Summer Nights: Tell me more, tell me more

June 25, 2010

Not Houston, but feels like it.
Creative Commons License photo credit: steve phillips

As I sit out on my balcony and watch the sun set in the evening, a thought comes to mind that is shared by millions of Houstonians. That thought is, “Boy, its hot in Houston.” Not very original or very deep, but not all the firing of my gray matter can bear the golden fruit. The next thought that is spawned is, “I like air-conditioning,” after a few musings of how my ancestors brought about all of civilization without air-conditioning. After that I start wondering how much money I have spent on the wonderful invention of the modern world. Immediately after that I think of how to cut down on my energy costs.

Here are some basics of how to do just that.

First is to learn how to read an energy bill. This is very simple and I like to start with the simple things. Some people will just pay the bill and trust that the electrical company is charging them the right amount. In the days of e-billing, it’s just that much easier to remain ignorant about how much energy you use.

The hard part about writing this is that every energy company has a slightly different bill. Not all of them have all the same bells and whistles.

Here is an example.

The most important things we are looking for on the bill are kilowatt hours used, price per kilowatt hour, and total cost. If your bill has any month by month graphic on how much electricity you use, or a yearly average, that could be useful as well.

Creative Commons License photo credit: this lucid moment

Once we get the number of kilowatt hours and the price per hour, we can move on to reading the electric meter. As a small child I was fascinated by the mechanical cipher and spent some time one summer afternoon deciphering its markings. 2 decades ago and in a much smaller town, my electric meter looked like a series of small clocks that go up to 10 over a rotating rotor disc. The display dials would turn to show the number of kilowatt hours used.

If you have a digital electric meter there is no challenge in reading it. It shows the current total amount of kilowatt hours that the electric meter has counted. This is not the number you have used in a week, or a month, or a year, but the total amount it has counted in its life time.

To figure out how many kilowatt hours you have used in a day, month, or year all you need is two sets of numbers. To see how many kilowatt hours you use a month, record the reading on the electrical meter at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month. Then subtract the smaller number from the larger. That will tell you how many kilowatt hours you have used in a month.

There are a number of devices and computer programs that can help chart your energy usage, such as Google PowerMeter.

Now that we know how many kilowatt hours you use, we can measure different devices to put together a picture of where the kilowatts go.

There are any number of estimators and calculators available for free on the internet (like here, here, and here). However these are all estimators. If you want to know exactly how much power any given appliance uses, you will need to use a simple watt-hour meter (kill-o-watt meter is a very simple and inexpensive one).

Once you start measuring what wattage your appliances use, you can paint a picture of your energy usage. And with that you have the knowledge to make decisions about your energy usage.

If you want to lower your energy bill, you can make simple changes, like turning off lights when you leave the room and not leaving appliances plugged in when they are not in use.

Stay tuned for the next Energy Conservation Installment.

Authored By Daniel Burch

An inveterate punster, amateur chef, and fencer, Daniel B has a double degree in History and Museum Science from Baylor. He currently serves as the Assistant Program Coordinator for the Wiess Energy Hall and Adult Education at HMNS.

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