November 26, 2012
For the last year or so, I've been getting these two page energy assessment reports in the mail from Pacific Gas & Electric, our California utility company, comparing our household's energy use to those of the houses around us.
Here's the relevant excerpts from the latest report; click through for a full-page view of each page.
These poor results are particularly galling because I go far out of my way to Energy Star all the things, I use LED light bulbs just about everywhere, we set our thermostat appropriately, and we're still getting crushed. I have no particular reason to care about this stupid energy assessment report showing our household using 33% more energy than similar homes in our neighborhood. And yet… I must win this contest. I can't let it go.
- Installed a Nest 2.0 learning thermostat.
- I made sure every last bulb in our house that gets any significant use is LED. Fortunately there are some pretty decent $16 LED bulbs on Amazon now offering serviceable 60 watt equivalents at 9 watt, without too many early adopter LED quirks (color, dimming, size, weight, etc).
- I even put appliance LED bulbs in our refrigerator and freezer.
- Switched to a low-flow shower head.
- Upgraded to a high efficiency tankless water heater, the Noritz NCC1991-SV.
- Nearly killed myself trying to source LED candelabra bulbs for the fixture in our dining room which has 18 of the damn things, and is used quite a bit now with the twins in the house. Turns out, 18 times any number … is still kind of a large number. In cash.
(Most of this has not helped much on the report. The jury is still out on the Nest thermostat and the candelabra LED bulbs, as I haven't had them long enough to judge. I'm gonna defeat this thing, man!)
I'm ashamed to admit that it's only recently I realized that this technique – showing a set of metrics alongside your peers – is exactly the same thing we built at Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. Notice any resemblance on the user profile page here?
You've tricked me into becoming obsessed with understanding and reducing my household energy consumption. Something that not only benefits me, but also benefits the greater community and, more broadly, benefits the entire world. You've beaten me at my own game. Well played, Pacific Gas & Electric. Well played.
This peer motivation stuff, call it gamification if you must, really works. That's why we do it. But these systems are like firearms: so powerful they're kind of dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. If you don't think deeply about what you're incentivizing, why you're incentivizing it, and the full ramifications of all emergent behaviors in your system, you may end up with … something darker. A lot darker.
The key lesson for me is that our members became very thoroughly obsessed with those numbers. Even though points on Consumating were redeemable for absolutely nothing, not even a gold star, our members had an unquenchable desire for them. What we saw as our membership scrabbled over valueless points was that there didn't actually need to be any sort of material reward other than the points themselves. We didn't need to allow them to trade the points in for benefits, virtual or otherwise. It was enough of a reward for most people just to see their points wobble upwards. If only we had been able to channel that obsession towards something with actual value!
Since I left Stack Exchange, I've had a difficult time explaining what exactly it is I do, if anything, to people. I finally settled on this: what I do, what I'm best at, what I love to do more than anything else in the world, is design massively multiplayer games for people who like to type paragraphs to each other. I channel their obsessions – and mine – into something positive, something that they can learn from, something that creates wonderful reusable artifacts for the whole world. And that's what I still hope to do, because I have an endless well of obsession left.
Just ask PG&E.
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Posted by Jeff Atwood
Being Evil... Could it be possible to just lower a little the "average customer" to force more people to consume less?
The electricity shows generally high consumption year round:
* LED or other low-energy bulbs are fairly small-fry, surely?
* How many computers and routers do you have on at home?
The gas - heating? - is the biggy, though:
* Generally,heating or cooling - depending on climate - is the major impact
* If you live somewhere fairly cold in the winter - you spike in Jan/Feb - you could simply go into the attic and unroll 20cm thick layer of fiberglass insulation out; your heating bill will likely plummet
high electricity consumption? 18 lamp light fittings? hmm.
I'm just terrified waiting for the first credit card company who decides to add achievements.
The graphs show that you are the clear winner! Use more electricity! Keep your lead! Make your neighbours jealous!
Actually, do you work at home? Does your wife work at home? If so, some of your neighbours are cheating by using the heat and light of their employers for significant portions of the day.
