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'Above-average' not great when you're talking energy

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Posted by Elizabeth Morse

Being above average in intelligence, looks or height can be a good thing. But being an above average energy-user? Not something to be proud of.

Although I'd been a member of BC Hydro's Team Power Smart since 2010, I had never 'activated' my account online, which means I didn't have access to my consumption history. It's a necessary step in tracking usage and qualifying for a shot at a Team Power Smart reward for cutting electricity use by 10 per cent over 12 months.

Before writing this blog entry on how a typical family like mine can waste less energy, I decided it was time for my family's energy-usage ignorance to end.

I was shocked to learn my family's annual usage was well above average. I had recently started implementing a few energy-saving ideas I'd learned about as a writer for BC Hydro's Connected eNewsletter, but obviously I needed to do more.

Heating's the big one

One of our townhome's biggest energy-wasting culprits is our electrical baseboard heating [PDF, 149 KB]. According to BC Hydro, these heaters account for the largest chunk — about 44 per cent — of a yearly electricity bill.

 

Four basic steps to cutting waste

According to BC Hydro Power Engineer Greg Morandini, your best bets are:

1. Reducing home heating usage.

2. Reducing heat loss by draftproofing.

3. Choosing the right lighting fixtures and bulbs.

4. Washing laundry in cold water and reducing dryer time

 

On average, kitchen appliances take up about 12 per cent, and lighting about nine per cent.

However, there's one big advantage to electric baseboard heaters: you can control them room-by-room. You can turn them down when you're sleeping, when you're away, and in rooms that don't get used very much.

Of course, you have to remember to turn them down, and this was a challenge in our home. More often than not, I would come downstairs to find the heat had been left blasting all night, and our living room was basking in tropical t-shirt weather.

Clearly we had to find a smarter solution, something we could set and leave.

Bring on the programmable thermostat

The answer? A programmable thermostat to replace the old dial thermostat in our living/dining area. Priced between $25 and $100, they can pay for themselves in a matter of months.

Turning the heat down by just two degrees can reduce annual heating costs by 5 per cent. Lowering it by five degrees while you sleep can reduce costs 10 per cent.

Most programmable thermostats are easy to install — not much more complicated than installing a dimmer (another good energy-saving idea). And you can take them with you if you move.

According to BC Hydro Power Smart engineer Greg Morandini, if you don't opt for a programmable thermostat, it's still worth replacing your old dial thermostats because they're typically less accurate and "leak" electricity.

"At a minimum, you should replace them with digital thermostats," Morandini advises. "They have 100 per cent shut-off and are more accurate in setting the temperature required."

Through the Team Power Smart website, I can now track my consumption history to see if the changes I'm making are moving the trend in the right direction. It's the first time I can truly say I am striving to be below average.

Elizabeth Morse is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and Team Power Smart member. She has agreed to provide ongoing warts-and-all blog posts about her experiences trying to cut energy waste.