Friday, February 22, 2013

My First Home Energy Report: The Confusion, the Shame

I got my first Home Energy Report from the power company.

I've been working hard to reduce energy in all possible ways, so I was overwhelmingly excited to see how my home compares with others.  This energy report was something that I never had in my old desert home.  I thought about the many ways I've worked to reduce energy consumption.  

  • My dishwasher runs only when it's completely full, and I don't use the dry cycle.
  • I caulked up as many air leaks as I could find.
  • I used plastic on the windows.
  • I shower every other day.
  • I wrapped the water heater in a blanket.
  • My clothing is washed in cold water, and only full loads are done.
  • My thermostat is set to as high during the summer or as low during the winter as I can handle.

I could go on, but we'll leave it at that.  You get the idea.  I really, really try.  I did not, therefore, expect to respond the way I did when the energy report arrived in my mailbox.

Crying figure, saying "But... What... Happened?"

I was not a happy camper. With the amount of time I've taken to make this home more energy efficient, I should be pleased with the results.I expected that I'd have a long way to go, but not this long!

Bar graph showing Efficient Neighbors (1,154), YOU (1,567), and All neighbors (1,682).

I'm the blue.

Or maybe I should say that I'm so blue...

All that work, and yet I was barely below average consumption.  

What you're seeing above, by the way, is merely my energy usage for this month. This puts me on the higher end of energy consumption.  

Not pretty.  Not at all.

"So what's the deal?"  I thought.  It didn't make sense.  I was in complete confusion.

I continued on, and looked at the yearly graphs for natural gas

Line graph plotting natural gas usage for each month, showing the efficient, average consumption, and me

and for electricity.

Line graph plotting electricity usage for each month, showing the efficient, average consumption, and me

Things started to come together.

Natural gas usage was particularly high November-February.  These are months in which heating is used.  Minnesota is a particularly cold state, after all, and heaters are an absolute necessity.

But then I noticed what natural gas usage was like for the rest of the year.  Not bad at all.  Indeed, I was at level or below the efficient natural gas usage for the remaining months.  That made me feel a little better.  My energy savings decisions were actually doing some good.

But what about electricity?

It wasn't nearly as pretty there.  My electricity usage was high all around, but especially high in May-August.  This is when the air conditioning was turned on.  I'm rather cruel as far as air conditioning is concerned.  

See, I've got this thing:  Since I'm from the desert, I expect to use less a/c in Minnesota.  That means that the air doesn't turn on until the inside temperature hits 87 degrees during the day, and 84 at night.  If it still feels too hot?  Well, too bad.  That's what water guns and iced tea are for.

But it didn't help.

I then realized that maybe the energy problem, in terms of heating and cooling, wasn't so much what I was or was not doing.  Maybe, just maybe, the problem was the house.

It's huge.  That's a lot of area to heat and cool.  

It's also old (as in 'built in 1896' old).  Old means drafty.  Even with what I had done to plug air leaks, I couldn't get them all.  If I was plugging air leaks that were big enough to see through into the neighbor's yard, after all, there had to be plenty more that I couldn't see.  Add to that the fact that there were foundation problems that couldn't be fixed along the doorways and windows, the loss of heat (or cold) began to add up.

This made me feel a bit better, as well.

I couldn't ignore, however, that electricity usage was through the roof during non-cooling months. I couldn't let myself off the hook as much as I'd like to.  The majority of the problem surrounding electricity consumption was on the human end.  It couldn't be blamed on the house.

I still have a long way to go.

If you look closely at my list above that shows what I've done to increase energy efficiency, you'll notice that the majority had to do with gas costs.  Gas home heating, gas water heater... 

Gas, gas, gas.

Some things need to change.  Beyond the house itself, that is.  I need to continue what I've done in terms of natural gas, of course, but now I need to focus on electricity.  I've done some things in that regard, but I need to do more.

This should be an interesting journey...

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