Nfld. & Labrador·Point of View

Hack the Heat: Bright ideas on saving money through appliances, lighting and gadgets

Not all lightbulbs are created equal, not to mention the consoles, stoves and other gadgets you have around the house.
Appliances have played a major part of daily life for generations, but older appliances can be energy hogs on your monthly power bill. (The Associated Press)

Is there a gamer in your home who's using a retro TV set? Are you willing to turn the dryer on with just a few pieces of clothing? Are you hoarding those old incandescent lightbulbs? 

This edition of Hack the Heat is for you. 

In the first column we looked at saving on home heat. In the second column, we looked at hot water savings.

This week we're looking at appliances and electronics. 

They're worth your attention, because together they have an impact. They use 17 per cent or more of the power in an electrically heated home.

These include:

  • Major appliances for the kitchen and laundry.
  • Lights.
  • Small appliances and electronic technology.

If your electrical bill was $3,000 last year, these cost you about $505 a year — or about $1,010 in 2021, after Muskrat Falls comes onstream. [If you've missed earlier columns, you should know I am not happy at all about Muskrat Falls, and I'm doing what I can to reduce how much I pay for electricity.] 

Speaking of paying bills, you should also know that if your appliances are not Energy Star rated, your costs will be higher.

Sooo … what are you spending? 

To calculate the cost of operating appliances and electronics, you have several options. 

First, try a reliable online calculator, such as this one offered by Energy Use Calculator, or this one by Nova Scotia Power (NSP).

Put all together, your appliances can account for about 17 per cent of your overall power bill.

I prefer the NSP site because it keeps a running total of kWh for every device you enter. However, calculations are based on a rate of 15 cents per kWh. Therefore, to see your cost, multiply the total kWh by the cost in your area. 

Second, you could also use an energy consumption meter, which is available for about $35 dollars or less on Amazon. Or just borrow one from your local library — if you are lucky enough to still have a library in your area. 

According to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the six major home appliances use 2,600 kWh a year.

Using NSP's calculator, my usage — with Energy-Star-rated appliances, that is — was 2,925 kWh.

Changing those figures to reflect a pre-1990 refrigerator and freezer, that increased to 4,701 kWh. Those two old appliances add up to an annual difference of $195.

Savings all around the house

Let's break down the consumption for major appliances. 

  • An energy efficient dishwasher that runs for one hour daily costs 20 cents a day ($72 a year).
  • Your average total for a frost-free Energy Star refrigerator and chest freezer is 3.0 kWh a day (33 cents) compared to older unrated models that could use 8.8 kWh a day ($1). 
  • Your dryer, assuming it is an energy efficient model that runs for one hour per load, costs you about 33 cents each time you use it. Assuming you only dry one load every second day on average, that means it costs you $60.23 cents last year to dry your clothes.
  • It costs seven cents a load to operate your washer motor and other electrical features (0.66 kWh). This excludes the cost of heating the water.
  • A typical electric range will use about 756 kWh ($83) a year.

For 2018, you'll pay $321 to operate your dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer, freezer, range and refrigerator.

As it turns out, come 2021, we'll be paying a similar amount to operate these appliances as we did in 2000 with much less efficient appliances.

One way to save money? A clothesline. (CBC)

Here's a checklist of the things we can do to take action: 

  • Replace old refrigerators, while avoiding ice-through-door models.
  • Use dishwashers when they're full, and select the "smart" cycle with no heated dry.
  • Use the clothes dryer when it's full and set the timer at the lowest possible time to dry clothes.
  • Consider a clothesline. Diverting 45 dryer loads of clothes to the line could cut 135 kWh from your energy bill. (Multiplied by 50,000 residences that's 6.75 million kWh or $0.75 million annually ($1.5 million post-2021).

Shining a spotlight

According to NRCan, lighting uses four percent of the energy for an average Canadian home ($120 in our $3000 model). But with incandescent bulbs the costs increase eight-fold. 

Incandescent light bulbs in ordinary styles were phased out of the marketplace in Canada in 2014, but some consumers still have them, and you can still buy halogen incandescent bulbs (for flood lights, for instance). 

