Thursday, October 7, 2010

Electricity Savings for Apartment & Suite Dwellers

October is "PowerSmart Month" here in BC, which means BC Hydro has all sorts of promotions and tips available.

One very timely one for me is the across-the-board savings on compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL's) in just about every major retailer in BC. See the list here - you can get up to $5 off on the light bulbs! There's another coupon and rebate page (link here) that offers a $3 mail-in rebate for LED Christmas lights and $15 off a locally made Hogan wood clothes drying rack (wall or ceiling mounted, made of Douglas Fir, folds away), though one should note that the going price is $150.00 - very nice if you can afford it. Unfortunately, the $7.99 Jall drying rack at IKEA has disappeared from the website - hope you ordered one in time! Next cheapest now appears to be $24, which is still quite affordable.

If you live in a "low-income household" (which many students may qualify for - note that I didn't, but that was based on a 2009 tax-return. I'll probably qualify twice over next year....), BC Hydro and Terasen gas offer a free Energy Saving Kit that includes CFL's, weather-stripping, a low-flow shower head, fridge and freezer thermometers, etc. Information on this free kit is here. If you don't qualify, they recommend you buy the component pieces yourself and the energy savings will offset the cost.

Here are 10 things you can do to reduce your apartment's energy bill (no matter what city you're in):

A CFL bulb in use - pendant lamp above workspace

1. Turn off the lights - particularly "overhead" room lighting. It's best to use "task lighting" (i.e. a reading lamp, a desk lamp next to your computer, the rangehood over-stove light) for what you're doing, rather than lighting the entire room. Install CFL's wherever possible (note that some old fixtures don't accomodate the longer bulbs) - they use about 75% less energy than the bulb you have in now! Not only will this save you energy, it might even help you sleep: low-lighting in the evening helps people produce more melatonin (a sleep-related hormone). You can read a scientific article (one of many!) on the effects of low-level evening lighting here. Although candle use indoors can potentially be dangerous (not only for risk of fire, but because of inhaled toxins and gases like carbon monoxide), use of mood-lighting can definitely promote relaxation. Don't you deserve to unwind at the end of the day? Some cool energy-friendly mood lighting: solar-powered 'sun jars', an LED desk lamp for $15, an LED clamp spotlight, and an LED light curtain/wall hanging.

2. Cover the windows at night (or in the heat of the summer). Curtains not only block light, they also keep in/out heat! Heavy drapes can help insulate these energy vortices that suck heat out of your apartment and into the outside air (or which heat up your place like a greenhouse in the summer!). Here's a photo showing energy-loss through windows by infrared camera - pretty amazing, isn't it? Turns out glass windows don't do a very good job of keeping in heat (and cracked, single-pane windows are even worse, but my landlord doesn't seem to care about that much). This is another tip that will also help you sleep better - keeping your bedroom as dark as possible has been linked to a better night's sleep (don't mess with those natural circadian rhythms!). In the spring, autumn and winter (if it's not too cold) consider leaving the curtains open (or use sheers/cafe curtains) to take advantage of the greenhouse-effect of trapping sunlight and heat.

Computer, lamp, modem and printer cables - I shut off the powerbar after shut-down
3. Powerbars for the computer and TV/entertainment system. TV's and computer monitors, even when turned off, suck electricity like mad! So does anything with a digital clock read-out (microwaves, coffee makers, VCR/DVD players, stereos, clock radios, etc.). How many "clocks" are in your apartment? How many do you need? Probably only one or two at the most - unplug the ones you don't need! Keep that coffee maker, toaster and electric kettle unplugged when not in use (you'll also reduce your risk of fire!), and put your computer and TV set-up on powerbars. Turn off the powerbar once your computer's finished shutting down, and keep the powerbar near the computer's power switch so you don't have to climb over your equipment everytime! It only takes a week or so to get into the habit, and it's one that pays for itself really quickly. Ikea has powerbars, as does most large retailers. And don't forget to turn off the TV when you leave the room - it's an energy glutton that mostly spews commercials! Not worth paying more than what you're already forking out for cable (or in my case, the money spent on rabbit ears! Oh yeah, I gave up cable and watch most shows commercial-free online!).Want a little background noise? Turn up the internet radio or go old-fashioned; when was the last time you listened to the radio? Try CBC radio 1 at 88.1 FM / 690 AM in Vancouver (frequency guide here if you're not in Vancouver).

I rather doubt this old thing even works. I leave it off.
4. Turn off the heat in the daytime and again before bed. Basically, heat your place when you get home from work/school up until you hit the hay. This is another energy-saving tip that doubles as insomnia advice - sleeping in a slightly cold room is more conducive to a better night's sleep. If your apartment has baseboard heaters, definitely turn them off when you're not at home - they use an enormous amount of energy (very inefficient). Put on a sweater and a pair of slippers and you're golden! Crochet yourself an afghan (and slippers!) if you're cold on the couch - crocheting is also a quiet activity to do before bed to help you sleep well (like reading).

Join "Team PowerSmart" online (BC Hydro) to see if you can beat me!

