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It’s Energy Awareness Month…and I’ve Entered a Contest

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Energy Awareness Month is here and we've entered a contest! Follow along with us as we learn how to get our electricity costs down, down, and down some more. Did we win?

Things have gone rather dark in our household. Literally. It’s Energy Awareness Month, and I’ve decided to enter an exciting contest to see how much energy use we can shave off our bill in the next two and a half months. If you’ve been following my blog over the years, then you know that I personally challenge myself each year to spend less on energy than the previous year (so far, with great results). We’ve gone from spending $1,628.86 on electricity and natural gas in 2010 to spending only $1,384.32 in 2012. I hope to take it a step further with this challenge (and to win the prize along the way).

The Challenge: Reliant Blogger Conservation Challenge

The Competition (er…contestants): Arena from The Nerd's Wife, Staci from 7 On a Shoe String, The T-Shirt Mama, and Mackenzie from Cheerios and Lattes.

The Prize: Sponsorship to BlogHer Conference in 2014

Being able to go to such a large blogging conference is a big deal for me. Needless to say, I am pulling out all the stops in finding ways to lessen our electricity use. I am so into this challenge, in fact, that when our ceiling was repaired this week in our living room I cringed at the robust purr of power tools that were undoubtedly plugged into our electrical outlets.

So far, here’s what I’ve changed:

  • Unplugged the Plugs that Crept Back in for Convenience: Even though I have always been an unplugger, it turns out that I’ve let some appliances stay plugged in while not in use for the sake of convenience. Now that I’m in a competition, forget convenience! I want to win! This week I conducted a room-by-room sweep of the house, unplugging the microwave, stereo in my office, printer in my office, coffee maker that only gets used once a week (Paul likes the clock, but is willing to sacrifice in the name of winning), and the lamp by my bed.
  • Dusted Off the Ole’ Kill-A-Watt: I have this neat little gadget that you plug into a wall, then plug an appliance into, and it will tell you how much electricity the appliance is using (both in standby mode as well as when in use). This week I took it out of hiding and starting playing around with a few settings on my appliances. I also wanted to see if unplugging appliances when not in use was making a difference or not, so I plugged a few into the device to verify that yes, even though the appliance was not on it was still sucking a small amount of energy.
  • Sourced Alternative Work Spaces: One of the things I have going against me is that I work from home now. Getting out of the house to write and create is helpful in that I will use less electricity, and also in that it is nearly always helpful to work in a different environment. I found out that our library (just one mile away) has little spaces you can reserve for free. Also, I figure I will probably work at a coffee shop once a week or so (though it is not lost on me that I would not want to balloon my costs in the tea department just to save on electricity).
  • Energy Savings Through Behavioral Changes: In just one week, I was able to significantly cut down on our electricity use by simply changing the way I used our appliances. Here’s what I shaved off: 80 minutes dryer time (used our laundry line instead), 162 minutes dishwasher (skipped one day of dishes by using less and washing a few by hand; also opened up the door when the cycle reached drying time to air dry instead), 8 hours of television time (it’s a crutch as background noise; what wasted energy!), approximately 8 hours of lamp time, 168 hours of the printer being on standby (not sure why, after we purchased my first printer in five years, I decided to let it stay plugged in and on standby 24/7), 168 hours of the microwave clock, 168 hours of the coffeemaker clock, 56 hours of A/C/Heater (from approximately 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. each day I turned the system off completely; the highest it got was 79 degrees Fahrenheit during the day).

I’m amazed at what we've accomplished so far! Let’s hope this is reflected in the numbers. If nothing else, we will have decreased our electric bills this month and for the next several to come, and you know I’m all about that.

Energy Challenge Update #1: Microwave Cooking

When I was in college I made one of my first-ever purchases on eBay: a microwave cookbook. I had been taken off of the mandatory college food plan for health reasons and so all of my meals were being prepared by me with a mini-fridge, a toaster oven, and a microwave in our approximately 13’ X 9’ dorm room. When the book arrived in the mail, I remember feeling like my dinner options had exploded on the possibility scale.

I have long since gotten rid of that cookbook, but could certainly use it now. At this moment, I cannot think of a single recipe we cook that only uses the microwave…but that is our new task in Reliant’s Blogger Conservation Challenge!

Challenge Results So Far

I joined Reliant’s Blogger Conservation Challenge in early October and have been finding ways to cut down on electricity use ever since. It makes sense that the next task is to set aside a period of time to cook by microwave (and I am adding in the idea of preparing meals that do not cook at all to heat the challenge up a notch) because we’ve cut down nearly everywhere else in our household. Our clothes dryer has not been turned on since I started this challenge on October 1st, sans the 10 minutes Paul needed to nuke something off the clothesline. Lights are turned off in every room except for the one in which we occupy. Except for the last few days (it’s on standby…I swear!), my printer has been unplugged. We have no clock in the kitchen since the coffee pot and microwave remain unplugged when not in use. And Central A/C Heating? What’s that? Ours has been turned off for the majority of October/early November.

While I do not know how our energy reduction stacks up against the other four bloggers in this competition, I do know that we are seeing impressive results on our electricity bill: last month's tab was $56.44 lighter than the previous month (only 9 days of that billing cycle was in October, when the competition began), and this month's tab is just $54.09 all together! To give you some perspective, our bill last October/November when I was not guzzling electricity by working from home was $67.37. To get our bill $13.28 and 198 kWh lighter with me being home all the time is a great feat in my book.

