Archive for the ‘energy’ Tag

Long Term Household Energy Profile   Leave a comment

The first thing that I did as part of my personal energy audit was update my household energy usage log. Since 2005 I’ve meant to get into the habit of logging gas/electrical usage when I pay the bills the same way I log gasoline usage after I enter receipts into Quicken. However, I just never got around to it. After spending a couple of hours entering in six years worth of data, I think I’ve received the appropriate self-kick in the butt and will start dutifully logging each month from here on out. This is one step to the audit that is really easy to skip by just logging onto your gas/electric account online since I think most companies give you easy access to one or two years of usage in a simple table and/or graph. The benefit of entering it into my own spreadsheet is that I can play with the data. For instance, at the old house we did have gas, which was billed in therms. Using my spreadsheet I can really easily convert therms into kilowatt-hours and add them together. It was actually astonishing when I did that because 1 therm is approximately 29 kWhr, so the blips for summer cooling almost disappeared under the magnitude of the winter heating peaks. Another benefit of the spreadsheet is developing a long term profile:

Annual Household Energy Usage Comparison Chart

Annual Household Energy Usage Comparison

 

Analyzing our profile like this provides a lot of good information. For one thing I had been thinking for the last seven years that in Sacramento where it regularly tops 100 degrees in summer and rarely drops much below freezing even at night in the winter it would make more sense to focus on cooling rather than heating improvements. But that is not necessarily true, as the energy used to heat that uninsulated leak-bucket where we used to live dwarfed the energy used to run the two window air conditioners and a passel of fans in the summer. Speaking of fans, the second summer that I lived in Sacramento I went without air conditioning just to prove to myself that I could (I love heat, the question was if I still loved it when there wasn’t a cool room to retreat to). According to my energy profile I used MORE electricity the summer that I DIDN’T use any air conditioning. Granted it’s not a big difference, so it might not be statistically significant, but it does mean that I can absolutely say that turning off the air conditioner didn’t save me anything. I did have a fan running either on/near me or drawing cool air into the house almost every minute that I was home that summer, so apparently a fan can actually use as much electricity as an air conditioner. And compared to subsequent years when my husband (then-fiancee) insisted on air conditioning, I just use less electricity in summer period.

Oh, and not that we needed the confirmation that our new house is better construction/more energy efficient than the old, but the thick black line is the energy usage for the new house. (Note that the August point is for the month we were cleaning the house and not yet living in it.) That graph got a happy dance from me.

I’m curious if anyone else ever studies their long term energy profile like this.

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Posted July 27, 2011 by mayakey in energy use, home

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2011 Summer Project: Energy Audit   1 comment

Every summer I do some kind of environmental self-audit or equivalent on a rotating schedule (with interruptions). I started doing this back in 2001 when I was first living on my own after college. I was originally inspired by two things. The first was my participation in a college-wide trash sort. It was the university’s way to prove the effectiveness of measures to promote recycling. So they got a bunch of volunteers, gave us Tyvek suits, gloves, and face shields, and sent us into a room with large sorting tables where bags of garbage from all over the campus were placed for us to sort through. In the end they measured the weight or volume (I don’t remember) of recyclable material for comparison with previous measurements. I was crazy enough to be one of those volunteers. And I learned a lot about American’s trash habits, most of it sad. (That’s a story for another day, though.) The second source of inspiration was a class that I took in which we did one week audits of our direct water and energy usage. These experiences made me realize how useful it is to actually measure and not just guess when it comes to something you want to improve, in this case my “global footprint”. Not only can you be surprised by the results, but it also means that you have a way to see progress, which feels really good.

So that first year I started by doing my own trash sort. I saved all of my trash for a month and then took it down to my mom’s house at the end of the month to sort and weigh. Kitchen waste got weighed throughout the month so that I didn’t have horrible smelling garbage to sort through. The following year I attempted to do a water use audit, during which I realized that human return flow is not insignificant. In 2003 I evaluated the ingredients my personal care products for potential exposure problems. 2004 was when I moved to Sacramento and in the upheaval skipped a year. In 2005 I was able to do my first direct energy use audit. It was quite involved, with me reading my gas and electric meters four times a day on weekdays (when I woke, left for work, returned from work, and went to bed), and before/after any major changes on weekends (like turning on the dryer or taking a shower). I was trying to figure out how to determine my baseline electric and gas usage, as well as electrical demand of the various electrical items in my house. That was mostly not successful. I did get a pretty good estimate of the baseline, though. Since that was also the year I went without air conditioning all summer that baseline does not include air conditioning or winter heating, so it’s what I would consider a true baseline: the measure of phantom energy and structural demand.

This year’s energy audit should be a little easier. I got a relatively comprehensive energy audit done on the house, and I bought a Kill-a-Watt monitor. A Kill-a-Watt monitor is a monitor that plugs into a socket and then measures the electricity usage of anything that you plug into it. This way I’ll actually be able to directly measure how much electricity is consumed by my computer, the TV, the refrigerator, etc. I’ll be using this blog to help me work through this energy audit throughout the summer.

It is worth noting that this is really only a partial energy audit, since I can only measure direct usage. I can’t measure my portion of communal energy usages like municipal (street lights, traffic lights, etc.) or commercial (lighting in my office, air conditioning in the grocery store, etc.). Nor can I measure/estimate the embedded energy in my water, food, and various stuff that I use/buy.

Posted July 25, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, energy use

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