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The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 5

I’m back after a couple week hiatus due to finally finishing up our move from apartment to house, some traveling, and some adjusting to a new schedule. One of the troubles with having a significant other who is in residency is the constantly shifting schedules. Throw in the mix a toddler that thrives on a schedule, and it means our life sometimes goes topsy-turvy as we adjust. And now we’re well past due for giving you an energy efficiency project update. So, here goes.

energy efficiency project month 5

April 14th – May 13th, 29 days

We had a mid-April cold snap that caused us to turn the heat back on for a week or so. And as I mentioned above, we completed our move during this billing period, so we have a few more energy users in our home these days – a television and XBox, a lamp, etc. And lengthening days mean we’re using our lights less. Nothing special in terms of upgrades for energy efficiency this month. But it’s important to have months where we don’t make any big changes and just live in our home so we can get a sense of our baseline energy use.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 29 days we used 451 KWH. Which comes out to an average 15.5 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 9.45 KWH/day, you can see the definite difference in energy use between basic maintenance mode, and everyday living mode.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $59.04.

We also used 13 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 0.45 Therms/day. Huzzah for spring and only using our furnace for about a week during this month. Degree days this month compared to last month: 347 vs. 754.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $15.45 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 740 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 17 Therms. Average temperature this month: 53° F. This month last year: 51° F.

Degree Days this month: 347 vs this month last year: 466. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 33 days of the billing period.

Want to see previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1Month 2, Month 3, and Month 4.

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 4

Energy Efficiency Project Month 4March 12th – April 14th, 33 days

This month was pretty boring as far as energy efficiency improvements go. We turned off the heat at the beginning of April and got to start working on the yard a bit. We were still splitting our time between the house and our apartment in the city during this month, so the house was using minimal maintenance energy while we weren’t in it. For example, the furnace was set just high enough to keep our pipes from freezing while out of the house, and really only the fridge was using electricity most of the time. So, again, this month won’t be the best representation of our energy use, but will hopefully serve as a good reminder to put your house into low-energy-use mode when you’re gone for extended periods of time. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Turned off thermostat starting on April 1st!
  • Made sure that all lights and other electricity users aside from the refrigerator were off while we were away.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 33 days we used 312 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 9.45 KWH/day. Which is a small decrease from the last billing period average of 10.75 KWH/day. My guess is our decrease came from extended daylight hours, which meant less lightbulb use while we were in the house.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $40.85.

We also used 35 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 1.06 Therms/day. We only used the gas furnace for the first half of this billing month, and then of course had some gas use for the hot water heater. Also, we had a pretty warm start to our spring in these parts, so the degree days this month compared to last month: 754 vs. 1383. As you can see, the degree days this month is only a bit more than half of last month, which explains why we were able to turn off our furnace completely for half the month.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $32.24 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 651 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 41 Therms. Average temperature this month: 43° F. This month last year: 36° F.

Degree Days this month: 754 vs this month last year: 835. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 33 days of the billing period.

Want to see previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1Month 2, and Month 3

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 3

energy efficiency project month 3

February 12th – March 11th, 28 days

This month we continued to paint and started building some bookshelves.  We also hosted a first birthday party and started getting ready for our upcoming outdoor projects. We were splitting our time between the house and our apartment in the city during this month, so the house was using minimal maintenance energy while we weren’t in it. For example, the furnace was set just high enough to keep our pipes from freezing while out of the house, and really only the fridge was using electricity most of the time. So this month won’t be the best representation of our energy use, but will hopefully serve as a good reminder to put your house into low-energy-use mode when you’re gone for extended periods of time. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a frequently used lamp’s CFL light bulb with an LED bulb. (The CFL bulb was still good, so it will be used to replace a bulb down the line when I run out of LED bulbs.)
  • Turned the thermostat down to about 55° while we were out of the house.
  • Made sure that all lights and other electricity users aside from the refrigerator were off while we were away.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $17.64

Over 28 days we used 301 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 10.75 KWH/day. Which is an expected decrease from the last billing period average of 14.2 KWH/day since we spent so much time out of the house.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $39.41.

We also used 73 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.6 Therms/day. That’s only 0.1 Therm less per day than the previous month! Even though much of the month the furnace was only heating the house to 55°, this month was much colder than the first two months of the year. Looking at this, I’m very glad that we made sure to turn down the thermostat every time we left the house, or we would have had a much higher gas bill. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1383 vs. 1286. Our furnace was working hard this month!

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $60.09 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 714 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 73 Therms. Average temperature this month: 16° F. This month last year: 19° F. I’m going to assume that the previous owners lived in the house for the full month last year – rather than just part time like we did – and kept it at a typical 68-72°. So it’s interesting to see how just a few degree change in average temperature really makes the furnace work a lot harder to heat the house.

Degree Days this month: 1383 vs this month last year: 1342. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 28 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1 and Month 2

Keep up with building earth by following us on facebook, pinterest, or on @buildingearth on instagram

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping to support building earth!

