Unlike most people, I actually look forward to receiving my utility bills each month. Hard to believe? Let me explain.
I view each month’s bill – whether it be from the water company, the electric utility, or the natural gas provider – as a way to gauge how well I am doing in my efforts to both conserve energy and save money. Did I use less power than last month? Were my showers shorter? How much money do I get to keep in my bank account this month?
Because I have the memory of a goldfish and not that of an elephant, for each utility I have a spreadsheet in Google Docs where I track each month’s usage and cost. For electricity, I note how many kilowatt hours kWh) I use. For natural gas, I track how many cubic feet I burned (it is billed in units of 100 cubic feet at a time). And for water, I watch how many gallons of fresh water I used. I note the date of each bill along with the total (before taxes) for each month. With just a quick glance, I can see how well I did versus the previous month and have a figure to shoot to beat during the current one. It’s quite a fun game as well as a “feel good” one as I know if I beat last month I did my part to burn less fossil fuels – and that’s something we all need to strive for.
A few things of note that I have learned, should you want to start competing with yourself for energy conservation:
– Depending on where you live, you may see rather large swings in energy use throughout the different seasons. Summer may have a much higher electric bill than winter, but winter may see an uptick in the natural gas bill. Where I live the temperature stays kind of the same on average throughout the year, so my bills don’t fluctuate too much.
– Reward yourself for a job well done. Whether you put the savings in a savings account, splurge for an extra drink next time you are at a restaurant, or buy a bigger box of popcorn at the theatre, it’s important to give yourself a little bonus when you succeed at your goals. It gives you that much more incentive to do even better next month!
– Make sure you keep your appliances clean and free of dust and crud. Nothing will sap your energy efficiency faster than a dryer vent that has never been cleaned or refrigerator coils with baked on grease and cat hair.
– Use power strips wherever – and whenever – possible. Nearly anything that can be unplugged when not in use is on power strips in my house. TVs, DVD players, radios, toaster ovens, wifi extenders, and computer equipment get switched off every night before bed and don’t get turned on again until they are needed. Most all electronics sit idle in “stand-by mode” most of the time, sipping up that juice from the electric grid.
– If you have ceiling fans, use them. They can help cool down or heat up spaces, depending on how they are used and which direction they are spinning. If you don’t know which direction does which job, this link should help you find the best setting for your home.
As an aside to discussing utility bills, I also play the same game with my weekly trash pickup. While I don’t measure recyclables, I do keep track of how much trash I dispose of each week. For the two of us, I have managed to have gotten our trash disposal down to about 3/4 of a 13 gallon trash bag each Wednesday. I would still like to see that be even less, but for now I am happy.
This summer, start a new tradition in your house and try to compete to lower your utility bills. Your wallet and the environment will thank you, and if you succeed you may even get a nice bonus out of it. Good luck!