Taking A Step Back and Investigating Your Energy Usage

Remember that old saying about putting the cart before the horse? Well, as a friend who reads my Care2 pieces pointed out to me the other day, I seem to have done just that. I jumped into energy saving at home without really looking at the problem to begin with. So I’d like to take a quick step backwards and talk about how we can investigate what we do use in a way that will make us want to waste less in the first place.

The first stop in our journey is your trusty electric meter. Most of these are in the rear or side of a house or building. If you happen to live in a apartment complex, and pay your own energy bill (some places roll electricity into the rent), the meter you are looking for will likely be marked with the number of your unit so the meter reader knows whose is whose. For those who can’t find their meters, give your electricity provider a call and they’ll tell you where yours is located.

The next step is to do a little experimentation. If you have kids, I highly recommend involving them in this. Take a look at your meter and just watch it for a few minutes. You’ll probably have one of two kinds, digital or analog. If it’s a newer digital meter, there should be some numbers that are counting up. If you have an older analog meter, there will also be some numbers, but more importantly a little wheel that turns round and round showing you that electricity is being used. Either way, looking at your meter will illustrate the power that you are presently using in a very concrete way.

Now head back inside and turn off everything in the house that you can think of. Turn off the lights, unplug your phantom power loads (which of course are already unplugged right?), turn the heater or AC off, unplug that answering machine, and if you’re really into it, even unplug your fridge. Now look at your meter. What you’ll notice, if you’ve gotten rid of everything that is, is that it is barely moving. Why? Because you aren’t pulling much, if any, juice at all.

Next head back in and turn everything on. And by everything I mean EVERYTHING! All the lights, turn on those space heaters, crank that AC, plug in those chargers. Head back to the meter and you’ll see it’s counting up/turning faster than you can imagine. Watch it for a few minutes and then head in and turn everything back off.

The reason for this is simple. We have very little connection to how much energy we use. By running this little scenario, it will create a mental device that you can use. Is the wheel turning fast or slow? Are the numbers shooting up or barely moving? I did this when I first started thinking about energy savings and I can tell you, every time a light is on, I see that little wheel shooting around faster. It becomes a game where stopping the meter from moving is the way to win and it’ll help you think more about the energy you are using. And for those of you who want something a little more concrete, in house energy meters like this one will impress on you not only how much you are using, but how much it is costing you. How’s that for feedback?

Next up is a little sleuthing if you have the time. Try and find out where your energy actually comes from. I have solar panels on my house, but still wanted to find out where the small amount of grid electricity I use originates, and more importantly, what effect that energy has on the environment. I did some sleuthing on the internet and the best resource I could find was a mountaintop removal website that shows you if your power provider is connected to mountaintop removal.

The site only deals with coal and I always like to double check facts, so I called DWP, our local power provider. After several attempts, I was finally connected with a gentleman who told me that the info from the site was accurate but that only 45 percent of the power in our area comes from coal. He gave me info on the other sources, nuclear, wind, personal solar production, and natural gas, all of which play a small part in making the juice that turns on our lights.

The bottom line is this: Connect yourself to what you are doing, what you are a part of, and chances are, you’ll want to do better. So much energy is being wasted simply because we do not know we are doing it. Educate yourself and you’ll not only feel better about wasting less, but you’ll save money at the same time.

Next up: Buying green power.

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. �Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”


Gavan A.
Gavan A7 years ago

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Adam P.
Adam P.8 years ago

I have a timer on the hot water and also recently replaced the electric with the solar roof mounted system with electric booster so the timer in conjunction with the suns benefit i hope will reduce our bill. I would strongly recomend at least a timer.

Colleen D.
Colleen D8 years ago

Well, I live in a coop unit, not a house. I have my own heating/air conditioning unit which I replaced for a better energy efficient unit several years ago. I have switched all of my light bulbs to the recommended efficient ones, I have all wind up clocks so no electric clocks, a manual can opener, my food processor is a 14 inch chef's knife and I sit at night with one single lamp lit and turn off all other lights. My thermostart in winter is on 64 degrees at night and 68 in the evenings in winter and 76 in the evenings at night and 78/80 when not at home. There is litterally nothing more I can do that is affordable at the moment. I am unemployed and the last thing I need is a new refrigerator but my utility bill is very low compared to my neighbors. So I am at my limit and I have realized a savings on usage, especially when I upgraded my heating unit.

Lloyd C.
Lloyd C8 years ago

I have taken Dave's advice, and unplugged what is not used all the time. I have already been turning the lights off in room I am not in, which does save on the bill. My bill had went down, until the power company raised their rates. My savings in money was erased. But I have to look for more.

As for the meter wheel, I have been aware of it, and what the speed of it means, since I was a kid, about 40 years ago.

Alex R.
Alex R8 years ago

I'm considering one of those water heater timer as mine is electric...anybody have personal experience with them?

Nature A.
Past Member 8 years ago

I think people shld save energy and also shld stop global warming..Programm like Earth Hour..shld be practised in more and more countries..i would really appreciate all the blogger to sign up on http://www.justmeans.com and get more information on earthhour.