A Tale of Two Meters: Simple Ways to Save Energy

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Okay, I can’t really write like Charles Dickens, but I wanted to share the story of how we saved so much energy with a few small changes that within two months of each other, two utility companies changed the meters in  our house.

Emily and I first started dating in 2005. At the time, we each had a house…in different cities. Because my job was flexible and hers was less so, at first I moved into her house in Greensboro, with the idea that we would move to my house in Raleigh when her job allowed.

The Greensboro house was a modest little abode of 1600 square feet. It was a comfortable house, but Emily was not really focused on minimizing utility costs. The Greensboro house had two stories, gas heat, an electric hot water heater, and too many old high wattage incandescent light bulbs spread around the estate.

We knew we probably wouldn’t stay in the house together too long, so we didn’t want to make any major outlays to save money. But I knew we didn’t have to. There were several inexpensive things we could do to save a significant amount of energy.

With a little attention to the low hanging energy fruit, we were able to reduce the gas and electrical consumption so drastically that both the gas and electric company came out and replaced the meters.

The Changes that Changed the Meters

The first steps were the easiest. We didn’t use the upstairs very often, so we closed the blinds and made sure the windows were sealed tightly. Then we shut the vents to the upstairs rooms so that we were no longer heating them unless we expected a guest.

The next step was to reduce the hot water temperature to 120 degrees on both hot water heater element thermostats.

(This is something the average DIY enthusiast can do, but you have to make sure that before you open the protective covers off of the elements on the heater, you turn off the hot water heater at the breaker. Don’t skip this step! On most hot water heaters, this is a 40 amp breaker at 240 volts, which is approximately 10,000 Watts of electricity. Make sure it’s turned off! If you aren’t comfortable with electrical projects, get some help.)

Once you’ve turned off the breaker, you can pull back the insulation around the heating elements and use a screwdriver to adjust the thermostat down to 120 degrees. This will save you a lot of energy heating water, and is a good safety precaution anyway if you have small kids in the house.

The next energy improvement we made to the house was to install an adjustable front door striker plate, so that the front door closed more tightly against the seals. This meant less warm or cool air escaping from the house.

Then I bought about a dozen low wattage fluorescent light bulbs and replaced high wattage incandescent bulbs in the areas we used the most.A Tale of Two Meters-Simple Ways to Save Energy

I made some other adjustments, too, like:

  • Turning the thermostats in the refrigerator and freezer to the maximum recommended temperatures.
  • Turning off the coffee pot element as soon as the coffee was brewed, rather than when the pot was near empty. If coffee needed heating, we began using the microwave. This saved energy and improved the quality of the coffee.
  • Washing more clothes in cold water instead of warm or hot.
  • Putting the TV set, DVD player, and cable box on a surge protector which was easily turned off when not in use, and doing the same with Emily’s computer.
  • Installing a programmable digital thermostat, and adjusting the temperature lower at night and when we were away during the day. (We found this approach to be  a little easier with gas heat than with an electric heat pump, since we could bring the house up to the desired morning temperature faster.) Installing a programmable thermostat is another project that you can DIY if you are comfortable with electrical projects.

The Results of A Few Minor Changes

Making these changes dropped the gas bill in half and the electrical bill by a third. The gas company and the power company were concerned enough by the drastic cuts in power usage to replace both meters. Somebody noticed!

As you can see, none of these were very expensive or very difficult steps to take. Some of them. like the coffee and clothes, simply required changing a habit rather than any special equipment, and changing the thermostat in our refrigerator required turning a knob.

Of the other things we did, we might have spent a total of $125 to save money on energy. We made up the cost in 2 months.

You never know what a few minor changes can do to reduce your electrical bills. For instance, last month we found that two weeks after we installed the low flow water regulators in all of our sinks and showers in our current house and cut our cable (and our constantly working DVR), we cut our electrical consumption by 10%, in spite of colder weather.

