Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

October 17, 2005

The Energy Expenses from Our Household

Category: Conservation,Economics,Save Electricity,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 8:37 pm

Well, I’m surprised. I added up the numbers for the three main components of our energy use for the previous 12 months. Here they are:

  • Gasoline: $850 (19%)
  • Natural Gas: $1,950 (42%)
  • Electricity: $1,800 (39%)

We spent $4,600 last year in direct consumption of energy.


  • My wife and I both work, but I have a short commute (~7 miles, in my Toyota Camry) and she drives a couple of miles in her Prius to take the bus into her job into Boston. We have taken perhaps 5 longer trips to visit friends and family in New England, and a 10 day car trip in California. Our total mileage is about 8,000 to 9,000 per car, which is a lot less than average, we have had the Prius for about 6 months, and I have ordered another Prius to trade in my Camry. I expect we do very well on this score.
  • We heat our house and water with gas, and also use gas for the dryer and stove. Our house is small (1,800 Sq feet), we insulated, replaced windows with double glass, and turn the heat way down at night and during the day while we’re working (programmable thermostat). We rarely use window air conditioners and have a ceiling fan and whole-house fan to keep cool in the summer. Because of all of these factors, I expect we do very well on this score, too.
  • Electricity is a surprise — I would have expected it to be a much smaller share of the cost. We have electric heat in a small basement room — perhaps that can be improved. We used all incandescent lighting and have recently switched some lights to compact-fluorescent. We over-lit the house. We have three computers and various peripherals (cable box, TiVo) that were on constantly; I have recently tried to get the computers to hibernate, but for reasons I am not clear on, this isn’t working. I think we have a lot of room to improve with electricity.

Other Ways to Add Up The Numbers
So for us, adding up the numbers was a simple exercise: we use Quicken to track our finances and since we always pay for gasoline with a credit card, it was a snap to create a report. I think there are a couple of fairly easy ways to estimate your usage if you don’t have numbers easily at hand.

I wrote about some of the challenges of how to measure in Measuring Energy Consumption and for me, adding us the dollars seems simplest. But it would certainly be more accurate to measure usage (therms, kilowatt-hours, miles, or gallons), so if you don’t have the dollars at hand for all or some, measures, this would be a good alternative.

Most utilities bills have a record of the last 12 months usage, so if you have your last month bills, you can probably see back a year. Our utilities in Boston have online billing, and I can see bills back for more than a year.

For cars, take a look at a service record or vehicle inspection to see your mileage from about a year ago, more or less, compared to current mileage on the odometer. Then you can pro-rate to get an annual number — remember that algebra? For example if 14 months ago I had a car service and mileage was 50,000 miles, and now it’s 65,000, the equation would be (65,000 – 50,000) / 14 * 12 which comes out to 12,857 miles per year.

So, Save Your Five Percent

We spent about $4,600 in direct energy cost last year; 5% of this is only $230. I think with a concerted look at why the electricity is so much, and getting the second Prius, we should have an easy time of this.

Why am I writing all of this down? I hope others will find this site and see that it is a very practical, possible, and even painless (dare I say fun?) thing to do. Even just writing for a few days now, and thinking about this for a while has helped me become aware of a lot of things.

Bursting My Bubble

But one thing that’s not so encouraging is this: the $4,600 we spent on direct energy costs is a small share of what we spent on everything else … a few percent only. Our household energy expenses completely exclude the major consumption of energy in the country, including industry, transportation, shipping, construction, agriculture, defense, and all sorts of other ways that our country has decided to use energy in order to maintain our way of life. Yet in nearly all of the money we spent other than energy, which is a lot more than the $4,600, we were responsible for our part in indirect energy consumption.

I think I’m going to need to go back and see if there’s a way to factor that into the equation, and more importantly, if there are ways that we can change other stuff we do. I’ll bet there can be a good challenge there, too, and more to learn and understand … and do.

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