 cubic metres per month - and so if my math is good that is about 224 litres per day. Which seems high to me now that I have done the math. I may have to look for some leaks. Although come to think of it my daughter loves her baths - so that is likely her one luxury. We are frugal in most things - so I will not deny her that one small indulgence! She is off soon to post-secondary education somewhere and so I can see how my water use drops.

On the gas side we use ZERO. No gas and all electric. All lights are now LED and I have tried to optimize our heating by taking advantage of the "zone" heating that electric heat provides. Each room has its own programmed thermostat. Our usage for the last 12 months averaged 1050 kWh/month (rounded up). Or about an average of 35kwh per day.
When I was really watchting electric bills a few years back I was down to 27 kwh/day - and that involved things like turning off power bars and the hot water heater when I was away for 2-3 days.

No dishwasher; Only large laundry loads; No air conditioner (but ceiling fans in every room - and they do use bit of energy on really hot days!). And BBQ for summer cooking. So how does one count propane usage?

In terms of waste production we average less than 1/2 bag of garbage every two weeks. A full green bin weekly; and 1 blue bin weekly. If I could get the record to stop delivering flyers that would help!

I'd like to get solar panels but I cannot justify the initial expense really. It would make more sense from a cost management side for me to get a large battery and store off-peak electricity for latter use. Which isn't saving energy - just lowering my costs!

Hope some others reply! Would be interesting to see how others compare.

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for playing, David and Stephen!

@David - $16/month is crazy good! That's the downside of a house, and why we should obviously be building up more that out, but I couldn't imagine living in a much smaller area with all the kids at home.

@Stephen - My oldest two left for university for a couple years, at the same time, then came back when funds got tight. But there was a huge drop in water and electricity use in their absence. I feel like laundry was a big factor judging by how much I'm doing these days relatively speaking. I didn't think of including waste as well. I do a large garbage bag every other week, and a blue bin weekly, but then just a tiny baggy for the green bin each week because I rarely eat meat, and I have a backyard composter for fruit and veggie waste. If we really want to have an effect, we could look at meat consumption as well!

Stephen Mumble said...

A yes compost - I used to do that but then I had a rat infestation when I had a less than tidy neighbour. The place next door was a rental and no-one did any yard work so the rodents moved into the tall grasses and weeds. In the end the green-bin is picked up weekly and so I figured why not let the region deal with the green waster? Oh and with two cats they contribute about half the green waste. Adding the soft papers and vegetable waste keeps the ammonia smell down!
My daughter is a vegetarian (but not vegan!) and I was never a big meat eater. I generally only eat meat now when I am out of the house. We BBQ a lot of veggies - and even make BBQ pizza. We are also big-time home cooked soup fans and that no doubt keeps our electric bills higher. We go through piles of veggies - especially sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I also love my oven roasted beets and brussel sprouts. So more electric use there!
Many decades ago I grew up on a small farm and primarily we had chickens/geese/ducks - most of which were pre-ordered by a kosher butcher who knew we raised the birds free-range and provided natural feed. We also kept 2-3 pigs from spring to fall. The pigs were our natural garbage conversion system - turning kitchen and garden waste into tasty pork products! The point being that meat doesn't have to have the high energy/water cost that modern meat farming methods require.
When we butchered the pigs, I remember hating the amount of (bloody) work involved. And now I have fond memories of the end processing when the bits and pieces became sausage and the smell of the smoke-house...oh nostalgia is a funny beast!
My parents came from eastern Europe and they generally only prepared meat on Sunday - and lots of it. That was then left-overs for the next few days and then another meat meal Wednesdays. Friday and Saturday was almost always no meat days.
We did eat a lot of eggs though! What an entirely different world it was in the late 1960's
And enough of my rambling :)

Marie Snyder said...

I agree the problem isn't farming, but factory style farming, and the enormous quantity of meat we go through.