Sunday, February 8, 2009

Back to money matters: electricity

We got a power bill recently -- "hydro" to those in some other provinces, although that outs us as come-from-away-ers in this province -- that summarized our use at the new house from January 1 to mid-month. This was *before* we moved in, although it does account for heating the home up to habitable temperatures and washing many loads of clothes.

The bill was ... well, it was more than $200. This was a bloody shock, since our bill at the apartment was about $120 each two months. So, in two weeks, we'd used more power than in three months at the apartment. I couldn't believe it. Amanda said we needed to do something about it, but I was so much in shock that I just looked at the bill, muttering that it was "outrageous".

The culprit here appears to be electric heat. Most homes in NS are heated with oil. Natural gas is only now coming to parts of the province. Our neighbours have oil heat, but we have electric. And despite changing keeping the home heat at a near-frosty level, most of the qualifying bulbs to compact fluorescent lights and being diligent about turning lights off when we're not using them, we're going to be saddled with outrageous bills during the cold months. We got printouts the electricity usage from the previous two years, and it's clear we're in for winter power bills in the $700-800 range. Outrageous.

So, what's our solution?

We're still keeping vigilant about the lights. But the lights are not the real problem. It's the heat. We have the new HRV, which, as I understand it, is supposed to help move the heat around the house while conserving heat. We're also *not* heating certain areas we don't use. The spare bedroom is The Cold Room for now. We're keeping doors closed in areas that are not being heated. And we're keeping the thermostats low -- around the 15 degree celcius range. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it feels a lot warmer than that in here.

Nova Scotia Power has an equal-payment program, known colloquially as A Budget. We figure out what we're willing or able to pay each month to spread the pain over the whole year. Some months we'll pay a lot less than actual usage, and some months we'll pay a lot more. On average, though, the monthly payment should tally up to the actual use at the end of the year. If we overpaid, the budget will be recalculated to account for it at the start of next year. Same deal if we underpaid.

When we were considering the home purchase, we went over the numbers on hand and figured out the power would average out to $250. I re-checked the numbers, added 10% to account for a recent rate hike, and again it came out to about $250. NS Power did their math and came up with about $235.

So, our balanced household budget had a $250 electricity payment calculated into it -- so that's what we're paying. $250/month, every month, for the next year. Yup, it's about four times what we were paying in the apartment -- but we weren't paying for heat in the apartment.

Outrageous. But a dude's gotta stay warm.

7 comments:

  1. One of your biggest consumers of hydro is your hot water heater. It keeps 40 gal nice and hot all day while you are away. Instant heat hot water is the way to go--but only if you are plumbing new. So, turn down the thermostat on the hot water heater---way down. The shower should be used most of the time--not the bath. Use less cold water to make the water the right temperature--if the hot water is not real hot. For clothes washing--use cold in both wash and rinse. Put foam pipe insulation around the the hot pipes that come out of the tank--in areas of the basement that are cold. All these things should help.

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  2. Yeah dude for sure! staying warm is most essential these days, wouldn't risk that for anything...

    and that's awesome about "the budget" plan they have set up! i was actually about to comment about it before you mentioned it.

    we follow the same plan around here, except the bill is much lower ($90ish/mo)....which is weird because we used to spend $200-$300 many a times in our 1 bedroom apt, compared to our 3-level townhouse now. guess a lot of variables come into play though.

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  3. It may not be true now that the ass-end has fallen out of oil prices, but there was a fair bit of time where electric heat was cheaper.

    *shudders*

    microfleece is your friend.

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  4. Another option--get a couple of wall mounted programmable thermostats--one for the bedroom, and for the "living area". Make sure these are for baseboard heaters (220v) not for a furnace (12-24v). Turn off the the baseboard circuit first--or get some help.

    These have at least 2 program per day--usually 5 days +2. Set temp to 21 half hour before you get up--and down to 17 half hour before you go to work. Same concept before you come home and go to bed. Easier to add a blanket at night.

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  5. We've seen some good deals on those proggy thermostats, but we're stumped on one thing...

    Although there are some intuitive "zones" to the house, the thermostats are all over the place. One for the kitchen, one for the dining room, one for the landing, one for the dining room, etc. It'd be convenient from a replacement point of view if we had one control for the 'upstairs living zone', etc. Or would it?

    I think Amanda solved one of the heat problems on the weekend when she went to investigate what we thought was a missing vent flap on the outlet hose of the clothes dryer.. turns out it wasn't gone -- it was just gummed up with lint and stuck to the cover. Now that it's back down and flappy, the laundry room seems warmer!

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  6. Well, yes and no for a unified zone. Your baseboard heaters are heating air, then you if you are in the room. And you probably don't use all these rooms during the same time of the day. Get up and get ready to go to work--bedroom, bathroom, kitchen--out of there. So why heat the dining room, living room, landing etc--when no one is using them?

    Heated air moves by convection--so a heated lower rec. room will eventually move heat upstairs unless a door is closed. Helpful. Heat the "landing"? Why--you only pass through going up and down stairs unless you are expecting company and want to impress them with some warmth.

    I hope you don't have the laundry room heated to a toasty degree--unless someone is spending some time there doing the ironing.

    I'd program the bedroom, living/rec.room, perhaps kitchen or dining room (where you eat). Manual thermostats can work fine in other areas.

    I'm not sure how propane equates to hydro in terms of heat/energy vs. cost. Fireplace heat might well be cost effective.

    Be wary of the clothes dryer--big energy user. Get a drying rack--fluff up clothes on the delicate cycle when they are dry.

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  7. We're in 1800 square feet, forced air and with Ontario Hyrdo. Our average hydro bill is $150 a month.
    The thermostat is set at 66F and we use gas to heat our hot water.

    I feel your pain.

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