I ain’t the Energizer Bunny…

16 Oct

As we build our new “Shipping Container Casa” we’re taking a hard look at ways to cut our power consumption.

You see, we’re planning on using photovoltaic systems to make power the house will run on. And since  we’re gonna be responsible for that power, we need to start looking at ways to manage it.

This is NOT our house, but it’s a nice one, huh?

Now, a while back, I wrote a post about ways you can actually save energy. But, now that we’re starting to get serious about this house, it’s time to get serious about our power consumption. And we’re not the only ones, I’m sure. With heating and electricity costs soaring, and the economy teetering on the edge of disaster, it makes sense to muster a few troops, and start looking at ways to make energy-saving efforts around the house.

Ever since the beginnings of this house, I’ve carefully investigated a range of big-ticket investments to help cut my home’s energy costs — from photovoltaic systems (solar panels), geothermal HVAC, all the way to “tankless” hot water heaters. After careful consideration, it looks like I’ll definitely invest in some of these “wonders of modern science.” But in the meantime,  I’ve begun trimming bills by taking smaller baby… er… um… eco-steps.

If you watch Cable TV, you’ve seen energy experts have preached these tactics for years — from dumping our old upright freezer for a newer chest model, and unplugging printers, the TV and all of our cellphone and rechargeable battery chargers when they aren’t in use.

In recent months, I’ve been experimenting, and enlisting friends help me figure out “what costs what” in the world of energy consumption.

(I bet you thought Ronin didn’t have any friends, didn’t you… Well, even “fence-straddling” naysayers can be enlisted, if you dangle energy savings over their heads…)

And here’s what we’ve figured out: If you really think about what you’re doing, you can save some cash on your energy bills. Even in my hopelessly inadequate household, we’ve cut over 500 kwh from the same period last year. And in August and September of this year, our bills dropped over $30, compared to last year.

We did all the usual things, we turned back the thermostat on the hot water heater (and having a new baby didn’t hurt, either. The last thing we wanted to do was par-boil the little monkey!) to save some quick cash.

We’d have cut back on water temperature in the washer too, except Joshua is really good at getting his clothes messy, and frankly, cold water just doesn’t cut it! Some of his clothes are so bad you almost have to boil them! But, we did do more of the “adult” laundry, in cold water.

When it comes time to buy appliances, you can bet that we’re gonna buy energy-efficient “ENERGY-STAR” appliances, too. Combining these appliances with energy conservation techniques will definitely pay off in the long run. After all, what’s the point of buying really efficient appliances, if you lose energy like a sieve, everywhere else in your household?

(And close that damned door! You weren’t born in a barn, were you? Sheesh!)

According to the experts, here are some steps you can take, to start saving money right away!:

Trash your old stand-up freezer, and buy a new Chest Freezer. Right off the bat, chest freezers work better by design. Remember that cold air is heavier than warm air. So Chest Freezers consume up to 25% less energy than comparable uprights because the cold air doesn’t spill out all over the place when the door is opened.

That’s what the Department of Energy says, and if they say it… well… it’s okay to be suspicious, (after all, it’s the “government”) but it makes sense! I remember my physics teacher using the same illustration once, when I was actually awake in class… LOL!

Keep in mind that a “manually defrosted” model will use up to 40% less energy than a comparable automatic-defrost models, which may also dehydrate your food, causing it to “freezer burn.”

Nothing pisses off Ronin faster than a “freezer burned” piece of Elk carcass, or my favorite “Bambi-Burgers!”

And, it won’t hurt too much, you can buy a 10-cubic-foot Energy Star Whirlpool chest freezer at most home improvement stores, for under $300.

Your new freezer will actually pay for itself over it’s lifetime. The energy savings of about $40 a year average) adds up. If you’re wondering what your current refrigerator and freezer cost to run, you can check here:


(And, buying a new appliance for the kitchen is bound to make your “significant other” happy! And anything that makes her happy, makes parts of me um… er… happy…) LOL!

Consider using a “solar dryer” and doing more wash in cold water!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. After all, I’m a psychic…er… um… psycho… Clothes lines aren’t very “high-tech.” In fact, I’m told that in some neighborhoods, they’re actually against the law! A “Laundry Nazi” will show up at your house, and give you a ticket, and you have to pay a fine! No kidding!

(Now, Ronin hates Nazi’s in any guise, so if you’re even thinking about showing up at my house, you’re gonna need something more substantial than a stupid ticket book. I suggest automatic weapons, superior numbers, and a sizable amount of skill and cunning…) LOL!

But, If you’re living in one of “these” neighborhoods, you have more money than brains anyway. Why are you even reading this?

“Solar clotheslines” may seem rather “old school,” but using Mother Nature to dry your clothes is pretty much “free.” Have you paid attention to the financial markets lately? The stock market is plunging into the tank faster than Greg Louganis at the Olympics! Any penny I can save, is gonna get saved. It’s getting scary out there!