These consume about 10 per cent less electricity that the old tungsten incandescent bulbs, last about twice as long and cost up to four times as much. They also burn hot and can be a fire hazard.

For ease of comparison, I've stuck with the old incandescent bulbs in the following chart. It compares LED, CFL and the older incandescent bulbs at a rate of 22 cents per kWh, the post-2021 cost of electricity, for 15,000 hours. 

Cost Comparison

LED

CFL

Inc

Equivalent watts

9W

14W

60W

Hours of operation per bulb

15,000

8,000

1,200

Total bulbs required* 1 2 13

Cost of bulbs for 15,000 hrs

$4

$5

$16.25

Cost of bulbs for 20 fixtures

$80

$100

$325

Annual cost for 1 fixture

$2.49

$3.88

$16.62

 Annual cost for 20 fixtures

$49.87

$77.57

$322.44

* 12 years at 3.45 hours per day 

CFL bulbs have significantly decreased in price over the years.

Most consumers have already made the switch from incandescent bulbs, and see lower energy costs. Imagine this: 50,000 homes replacing two 60W incandescent bulbs each with LEDs means an overall drop in usage of 6.38 gigawatts annually or 76.5 gigawatts over 12 years.

There's a gadget for that

The most recent study from Natural Resources Canada (2011) says we have 160 per cent more electronics in our homes today than in 2001.

Given the myriad of choices, I'll limit this section to examples of how the devices you and I choose, and the settings we use, can make a difference in consumption.

Here's an extreme example. Take a high-end desktop computer with a gaming-level graphics card and an older CRT monitor and leave it on 24/7. 

At 210 watts per hour, they use 1,840 kilowatt-hours a year. In 2021 you'll need $405 a year for your gaming pleasure.

Turning these on for only two hours a day means using 153 kWh a year — that's $34. 

Laptops use 100 watts or less. If you use it for two hours a day year round, and you have sleep mode enabled, then post- 2021 you're paying about $16 a year to do your accounting, stream Netflix and contact friends.

Cellphones use even less. After 2021, you pay $1.20 a year to charge three cell phones (at an hour a day each).

Plasma screens are the energy hogs of the TV world. They use double the watts of an LCD display.  

LED bulbs have become a popular choice with many consumers, because they save electricity and do not contain the mercury found in compact fluorescents. (The Associated Press)

An LED screen is equivalent to or more efficient than a LCD screen especially for the larger sizes. For example, a 50-inch plasma screen will use 150W compared to 100W for LCD and 57W for an LED.

Whatever model you have, use options to enable energy saving features like lower brightness, as well as a sleep mode that actually turns off the screen and doesn't just switch to running a screensaver. 

If you have an instant-on TV, it'll draw up to three watts and add $6 a year, so consider unplugging it or turning off the power bar when you are not watching it. 

Looking at small appliances, these too can come with Energy Star ratings. After 2021, it'll cost you $20 a year to make toast or blowdry your hair.

The microwave will cost you about $24 annually.

Information on all these and more is available on the energy calculator tools mentioned above, and there is a surfeit of tips and analysis available online as well.

Making a change 

Civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi once said nothing we do as individuals is of much consequence, but it is vitally important that we act anyway.

I take his point to be that when you and I, and our neighbours, strive toward a common goal, the critical mass of all our efforts matters.

By government's own admission, the Muskrat Falls hydro development was ill conceived and badly managed. The money to pay for this boondoggle and the price shock of doubling (and tripling rates) for electricity come not only from your pocket and mine, but also from the pockets of our children and theirs. No one wants to take this lying down.

But how do you and I say "no" to power? Preferably without sacrificing comfort or quality of life? 

While these changes may seem inconsequential, the sum of all our efforts can add power to the protest for accountability and fairness in energy pricing.

Next week, in the last column for this series, we'll look at the potential to divert money we are already spending into alternative transportation that could help keep the cost of kWh down and help pay down the massive debt with which Muskrat Falls has saddled us. 

About the Author

Wade Kearley is a St. John's freelance writer.