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 2

January 13th – February 12th, 30 days

This month we mostly spent our time picking paint colors, getting started with the painting, figuring out where our stuff should go, and getting our compost started. As far as energy efficiency initiatives went we:

  • Replaced a dead CFL light bulb with an LED bulb
  • Turned the thermostat down from 68° F to 66° F
  • Checked the air filter on our furnace to make sure it was new/didn’t need to be replaced. It was still clean, so we didn’t replace it.

This month’s upgrade cost: $8.82

Total upgrade cost to date: $8.82

So, we didn’t expect too much of a difference in our energy usage this month. Now let’s look at the numbers!

Over 30 days we used 427 KWH. Which comes out to an average of 14.2 KWH/day. This is actually slightly higher than the 14.0 KWH/day we used during our last billing period. Womp womp.

I’m guessing this is due to putting up some post-Christmas holiday lights which are not LEDs. I know, I know, but here’s the thing. We still have these strings of working fine holiday lights, and I can’t bring myself to replace them until they no longer work. Use what you have, right? We also started some citrus tree seedlings, and had them germinating on a heating pad 24/7.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) So the cost of our electricity is $0.13 per KWH, for a total of $55.90.

We also used 80 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 2.7 Therms/day. Definitely less than the 3.1 Therms/day we used during the previous month! Dropping the temperature on our thermostat made a difference, and really the only way it affected our lifestyle is we that we wore slippers around the house more often. Also, looking at degree days this month compared to last month: 1286 vs. 1211. Even though this months number is a bit larger than last month’s, this month’s bill was for 30 day and last month’s was for 27 days. This means that our furnace didn’t have to work quite so hard to heat our house this month, which also helped out with reducing our gas use.

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $65.99 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 744 KWH

Gas used this month last year: 97 Therms. Average temperature this month: 22° F. This month last year: 10° F. So last year was quite a bit colder than this year.

Degree Days this month: 1286 vs this month last year: 1652. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 30 days of the billing period.

Want to previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1.

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping to support building earth!

LED Light Bulbs

I hope you all had a lovely long weekend. Between the Holiday and adjusting to the ever changing schedule that is medical residency, Tuesday’s post got away from me. I hope you didn’t miss my wrap up on light bulbs too much. 

LED Light BulbLED stands for Light Emitting Diode. LEDs are comprised of a semiconductor material and two leads. Basically what happens is that when the LED is connected to a circuit, a voltage is applied to the leads. This provides enough energy for electrons to jump across the band gap, and when they do, they release energy in the form of photons, or light. The color of light emitted by the LED is determined by the band gap in the semiconductor. If all this talk of semiconductors sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s the same concept behind solar cells. Only in this case, the energy is coming from the wall rather than from the sun. LEDs are great as far as energy efficiency goes because they require a very small amount of electricity to produce light. They are also compact, robust, and have long lifetimes. LED light bulbs are made up of a collection of LEDs designed such that they emit a white, or slightly yellow light. Recently LED light bulbs have become increasingly available for home lighting, so let’s see how they compare to Incandescent and CFL light bulbs.

  • Light Quality: Mixed Reviews. Like CFLs I have frequently read reviews that LED light bulbs produce light that is too cold. We can probably all easily identify LED holiday lights because they have that tell-tale blue tinge to the light. I am happy to report that the LED light bulbs that I recently purchased produce a warm soft light, just like we expect are accustomed to seeing from incandescents. LED light bulbs will probably need to become more mainstream before they beat the cold blue light rap.
  • Price per bulb: Con. Standard LED light bulbs typically run $10 a bulb. If you buy them in a six-pack you can get them for more like $9, but there is definitely a bit of sticker shock that comes with spending over $50 on lightbulbs just for your home use. And if you want anything fancy, like a dim-able bulb, you’ll easily be paying double.
  • Availability: Pro. You may not be able to find LED light bulbs on the shelves of your local grocery store yet, but Target, Home Depot, and Amazon all carry them, and I imagine many other stores as well.
  • Style: Con. Similar to CFLs, LED light bulbs fit standard sockets, but the choice of bulb is limited. There are candelabra bulbs, but they don’t look the same as the incandescent equivalent.
  • Energy use: Pro. An LEDbulb that produces a comparable amount of lumens as a 60 watt filament bulb requires only 9 watts.
  • Lifetime: Pro. 25,000 hours! You read that right, a LED bulb will last more than 3 times as long as a CFL bulb. That translates into nearly 23 years of light at 3 hours a day. The LED light bulb that I recently put in our lamp will burn for longer than my youngest brother has been alive. That’s crazy town.

And bonus: LED light bulbs contain mostly recycle-able materials. Contact your local recycling provider to see if they can recycle your old bulbs. Although, you can probably wait 20 years  or so before you have to deal with that.

So the tally when comparing LEDs to CFLs and Incandescents is 3 pros, 2 cons, and 1 mixed review. Now let’s look at the long term cost.

10 year cost for burning filament bulbs in one lamp: (3 hours a day, $0.12/kwh cost of electricity, $9.00/bulb, 1 bulb) = $20.83.

And bonus: that same bulb will burn for another 13 years at that rate.