According to several energy institutes, the average electric dryer is a real hog, consuming about 970 kwh a year! And even though newer models are more way more efficient (they actually shut off when the clothes are dry), letting Mother Nature do it can save you more. And, if you’re shy about showing your undies to the neighbors, use an indoor drying rack for that part of your wash.

If you do this to the tune of reducing as little as half of your drying needs, you can save about $50 a year. That’s “beer money,” folks! It’s nothing to sneeze at! LOL!

And switching from hot water to warm or cold water can cut laundry energy usage in half, according to those rascals at the DOE.

Now, what’s next, hmmm?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Everything is better “Unplugged!” Your DVD player, your cellphone chargers, Paul McCartney, you name it, if you unplug ’em when you ain’t using them, they save you money!

All these devices (Except Sir Paul) leak power, in the form of clocks, remote control circuits, and stand-by modes. And, that can cost you about $100 a year, easy.

And, if you unplug your computer, your TV, and even your computer printer, you can save a similar amount. These components are notorious for being energy guzzlers, even when you’re not fixated by them!

Hook them to a good quality Power Surge Protector, and then flip the switch when you’re not using them. You’ll see an immediate change in your power bill that could average up to about 10%!

Okay, now what?

Take a small step into the future of lighting! Don’t worry, it won’t hurt much!

Get rid of your incandescent light bulbs! An incandescent light bulb is just a heater that glows when it gets really hot! Did you know that 90% of the energy used by a light bulb is transformed into heat and only 10% of it is turned into “light.”

Want proof? I bet if you have a daughter, you’ve had an “EasyBake Oven” in your house at one time or  another! These *&$^#!! will burn the crap outta you, your kid, and even the dog, if you aren’t careful.

The power source for this “miracle of baking science?” You guessed it. An Incandescent Light Bulb.

Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and even certain halogens!

Most Energy Star CFLs use 75% less energy (although they do require special disposal because they contain mercury) than incandescents and now come in three-way and dimmable models, while LEDs use up to 90% less electricity.

I’m switching to lamps and dimmable track lighting using CFLs or low-voltage halogens; and my kitchen under-cabinet lighting is going to be LEDs.

(You get extra points if your backsplash is reflective! That cool glow will help you find the snacks in the middle of the night, without waking up the “Cookie Nazi” by turning on all the kitchen lights!)

Using CFLs wont hurt too bad, because CFL prices range from $2 to $15 at most lighting retailers. You  can even find them at dollar stores, if you look carefully! LEDs are a different matter, though. LED technology is still pricey, a 20′ track of LEDs can set you back about $300!

If you consider that your lighting costs $50 to $150 a year in energy bills for the average U.S. household, using these newer technologies can cut your lighting energy usage by up to 75%.

A little caulk can save the day!

(Oh, just stop it, you dirty minded poltroons! I said “caulk.”)

It’s a common fact that many of our homes are really poorly insulated and extremely poorly sealed against air leaks. While you can make huge gains by sealing your old ductwork and adding new (more efficient) insulation, you’ll be happy to know that your leaky windows and drafty door frames are a problem that’s cheaper to improve.

Often it’s just a matter of sealing the space between the window and its rough opening! Head down to  Home Depot or Lowe’s, and buy several tubes (it’s cheap!) of paintable, siliconized acrylic caulk to seal off the areas where your window trim meets the wall and frame. Applying new weather stripping, caulking your leaks, and adding “sweeps” to the bottom of your exterior doors will conquer any draft problems in your  entryways.

Spend a week-end doing this, and you can save up to 20% on your heating and cooling costs!

Invest in new, more efficient windows. If your windows are older than the local “bag lady” that scares your kids, think about replacing them with double-paned ones with “Low-E” (“low emissivity”) coatings and gas filling, such as argon and krypton, between the panes.

(I mean no offense to real “bag-people.” We just have one in our neighborhood that is a real terror, and she gives our children nightmares!)

Replacing your windows can improve your window’s thermal performance and I guarantee that it reduce UV ray penetration, which fades your furniture and even your rugs.

The DOE has a set standard for windows to be classified Energy Star, and you can find it here;


The “U-factor” refers to how well a window insulates. The “SHGC” (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient) tells how much the window blocks heat.

These windows aren’t cheap, but they will save you money in the long-run. The average window is about $20 to $50 more (per window for Low-e and gas fills) assuming you use the same frame and sash size. And why wouldn’t you? You’re just gonna pull the old ones out, and slide the new ones in.

Whatever you do, don’t let you wife talk you into bigger windows! This will only lead to other home improvements, and the end of your week-ends watching football. Let me tell you… LOL!

Choosing new Energy Star windows are a boon to your power consumption. Changing out your windows can save you $450 a year, when replacing single-pane windows; And even changing out old double-pane windows can save you cash. The difference could be as much as $100 a year over double-pane, clear glass replacement windows.

If you’re gonna be in your current home for more than ten years, you’ll appreciate the savings.