What are "similar houses"? Maybe that is the trick. If they are comparing you with someone who has no kids, never cooks and eats at home, lives in a warmer climate, or only spends some time of the year there, then there is no doubt that you lose the battle. If there is a single empty house in the stack, then it is going to lower the average --- that is also the reason why often the median make more sense than the average.
There is an interesting blog about energy and efficiency at http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/. The author has some very detailed articles about finding the causes for high energy consumption and eliminating them that might be applicable to your situation. He managed to consume about half of a "typical house" in his neighborhood.
As someone else is pointing out, the comparison may be unfair. If the same was done for me, even if at home we are relatively energy efficient, we have 2 computers going on almost all day long, since both me and my SO work at home most days. On comparison, most of our neighbours have standard jobs, out of home. There's no way to fight an idle house when you have two Macbooks around (and sometimes more gadgetry working)
I think these feedback loops are great things - I've seen them implemented in a couple finance managers (ie. how does your spending compare to your demographics?).
As for the energy - I think home appliances (washing mashine, dishwasher, dryer) still may contribute a huge part of the bill - even more so with 3 kids (I think a very efficient washer or dishwasher uses around 1 kWh per cycle, a condensing dryer with heat pump probably 2kWh- the older generations can easily eat 5 kWh per cycle).
And I wouldn't underestimate all the gadgets on standby - I've seen some of these take ~20 W - that alone is 15 kWh per month
@will 20cm loft insulation isn't a lot. Current UK standard is 270mm and that's likely to go up. 30cm seems a good number.
changing to a more efficient fridge/freezer and a smaller/more efficient desktop/server/firewall helped us (heating/cooking is gas).
For the love of god, what are the make and model of the candelabra bulbs?
Did you start by measuring where most of your electricity is being used?
Have you found an explanation for the different shape of your electricity usage (March-May) compared to the others?
Changing lightbulbs in fridges sounds a lot like something we know well from another world... sounds like premature optimization.
Call me a cynic, but I'd bet there's not a house in your community that get's a "you're the winner" version. Much of the comparison data is probably made up.
The bizarre thing, to me, is that this game is totally not in the energy company's interest.
Quite funny reading. Almost every comment is about that "Blut und Boden" pose, an ultimate horror but absolutely no coding here.
I do not know about energy companies interests here, but I can swear that "environment-friendly" light-bulbs producers interests are definitely huge.
Could it be possible to just lower a little the "average customer" to force more people to consume less?
Of course, as people consume less, the average customer’s consumption *will* be lowered, so that’s kind of built in.
Jeff — what is your house’s insulation like?
As others have pointed out, you have two big problems with this competition: 1) what does the utility company consider to be similar homes and 2) premature optimization.
1) NStar in the Northeast has a similar program, and there is also a website you can visit to see a historical record and submit more information about your house and inhabitants to get a more accurate comparison to similar homes. You have young twin children, which I suspect few of your neighbors do.
2) PG&E probably also offers free energy efficiency audits. I did one for the last place I rented in Boston and the number one thing we could do was insulate the walls better. I can't do much about that as a renter, but your bulbs and shower head are probably only small gains at best. Even in California, your heating and cooling system, insulation, and air sealing are probably the big ones. The auditor will tell you for sure. Bonus points if they do a door blower test.
Very funny/cool. I want to second William Furr's comments re: insulation.
Check/improve your attic insulation, sealing around your doors, insulation around ductwork, the quality of your windows, etc.
Then there are other optimizations like only heating the part of the house you are in, trying to isolate your usage.
I think the graphs are most interesting, they tell a lot about why your house is less efficient than your neighbours.
Check out that electric bill, your neighbours graphs are obviously strongly correlating with the sunlight cycle. Longer days, less electricity. Your house has very weak correlation with the daylight, this means that changing lightbulbs won't change a thing. You bought something in january last year, and it's increased your electricity consumption permanently with 15-20%!
Your computers are dominant in your graph I bet, time to replace that server by a Pi cluster.
And the gas bill, it looks like it's a factor difference with other houses, you can't fix that by getting a few % more efficient water heater. You could fix it by either reducing the size of your house or insulating it better. (do you really need every room in your house to be warm all the time?) You mention thermostat in singular..
