Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


September 20, 2009

Obsessive-Compulsive Excessive Consumption Detection Disorder

Category: Fun,Save Electricity – Tom Harrison – 8:31 pm

Oh yes, I have it.

This afternoon, we started cooking dinner and I made the mistake of glancing at my TED 5000 display. It was reading 1,019 watts at the moment. What the…?

This wasn’t right. We had three lights on in the kitchen at about 35W each. The TV was on in the living room — nope, that’s only 180W. To confirm, I asked Carter to turn the TV off, checked the display, then on again. Yep, about 180W. The fridge was on — I had just gone to the market and opened the freezer and fridge sides so it was re-cooling. That’s around 200 Watts.

I checked downstairs to see if the dryer was on, or something else. Nope. Was the Smart Strip working (the kids had been playing on the Wii earlier, but I have it set up to turn everything off when the TV goes off.) Nope.

Fish tank? I had been suspicious of it for a while and had my Kill-A-Watt plugged in to the socket. But it’s 100W heater, when on, used 100W as advertised. The filter was just a few watts. The fish are safe … for now.

I checked upstairs. Carter’s computer hadn’t gone to sleep … but that couldn’t explain it. I put his computer to sleep. Hardly any change. Theresa’s computer was off, mine was asleep. What the…?

So I looked at the TED graphing, and here’s what I saw:

What the...?

What the...?

Between 3 and 4pm, we use between 300W and 500W. Carter starts watching CSI a little before 5 and Theresa start cooking (spinach lasagna, yum!) at around 5 — lights in the kitchen go on, turn on the stove and kitchen lights, fridge is on, the ice-maker went on (we had a Gin and Tonic for a cocktail) and started making the lasagna. Then, around 5:20 we turned on the oven, and finished everything else up. Lights out, fridge closed, and back to baseline plus the TV.

But that’s not what happened.

Now just to be clear, my family had this completely figured out yesterday when we baked a chicken. Again, I was surprised to see the TED reading so high. They all said “it’s the oven”!

I laughed. In my view, it wasn’t exactly a derisive laugh at all. Perhaps there was a paternalistic scorn (but hey, I am the father, so get to be paternalistic). They say “dismissive”. I say “laughing with you”. Whatever.

The point is: the stove uses gas. Sure, it’s got a clock and a digital display. They’re on all the time anyway. Ha!

Back to today, as I am walking around the house obsessively checking for things being turned on. I couldn’t figure it out. I thought the story here was that this real-time electrical display device, the TED 5000, had created in me what will eventually be diagnosed as a new psychological disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Excessive Consumption Detection Disorder (OCECDD). As I was writing, I was staring at the chart above (yes, obsessively). I asked, tentatively and without giving away anything, “So, Theresa, when did you turn on the oven?” — and she said “Around 5:30, I guess.”

And then I realized: it must me the gas oven using the electricity. Then, the stove timer went off — lasagna was done. I heard the beep when the oven went off (6:39pm). TV and my computer off (6:44pm). And through this, the TED meter dropped to around 500 Watts … and stayed there. It was the oven indeed.

Dinner was good. I was stunned. (Not that dinner was good, still obsessed with the recent finding regarding our gas stove.)

I did the dishes, and as I cleaned, I surreptitiously turned on the oven again. And yes, the TED jumped by over 300 Watts. Did I mention that it’s a gas stove? The label on the side says the oven uses 16,000 BTU/hr. Over to the handy, dandy Watt Converter to find that the oven burners, when on, use 4686 Watts (less than the dryer, to be sure). But it doesn’t mention that when the burner is on, the oven also uses 300 Watts of electricity, as well.

But why?

Carter found the answer, by Googling “Why does our gas oven use 300 Watts?” Google knew, and so did fieldlines.com. Our oven uses an electric glow bar igniter. When the gas burner is on, so is the electric current — enough to create a glowing light that ensures that if the gas flame blows out (perhaps due to a hurricane or tornado?) the gas flow will be re-lit by the igniter. Yeah, for a little less than 10% of the energy to cook the damned food, we have a little 300W glow bar on to make sure if the flame goes out, it will go on again.

We could light our whole house for 300 Watts. The New York Times wrote a story today about how we use so much electricity with our computers and TVs (quoting my friend Peter Troast, who, in addition to being a “home owner” is also the CEO of EnergyCircle.com, which they managed not to mention in the story) — why doesn’t the Times do an expose on glow bar igniters?

I want to know. What part of “Energy Star” decided that it was necessary and OK to have a 300 Watt thing running for hours at a time, doing nothing. NOTHING.

OK, so I guess I will not be diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Excessive Consumption Detection Disorder. No way! I think I’ll get “energy sleuth of the year” award for figuring this one out. I am a hero. My family are heroes (and I’m not saying that just so they’ll get over me laughing derisively at them when they suggested a gas stove could be responsible for using 300 Watts). And the evil, bad, wasteful people at Kenmore (actually Maytag, who re-branded the oven we have as Kenmore) should be ashamed.