(And it won’t hurt your resale, either!)

Now that we’re cooking, what’s for dessert? Hmmm?

Buy some Energy Star appliances!

Not only does this improve your standing in the household (Momma will love you!), you’ll note that appliances account for about 20% of your household’s energy consumption with refrigerators, clothes washers and clothes dryers blazing the trail.

“Energy Star” rated appliances are designed to use up to 50% less energy and water than standard models.

And since the desire for “energy star” appliances is becoming so competitive (after all, they are consumer driven), the increased costs are negligible over less efficient makes and models. Sometimes you can pick up great appliances with no increase in price for these money-saving features!

The “renovation” to Energy Star appliances can save the average household $75 a year. I looked up my current refrigerator, and I found out that it takes $150 a year to power it. Changing to a similar sized “energy star” rated appliance would cost me $50 a year. There’s a hundred buck a a year, right there.

After a few years, I’ve almost paid for the fridge!

Consider going to a wood stove, if you live in an area where it’s possible!

Household spending on heating fuels is expected to climb up to 25% this winter in some places. And that means that some homeowners are going to be seeking alternative heat sources like wood and pellet stoves, which use renewable resources.

Now, this is gonna hurt right off the bat, but typically a good stove and hearth will set you back $3,000 to $4,200 (installed), according to the AWSHA (American Wood Stove and Hearth Association).

After you’re through gasping and clutching your heart, consider that even though you’re out-of-pocket in the beginning, a heating hearth appliance can save up to 40% on your heating bills.

Go to:  http://pelletheat.org for a comparison of heating costs.

If you can’t find what you need there, try: http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/experts/heatcalc.xls

Okay, now you’re ready to go tackle the Energy Monster that lives in your house. I suggest that before you do, you sit down, and drink a nice cold beverage, while you ponder who you do battle with, first.

After all, show me a man losing a battle, and I’ll show you a man who didn’t have a good enough plan!

Stay tuned!


5 Responses to “I ain’t the Energizer Bunny…”

  1. PartSelect October 17, 2008 at 7:02 am #

    Thanks for all great info on finding ways to decrease your energy consumption. We recently published a blog post that gives you the features of Energy Star appliances and gives you some tips to increase the efficiency of your appliances if you can ‘t afford to buy new.

  2. renaissanceronin October 17, 2008 at 12:11 pm #

    Hey “PS,”

    Thanks for the comment, and the great link to your pages. The information found there is very helpful, and will aid us all, as we try to wage war with the enemy… wasted energy! LOL!

    It’s important to remember that like any team, your home is only as strong as it’s weakest link. Using Energy Star appliances gives you a great “front line!”

    Again, thanks for contributing!


  3. jhone November 6, 2008 at 12:59 pm #

    Interesting Read! Very detailed blog,thanks for sharing

  4. John April 14, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    Have you ever actually calculated the amount of energy you will save by leaving a light on? lights don’t actually consume much energy compared to an oven, a dryer or a heater. Even your TV is huge by comparison. but you don’t need to take my word for it. you just look at the power rating in watts(W) of your device and divide it by 1000 that will give you kilowatts(kW) and then multiply that by the rate on your electric bill(KW/h) and that is what it will cost you for leaving it on for 1 hour because we are usually billed by the kilowatt hour (KW/h). I think you will be surprised at how low it is. Now think about those tiny LEDs in Your DVD player and your computer. They are infinitesimally small consumers of electricity.

    So by telling all your unsuspecting readers to unplug their computers and DVD players is only inconveniencing them maybe even to the point where they may give up on saving energy. The best way to save energy is to understand which of your appliances consumes large amounts of energy and think about how often you use it. Educating yourself on a subject you are interested in is always a good step. I am a big fan of clothes lines. leave your 1/4 watt LEDs plugged in.

    • renaissanceronin April 14, 2009 at 5:04 pm #

      First… April Fool’s Day was last week, pal.

      Comments like this just piss me off… But, I hate censorship, so I’m gonna give you your “moment of fame…”

      The notion that turning off a light only saves you a little bit… just drives my point home further! Each light, each appliance, each cell phone charger taken offline is reflected in your bill at the end of the month.

      A penny is a penny. Pile up enough of them, and you have a dollar.

      It’s more about creating good habits that will become instinct, and actually make your lifestyle that much more comfortable and cost effective. This becomes far more important, when you’re actually making your own power using Photovoltaic panels.

      A VCR doesn’t drop to a 1/4th watt to power those LEDs on “standby!” Neither does a TV set. Or a computer on standby, for that matter… And leaving those 50-75 watt lights on, “just because…” Break out that meter again, bucko…

      You’re one of those guys who wears shark repellent to go bass fishing at “Lake Lost All Common Sense,” aren’t you?

      Or… you work at the power company, don’t you? Tell the truth!

      You said it yourself; “Educating yourself on a subject you are interested in, is always a good step.” I suggest you take your own advise.


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