How We Might Come to Terms with Death
Tales of Old Age Memory

Money Saving Tips from the Local Power Company

category_bug_journal2.gif According to the Congressional Research Service, the median annual income of citizens age 65 and older was $30,770 in 2008. Like most elder women, my income is lower than that (men's is higher on average) and although I get by just fine, I am always looking for ways to stem the outflow.

In additional to the electronic bill that arrives via email each month from the local power company, Portland General Electric here in Oregon also sends out a monthly newsletter with information and advice on reducing usage and lowering the bill. Until recently, I hadn't paid much attention but now I have discovered how useful it is.

This month, there is a story on four ways to lower high winter heating bills which led me to an entire page of cooking tips that lower energy usage. Among them, use the microwave whenever possible because of shorter cooking time.

Using lids on pots shortens cooking time too and they suggest that unless precise temperature is critical, skip pre-heating the oven.

There is other good advice for saving energy and therefore money on other large appliances – dishwasher (well, I never use it, but some people do), refrigerator and freezer. For example, I did not know that both freezers and refrigerators run more efficiently when they are full.

In another section of the website, PGE calculates an estimate of electrical use in my home. Here is their first estimate, based on my address, square footage, number of occupants and type of heating showing that three-quarters of my energy bill is taken up by heating and lighting:

Home Energy Usage 1

Because I have swapped out about half my incandescent light bulbs for CFLs and I am careful about winter heating temperature control, I was pretty certain that couldn't be right.

So I spent the 20 minutes it took to fill out a more detailed form about what appliances I use with what frequency and such details as whether I use cold or hot water for laundry and how often I bathe, etc.

Here is PGE's revised chart showing that although heating and cooling take up more than half of my monthly bill, lighting has dropped to a tiny percentage.

Home Energy Usage 2

The chart is wrong about that big blue chunk labeled cooling. (UPDATE: This is an error. In the comments below, see comment no. 1 from Cop Car and my response in comment no. 3.) I have yet to even turn on the air conditioner, but there was no choice on the form for “never use it.” That's forgivable; I still have a reasonably good idea of where my energy dollars are going. And look how I stack up with similar homes:

Home Energy Comparison Chart

Actually, I spend more per year with PGE indicates, but it is still much lower than similar homes. It helps, of course, that only one person lives in this place. If I had a husband or roommate, the cost would be higher.

The company also supplies appliance-buying guides, upgrade advice with both no-cost and low-cost choices and charts to help lower energy use. This light bulb chart [pdf] compares costs, savings and usability among incandescents, CFLs and LEDs.

And here are 24 energy saving tips ranging from “without spending a dime” to “larger investments with big payoffs.”

I mention all this because although I do not recall such rich, useful websites for the power companies in Maine and New York where I previously lived, that doesn't mean they don't have them and perhaps your power company is equally informative.

Anything that helps save a few dollars is a good thing.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Don (Greywolf) Ford: Gone Fishin'


Ronni--I understand that colors on monitors vary; but, on my monitor (and coinciding with statistics that I've read elsewhere), the "big blue chunk" is hot water heating. the slim light blue chunk is cooling. It would help if the legend for the colors was the same on the two pie charts, wouldn't it?!

Regarding your comment about there only being one person at your house: Three years ago when my husband was in the hospital and rehab for two months, I was amazed that there was NO change in my utilities - gas, electric, or water. Half the showers, less than half of dishwasher, clothes washer, oven, TV, computer, etc. What gives?

As for the new energy efficient appliances? Yuk!

Our "efficient" dishwasher takes twice as long as the old one and doesn't do a better job.

We have been trying to buy a new clothes washer that lets us choose the water amount and a warm rinse...good luck. Please note that the "savings" often are figured using 10 loads of wash a week. Low water use often leads to special detergents and having to run the washer through an empty extra cycle with a special washer-cleaner. More chemicals and, ultimately, more water use.

[BTW, can anyone recommend a washer thet has a warm rinse choice and lets us select the amount of water?]

Oh dear, Cop Car - how did I make that error. (And you're right about the mismatched colors; it made me nuts reading the charts and maybe that's how I got confused.)

Let me add this in regard to it being hot water. The form asked how many showers a week, how many baths, how long showers are and at what temperature the heater is set. (120 degrees)

When, earlier this year, a thingamajig burned out in my water heater (which was new when I bought this place in spring 2010), the plumber told me is it a top-of-the-line appliance in efficiency and insulation.