It just goes to show: it’s not just the folks that showed up at town-hall meetings to yell at their Senator who are crazy. So are the people at Kenmore who decided it was fine to run a 300W electrical element whenever the gas stove is on.

17 Comments

  1. Charles — Monitoring is more about awareness; it’s not a chore. Energy is just one of several important aspect that affect our lives, like weather, time, baseball scores, news, kids’ homework, finances. I have seen evidence in my house as well as others that I have been in that it’s quite easy to get complacent. I check the thermometer before heading out in the morning and adjust accordingly, and we have a little weather forecaster thing in our kitchen so I know if I should bring an umbrella. It’s not harder to dress, it’s easier.

    Energy monitoring is cool because unlike the weather, you have some ability to respond and take control. We use much less electricity than we used to because by keeping track of our use, we have found numerous ways to keep the house more comfortable and properly lit while using considerably less energy. We’re saving around $100 per month on our electricity bill as a result of understanding all the little things that use electricity without knowing.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 2, 2009 @ 7:43 am

  2. […] you have noticed: I am a little obsessive with my measurement of energy usage. Despite being an energy saving zealot, we still use our […]

    Pingback by Google PowerMeter Showed Me How and Why I Was Wrong | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — October 14, 2009 @ 10:11 pm

  3. I purchased a TED 5000 unit a few weeks ago and have started figuring out how to make sense of the data. I guess it shows there is a lot of upside that my base usage seems to be about at your peak! I have yet to go around measuring discrete consumption points, but in the dead of night we might get down to 450kW. Part of this is known – I have several large fish tanks that NEED to stay running and all are planted and so needs lights on for a portion of the day. And obvious the refrigerator runs regularly along with other “required” devices (clock radios, etc.) But beyond that I’m not sure where it all goes! I have some work do to.

    I’ve had some problems with the TED system I am trying to get resolved, but over measurement isn’t one of them. Can you point me to some hits at what you have done to isolate consumption?

    Comment by Derek — October 19, 2009 @ 8:27 am

  4. I just had to replace my glowbar igniter in my oven… I understand the function it provides, but I wonder why they don’t use one of those “clickie” spark igniters for the oven…. that would use a ton less energy and still provide the spark to ignite gas in case the flame somehow goes out.

    Comment by Graeme — October 29, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

  5. I suspect the clickers (piezoelectric sparkers) would melt under high heat. I assume that the glow-bars turn on when the oven reaches it’s set temperature and the gas goes off, performing the same function that a pilot light would have in the olden days. But a traditional pilot light (such as the ones in my gas furnace and water heaters) stay on all the time, which is probably worse, from an energy standpoint, than the glow bar, especially given that most people these days think the oven is a good place to store dishes, rather than for baking :-)

    So why not both? A glow bar could turn on when the oven was turned on, thereby lighting a pilot light, which would then stay on as long as the oven was on. Ah, but a rhetorical question, since the issue with pilot lights is that they can blow out, and if the gas valve turns on without a pilot (or glow bar) to re-ignite the oven, the house fills with gas and any little spark will ignite far more than the gas burner.

    So there’s a safety device on pilot-lit gas values called a thermocouple — the heat of the pilot light causes a length of copper wire to expand, pushing open the safety valve — pilot out, safety valve closes and … well the good news is that your house doesn’t explode; the bad news is that this tends to happen on Saturday so you call a plumber to replace this $5 part at double-time and $155 later, you’re good to go.

    But the pilot + thermocouple means the pilot’s on all the time. A glow bar uses a separate safety mechanism (I am guessing) — if the glow bar burns out, there’s no current, and without current, the valve won’t open. Same result, different solution. So some genius said “the glow bar will only be on when the oven is being used and but the gas is off because the oven is warm enough”. Smart genius, lousy engineer created a thing that uses 300W to light up a very thick bit of metal enough to cause it to ignite gas — has to be thick because it would melt under the heat of the regular oven if it were thinner. And, as a plumber who commented with the original answer noted, the glow bar eventually burns out (like the thermocouple) and needs to be replaced, giving a nice source of incremental revenue to the service companies that fix these things for us.

    Of course they could come up with a simple solution that would a) use little or no electricity, b) use little or no extra gas, c) be reliable and safe, and d) last for the lifetime of the oven. But that would be complicated … and also would cut in to those high-markup service calls. Am I cynical, or is that all there is to this?

    Comment by Tom Harrison — October 29, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

  6. […] that can show electricity use by the second as it happens. That’s how he found out that his gas oven uses 300W of electricity. How many people would even guess that a gas oven uses electricity, never mind as much as […]

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  7. […] cares? Well, I know that real-time energy monitoring devices make a huge difference in behavior, or at least they can.And I know utilities are going to get to that smart grid “real soon […]

    Pingback by TED 5000 and Google PowerMeter: Who Needs Smart Meters? | Five Percent: Conserve Energy — December 4, 2010 @ 9:29 pm

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