Straight Talk Articles
Power Hog: Do you have an Unusual Energy Use?
Dear Pat: I have done a lot to increase the energy efficiency of my home—for example, I installed a new heat pump and efficient water heater and increased my home’s insulation. An energy auditor even tested my home and didn’t find much in the way of air leakage. However, my energy bill still seems higher than it should be—are there things I could be forgetting? – Raymond
Dear Raymond: You have made some solid investments with your focus on space and water heating, which are usually the major uses of energy in the home. Your energy auditor may have some ideas for how your home’s energy use compares to similar homes in the area—and if it is substantially higher, what could be causing the problem.
Your co-op could also be a good source of information—for example, many co-ops have installed “smart meters” at their members’ homes, which can show detailed hourly energy use. This information can sometimes help pinpoint a large energy user. For example, you may be using more electricity on weekends, which would be an important clue to discovering what is driving up your usage.
Armed with whatever clues you can glean from your energy auditor or your co-op, you are better able to search for an unusual energy use in your home. Are there uses of energy outside your typical living space that are “out of sight, out of mind”? Below are some possible unconventional energy uses that could be pushing up your bill:
Swimming pools and spas: A swimming pool and spa are nice amenities to have in your home, but they can also significantly contribute to your energy bill.
Your pool pump keeps the water circulating through its filtering system—and could be the most energy intensive part of your pool. Older pool pumps run continuously on a single, high speed, but this circulation is more than the typical residential pool needs. An ENERGY STAR-certified pool pump can be programmed to run at different speeds depending on your pool’s needs—and can pay for itself in as little as two years.
If you heat your pool, be sure that you are using an efficient heater—pool heaters that run on natural gas or propane are the most common, but an electric heat pump water heater or solar water heater could be a more cost-effective option. Be sure to put a cover on the pool when it is not in use to keep your heater from working as hard.
If you have a spa hot tub that you use only occasionally, consider turning it off when it is not in use. If you use your spa frequently, use a cover with a high insulation value to keep the water warm and your electric bill low.
Pump Systems: Water pumps often run on electricity and can be found in many areas of your property.
Irrigation: If you have a larger property, you may have an irrigation system. Leaks in your irrigation system can greatly increase your pump’s electricity use.
Wells: If your home uses well water, you have a well pump that helps bring the water from the well to your home. A malfunctioning well pump may run continuously to try and maintain proper water pressure—this can cause a significant increase in your electricity bill.
Garden Fountains: Fountains make a calming addition to your garden, but the pumps that run them use about as much energy as a small lamp. If you have many fountains in your garden, look into installing a timer so that the fountains only run part of the day.
Non-Living Spaces: You may have some power hogs in your garage, outbuilding, or basement. For example:
Do you have a second working, but inefficient, refrigerator or freezer plugged in? Is it in use, or can you consolidate its contents into your kitchen?
Do you have a recreational space in an uninsulated part of your home, like the garage or basement? Using space heaters or portable air conditioners in uninsulated spaces can definitely lead to higher bills.
Do you have a block heater to help warm your vehicle up on very cold mornings? Plugging in your vehicle overnight will use far more electricity than needed—use a timer to start the block heater a few hours before you need your vehicle.
Home Business: If you run a business out of your home, there could be a large energy user contributing to your electric bill. For example, regularly using welding equipment, ceramic kilns, or power carpentry tools can contribute significantly to your electric bill, as can equipment that supports home farming operations.
This column is from the November issue of Straight Talk, which is a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association to its member co-ops. Straight Talk is distributed by electric co-ops around the country as part of a monthly print publication or on co-op websites.
For more information about unusual energy uses, see this page with more resources.
A swimming pool pump can be a significant source of electricity use—ENERGY STAR-certified pumps use far less energy. Photo Credit: Vic Brincat