So here's my usage:

Unless I've done something to get sweaty or extraordinarily dirty, I shower every other day. About five minutes. I always wash clothes in cold water. I use the dishwasher only when there have been more than two or three people for dinner which is about once a year.

So I'm astonished at how much of my power pie is assigned to water heating. There is no way to use less hot water for showering. No way to use less hot water for the dish washer when it's already at zero. And I allow my dishes to accumulate and wash them in the sink only once a day.

Assuming the power company's numbers are just sort of correct, I don't see any way to reduce my power costs.

CFLs don't necessarily save you money, it kind of depends. CFLs don't last as long as they say they do if you turn them on and off frequently, the lifetime numbers are often based on scenarios involving leaving them always on. CFLs don't work well in cold temps, and they can take up to 3 minutes(!!!) to reach their full on light level. And finally, if you live in a place with long cold winters you actually are better off with incandescent lights, because the heat they generate lowers your heating costs. For example, there is no cost savings using CFLs in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada).

And then there is the safety hazard of the mercury escaping if you happen to break a CFL (not to mention the cost of having to open all the windows in wintertime after having broken a CFL).

A hot water heater keeps heating even if you aren't using any hot water for a while -- it takes energy to keep the water hot for when you do want to use it. I supposed someone could shut it off at night or if one is going to be gone for several hours, but then it would use energy to re-heat the water again.

I turn lights off when I am not in a room. (I think it was President Johnson that did this in the White House.)

I use the dishwasher when I can no longer get another dish in it. I read that using the dsihwasher as opposed to doing dishes by hand uses less water and energy. I do not know whether this is true or not, but it makes me feel better when I am lazy and do not do dishes by hand.

Ronni, I'm in that income range also and my heating and plumbing guy turned the temp down on my water heater and it has made a noticeable difference in the bill and I still I have plenty of hot water for my alternate day showers and my washer. I have quite a bit of laundry with several grandkids and a son with no washer & dryer at his home.

Another cost saving was belately buying my own modem for cable tv and pc, saving about $8.50 month. It will pay for itself in less than a year.

Also I have gone back to using terry cloth towels instead of paper towels in the kitchen, and using old newspapers instead for draining bacon and the like, and cleaning windows. The towels fit nicely in my usual laundry. Nickles and dimes, but they're my nickles and dimes now.

I've been meaning to mention somewhere that electronic publishing is depriving us of newspapers.

I read all daily news online now, so no newsprint in the house which, as we know, has dozens of uses. In that sense, I miss them.

I've always used "real" towels and real table napkins. It's so easy to toss them into the laundry and save a lot of money on those paper items.

Leave several rooms unheated and am a fiend for closing doors. I have wood heat in the main part of the house and an eco fan on top of the stove to distribute the heat.
Like your good self Ronni, I have limited income. I do run the dishwasher every few days and use the "rinse" in between. I've heard also it uses less water than handwashing. I save up clothes and only run laundry (and never dryer)when a pile builds up. I get a rebate as a senior on my heating costs every year from the government. I do believe that more rebates should be offered to us oldies.

Should read "I leave" and also should add my wood is free and harvested from my own woodpile.

We have baseboard heat which is not an effective heat source but originally we only had wood heat and that began to lead to allergy problems (smoke in house) and that led to the baseboards. I actually like them as I only heat rooms I am in. I also wear sweaters a lot in the winter to avoid needing the heat as high.

On dishwashing, I have heard it's better to use the dishwasher and fill it totally up which for the two of us means a load every three days or longer. It wouldn't work if a person had less dishes than needed for that though.

We got one of the news energy efficient washing machines when ours went out and it's weird as it washes totally differently and sounds like a squeaky little animal sending me to the door many times to see if something went wrong outside before I realize what it is. I will probably eventually adjust to it.

I turn off lights when not in a room but have heard the new light bulbs aren't necessarily better for turning off but it's a habit of longstanding from childhood and not about to be broken now. I only have the television on when watching it; so none of the background noise some like. I don't know if that's energy efficient but I can't stand a constant drone of noise anywhere in the house which means not music most of the time either-- other than what's in my head.