Hope it helps! Good luck in the war :)
BTW, if you want to read something positive in the graph, look at the delta electricity between september and january, and compare it to your neighbours. You most definitely have a more efficient lighting setup than even your most efficient neighbour. Well either that or you just stay up late and never rise early >_> .
* get a energy meter and see where the power is going.. its probably going into electronics like servers/NAS/routers/printers. This is where it goes in my house.
* babies/kids require a lot of energy for cleaning
I'm in the same boat, we have a new house with 6" walls, insulated slab, cfl/led lights everywhere and my bill looks like yours.
I'm really surprised you blindly optimised "things that use energy" without looking at what actually uses energy in your house.
Think of premature optimisation and profiling in programming. The same principles apply to optimising energy usage. As mentioned before, get an energy meter and measure the things (don't forget the energy use of things on standby - having them on 24 hours a day can make a huge difference). And just reading the graphs of usage distribution throughout the day, night, or over periods of weeks, months and years can tell you so much already (pretty much everything that can be said about the graphs and their implications has already been said by the other comments, so I won't repeat them). Again, it's just like profiling a program.
You should consider installing solar panels. The more you draw, the faster they pay themselves off. Then you'll really like your graph.
I have been looking at getting a Powerhouse Dynamics eMonitor for my house, http://amzn.com/B006Z5OKW8
You hook it up to each circuit coming out of your breaker box, and it allows you to see a circuit-by-circuit realtime energy usage in your house. That way you can see what areas you should really focus on in terms of energy savings. Also when things go wrong, say the fridge is left open, you can set up alerts for over usage on circuits to let you know (I think thats a feature)
@MattBrown <- This! I've been tearing my hair out looking for a decent candelabra LED.
You're not going to win this one, none of us will. It's our computers. I do think you have a heat leak problem of some kind, though.
I use below average. Why? Because we're cheap and don't mind being cold in the winter and hot in the summer. I believe we use 1/3 of the energy other customers use.
Use electric blankets to warm the bed up before going to bed. Don't heat the bedroom. Use a heater to heat the bathroom before use. Wear coats. Etc.
Fridge, Heater, Washing machine, Dryer, Cooking cover 90% of your energy consumption.
Changing light fixtures will not register on the meter.
I agree with others that have pointed out that you run all kinds of computer electronics and probably work at home like many of us while many of your neighbors aren't home during the day. I wouldn't factor in the kids because many of the comparable homes probably have kids,too.
But, what I would really love to see is a graph that shows when all those upgrades you made -- the $200 thermostat, the $25 LED light bulbs, etc. -- will eventually pay off!
What would Bill Karwin do?
Most of the things Jeff has tried (light bulbs) seem like micro-optimization theater when compared to architecture, insulation, appliances, computers, and behavior that relies less upon electricity.
Just as in code optimization, and as others have said: measure! Kill-A-Watts are great.
Your meter is probably faulty :)
I had similar consumption issues and was doing similar things (light bulb replacement, etc) to try and combat it. Then I replaced my water heater and my energy bill dropped by almost 50%. You might check that...
Start with trying to beat yourself, not your neighbors. Compare this year's bill with last year's. If you see improvement you're heading in the right direction. The average consumer does not exist, you can only hope to improve your own practices.
@Cmcculloh Jeff directly mentions upgrading his water heater in this post.
I'm wondering how much energy and other resources have been wasted when producing your Nest and LED bulbs. In fact, replacing working appliances is not always a gain. And how long will it take until the saved energy will amortize the costs of the bulbs?
The bulk of that energy usage is going to be all the laundry for the kids and hot water for their baths.
I'd be interested in finding some candelabra bulbs which are aesthetically acceptable for our chandeliers - please post links. I have been unable to find any.
Hey Jeff, while I admire the chase, I think you've got too much emphasis on lighting and electronic devices. Most of your energy is leaked out of your walls, windows, and ceiling. You really want to look at your insulation, windows, doors, etc. I used to obsess over even air leaking out of outlets, but there is much more bang for buck and effect in focusing on the structure itself.
