Our electric bill ranges from around $20-40 throughout the year without solar panels. The average family uses about 30 KWh a day. We use 7-8 KWh. That means we use about one fourth the electricity as most of the nation. Many have asked us how we do it. Here are some ways you can decrease your electric bill as well.
Anyone thinking about getting solar panels would be wise to limit their electrical usage as much as possible before buying a solar panel system. It is much cheaper to buy energy efficient appliances and lights, for example, than more solar panels and a higher powered inverter.
The first thing going for us is our power company here in the Pacific Northwest. Though the price of electricity is about the national average – $0.11 a KWh, this is much cheaper than places such as Southern California or Hawaii where electricity is much more expensive. Part of this is the Pacific NW has a lot more access to hydropower than some parts of the country.
But we still use about a quarter of the electricity as the average American without compromising on most modern conveniences. Here is how we do that:
The first and biggest money saver is that we heat our house with a wood stove. This can save in the hundreds of dollars per month. Since we have plenty of dead trees that we cut and split, and we get exercise from splitting by hand, I do not even count this as a downside (though it does take work, it can be enjoyable). Heating and cooling your house are the biggest loads of electricity.
What about AC? Where we live, it only gets hot around two months of the year. In these months, we open our windows in the evening or night and close them before it gets too warm outside in the mornings. We also will run our ceiling fan to circulate air. For the majority of the summer months, we do not miss AC. Only a few days has it truly gotten hot enough to wish we had more cooling.
A few months after we moved in, our water heater leaked all over. As the tank finally leaked (after 20 or so years from when the house was built), we had to purchase a new one. We discovered a few alternatives to an electrical element water heater. Depending upon your utility costs in your area, propane or natural gas might be cheaper than using an electric water heater, so look into that as well. They also make tankless water heaters (which use a ton of electricity on demand but do not heat unless needed). This may require rewiring and multiple units, so this was not the right decision for us. Passive solar water heating is a spendy but great alternative in many parts of the country.
Right as I was about to purchase a regular electric water heater, I came across a recent alternative: the hybrid electric water heater. At the time, it had rebates and tax credits which ended up completely covering the cost of the water heater. It also only uses around $120 (national average cost) worth of electricity compared to the previous $500. This $380 savings a year in itself is worth the additional cost even without rebates or tax credits (MSRP of $1399). As soon as we switched, we noticed our electric bill drop from around $50-60 to $30-40.
Setting the water heater to the lowest temperature that works for your household can save a lot as well. We set ours to heat pump only mode at 120F degrees.
When we first bought our house, we bought all new appliances. From a financial point of view, this is not the best decision depending upon what you have, but we had planned on it and saved up for them beforehand. Try to pick out energystar appliances when you replace them. We got an energy star washer, dryer, and dishwasher. If your refrigerator is more than a decade or two old, you may save enough electricity on an energy star fridge to make it worth buying a new one. Look at the average usage per year and do the math.
A chest freezer can often be more efficient than a standup freezer, so do the math and bring that into your decision as well. Storing it in a basement rather than in a climate controlled part of your house can keep usage down as the compressor does not have to run as often to keep your food cold. Set your temperatures to the highest that is safe to eat (research this).
We barely use our lightbulbs in our house. This is because we have so many windows. We only turn any on after dark until we go to bed (~2-5 hours depending upon the year). And the lights we use, I have switched all over to LED. LED bulbs use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs without any of the disadvantages of fluorescent. They also tend to have a longer lifespan up to 25 years instead of only a few years. Since our house is very open concept, one 60 watt equivalent LED bulb lights up most of our house. This is enough light to even read under. In winter months, the wood stove also lights the place a bit with a cozy atmosphere. We replaced our fluorescent shop lights in our kitchen with recessed LED lights that are way brighter with a much friendlier light. As LED bulbs have dropped in price in recent years, this is one of the cheapest investments you can make in dropping your electrical usage.
Further Ideas for Saving Electricity
We still use all the regular kitchen appliances such as an electric mixer/oat roller, flour mill, espresso maker, blender, toaster, etc. But we never run these very long. We do not leave our desktop computer on so only our internet router/modem are on all the time. Some people even turn these off with a timer during the middle of the night if you have phone service otherwise for emergency contact. During winter months, you can cook on top of your wood stove instead of an electric cooktop. There are also solar ovens you can purchase for cooking in the summer months without heating your place up. Using gravity fed water keeps a pump from having to be used much if any. A root cellar can help preserve many types of produce taking advantage of the earth’s stable temperature. A sunken greenhouse uses a similar concept to help grow plants year round without heating. A clothesline is a passive solar clothes dryer without a lot of work. Take it as a challenge to see how low you can get it while still being worthwhile and enjoy the savings to your wallet a year.
Once your electrical usage is down, look into the cost of solar, wind, or hydro for your area and see if the prices have gone down enough to a worthwhile investment. It is just about there for us.