Pretty cheap when compared to the $96.84 it would cost to run the same light with a incandescent bulb, and it even beats out the $22.40 for the CFL. 

And more importantly, over that same 10 years you could save 550 kWh of electricity if you switch from an incandescent light bulb, or 55 kWh if you switch from a CFL.

CFL Light Bulbs

CFL or compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs are pretty typical these days. A CFL bulb is made up of a ballast and a tube containing gas. The ballast turns the current from the wall outlet into high frequency current, which it sends into the gas tube. The high frequency current knocks excites electrons in the gas, causing them to produce ultraviolet (UV) light. When the UV light hits the fluorescent coating on the glass tube it produces visible light.

CFL light bulb

Light Bulb” by Pedro Lozano CCBY

Let’s compare CFL light bulbs directly to the pro and con list I put together last week about incandescent bulbs:

  • Light Quality: Mixed Reviews. The light quality can be all over the board with different brands of CFL light bulbs. We’ve grown accustomed to the warm, soft light produced by incandescent bulbs, and in comparison, some brands of CFL bulbs can produce cold, harsh light. However, many brands have improved their designs to provide warm light just like incandescent bulbs. You may have to shop around a couple brands to find the light quality that meets your expectations.
  • Price per bulb: Pro. While more expensive than filament bulbs, you can pick up CFL bulbs for around $2 per bulb.
  • Availability: Pro. You can get basic CFL bulbs pretty much everywhere you can get filament bulbs these days.
  • Style: Con. While CFLs fit pretty much any standard light bulb socket, you’ll have trouble finding specialty shaped bulbs of the CFL variety.
  • Energy use: Pro. A CFL bulb that produces a comparable amount of lumens as a 60 watt filament bulb requires only 14 watts.
  • Lifetime: Pro. 8000 hours! Which translates into about 7 years of burning for 3 hours a day.

And one more important point to consider when using CFL bulbs:

  • Toxicity and Disposal: Con. The gas inside the CFL tube contains mercury which is hazardous to come in contact with. This means you have to be careful not to break open the tube, and you really should not just be disposing of a CFL bulb in the trash. Used CFL bulbs should be disposed of by bringing them to an appropriate drop site for safe disposal.

If you’re looking for a disposal site near you, you can check out search.Earth911.com

So the tally when comparing CFLs to Incandescents is 4 pros, 2 cons, and 1 mixed review. Now let’s look at the long term cost.

10 year cost for burning filament bulbs in one lamp: (3 hours a day, $0.12/kwh cost of electricity, $2.00/bulb, 2 bulbs) = $22.40.

Pretty cheap when compared to the $96.84 it would cost to run the same light with a incandescent bulb.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

Shortly after we moved one of our lamps burnt out. The light bulb was the last of an old 6 pack of filament lights that we finally used up. For a while now, one of the items on our green living to-do list has been to upgrade to LED light bulbs, but since I already had that old pack of filament bulbs, we had to use those up first. Because one of our rules is use what you already have first.

So I ordered a 6 pack of LED lights. Maybe overkill considering we only have 2 lamps and these things have a 10 year guaranteed life. Real talk: sometimes I let the discount for buying in bulk counteract our desire to have less stuff. I need to work on that.

Anyhow, today I’m going to do a compare and contrast on the three most common types of light bulbs, so that next time you need to replace one, you can make the best choice.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

I mean, let’s hand it to Thomas Edison, this design for an electric light bulb has been around since 1878. Edison wasn’t the first to make a bulb that used a filament – about 20 others had done so with varying degrees of success starting in 1802 – but Edison’s design using a carbon filament had a long life and was the one that took off commercially. Filament lights work by passing an electric current through a material known as the filament. Today, filaments are typically made of tungsten.

Pros:

  • Light Quality: Incandescent light bulbs produce the warm, soft light we’ve come to expect from our lamps.
  • Price per bulb: Incandescent light bulbs typically cost about $1 – $2 per bulb
  • Availability and style: You can easily pick up a filament light bulb at a grocery store, convenience store or hardware store. And you can get a wide variety of sizes and styles. If you have a chandelier that takes specially shaped bulbs, they are most likely going to be Incandescent light bulbs.

Cons:

  • Energy use: A standard 60 watt incandescnet light bulb produces anywhere from 600-800 lumens. Lumens are the unit that the amount of visible light is measured in. As suggested, to do this it takes 60 watts of electricity flowing through the filament. Newer, more efficient filament bulbs claim to produce the same amount of lumens using about 45 watts, but that is still significantly more energy than other light bulbs require.
  • Fragility: Filaments are rather delicate things. If jostled too strongly, the filament can get dislodged or break without even being lit.
  • Lifetime: A 60 watt bulb will burn for about 985 hours. This translates to around 11 months of use if lit for 3 hours each day.

10 year cost for burning incandescent light bulbs in one lamp: (3 hours a day, $0.12/kwh cost of electricity, $1.50/bulb, 12 bulbs) = $96.84

You can find my report of the pros and cons of CFL light bulbs here, and LED light bulbs here to see how Incandescent light bulbs measure up.