I'm in Minnesota, and we have a considerably larger house(roughly 3000 sqft), our usage is considerably higher than yours. I replaced our bulbs with mostly CFL last year, and our electricity consumption went down about 200kwh/month. I was actually surprised as it was around a $25/month savings. So replacing all the bulbs cost me about $300, and that worked out to less than a year payback.
Our main draws are the computers on all the time, and then the furnace fans. Our fans run nearly continuous just to circulate air. (Minnesota homes are sealed like submarines, so we have issues with moisture build up inside. We also have an air exchanger which circulates outdoor air into the house.)
The newer furnace units use a electronically commutated motors, and draw significantly less electricity, like 1/3rd of the draw of the older PSC style motors. I have seen some mention of retrofits, and was going to look at cost, otherwise it's a whole furnace.
We had an issue this past summer with our AC evaporator coil leaking... that drove our electrical usage through the roof as the AC was running near constant.
Also doing research on this, a lot of AC systems in houses are oversized. People think bigger is better, but it's not true. There's a lot of calculations that go into proper sizing, especially CFM you can push through the pipes in the house. If you don't get enough air flow, the evaporator coil will ice up. I think that's what happened in our house, as we have zones, but the system was sized for the full house size, but with the zones half the house is shut off so the air flow is restricted.
I'm going to keep the current system running another 5-7 years and then just replace everything. In 2020 R22 isn't going to be available for recharges anyway, so we'll have to move to a R410 system if it breaks. That's a $5-7k cost, so have to plan for it.
It's a Trap! If you send the same graphic to every home… ;)
I also worked at a company that built this sort of system for the Utility. Yes, it was totally inspired by Stack Overflow.
The thing you need to be careful about is "average home". It is sort of a made up number. I'm sure others here will attack the statistics. Rightfully so, trying to be the best energy saver is sort of the Kobayashi Maru. They set it up to keep you saving, and you can never really win.
The next step, now that you are into it is to monetize you. Do you need new windows, insulation or more. You bought a Nest, that shows you will spend on it. They can recommend services to help...
Will you opt in to a peak demand event system? Basically they can shut off the AC at high demand times for a lower rate. That is like printing money. Your excess capacity can be sold like an energy future.
You have just seen the surface of the fractal world of public utilities, energy, and smart grid.
I've got a 3 year old Intel Ion powered Ubuntu server that spends most of its time waiting and it still draws 30W (compare and contrast with a new Mac Mini Server's 11W idle, much less sleep). Someone would do the world a good deal of benefit if they could make Linux squeeze more energy efficiency out of non-specialized hardware.
Oh, did I mention I was Amazon's 191st ranked reviewer...
May we please have a link to the elusive LED candelabra bulb? I have similarly spent way too much time looking for said unicorn.
design massively multiplayer games for people who like to type paragraphs to each other
oooh! Which ones? I am a massive fan of the MUD http://www.aardwolf.com/
I'd LOVE to know which ones you are involved in.
The Freakonomics podcast talked about how people respond the most to peer pressure.
Marketers have known this for years. Tell someone that people just like them are doing something, and they'll typically do more of it.
Steve Levitt had this to say: "From an economic perspective, shame is a wonderful punishment because unlike imprisonment, it’s free. It’s not only free but the society can impose as much shame as they want on people without any kind of cost or resources used up. But in fact, the rest of society actually likes it when other people get shamed."
Do not beat yourself up. With 3 kids at home, you are doing good. You would do better if your house was better insulated. There used to be a company called Sustainable Spaces that did whole house efficiency modeling for $500, but they are no longer in this business. Try finding someone who does this, they'll tell you exactly where your heat is going. That's what I did.
My gas usage is comparable to yours, and my electricty usage is 30% higher. We have a similar setup: 2 adults and 3 kids at home most of the time, Bay Area. My disadvantages are bigger house (2000sq/ft), and a pool. I love comfort, so my thermostat is at 68/66 all the time, and my halogen torches turn night into day.
But the real reason for this comment is to rant about Corporate Social. Corporate Social adapts superficial social features, without actually creating a community. My theory is that corporations love certain aspects of community building: members do a lot of work (you buying efficient bulbs), emotional connection. But they hate other stuff (communities can be messy, you need to police them, give them tools, they can turn against you). That's why forums still thrive, they really are a community.
