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September Better Home Newsletter post

Larry Brydon
LEED AP – Vice Chair – Reliance Home Comfort

Mr. Brydon is currently a Senior Account Executive with Reliance Home Comfort where he supports New Product Development projects within their Builder Markets Group. He is both a LEED Accredited Professional, and an NRCan Certified Energy Evaluator with the EnergyStar and Energuide programs. In addition to his role as Vice Chair with Sustainable Buildings Canada, he has also served as Chair of the Canada Green Building Council – Greater Toronto Chapter and is a past Board Director for BILD, the Building Industry and Land Development Associations (formerly Greater Toronto Home Builders Association and The Urban Development Institute).

September, 2011

Back to school: A valuable lesson on reducing electricity costs

The alarm clock buzzes an hour earlier, signalling the start of a new school year. I look into my teen daughter’s room and am reminded of a scene from our camping trip:  dozens of little green, red and amber lights flickering in the darkness…the eyes of chipmunks, raccoons, even a bear, reflected in the beam of my flashlight.

But in my daughter’s bedroom, those flickering lights are LEDs, gently reminding me that her iPod, iPad, cell phone, laptop, desktop PC, bedside radio, TV, CD and VCR player, even her curling iron, are all, like my daughter, asleep. But each of those appliances are still consuming energy.  I walk down to the kitchen and the coffee maker is winking at me, along with the countertop radio, the rechargeable phone and the rest of the household communication devices, camera and thingamajig chargers.  As homework looms, so to will the tools of learning – multiple media devices, calculators and rechargeable pencil sharpeners – they all come out of the closet to be left on and added to my energy bill.

We’ve all heard of the ecoENERGY audits and water audits, but how about a lifestyle audit? Do you know how much energy all of these devices consume? When was the last time you actually used that combination rechargeable hedge and beard trimmer?

In-home energy monitors like the OWL or Watt DR can help in recognizing and putting a stop to what is referred to as phantom energy loads. These monitors let you see how much electrical energy you are consuming in real time, and help you communicate the value of not only shutting off those wasteful appliances but disconnecting them from the power supply with a power bar.

Once you’ve installed them, start by shutting off all of your non-essential appliances and disconnecting them from their outlets (but leave on the furnace and fridge). The display will tell you how many dollars and cents per hour it is costing you to operate these basic appliances — your baseline. Now plug all of the appliances back in again without switching them on.  The difference between your baseline and the new reading is your phantom power load.

“What’s this cup doing in the shower”, asks my daughter from behind the bathroom door as she prepares for her first back to school shower. “When the cup is full, it’s time to get out,” I reply. Electrical and hot water expenses are greatly affected by your family’s lifestyle. Do some homework and examine what you can do to reduce “your back to school energy consumption.” Here’s your top 5 vampire killers!

  1. Connect multiple nearby appliances to a powerbar and power them all down with one click.
  2. Go room to room and disconnect anything you are not using every day (like clock radios in the spare bedroom).
  3. When buying any new appliances, always choose an Energy Star-rated model.
  4. Install a plug with a timer to shut down power completely overnight.
  5. Remove battery and cell phone chargers from the socket when you are not using them.

{ 18 comments… add one }

  • Larue Maracle January 3, 2012, 5:57 am

    Hello. Great job. I did not imagine this. This is a splendid story. Thanks!

  • DonLeduchowski September 30, 2011, 11:45 am

    I agree with Ray Ricketts. The more you electricity you conserve, the higher the rates go. The old saying “damed if you do, damed if you don’t” Apparently the Ontario Energy Board really doesn’t care if you save electricity, they simply allow higher rates to compensate the power companies. The coal fired plant here, which may soon be wood pellet fuel is in standby more than it is run and the costs keep going up for standby generating stations.

  • Karen September 27, 2011, 6:16 pm

    Question: Is there phantom power coming from lamps that are off but still plugged in the wall?

    • Rich Massingham September 28, 2011, 10:31 am

      Lamps don’t draw phantom power, their on/off switches break the circuit. The items you should focus on are those that go into standby mode like DVD players, TV’s, game consoles, computers etc.