Why You Would Want to Cook with the Microwave

Using a microwave takes up much less energy than using an electric oven. It is estimated that using an electric oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit (2.0 kWh) costs $0.16 while using a microwave on high for 15 minutes (.36 kWh) costs just $0.03. Better yet, eating food that does not need to be cooked at all uses no energy (except the human kind!).

Recipes for the Microwave (or when No Cooking is Involved)

I’ve got a plan for this task. We are going to eat through a three-day period using only the microwave (or no cooking at all). After looking through all of our recipes and not finding a single one that would (easily) be able to work in a microwave, I researched microwave recipes from around the internet. Here are a few of the recipes we are going to try (mixed in with some no-cook recipes from our box):

  • Salad with “Awesome” Salad Dressing: My mother came home with this salad dressing recipe over ten years ago and we’ve been enjoying it ever since. In one of those salad dressing Tupperware shakers, mix together ½ cup sugar, 1 tbsp. dry mustard, 1 tsp. salt, 1 ½ tsp. marjoram, 1 ½ tsp. bail, and ¾ cup cider vinegar. After mixing those ingredients, add ¾ cup of olive oil and 6-8 pressed garlic (1 ½ tsp.). Shake some more!
  • Microwave-Steamed Garlic Green Beans
  • Microwave Chicken Burritos
  • Swiss Fondue with French Bread and Apples: Instead of making this over the stove top, we will just mix and melt everything together over the fuel gel can. Shred 1 lb. of Swiss cheese and toss with 3 tbsp. flour. Rub the inside of the fondue pot with 1 clove of garlic (cut in half). Heat 1 cup of white wine in the fondue pot over the fuel until almost boiling. Add 1 tsp. lemon juice. Add the 1 lb. shredded cheese to the pot by small handfuls, and mix until it’s the consistency of a creamy sauce. Add pepper and 2 dashes of nutmeg.

Other foods will include sandwiches, cereal, and fruit to round out the days. Wish us luck! Let’s see if we can’t get an even bigger savings in November than $56.44.

Energy Challenge Update #2: Our Free Home Energy Snapshot

If you’ve been following along over the last two months then you know the measures Paul and I have taken in order to conserve electricity: unplugging all appliances when they are not in use, line drying our laundry for the entire month of October and most of November, keeping the thermostat turned off, etc. Not only have our efforts helped our bottom line—October’s electric bill was $54.09 and November’s is $50.23—but we feel we have an excellent chance at winning the Reliant Blogger Conservation Challenge.

What’s at stake? A trip to the blogging conference BlogHer in 2014!

Home Energy Snapshot Results

As part of Reliant’s Blogger Conservation Challenge, we received a free in-home energy audit. In mid-November a representative came out with a handy-dandy infrared camera to determine if we had any insulation leaks in our home.

Overall, the auditor was impressed with our lack of energy use. Compared with similar homes and situations, he rated our energy usage on the low side (hurrah!). Also, our home is in good shape as far as insulation is concerned.

The most significant issue for us are the seals between the ducts and supply box in our attic. There was a huge temperature differential between the attic and the area right around where the mastic on the air duct is leaking. Creating an air tight seal there could ease HVAC function and consequently lower HVAC electricity usage. Our attic could use new insulation as well, though it’s not a pressing issue for us as we do not typically use the upstairs HVAC system.

DIY Sealant Fix

Fortunately for us, this is a DIY project. In order to increase our HVAC efficiency (once we actually turn the system back on), we are going to purchase mastic duct sealant and reseal each of the crevices that were previously sealed.

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Ways to Further Reduce Your Own Energy Usage

There are a few ways that you can further reduce your own energy usage.

  • Get a Free Home Energy Snapshot: For Reliant customers, check out how you can get your own free energy snapshot.
  • Check Your Attic Insulation: The Department of Energy recommends different levels of insulation depending on where you live. If your home is older, then it might be time to check the condition of your current insulation.
  • Insulate Drop-Down Attic Doors: Do you have drop-down attic doors (like the kind Chevy Chase was hit in the face with on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)? We have two of them, and they are not insulated. A way to gain some efficiency is to add insulation, a foam board, or an attic tent/draft cap.
  • Make Use of Your Blinds: To maximize the sun in the winter time, you should leave your blinds open during the day, and close them at night.
  • Change Hot Water Heater Settings: When you are going out of town, be sure to put your setting to “vacation” or otherwise not “hot”. Some people even do this throughout the day and only turn their setting to “hot” before showering.
  • Cut Dishwasher Electricity Use: If you use a dishwasher, then open it during the dry cycle and pull the racks out to allow the dishes to air dry.

Energy Challenge Update #3: We Didn't Win

Well, we didn't win. *womp, womp.

But we certainly learned a lot!

What are ways you have found to cut down on energy use? 

Got any other energy-saving tips for me? Help me out by posting them below!

It’s Energy Awareness Month, and I’ve entered a contest to save money and decrease our electricity bill! Tune in to see how I find ways to cut down on our energy use (hint: we already use below-average amounts of energy), and how you can, too. #savemoney #electricitybills #bills

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.

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