Power companies community comparassance report could be so much more useful. As is, it is not of much use to me because: 1) I do not know who they are comparing me with, and 2) doing something about it is hard, requires a lot of work.
I'd love to know who the other families are, and I'd love to do whatever they are doing. There is no way for me to find this out. Power company has this information, it'd be so easy to expose it, and give comparable homeowners a forum. Wish they'd publish an API so we could build these tools for them.
Your electric usage is not that high. 15-16 KWh a day is normal. You probably have a lot of screen and monitors on during the day as your neighbors go to work. Check your meter and see what your daily electric consumption is when your family is away and your electronics are off.
Your square footage is small for a family. Are you being compared to singles?
Do you have more than one refrigerator?
Do you have a finished basement that does not count towards the square footage.
Does your home have more surface area than the similar homes? Is it an older home?
I would suggest:
Adding insulation in the attic.
Reduce air leakage.
Be sure to keep your refrigerator full.
Ameren has sent me a similar report here in St. Louis, MO. My usage is far below average. But then I have triple pane windows, hefty insulation, an efficient water heater set on the first notch above vacation mode, and thermostat on each floor programmed to heat/cool only during times we are typically in the space.
Our water heater still supplies enough hot water for a 15 minute shower, or a load of laundry, or a run of the dishwasher. The dishwasher is usually started on a delay to run over night.
Our heat is set to 73 in the winter and AC to 76 in the summer, at least for the scheduled times. Heat is set to 64 and the AC to 84 during times when those spaces are not in use. My home office is in the basement, so summer times don't require the AC schedule to change on work days. In winter I dress warmer and occasionally supplement with a space heater at my feet.
I've only bought CFL bulbs for the last 5+ years. Recently I started purchased LED bulbs only when a CFL stops working, which is only 4 candelabra bulbs so far.
We are getting 4kWh of solar panels installed this month. The federal government is paying for 30% via a tax credit, and Ameren is paying for a large chunk after 60 days of install as well. The balance of the panel cost will be paid off in 4.5 years of energy use savings (and kW sales back to Ameren).
I don't feel like any of these changes were hard to make, but I only changed one thing at a time and these were made over a long period of time.
We had much higher than average power usage up until a few months ago, when we started taking a closer look at our PGE bills. With the changes we made, we cut our electricity usage about 60% (which causes a much bigger drop in our bills, since the electricity costs are tiered) You end up paying almost 3x per additional KWH over the base price if you are using 200% or more of expected usage.
The steps we made were:
Installed a Nest so we could track how much the HVAC was activating (and control it much easier).
Review/change sleep or power off settings on all computers.
Installed a timer switch to control our master bathroom ventilation fan.
We weren't using our living room much, so we just unplug the power strip that activates the Xbox, DVR, TV, etc unless we are actively using it.
We also went around to every outlet we could reach and used a Belkin Conserve units (like Killawatts, but a much better form factor allowing you to have the display be a few feet away from the outlets) to view energy usage at our outlets.
If you have a smart meter, you can login to the PGE website and see a per-hour breakdown of power usage. The data typically lags by 2-4 days for us, but it is great being able to see such detail.
You're a high powered programmer. It's safe to assume a significant amount of your work and entertainment is electronic in nature. I would expect your electricity bill to be higher than average.
It's cool that you want to 'win' this game. I'm interested in winning the save-the-most-money game. So I use my one light in my kitchen-living room combo for all of my lighting needs except my bathroom. I also don't use the heater, at all. Lots of blankets. This way I don't spend money on expensive energy efficient things and I don't spend much money on energy itself.
CANDELABRA! WHERE? PLEASE!
You've tricked me into becoming obsessed with understanding and reducing my household energy consumption
From your explanation, you bought into marketing (Energy Star is ... meh, and LED/CCFL bulbs are overrated).
Buy a Kill-a-watt, or equivalent. Measure actual consumption - and you'll figure out pretty quick that it's almost certainly not your lighting.
Then stop worrying about it, or turn off some computers (or at least make sure they're in sleep, if not hibernation), because I bet that's where your power usage is going.
If you care.