  • A. Chénier September 27, 2011, 9:49 am

    The problem with turning off certain equipment (i.e.video recorders such as VCRs – yes I still use those!) is that you lose certain settings like the time of day, or programmed recording times. It would be useful if those machines had a battery back-up that allowed 24-hour power interuptions.

  • ray ricketts September 24, 2011, 4:41 pm

    It always ticks me off that we do everything we can to reduce our hydro requirements and then hydro ottawa determines that we are not using enough hydro and they jack the rates to compensate for the ‘lost’ hydro. We end up paying more for not using enough. When is this madness going to stop?

  • Vince September 23, 2011, 8:57 pm

    The price of the monitors is a little high. The power bar thing is a great idea, so if you want to save money just make it a constant step at night just like brushing your teeth. Once all your power bars and chargers are unplugged and the only thing left is the fridge, furnace, alarm clocks and maybe a night light ( L E D ) for any little ones to see at night, then the monitor really isn’t needed is it?

  • A. Chénier September 23, 2011, 8:33 am

    Think of your house as a giant energy bucket with holes punched on the side.

    Now walk around your house and find bucket holes that can be replaced by “taps” that can be turned on and off !

  • Jean September 22, 2011, 7:11 pm

    I think we should be monitoring how hydro is handling our meters as I
    find that the less hydro I use the more they put up my meter. Aren’t
    these monitors made by the same company that manufactured the smart
    meters? Also do you know that next year we will also be charged extra
    on our hydro for these meters?

  • P. Murnaghan September 21, 2011, 8:43 am

    Good advice ! I will be looking closer around to unplug the unneccesary items, and am going to forward this to my daughters who have every item and more in their homes.

  • Scott Clare September 21, 2011, 8:27 am

    Thanks for that article, I’ve been trying to convince my family to TURN stuff OFF when not is use for ages..!
    They all laugh at me when I leave the cottage and power everything down except the fridge if we leave for a few weeks…..(winter just the furnace is on @ 45*F)
    I am assuming that the OWL and Watt Dr. systems are available at most retail Hardware stores? I’ll have to look into these, if they are at a reasonable cost!
    Thanks again,

  • Carol Stockton September 21, 2011, 7:33 am

    I sure didn’t know that but have always mentioned to other people not to leave light and etc on as it is still using electricity. I will taking a closer look at what I can shut off from now on.

  • ROBERT BRIEHL September 21, 2011, 7:22 am

    Thank you for your informative comments on saving energy.
    I have been running an enviro club for my schools since the 1980’s and agree totally with what you are saying.
    Schools waste so much energy with excessive lights being kept on along with the equipment you mentioned.Office buildings, too , are culprits by leaving their lights on all night, but even more sad is the number of migratory birds that mistake the buildings at night for stars and lose their lives by crashing into the buildings.
    I have always encouraged the students to do an energy audit in the house for at least a month. Determine how much energy you used this month by checking the meter and comparing it with the next month. We challenged the school to do the same. Shut all unnecessary lights off when out of the classroom along with such equipment.
    I hope many people will follow your positive suggestions.
    Bob Briehl

  • donna kay September 21, 2011, 5:44 am

    I found this to be extremely useful information – thank you

  • Irene Allen September 20, 2011, 11:32 pm

    I find the tips very helpful. I have power bars so I just have to flick the switch.
    Thanks. I. A.

  • Christine Lafrance September 20, 2011, 7:44 pm

    Where can we get an in home monitor. I would definietly like to put it to the test. One of my pet peeves is that my husband sets his coffee machine to go off every morning but doesn’t take any coffee until he is going out the door. During the time he is getting himself dressed and ready for work his cofee could still be ready without the timer by just plugging in the coffe pot in the morning and letting it brew while doing his other morning routines. That is just one of a few things that I mention and get oh for heavens sakes. Maybe seeing is beleiving, l’d like to find out.

    • Rich Massingham September 22, 2011, 2:57 pm

      Thanks for sharing Christine. Similar monitors are sold at the major home improvement stores such as Home Depot/Lowes etc. Retail prices start just under $100.00.

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