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Track your way to saving energy and money

Manage your baseboards by setting them at the correct temperature
If your home relies on electric baseboard heating, you'll likely see big swings in your electricity use seasonally and even over the course of a week or day. Tracking your electricity use online, right down to the hour, can give you the information you need to save on your energy bills.

Include your electricity bill with the spring cleaning this year

Posted by Lyndsey Stark

The arrival of spring brings the opportunity to throw open the windows and let the fresh air in while ridding the house of clutter. But have you ever thought about including your electricity bill in the spring cleaning?

It can be easy to take an inventory of your home's contents and discard what's no longer needed, but managing something that you can't see might prove a bit more difficult. One way to keep bills affordable to is keep track of what you're spending. It's a time-honoured technique from those looking to tackle weight loss or get a handle on their spending, but you can apply it to your electricity use, too.

MyHydro is an online tool which will allow you to track your electricity usage weekly, daily, and even hourly so you can begin to understand how your home uses power. Every home is unique, so finding out how your home uses power is the first step in learning to manage it.

For me, electricity is part of my routine but I don't typically consider what's contributing to my bill. Once I know how I use power, I can start to target actions that will actually make a difference in helping me save.

I decided to give it a try, because people who start tracking their consumption save about 10% on average, and many are shaving even bigger portions off their bill.

Start with your weekly routine: when do you use the most power?

Everyone's routine is different, so your weekly electricity consumption is unique.

I work typical office hours before returning to my 650-square foot electrically-heated apartment in downtown Vancouver. My weekday evenings are spent making dinner with my electric appliances and relaxing watching TV on my 40-inch plasma screen, or surfing the web on my laptop.

Since evenings at home generally mean I'm using electricity for almost everything that I do, I expected to observe my highest usage on weekday evenings. But here's what I notice when I look at my weekly graphs:

  • My weekend usage is much higher than during the week.
  • Laundry day is significantly higher than any other day.

Since laundry seemed to be a big guzzler in my home, I decided to re-evaluate my routine of doing the laundry every Tuesday, and begin waiting until I had a full load.

Log in to MyHydro and you'll see a breakdown of your consumption for the past few weeks. Depending on your own weekly routine, you'll notice peaks on different days. Many Monday-to-Friday workers notice higher bars on the weekends when they're at home with the heat turned up and appliances and electronics turned on.

Figure out which day you tend to use the most amount of power, and then pay close attention to what you're doing that day to find out where your money is going.

Break down the hours: what are you doing with your day?

When I started tracking my usage, a typical Tuesday looked like this:

  • Woke up and made breakfast using the stove and the microwave at 7 a.m.
  • Came home from work around 5 p.m. and increased the heat from 16 degrees to 21 degrees using two baseboard heaters in my living room.
  • Made dinner using my electric stove and oven around 6:30 p.m.
  • Cleaned up and turned the dishwasher on at 7 p.m.
  • Watched TV and did laundry from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Turned the heat back down to 16 degrees before bed.

Thinking in detail about what I did that day helped me understand what I saw when I looked at my graphs. The bars in the graph were lower throughout the work day, and I could pinpoint the exact hour I got home and turned up the heat.

The consumption bars jumped up when I did laundry, especially later in the evening when I started the dryer. This information gave me a couple new ideas; I opted for slippers and sweaters when I got home so I could shave off a few degrees from my heat setting, and I started hang-drying the majority of my laundry in the bathroom to cut down on my dryer usage, since the dryer typically uses the most energy per use out of any appliance in your home.

MyHydro data is available after 24 hours, which which makes it easy to log on and look at your previous day. Think about what you were doing during the different times of the day. It's especially helpful if you do something out of the ordinary – maybe you hosted a dinner party or had a Netflix marathon on your TV.

How to make changes when you've identified spikes

Once you've figured out where all your electricity is going, it's time to do something about it. If you're in the same boat as many apartment and townhouse dwellers with electric heating, learn to manage your baseboards by setting them at the correct temperature and keeping the dust away.

Heating costs rise about five per cent for every degree above 20°C (68°F) that you set your thermostats.

There are a few other ways that you can easily cut back on energy use:

  • Draftproofing can be a simple, low-cost option that you can do yourself, which can make a difference in winter months, especially around doors and windows.
  • Join our online community of energy-savers and become part of Team Power Smart to get tips and tricks for how to cut down while accessing exclusive contests, deals and more. Join today and start a reduction challenge to cut your consumption by 10% for a year. If you're successful, you'll earn a $50 reward.
  • Want to take a deeper look at what particular items in your home are driving up your bill? A breaker test [PDF, 335 KB] is a simple and free option to help you figure out which circuits use the most power in your home. Once you figure out what circuits use a lot of power, you can find out which items are plugged into each circuit, which are using the most power, and whether all your appliances and devices are functioning properly.
  • You can also purchase a home energy monitor to give you real-time information about your usage.

Baseline electricity: why you might not notice much difference when you're away

If you're already using MyHydro, you might be familiar with the consumption graphs already. Have you ever checked out your MyHydro graphs when you're away from your home and noticed that electricity is still being consumed? This is called baseline electricity, used by all the things in your home that are always running. The common culprits are:

  • Heating or cooling, such as your furnace, baseboard heaters, heat pumps or air conditioners
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Hot water tanks
  • Electronics that are always on, such as PVRs, desktop computers, and gaming systems.

As these can be big consumers, you might only notice a small difference in your consumption when you're away from home.

I checked out my baseline electricity when I went away for the weekend in December. I noticed my consumption hardly changed from my normal weekday usage, which surprised me. The week after I got back, I turned my heat down, unplugged electronics and turned off power bars while I went to work. I compared the two weeks and finally found what I had been looking for: a decrease in my overall usage. The trick was tackling my baseline consumption.

Managing your baseline electricity can make a big impact in the long term, and both small and large actions add up. It's important to manage your heat and use your electric baseboard heaters effectively, especially during the winter months.

When you're replacing old appliances, choose ENERGY STAR® models. They'll be at least 10% more efficient than non-rated items and they're an investment that will save electricity for years to come.

Hot water tanks can also be upgraded to ENERGY STAR rated models, and FortisBC offers rebates on gas-powered models through our joint home renovation rebates.

Look at the big picture

After I received a higher than normal bill in January, I decided to compare my winter usage with my summertime consumption. I went back in MyHydro and pulled up my data from July and I saw my baseline electricity was much lower.

My electric baseboards had recently been running around the clock and I hadn't been using any cooling in the summer. Next, I looked at how my consumption changed with outside conditions by choosing "Average Outside Temperature" from the "Compare" drop down menu, and I saw a pattern: heating is definitely a big factor in my apartment.

How does your home use differently through the seasons? Take a look at your patterns in the big picture and contrast your usage with historical data to get to the bottom of changes you notice in your bill.

Lyndsey Stark is a writer-editor with BC Hydro digital communications.