How to Live Green and Save Money – Experiences from an Off-Grid House 0

Our Off-Grid Kitchen

Our Off-Grid Kitchen

What’s the easiest and cheapest way to live green and save money?  We all know what it is, but it doesn’t sound very exciting – use less energy.  One way to do this is to buy energy efficient appliances, but that will cost money to start with.  The simplest way to save money is to shut things off when you aren’t using them.

I know, because I live in a house that gets all of its power from solar panels and a wind turbine.  If  I use more power than what I am producing I have to start up the noisy, annoying, gas guzzling backup generator.  Who wants to do that, and admit that it’s only because you can’t budget your energy use?  So here are some things I’ve learned and experienced about energy conservation  from living on our own resources.

Saving Energy – A Necessity for an Off-Grid House

Our Off-Grid Solar House

Our Off-Grid Solar House

My husband and I built our off-grid solar and wind powered home in 2003 when solar panels where still quite expensive (about 3 times the price that they are in 2011) so the easiest way to save money on the initial cost was to figure out how we could do all the things we wanted to do in our house on the minimum amount of power.  The way to do this is to write down all the appliances (including things like the water pump) that you plan to use and for how many hours a day you plan to use them.  This information is entered into a Load Analysis that estimates the power you will need each day.  It also gives you some  insight into where you can save power.  Whatever you don’t use, you don’t have to pay for, produce or store in the battery bank.

Some Surprising Findings

Some of the biggest culprits for energy use will surprise you.  For example, if you leave a 60 Watt light bulb on all day it will use more power than a modern fridge over the same time period.  Really?  Let’s look at the numbers.  Our fridge uses 404 kWh per year – that’s what the Energy Star sticker on it says (and I’ve actually tested it and found that it’s correct).  Divide this by 365 days in a year, and you get 1.1 kWh per day.  Now let’s figure out the light bulb – 60 Watts times 24 hours in a day gives you 1.4 kWh a day.  Are you surprised?  We were, when we actually sat down and figured it out.

A light bulb can use more energy than the fridge

A light bulb can use more energy than the fridge

Here’s how this came to our attention.  Our home is on an acreage and we get our own water from a sandpoint well which is located in a root cellar that we dug into the side of a hill.  Our first winter, when we were still building our house, we didn’t have time to backfill on top of the root cellar, so we were worried about our well pump freezing since our winter temperatures can down to 40 degrees below zero.  So we did what everybody else does for their water pumps – we put a 60 Watt incandescent light bulb in the root cellar to keep the pump from freezing.  After we did this, we found that our newly installed solar power system was having big problems trying to keep up with our power usage.  Puzzled, I did the math on the light bulb.   Next summer, backfilling and insulating that root cellar was a big priority.

It’s clear from this example that shutting off your lights when you don’t use them does make a big difference, as does replacing them with more energy efficient ones such as compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Developing Energy Saving Habits

Shutting things off when you’re not using them is a good habit to get into.  Things like TVs and computers can use up a lot of energy if  left on all day even though nobody is using them.

The TV is a common phantom load

The TV is a common phantom load

Then there are the so-called “phantom loads”.  These appear to be off but still draw a significant amount of power.  One common example is the remote control for your TV and other entertainment systems.   In order for the remote control to be able to turn on your TV the transmitting and receiving functions still have to be on, so they draw power even when the TV is off.   The easy way to eliminate these is to plug them into a switched powerbar or to plug them into an outlet that’s operated by a wall switch.  When you’re not watching, and don’t need the remote anyways, just flip the switch.

Using Your Other Appliances to Save Energy

Sometimes you can use a more efficient appliance, that you already own, for some jobs.  Here are some examples:

–  A toaster uses less energy (900 Watts)  than a toaster oven (1300 Watts), so if you are just making a couple of pieces of toast use the toaster.

–  A slow cooker is much more efficient than turning on the standard oven and you don’t have to worry about burning your meal.

– A laptop is much more energy efficient than a desktop computer, as well as saving space and being portable.

– Internet connections also come with varying energy requirements.  A modem and router requires more energy than a USB internet stick plugged into your computer.

Buying Energy Efficiency Rated Appliances

When it comes time to replace one of your appliances look at the energy use of what you are buying as well as its other features.  Many appliances have a rating that shows how many kWh per year they will use.  Choose the lowest number on the model that has all the other features you want.  You may even be willing to trade some features for lower energy usage.   Government regulations and  manufacturing innovations have made huge improvements in the energy efficiency of appliances so you will notice a significant difference if your old appliance is pre 1992.

Our Results

For us, the end result of paying attention to all these details is that we can operate our house on 150 kWh a month, about one fifth of the power most households use.  Yet our lifestyle is not significantly different than other people’s and we don’t do without anything that we want.

Do you have experiences to share?  We welcome your comments below.


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