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.   

Tip #1: Keep your toes toasty. Buy slippers for everyone in your home. Then lower your thermostat by two degrees to save 5% on your heating bill. Lowering it five degrees could save 10%. Save as much as $72 a year.

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. 

Tip #2: You can save $25 a year by keeping your fridge and freezer at their optimal temperatures. For your fridge, consider setting the temperature between 2° C and 3° C and your freezer should be at -18° C.

Day 3: Monday 

Loading the dishwasheriStock

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. 

Tip #3: That heat-dry setting is expensive. If you do one load of dishes per day, and let them air-dry instead, you could save about $37 a year.

Day 4: Tuesday

Doing the laundry efficientlyiStock

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.

Tip #4: Did you know that adding a dry towel to your dryer load can significantly reduce drying time? If you’re doing seven loads a week, you could save about $30 a year.

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.

Tip #5: Gaps and cracks around windows and doors allow cold air to sneak into your home during the winter, and hot air during the summer — which may cause you to turn up the heat/air conditioner. Sealing up your doors and windows is one of the most cost-effective steps you can take to improve your home’s efficiency — and keep those drafts out.

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.  

Tip #6: A hot shower feels good, especially after a long day. But hot water is expensive. If two people in your home cut their shower time by a minute each, you could save about $30 a year. Imagine what you’ll save if you cut it by two minutes each or more.

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.

Tip #7: If you have electric heat, lower your thermostat by two degrees to save about 5% on your heating bill. If you want to challenge yourself further, try lowering your thermostat by five degrees; you could save about 10%.

The takeaway

After tracking my energy consumption for several weeks now, and comparing it with others, what did I learn? For starters, the biggest obstacle to cutting my energy use was me. I work at home, and if it weren’t for me, the house would be empty, dark and cold five days a week. Going forward with my 12-month challenge, I’m also aware that during the cooler months, I will be more diligent about lowering the heat and unplugging as much as possible.

But I’m happy to report that MyHydro made it easy for me to track my progress and to see real, tangible results. I have come to the conclusion that saving energy doesn’t require a huge lifestyle change. Instead, a few adjustments around the house and adopting some new habits are all you need to save energy — and money — over the long run. It requires some diligence, but after a while turning off the lights when I leave the room, turning down the thermostat during the day and when away and unplugging unused lamps and electronics overnight are all easy modifications to make. While some of these changes may seem minor, I’m hoping that they will translate to lower energy bills throughout the year. 

Viewing the results of successful energy conversationiStock