I suggest not caring - as other have said, your power usage is a) not all that high compared to real national numbers, but more importantly b) not important, as long as the bill isn't killing you.
[Remember that time spent reducing your usage is time you're only getting "paid for" out of reduced bills. It's unlikely to be remunerative.]
(In fact, the biggest difference I see between you and the allegedly-similar homes is in gas usage, especially in the winter.
Put in more insulation, stop dicking around with lightbulbs - I'm sure, given that spike in February-march, and the way your curve doesn't match your neighbors, that it's not lighting using your power.
I suspect computers, very strongly, for the power usage.
But seriously? LED appliance lights? Those will most likely literally never pay for themselves.)
(Actually, I notice other people mentioning that you, yourself were suggesting the Kill-a-Watt years ago.
So why aren't you just measuring your usage?
It sure ain't gonna be appliance bulbs...
Don't guess. Measure. Physician, heal thyself!)
There is a possibility that you are loosing power due to old electrical system or maybe someone else is using your energy. What you can do is turn off all your appliances and see how much energy is being consumed at your electrical panel, it should be none.
Did you ever consider that every home gets a similar looking graph with all numbers relative to there own actual use? (Everyone is above average... :)
I meant "their" not "there" -- sorry.
Ironically, I was reminded of an article by Joel Spolsky, your ex-partner at Stack Exchange, on the downsides of incentivization and why it never works, and yet it was decided go on and incorporate that idea into Stack Exchange.
I think rating systems of such nature give rise to what I'd like to call virtual oligarchy. Not helpful in the long run.
I saw my electrical bill go way down after I stopped using the electric clothes dryer and started hanging the clothes instead.
"we set our thermostat appropriately"
Hmmm, what does THAT mean to you? What make you think there is a direct correlation between energy use and how you jerk your thermostat around?
"Could it be possible to just lower a little the "average customer" to force more people to consume less?" Jaime Buelta
Great point. Exactily why "average" is completely bogus. We need granularity so you can compare to the neighbor of YOUR choice.
"You've tricked me into becoming obsessed with understanding and reducing my household energy consumption."
I'm in the energy efficiency field, referred to as a "Subject Matter Expert" by a statistical analysis friend, and help people save 30-70% on their energy use. Here's my "opportunity" calculator:
People have absolutely the wrong intuition when it comes to saving energy. I'd love to talk to you about this and invite you to contact me.
> How many computers and routers do you have on at home?
Just the one computer on all the time, 17 watts. And the router is 10 watts. Measured with the kill-a-watt. You can read about them here:
> Actually, do you work at home? Does your wife work at home? If so, some of your neighbours are cheating by using the heat and light of their employers for significant portions of the day.
Good point, I do work from home, so my power usage during the day is going to be inevitably higher.
> CANDELABRA! WHERE? PLEASE!
I found the best options on eBay. Nothing was perfect, but I found a 3 watt for $4.40 that has acceptable looks and size. This moves it from from 20 watt X 18 = 360 watts to 3 watt X 18 = 54 watts. And it's on several hours a day, like clockwork..
> we just unplug the power strip that activates the Xbox, DVR, TV, etc unless we are actively using it
This is also a good and more automatic option; a power strip that turns off other sockets when the primary (e.g. TV) socket is off:
> LED bulbs are *not* actually any more energy efficient than compact fluorescent bulbs
completely and ridiculously untrue. 60 watt "equivalent" in an LED is 9 watts. That's pretty darn bright; I have 6 watt LEDs that call themselves 60 watt "equivalent" that are not quite, so let's go with the less optimistic 9 watt number. Now compare what a CFL bulb takes to get 60w equivalent -- 13 watts. So the LED uses 30% less energy to generate the same amount of light.
I would call them and tell them to stop ending me BS charts... BTW, standby of devices eats power like flys eat hot.
Looking at the latest study I could find by the US DOE (published in April of 2012), it does appear that many LEDs are finally becoming as efficient as CFLs, in terms of lumens per watt. The DOE study (PDF here) shows a mean of 60 lm/W for LEDs tested, which is comprable to CFLs. There is still a wide variance from one LED lamp to the next, though. The best ones do surpass CFLs in terms of lm/W, but many do not.