The power companies in the Northwest pushed all electric homes for years. The rates were very very low, because they had so much hydropower.
I guess they are now under pressure to remove some of the dams, so they want consumers to cut back.
I would say, watch for rising rates, because the company will want to keep its profits, even as individual consumption goes down.

Pacific Power gave us a "15%" raise in costs last year which seems to have damn near doubled our winter power bill no matter what we do. Sure hurts in this economy & on pensions! We heat with the trusty woodstove, but have backup if we're gone. We've recently put bean stews, etc. in the crockpot which seems to do and keep food nicely. Sure didn't envision my retirement as having to be so miserly! Thanks for more tips!

I just love looking for ways to reduce my energy consumption. We have been able to reduce our electric bill quite a bit since we installed new windows and keep our wintertime temp at 65 during the day and 62 at night. We wear more clothing to help with the cold.

I have been switching over to the LED lights. They are not as bright but getting better every day. I hate the CFL lights. Dianne

Arizona Power Company wants another rate hike (they average two a year) because people have been too good at conserving electricity. That type of bait and switch drives me crazy. Sounds like Portland is pulling the same scam. They pretend to be all for saving energy, but only as long as they can continually raise the rates.

Years ago my parents had a master switch installed in the house that turned the water heater on and off. They would keep it off until 30 minutes before a shower or laundry and then turn it off at the end of that half an hour since the water would stay hot long enough for the showers or clothes washing. The rest of the time the water heater stayed off. That way they never paid to keep the tank hot or heated up water that wouldn't be used immediately. Seems pretty smart!

My only piece of advice would be to turn to natural gas for cooking, clothes dryer, water heater and any other use you can think of.

If you're in an all-electric home, my other piece of advice would be to move.

Ronni--Someone really should take a wet noodle to the person who designed a changing color scheme on the charts!
As to your own efficiency: It appears that you are about as efficient as you can get. I think it is because you are so efficient that your hot water heating makes such a large portion of your total. (It seems to me that, on average, heating water takes 20% - 40% of an average family's power bill; but, don't bet your lunch money on my memory!)
If you are determined to lower your useage: Have you considered putting an instant heater on your shower? Our own hot water pipe runs are so long that it takes "forever" to get hot water to most of our faucets. Were I not married, I would have a couple of "instant heat" installations, myself.
You are doing quite well, it would seem!

After my mom died, my dad used water filled milk cartons to fill up his freezer. When it's cold, I do shut blinds and curtains in the evening and it makes a difference. In the summer, we do the same but during the day to block the sun.

We're probably in a similar financial bracket more or less as many who responded to this post--possibly a shade better off since I'm still working part time. Like Ronni, we live in the Pacific Northwest and it can be COLD here in the winter! Although our compact townhouse is reasonably energy-efficient, I find it hard to stay warm without using heat during the day even though I'm wearing three layers of clothing. I may cut back in other areas, but as long as I can pay somewhat higher utility bills, I refuse to freeze.

Bad though it may be, I still use hot or warm water to do most laundry. It's a matter of sanitation to me; e.g., sheets, towels and underwear need hot or at least warm water. I volunteer at a cat adoption center, and one of our duties is taking the kitties' bedding home to wash (there are no on-site washing facilities). It'll be hard to persuade me that cold water would be effective for this purpose. I currently use hot water, detergent and a little bleach.

Our public utility company has also requested yet another rate increase, which I have protested (how about paying their CEO a little less)? I don't expect that protests by mere ratepayers will have any effect, so I'll be paying even more next winter. And so it goes. . .

Elizabeth refuses to freeze as long as she can pay the higher utility bill. Husband and I feel the same way about AC here in coastal Mississippi.

In fact, the high humidity and 70+ degree temperatures yesterday had us finally turning on the AC for a bit. We also are in Elizabeth's laundry mode and for the same reason.

Helpful post and comments.

I live in a 35-apartment senior housing unit. Our utility provider sent out similar notices of comparison to "your more efficient neighbors' usage. I had a good laugh over it--all but one of those neighbors besides me does NOT have a computer, and nearly 100 % of them have their TV's running 15, if not 24, hours a day--it's like comparing apples and oranges, and if it costs a bit more to have a life rich with writing, reading, digital photography, and instant communication with friends and family--so be it!
I'll cut corners somewhere else, thank you.

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