My chart at BC Hydro - note the jump in consumption Dec-Feb!
5. Cook smart. Match the shape of your pan to the shape of the element - big pots on the big element, small on the small. You'd be amazed how much energy you can waste by not doing this simple trick! Use the microwave when you can (less energy than the conventional oven by a long shot!), and when you do use the oven, put it to good use! For example, last night I made yummy oven-baked zucchini sticks (10-12 minutes at 400 degrees F), and as soon as I removed those, I put in a frozen pizza. Preheating an oven wastes quite a bit of electricity - once you've got it hot, be sure to put it to use! I also like to leave the oven door open (after the oven's turned off!) and heat up my apartment with the residual heat. Try not to open the door of the oven - use the viewing window to check on your food (replacing a burned-out oven bulb is likely more cost-effective than 'peeking').

6. Stock your fridge! Yep, keeping a 2/3 full fridge and freezer is more energy-efficient than an empty one! My boyfriend had the brilliant idea of filling the bottom vegetable keeper (where nasty things lurk because I forget they're in there) with cans of pop, tonic, and club soda. Individual aluminum cans mean I won't be wasting the rest of the tonic by letting it go flat, they won't go bad, and they'll retain a lot of 'coldness', too. There's a lot of things that do well in the fridge that might be taking up valuable (limited!) cupboard space, too (tea in an air-tight container, coffee, bread loaves, containers with flour, etc.). And whenever possible, try to get that old, inefficient fridge replaced by your landlord - after all, you pay the energy bill for that behemoth! Also check the temperature - colder isn't better (2-5 degrees C works for a fridge!), it just costs more energy. Check your seals by putting a piece of paper between the fridge and the rubber - if you can slide it out easily, that seal isn't doing its job.

7. Towel dry your hair. Blow-dryers and styling aids take a toll on your hair strands, not to mention your energy bill! Shower in the evening, towel dry your hair and in the AM get out the straightener/curler. You'll save a comparatively huge amount of energy, and your hair will be so much less fried!

Lint collector (emptied!): $2 at YokoYaya123
8. Skip the dryer & cold-water wash. Smart laundering saves energy (and/or laundry coinage!) and it's also much better for your clothes! Line-dry as much as you possibly can and extend the life of your clothes. No one likes those little fuzz-balls and sweater pilling. If you're concerned about the extra lint on your clothes (recall the full dryer lint screen after your last load - it collects quite a bit!), spend $2 at YokoYaya or the Daiso for a floating lint collector for the washing machine - works for me! (See my comments at the start of this post on drying racks).

Furniture placement and baseboards takes some planning
9. Rearrange the furniture. Okay, so this is something I enjoy doing purely for aesthetic reasons, but moving your furniture away from the baseboard heaters makes perfect sense - you don't want to be blocking the heat or having your desk absorb it all! It's also a safety issue (potential fire-hazard - imagine a bed sheet slipping in against the element!). Lighting considerations, nasty cold draughts/drafts and placement of an area rug for your feet are all worth planning out carefully. Maybe you can take advantage of natural light coming in from the window by placing your desk under it, or put your couch in the warmest corner so you can comfortably turn down the heating in the evening? Give it some thought!

Boo to my landlord! Fix my windows!
Both of these were here when I moved in. Still not fixed 1.5 years later.
10. Draught/Draft-proofing. Sealing your door frames and windows is one of the most efficient things you can do to save on electricity (see the curtain tip for energy-loss through windows). It's hard to want to invest money in a rental unit, but convincing your landlord to replace 2 cracked windows can take years (1.5 years so far for mine!). There's all sorts of options here: weather-stripping, plastic shrink wrap for the windows (using a hair dryer!), and caulking, all of which cost little money. A draught-dodger for under doors can be easily made and really help keep cold air out and hot air in (free instructions here: crocheted and crocheted, knitted (felted, too), sewn, and another sewn version which is a cute earthworm draft stopper). Note that all of these free instructions use up scrap material (cheap/free!). also has instructions for a sewn faux-wooden one here: which could just as easily be made from worn-out jeans and I'd argue that it would be more attractive than fake-wood fabric.

More tips and commentary:
My TV, DVD player and antenna - I unplug the whole unit when I'm done.
  • Buy EnergyStar appliances whenever possible
  • Buy an energy-efficient and green laptop/PC! (Build a green PC yourself - info here. It's cheaper!)
  • Don't leave your cell phone charger plugged in (I carry mine in my purse)
  • Recycle your old electronics at Return-It depots in Vancouver (don't be a jerk and leave your TV in the alley! Can't make it to the recycling depot? Take it to a thrift store if your item still works!)
  • Don't stand there gawking at the contents of your fridge - keep the door closed!
  • Is it plug-in worthy? Just 'cause it has the part doesn't mean it should get stuck in! (Why do I feel like I'm giving a Life-Skills presentation to middle school kids?!). Make sure it's worthwhile to leave it occupying an outlet long-term. For example, I was given one of those cute Home Hardware "Reactor" nightlight/emergency flashlights that stay plugged in and turn on in a power outage. I decided that the power doesn't go out here in the city the way it does in forested, small communities during autumn wind storms, and that it's just going to sit there like an electricity leech and suck power, leaving me with a bigger bill; not plug-in worthy. I bought this instead. Practice plug-in abstinence!
P.S. Check out the contests on BC Hydro's website - you can win a digital SLR camera package, iTUNES gift cards, energy star appliances and monitors, lots of good stuff! Personally, I like "WasteBusters" - I like stopping the lady from using all the paper towel and thwarting the paper waster. Muwhahaha!

Sources:,,, and my brain.

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