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Saving Energy Down South

December 12, 2011 - 4:54am

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I spent Thanksgiving week in Arizona with my parents, who are very energy conscious although my father says “I find my thoughts are more of efficiency than saving the planet, however the results are the same.” Last year I thought he was crazy to be turning off the computer and the surge protector for the TV system (TV, DVD player, etc.) every night to reduce “vampire energy,” or standby power drains.

During a discussion on energy audits, he showed me his most recent month’s power bill. A really neat feature (if bills can have good features) is that the power company includes on the bill a small bar graph that shows the present year’s power use vs. the previous year’s use by month.* The graph shows very clearly that after an increase in energy use in January and February of this year over last year, when temperatures were slightly lower (= more heat), my parents had a HUGE decrease in the average daily kWh used over the summer months – up to a 22% savings in July, when the average temperature was over 94°! (The Phoenix area had temperatures over 114° this summer, and the daily range can be over 30°.) Their energy savings have continued into the fall, ranging from 8% to over 17%.

So, how did they effect such a substantial reduction in energy use? Some of the changes are ongoing, but some are relatively new.

This spring they bought a power meter to measure individual power usage. One discovery was that the HD cable box ran 24 hours a day, and cost over $2.00 a month for power (in addition to rental of the box). Since they get movies by mail, they decided they didn't need the extra TV channels, so they canceled that service and returned the cable box. This started a review of all their electrical usage.

The pump on the hot water recirculating system uses a small amount of power, but keeping the hot water pipes hot is a power drain. They lowered this cost by reducing the recirculating hours and lowering the water heater temperature and heating hours.

In May my parents got a tablet computer; since then, they read and send e-mail on it and don't fire up the desktop computer until later in the day. The desktop computer used to run from early morning until evening, not only using power but also producing heat, adding to the A/C load.

In July my dad unplugged the air purifier on the furnace, which had two 15-W ultraviolet tubes that had no on/off switch so ran 24 hours a day whether the furnace or A/C was running or not, for a savings of 720 watt-hours per day, and they haven’t noticed a difference in air quality.

Over the years they have replaced at least 17 incandescent lights with CFLs.

In 2009 they bought a new energy-saving washer and dryer. They use cold water soap and use only cold water for laundry now. The dryer dries a load very quickly because of the efficient water extraction during the washer's spin cycle. The stainless steel drum reflects the heat and retains heat between loads.

In 2008 they replaced their old A/C with a heat pump having a SEER rating of 13 and added a programmable thermostat.

Anything that has a digital clock or indicator light is subject to review.

And, of course, he’s still turning off the TV system and computer every night.

Thanks to Clark and Caroline Price of Mesa, Arizona, for letting me share their information.

*It’s what I plan to do when I have all mine tabulated, since my utility only gives the previous month and last year’s month for comparison. Hmm, maybe I’ll suggest that to my utility company…

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