Straight Talk Articles
5 Surprising Home Energy Hogs
Dear Pat and Brad: Our family’s been trying to reduce our expenses. The other day my sister-in-law and I compared our electric bills. I was surprised to find out her energy costs were significantly lower than mine, even though our homes are similar in size and built about the same time by the same builder. What could be causing my bill to be so much higher? – Melissa
Dear Melissa: You have a lot of company in these trying times as you search for ways to cut costs, and your electricity use might provide some opportunities. With so many other pieces of your home’s energy puzzle the same between the two homes, you might have a hidden energy hog causing your higher bills. Here are some likely culprits to investigate.
Hog 1: Old fridge/freezer in garage
That second fridge or freezer may be costing you more than you think. If it’s built before 1990, it’s probably using two or more times as much energy than a new ENERGYSTAR-rated unit.(1) If it’s located in the garage it may run constantly in the summer, which could lead to some large electric bills.
Hog 2: Heating an uninsulated area
Heating your workshop or garage in winter can be expensive. We remember discovering, during an energy audit, that the owner heated a shed to keep half empty buckets of paint from freezing. He was paying more to keep his paint warm than the paint was worth. Pet owners have been known to heat an uninsulated garage to keep pets warm, not realizing that might be costing them more than heating the house. If you really want to heat garages or sheds, they need to be well insulated and heated efficiently, perhaps with a ductless mini-split system.
It’s possible to heat your shop or garage and not even know it. In another audit we found a heat register, hidden from view, that was supplying the attached garage. The owner was surprised that, for decades, he had been paying to heat the garage.
An insulated area that many people routinely heat is the vehicle parked outside their home. Engine block heaters can drive up your electric bill. You’ll save money if you only use them when it’s extremely cold and then only for a few hours before you start the vehicle.
Hog 3: A hot tub
The average operating cost of a hot tub is $250 per year.(2)That amount may be higher if your hot tub is older, if it isn’t an energy-efficient model, or if you live in a colder climate. A smaller hot tub with better insulation, a cover and a pump that runs on a lower voltage will use less energy than other models.(3) In the end, getting a ‘good deal’ on a used hot tub may cost more money in energy bills in the long run.
Hog 4. A swimming pool
If you have a swimming pool, consider installing a more efficient, smaller pump and cutting down how often it runs. You can also look at installing a larger filter and maximizing the flow of water through the pipes by make them larger and reducing how sharply the corners turn.(4) These measures might cut your electric use for the pool pump by as much as 75%.(5) Consult a pool installation specialist to find the most efficient setup that will still keep your pool clean.
Hog 5: Pumps
If you live on acreage or on a farm, you probably have several pumps, including irrigation, well, septic and sump, and maybe a few we haven’t thought of. If you’re like most of us, you use those pumps until they break down. Consider replacing the oldest and most-used pumps over time with efficient new ones that are sized correctly for their task. And make sure you’re eliminating leaks in the water lines, which make your pumps work harder and longer.
If one of these five energy hogs doesn’t explain the difference in energy use between your home and your sister-in-law’s, there are many other possibilities. An energy audit should give you the answers you seek.
This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on surprise energy hoges, go to the July 2020 More Information Page.
Before buying a hot tub, be sure you’re ready to pay to operate it. The average annual energy cost is $250 a year.: Micah Baldwin, Flickr.com.