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How do you save 21%? Little by little

Posted by Rob Klovance

Jenny and Arthur Mebs are still trying to figure out how they've managed to cut their electricity use by 21% so far this year. And the senior couple's experience underlines how quickly the little things, from switching to CFLs to shutting things off, can add up.

"I was quite surprised to see how much we're saving," says Jenny, a Team Power Smart member on the phone from her gas-heated "rancher with a basement" home in Powell River.

"I didn't really pay much attention until I got my bill by email," says Jenny, on the phone from her gas-heated "rancher with a basement" home in Powell River. "It kept saying that [our consumption] kept going down. And the last one I got was 21%."

And here's the kicker. The previous year, the Mebs had reduced their consumption by about 15%.

Just how did this happen?

As the conversation progresses, Jenny keeps serving up explanations about small changes – mostly behavioural – that have added up to a big difference.

The Mebs' path to energy efficiency apparently began about two years ago when they switched to three ENERGY STAR appliances, including a new fridge, stove and dishwasher. It continued with a switch to holiday LED light strings and an almost complete changeover to compact fluorescent lamps in place of incandescents. Jenny says the only place they haven't been able to find the right CFL technology for their needs is outdoors, but even there they've installed motion sensors where full-time security lighting used to be.

"I didn't think the light bulbs would be that impressive, and I'm not sure how much difference they've made," she said. "When I went out to buy the [CFLs], we were having our kitchen redone and the carpenter told us that he'd heard that changing all those light bulbs wouldn't save you any money, because you have to catch up on the price of them. I said: I've bought them now, so I'm going to do it."

It seems the carpenter was wrong. Do the math and, because CFLs are so efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents, one CFL could save you $32 over nine years [PDF, 117 Kb] - purchase costs included. That's based on an average use of three hours per day.

Of course, a 21% drop in electricity consumption can't be explained by lighting alone, even if the Mebs are conscientious about switching lights off when they don't need them. The more you talk to Jenny, the more you understand that they're everyday actions are paying off.

"Oh, I changed to washing only in cold water," she says, "and I wait until I have a whole whack of clothes before I wash. And I don't use the dryer as much. When I take things out and they're damp, I just hang them up  - I got one of those tension shower rods that fits across the laundry room. I use that to hang things on, and it works out really well."

Jenny is hoping that her new computer, which shuts off on its own and turns off the printer at the same time, will keep her on track. Now that she knows there's even more incentive to save – Power Smart's new $75 reward for all account holders who join Team Power Smart and deliver on a 10% energy reduction over 12 months – there's little chance she's going to slack off.

"Isn't that nice!," she says when told about the reward program. "I'll remember to remind my husband. He sometimes forgets to turn out the lights."

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com