That study also reviews actual output compared to what retailers claim, which is interesting to read.
Gamification won't just work everywhere. Most things are very hard to turn into a game.
An example where it works perfectly is a mod on crimsonland. You stand in the middle of a field while monsters come crawling towards you. They each have a text above their head and when you type the text correctly and press enter your character shoots a shotgun blast at the monster. This combines typing skills with fun and action.
In the case of Stackoverflow, yes there are game elements but it's still not a game. Therefore it will only matter to people who care about programming quality.
Microsoft tried something similar with programming achievements, which has not really worked. I think the reason is that you don't get a total point count for good work and there is no place to show off your score.
As someone from a cold country (Switzerland) I would expect insulation first. We insulate like maniacs, and for good reason. In the long run, it's far cheaper than heating. All windows here are double or even triple glass and close properly, all wall are made of bricks or cement, and insulated on top of that.
There are heat-meters working in the infrared, which you can point at your house to find out if you leak heat (generally windows).
Also strange: Your electricity usage does not peak at the same point as everyone else. What gives?
The real wtf here is that the owner of stack overflow and all-around badass in a 1196 sqft house.
Hi Jeff, I am super stoked that you posted about this! I'm programmer working at OPOWER, and we make these reports on behalf of utility companies, PG&E being one of them. (Disclaimer: I had worked on parts of the report, but have moved on, there's a lot people who have graced this report).
To address some of the comments:
- "Similar homes" are based on many criteria, and there is a sample size threshold or else a customer isn't eligible to get the report:
- Climate region
- House size and dwelling type (Apt or home)
- A/C type: central/window
- Heating type: electric/gas/combined/other
- # of Adults, kids, pets
- # and type of appliances
- fireplaces / spas / pools
Those are the ones off the top of my head, there's more.
- Heating and cooling is the biggest factor: A/C and water heating/cooling is huge.
- Appliances are huge too, while lighting is actually a very small piece of the equation.
- We've found problems with people's homes after doing these reports, and that has led the customer in doing an energy audit, and fixing the broken things, saving $$$ in the long run
- We're working hard to make the report even better: break down the usage by appliances, suggesting tips when we detect the outlier appliance/behavior, etc...
- We collect the data through smart meters, utility companies, end user filled out forms...
Here's more info: http://www.opower.com/products/energy-reporting
Hope that answers a lot of questions and quells a bit of the skeptics
I'm convinced those reports from the energy companies are a lie. I'm in the same boat, with it saying that I'm 33%-50% MORE for my house than the average home in my 'hood. However, when I talk to my neighbors (yeah I'm kind of weird and will actually do that ;-) ) I find that my bills are significantly LESS than theirs (which makes sense as we don't have kids, don't use much lighting, keep the heat real low, run only the bare minimum computer equipment, etc). Therefore I consider those reports more as a lie designed to get people to improve usage rather than an actual case of gamification.
If you really want to beat this you need to get better than monthly updates about what you're using. I've been using this (http://www.theenergydetective.com/products/store/b-5000g.html) for the last few years and it works great. It registers fluctuation as it happens, like when your fridge kicks in, or the garage door is opened. In the first few months of owning one, I watched the dashboard continuously. Whenever a spike would occur I'd run around the house to figure out what just happened. On of the big ones was actually a 6 bulb chandelier. Each bulb was 40 watts, for a total of 240W. I swapped those for CF, bringing the total down to about 60W. If you're not comfortable inside your electrical box you might want an electrician to install it, but it's really painless. They even have third party apps (http://www.theenergydetective.com/third-party-apps). I've been using Eragy, but I'm looking into Bidgely.
Lots of great suggestions already above - especially about phantom power and appliances.
A comprehensive home energy audit using a blower door test and thermograhpic scanning equipment will help find where the air leaks are and how much energy is wasted from them. Testing the ductwork for leaks is useful too. A good analysis and report should demonstrate which upgrades or retrofits will give the best return on your investment.
To geek out pretty hard on the science of energy upgrades, this is a report from BuildItGreen and Energy Upgrade California.
