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Renters can cut electricity use, too

Image of Vancouver view in winter
With a little help from electricity tracking tools on – and strategic use of blankets – you should be able to lower the electricity use in your apartment, even in a colder-than-typical winter.

You can't go whole hog on renos, but there are ways to save

Gill Brownlow

Let's face it – Vancouver is an expensive city to live in. For most renters, big upgrades to save on electricity aren't in the cards. As twenty-somethings living in the city, this proves to be true for my roommate and I. We're not opposed to buying a new light bulb or two, but we can't buy new appliances, renovate, or choose how we heat our apartment.

As much as we'd like our home to be energy-efficient, we rent an apartment with electric baseboard heaters, standard appliances, and single-pane windows – basically the opposite of a place that's ready to save. We're pretty good at doing what we can when it comes to the basics, such as turning off the lights or washing laundry in cold water. But there's definitely room for improvement in the savings department.

The bright side? We found that there are a lot of low-cost and no-cost ways to save beyond the basics, including:

  • Upping our laundry game by combining loads to make sure each one is full, washing in cold and hang drying as much as possible.
  • With limited ceiling lighting, our kitchen light was almost always on to light the whole kitchen, dining, and living space. We started using lamps and task lighting instead, and have found it's not only more efficient, but the lighting in our apartment is much better.
  • Changing our heating habits.

Plain & simple: Turn down the heat

We found the hardest months for saving to be over the winter months. We knew heating was going to increase our bill, so we held out on turning it on for as long as we could. But when the chilly spell hit back in early November, we cranked the heat, and that sure cranked up our bill.

After getting our first winter bill, we realized we couldn't keep it up so we had to figure out a solution if we didn't want to face skyrocketing costs as the temperature kept dipping.

What did we come up with? Good old fashioned blankets. But that wasn't all. In addition to bundling up, we did some research – we figured if we had to turn on the heat, we were going to be as efficient as possible. Did you know that setting your thermostat to the correct temperature can play a big role in savings? Heating costs rise about 5% for every degree above 20°C (68°F) that you set your thermostat. Sweet 16°C while you're sleeping or away from home will maximize your savings, while 18°C to 21°C is recommended when you're at home.

A programmable thermostat is ideal for setting and forgetting, but we don't quite have that luxury. We have to remember to change the heat when we're home. We're not perfect, we still forget to turn the thermostat down some nights when we wrap up our Netflix binge, but I figure that's balanced out by the warmer days where we don't turn on the heat at all.

The purpose of baseboard heaters is to heat zones rather than entire homes, so it's most efficient for us to only use them to heat the rooms we're in. For us, that usually means the living room. For extra savings, we turn the heat off when we're not home. Luckily, my roommate and I have quite similar work schedules and are typically home at the same time, helping us avoid having to heat the house at different times of the day.

So is it working? According to MyHydro, our next bill is forecasted to be $23 less than our last – and that's only after about five weeks of making changes in our two-month bill cycle (plus we've got two weeks left).

Image showing daily electricity consumption
As you can see, our usage spiked the week of February 18. That's when we decided to make some significant changes in our habits. The result? We're on track to save at least $23 on our next bill cycle.

A list of other ways to save

Heating isn't the only thing you have going for you. Changing daily habits and making small investments can help boost electricity savings:

  • Switch to LED lightbulbs. They cost a bit more up front, but last much longer. Each ENERGY STAR® lightbulb can save you up to $100 over its lifetime. Check out our guide on what to look for when shopping for LEDs.
  • When doing laundry, hang dry your clothes. If you're doing eight loads of laundry per week and hang dry at least four, you could save up to $47 a year.
  • When you have to use the dryer, toss in a dry towel. It absorbs the moisture of the other clothes, and dries at the same time, ultimately cutting drying time.
  • Unplug unused electronics or invest in an advanced power strip for electronics. Standby power can account for 10% of your annual electricity use.
  • Avoid using game consoles when streaming movies or TV shows. They require up to 40% more power than other streaming devices.

Set up MyHydro & join Team Power Smart

Create  your own online profile and use MyHydro tracking tools to spot areas to save. For us, it's been great to see that the changes we've been making have really been paying off. We often rely on our forecasted bill and compare our usage with other homes nearby to see how we're doing. If you're a long-term renter and you've been in the same place for at least a year, join Team Power Smart and take the 10% Reduction Challenge and you could earn a $50 reward if you hit that target over 12 months.

Gill Brownlow is a member of BC Hydro's digital communications team.