Little changes around the house can make a big difference in your energy use over time. How one Team Power Smart newbie adopted an energy-saving lifestyle
by Michelle Hopkins
I’ve always considered myself to be an energy conscious person: I shut off the lights when I leave a room; I use the dryer as little as possible; I turn down the thermostat at night. But it wasn’t until a recent dinner conversation, where people were talking about ways to cut their hydro bills, when I decided to see what else I could do. The next day, I logged on to BC Hydro’s website, where I saw various tips and tools around saving energy. I immediately signed up for Team Power Smart to start the year-long Energy Reduction Challenge.
First off, to participate, you’ll need a smart meter and at least 12 months of billing history at your current address. Then, log on to MyHydro, set up a password and follow the prompts. It’s simple and easy to navigate. Members can earn a $50 reward if they reduce their electricity use by 10% over 12 months. What’s more, BC Hydro offers instructions to get started and tracking tools to help motivate you along the way.
When you are all set, the site will direct you to a wealth of information, including 21 no-cost ways to save electricity (bchydro.com/21tips). They include tips such as unplugging electronics when not in use and the PVR while on vacation, as well as taking advantage of natural light, fixing leaky faucets and skipping the heat-dry setting on the dishwasher. It seems a few small steps are all it takes to save energy and money. In addition, by logging on to my MyHydro account, I can track my progress with detailed data showing my usage over my billing period. I can even track my progress on the Team Power Smart member page, including comparing my usage from the past and with my neighbours.
To launch my 12-month energy-saving challenge, I’m tracking my consumption journey over a week to see what lifelong changes I can glean. My goal was to follow as many of the 21 tips as I could to see if, at the end of the week, I had reduced my energy use.
Day 1: Saturday
I started by going through each room of my house to see where I might be wasting energy, and money. The first thing I did was unplug all of my small appliances and electronics, including the coffee maker, radio and the seldom-used television in the basement. Then, I lowered the thermostat to 20° C during the day and put on a sweater. When you are away from your home, BC Hydro recommends you lower your thermostat to 16° C to save even more energy. By turning off the lights each time I left the room, even for a few minutes, I wondered if I’d notice a change. The next morning, I logged onto my MyHydro account and saw a 2% reduction from the previous day’s usage. Before bed, I charged my iPhone instead of keeping it plugged in overnight. Even though I knew that last move wouldn’t decrease my usage by much, it seemed like a good habit to get into.
Day 2: Sunday
I started the day by lowering the settings on my refrigerator. (Each refrigerator has different settings – some number levels from 1 to 5, one being the lowest, while other refrigerators’ settings are in Celsius). My manual recommends setting the temperature at Level 4 for both the fridge and the freezer. After further investigation, I realized I could adjust it a bit warmer, to Level 3, to use less energy. That night, I checked the food in my fridge and freezer and everything was chilled just right.
Day 3: Monday
My goal today was to see if my fully loaded dishwasher would work well on the light setting, which is normally reserved for fine and delicate dishes. I also wanted to test if the dishes would dry in a decent amount of time if I skipped the heat/dry cycle. In the end, both rounds performed beautifully: my dishes came out just as clean as they did on the regular cycle and, while they took a little more time to dry, it wasn’t a problem.
Day 4: Tuesday
Today was laundry day. I’ve always believed that you can’t get your whites truly clean without using hot water. I stripped my bed of my white sheets, grabbed my white towels and set my washing machine to cold. At first glance, they seemed to come out clean and white, but I was going to hold judgment until that load came out of the dryer. After reading that if you place a dry towel in the dryer, you can significantly cut down on your drying cycle, I grabbed a towel and threw it in. The result? Instead of taking 55 minutes for my sheets and towels to dry, it only took 42 minutes. What’s more, my linens came out pristine white. For my delicate dark load, instead of putting everything in the dryer like I normally do, I hung most of it to dry. Not only was I saving energy, it helped keep my delicates in their original shape.
Day 5: Wednesday
I noticed a draft coming in from my front door, as well as through the door leading into the garage. I drove to my local hardware store to purchase weather stripping. After the salesperson explained the different products, I chose a kit that was both inexpensive and easy to apply. Back home, I wiped down the edges of both doors, measured them and applied the weather stripping to the edges. According to ENERGY STAR®, an internationally recognized and trusted symbol of high efficiency and backed by the government of Canada, installing weather stripping is the most cost-effective way to save money on heating and cooling costs.
Day 6: Thursday
Today I looked for more ways to reduce my energy usage. This time it was in my bathrooms. In particular, I wanted to see if I could reduce my hot water intake. In another first, I reduced my shower time to five minutes from 10 and turned off the tap while I lathered shampoo into my hair, saving more water and energy.
Day 7: Friday
I decided to check out the “similar homes nearby” tool on my MyHydro account to see how my energy use compared to those living around me. I found that I was consuming less energy. That said, I live alone so that accounts for some of the difference. Then, I called my neighbour Maureen to find out about her energy consumption. We live in the same townhome complex with units about 1,900 square feet in size. After telling her that I took up Team Power Smart’s Reduction Challenge, Maureen signed up too, in hopes of finding ways to reduce her bills. She used the “similar homes nearby” tool to find out her energy consumption was nearly three times higher than similar homes nearby. What was she doing differently? It turned out that Maureen keeps her thermostat at 21°C during the day and 20° C at night. While BC Hydro does recommend keeping your thermostat at 21°C during the day if you’re at home, or 20° C if you’re moving around in the house, it should be at 16° C while sleeping or away. Maureen is also less diligent about shutting off her lights when leaving a room and keeps her bathroom floor heating on at all times. A bit embarrassed by her wasteful habits, Maureen is now more mindful of her energy use and has started her own 12-month journey to reduce her usage.