The paranoid in me wants me to suggest that everyone who gets a bill sees that same kind of shame-inducing graph. This isn't gamification, it's guiltification. E.G. your post.
...but since you mention the twins, how's that working out?
My twins are the only kids we have, so it's been man-on-man coverage for the last thirteen years; but with an older boy (that makes three kids, right?) have you had to fall back into zone coverage? Curious.
It's interesting that your electricity use graph peaks in March/April. The comparison graphs peak in December/January; this is probably because they include homes that have heat pumps and judging from your natural gas use you have a furnace. That explains why you have an absence of a peak in Jan, but the peak in March is mystifying. Air conditioning use should be highest in July or August.
You should think about your air conditioning and heating systems. A/C units slowly get less efficient as they get older and get much less efficient when the refrigerant charge is not right. If you get a new furnace, you have a number of efficiency options: 2-stage heating, an ECM (aka variable speed) blower motor, or a 90% or even 96% efficiency system.
Do you keep your computers on all the time? How about all those chargers for your gadgets? They could be the source of higher power consumption.
And you're right, when there is a report COMPARING your "performance" with others, there is competition. It works for those who are driven by competition.
It’s a really great site you have here. Thank you for the effort to be so good for us (even though we don`t deserve it) and keep it up.
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The back-end is actually powered by a company called opower.com who partners with local utilities (including PG&E). Very cool stuff indeed!
You already have more feedback and comment than I guess you wanted, but my view would be:
- what the energy company says is interesting but not conclusive
- you must first get to a position where you know what you are using all of your gas and electricity for, and cannot easily reduce it further. You should be doing this anyway!
- then see if you are still "above average" and ask the the utility company for their comments, if so.
A parting shot: insulation is the big winner, investment vs returnwise
Another vote for insulation. Heating and cooling become soooo much more efficient with blown in attic insulation. Double check the level you have and upgrade. Many older houses have little to no insulation. If that's the case you will make all of the money back that you spend insulating in the first year. There are also incentives to add insulation depending on the state. We were able to use a rebate program to get back over a third of what we spent to put in the new insulation.
up to I looked at the check that said $8484, I did not believe that my mom in-law woz like truly receiving money part-time from there computar.. there aunt haz done this for only about 11 months and by now took care of the mortgage on their place and got a gorgeous Cadillac. read more at,Online Income
I use less than the average. Why is this? They are cheap, so I do not mind the cold winters and hot summers. I want to use for other customers, and 1/3 of the energy consumption.
Before you go to bed, I use a heating pad warm bed. Do not expose the machine. We use a heating means for heating the bath, before use. I used clothes. Etc.
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Though some of those energy saving LED bulbs consume less power, I have found them having less life.
I prefer to change the lifestyle for saving energy instead of finding out hundreds are new replacements. There are most places in day to day life that can be saving a lot of energy.
May be try reducing the daily hot water shower for few minutes and see the difference.
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Your blog is a source of information, I am an avid reader and I wish you good luck.
This is a trick. They will tell you that you're using way more than average, but that's what they tell everybody. Why? Of course to steal your cash and get rich!
Find someone who has power consumption way below average in their monthly charts. I challenge you.
Where I am, there consistently are several cases where people went on holidays (turning off everything at home) for half a month or even a month, only to receive upon return the same amount as their regular usage or even more on the power bill. If there was no power usage, where did the power "usage" come from? It's all a big money game.
hrnsulation. Heating and cooling become soooo much more efficient with blown in attic insulation. Double check the level you have and upgrade. Many older houses have little to no insulation. http://www.vpillssatis.gen.tr/siparis.html If that's the case you will make all of the money back that you spend insulating in the first year. Thehtry.
a few hundred items. But once you have thousands of items to paginate, who the heck is visiting page 964 of 3810? What's the point of paginating so much information when there's a hard practical limit on how many items a human being can view and process in any reasonable amount of time plumber walnut
Something I have learned from examining the one my electric company sends me:
Its a LIE. I have compared what they sent me with actual bills for the time period they reference and they doubled or tripled my numbers to make their graph.
Its a marketing scam. They know most people wont check the actual numbers, and will do what they can to lower their bills, even if they are already the lowest in the neighborhood.