So don’t neglect looking at your house for money saving opportunities. You might even get a free meter replacement of your very own.

What are some areas where you’ve made some minor adjustments leading to major savings? 

Top Image courtesy of fantasista at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, Disease Called Debt and Lively Chicken*



11 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Meters: Simple Ways to Save Energy

  1. We haven’t gotten to make a lot of small changes around here. I should look into the hot water heater thing… or maybe just ask the plumbers next time they’re here for some inevitable repair.

    Our savings have come from major projects. We added insulation to the paltry stuff already in there. Our bill went down about $100 (on the averaged plan). We got the in-laws HVAC in the guest house. I actually expected our bill to go up, but apparently it’s far more efficient than the portable A/C they were using. Our bill went down another $100.

    We started out with an average payment of about $330. We just got lowered to $145. It’s beautiful!!!
    Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…Why we’re quitting CostcoMy Profile

    • Hi Abigail,

      That is an impressive reduction in your energy bill!

      Yeah, for most people lowering the hot water heater temp works well. For a big house with lots of people, lowering the hot water heater temperature may just cause you to run out of hot water in the mornings! Grins!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jon J.
      Jon Jividen recently posted…A Tale of Two Meters: Simple Ways to Save EnergyMy Profile

    • Hi,

      We have tried to make changes that are really “cost effective.”

      The “next change” we need to make is to put all the chargers for “devices” on one power strip and make sure we turn off the power strip when not in use. Individual chargers use only about 5 watts each, but if you have 5 or 6 devices and leave all those chargers plugged in, on a yearly basis, that is almost $30 worth of electricity!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jon J.
      Jon Jividen recently posted…A Tale of Two Meters: Simple Ways to Save EnergyMy Profile

  2. Wow! This is very impressive. I’ll have to share this one with my husband. The most significant utility-bill-reduction move we’ve made is to hang-dry our clothes about 95% of the time. Some of these other strategies as much easier : )
    Prudence Debtfree recently posted…Heavy Debt: One Shovelful At A TimeMy Profile

    • Hi “Prudence”,

      The “solar powered clothes dryer” or, “out doors clothes line”, is a great idea! Definitely on the “to-do list.”

      Saw a statistic from the US Dept. of Energy a few years ago, that estimated that the average family does about 400 loads of laundry a year!

      If you estimate that the average electric clothes dryer uses about 50 cents of electricity per load, (ballpark numbers!) then that is a savings of approximately $200 per year!

      Gotta love being Green! If not Cheap! Grins!

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jon J.
      Jon Jividen recently posted…A Tale of Two Meters: Simple Ways to Save EnergyMy Profile

  3. Interesting to see some simple tricks bringing a big change and helping you save more. I have heard people changing blinds and using double window tints or something like that and it works, just never tried any of that yet. I guess I should also focus much on this.
    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hey Cindy,
      With older windows, that are not “insulated glass”, window coverings like blinds and curtains can make a real difference.

      The change I have wanted to try for the summer time, is to install “silver” colored metal blinds on the windows that get alot of afternoon sunshine. I think it should help with the rooms that are hard to cool. Hopefully the “reflection” wouldn’t be too bright! Grins!

      Thanks for the comment,

      Jon J.

    • Hi Mel,
      Most of the changes we made are easy for the DIY’er! I agree on the water heater! Last week I had to check out the hot water heater at a rental property. After turning off the breaker labeled “Hot Water Heater” in the breaker box, I used a Volt Ohm Meter (VOM) to check the wires coming into hot water heater just to make sure. 240 volts on a 40 amp breaker flows about 10,000 watts, gotta be careful! The tenants were running out of hot water with the hot water heater thermostats set to 125 degrees, so I increased the temp to 140 degrees.

      My personal favorite is turning off the coffee pot as soon as it finishes brewing! The coffee tastes better, and it saves $3 dollars a month or more!

      Thanks for the comment,

      Jon J.

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