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CGT Blog: Powering Down Print

June 1: Running a home office doesn’t use that much electricity, phantom power may not be that big of a factor in household electricity use

Last week, I said I would report on the daily electricity usage of my office and much to my surprise, it very inexpensive to do so.

I can’t give an exact figure on the actual daily electricity cost because there are other household appliances consuming energy during the day. The freezer and fridge are perhaps the largest users of electricity throughout the day. There is also standing electricity use from the alarm clocks and other household appliances with clocks such as the microwave and the stove.

My office consists of two computers – one of them is on all the time, while the second may be used to record webcasts or Parliamentary committee hearings when I have other things to get done. I have a multi-purpose printer. It is fax machine and photocopier. I print rarely and primarily use the printer to scan documents.

But at the end of one single typical day, it cost about 20 cents.

Monthly cost estimate

Given that I’m coming up on the end of my current hydro billing cycle, I thought it would be cool to see how much I would have to pay if in fact my bill came today. And for comparison purposes I recorded an estimate after the first 10 days of use to see whether that cost estimate would change and by how much.
Ten days in, the Power Cost Monitor said my monthly bill would be around $38.54. Since we get billed once every two months here in Ottawa the total hydro expense would be around $77.08. During the month, the PCM estimated that I would 592 kWh of electricity.

When I took the second estimate a full two weeks after installing the PCM (just before writing this entry), it told me my monthly usage would cost me $37.96, or $75.92 for a two-month billing cycle. My total kilowatt hours estimate dropped accordingly to 584. During that second week, I did make some slight changes to my electricity usage. Instead of allowing some consumer electronics to use stand-by power (the cable boxes and TVs were turned off, but the power bars were still active), I turned off the power bars.

I have to admit that this wasn’t done systematically, I may have forgotten to turn off the power bar supplying electricity to a TV and a cable box in the bedroom two or three times during the week. I should also note that during these first two weeks of using the PCM, the weather has generally been nice, not too hot (only a couple of times) and not too cold. This time of year and early fall are usually the times when my household electricity use is the lowest anyway. 

This little test does demonstrate that making small changes can add up. However, it also shows that perhaps phantom power usage – consumer electronics using electricity even when they are turned off but still plugged in – doesn’t use as much electricity as has been said by some organization.

The Ontario Power Authority recently said that phantom power drains up to 15% of annual home electricity use and for a household that uses 1,000 kWh per month, this could be upwards of $100.

In my case, by either physically unplugging the appliance/consumer electronics device or turning off the power bar, I could potential reduce my bill by a little more than 1%. That’s certainly not the 15% noted by the OPA, but a savings nonetheless.

If you have comments or questions about anything I’ve written in the CGT Blog: Powering Down or in any articles posted on the website, please don’t hesitate to contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


May 28: Fans and air conditioners

It may come as a big surprise to many that an air conditioner, at least my model, uses about the same electricity as a fan, but that’s what I found out this week with the weather hitting the mid-30s and higher with the humidity in Ottawa.

It’s been so hot here that I had to turn the air conditioner on a couple of times earlier this week to cool down the house down in the evening. I don’t need to run it during the day because my home office is in the basement where it’s sufficiently cool.

On one day when it reached nearly 40 C with the humidity, I couldn’t take it anymore. Sitting in front of the TV in the evening after the house had absorbed the day’s heat was unbearable. Sweating like I was in the middle of strenuous workout wasn’t fun. With the programmable thermostat set to 25.5 C, I activated the air conditioner.

At that point in the evening, I was paying 5 cents per hour for my electricity use – the TV and cable box were on as were some lights in the den and kitchen. The fridge, freezer, alarm clocks and the standing electricity consumption from the clocks on the stove and microwave were also sucking electricity.

As the air conditioner kicked in, I watched the Power Cost Monitor (PCM) jump from the 5 cents per hour starting point to 26 cents. The 21 cents per hour it was costing me to run the air conditioner was less than the running the washer on a cold-water setting (see May 25 posting), so I didn’t feel too bad about cooling the house down with my decades old, supposedly highly inefficient air conditioner.

But then last night with the temperature having dropped to a more manageable level in the mid-20s but still slightly uncomfortable in the house, I decided instead to use a typical fan to cool down the TV room (again all the previous mentioned devices were using electricity at 5 cents per hour). I was shocked, more than shocked actually, to see the fan use as much electricity as the air conditioner. I had set to it the middle setting and had it oscillating.

For those (and I was one of them) who might believe turning a fan on in one room is better than running the air conditioner for the entire house, think again. This, however, shouldn’t give people reason to simply run their air conditioners at will just to keep the house at a cozy temperature. There is no need for that. Air conditioners can be energy hogs, especially when they are run for hours and hours. Using them only when necessary will not only save you money, but it will aid in the fight against climate change.


May 25: Appliances need to be smarter

The first 10 days of watching my energy consumption and costs using the Power Cost Monitor has revealed some very interesting things about the electricity use costs of certain household appliances.

Victoria Day long weekend gave my wife and I a prime opportunity to do some spring cleaning. Yes, I know, it’s an exciting life. But what better way to find out how much energy the washer and dryer, vacuum and other cleaning-related household appliances consume and cost to run than to clean the house. So for a few hours, my wife and I put the washer, dryer and vacuum through their paces.

It should has little surprise that washers and dryers are huge energy hogs – when they’re being used. To run the washer on a cold-water setting, it costs about 25 cents per hour. The dryer, on an auto dry setting, clipped along at about 40 cents per hour. Three loads of laundry, using both the washer and dryer, cost about $1.56. Perhaps they’re not that big of hogs after all. At least they aren’t for two adults.

Next on the things to clean were the carpets and floors. We have hardwood floors throughout a large portion of the house with carpet in only a few rooms, so the vacuum use isn’t too high. The 12-amp Hoover Windtunnel cost 8 cents per hour to run and we ran it for about an hour. So again, not that expensive to run. 

At the end of the day, it didn’t really cost my wife and I that much money to clean the house. But during the process I did notice a spike in the hourly electricity cost while I was doing a few dishes I couldn’t fit in the dishwasher. The only devices in the house running at the time was the stereo, the kitchen lights, the standing electricity consumption from the stove, microwave, the alarm clocks and some consumer electronics plugged into power bars but not turned on.

So after searching the house to find what was causing the increase in usage and costs, I finally figured out that it was our electric hot water heater. I wondered to myself why the hot water heater would kick in for a few litres of water. It just seemed strange. Why wouldn’t it wait until, say, half of the hot water was gone? But that would take some a little more smarts than hot water heaters currently have.

It may make sense to ensure there is always a supply of hot water for homeowners, but sometimes a little logic will go a long way. Why don’t hot water heaters only run at night when demand on the electrical system is the lowest? Why does the water need to be kept hot when no one is going to need it?

Currently, electrical demands of the hot water heater may not cause that much of an impact on the pocket book due to the current rate structure in Ontario. But when time of use rates come into effect at some point next year, having the hot water heater run during a hot summer’s day will have a much larger financial impact. Adding a little intelligence to residential hot water heaters could go a long way to reducing energy consumption and costs.

Ever wonder how much it costs to run a home office? I do. Initial observations reveal that it costs me very little to run my home office. I didn’t monitor the energy consumption or costs throughout the week in any sort of detailed manner, but will do so this week and report back.


May 18: Welcome to the debut post of the CGT Blog: Powering Down

There’s no sense beating around the bush: Ontario’s Green Energy Act has brought higher electricity rates for residential and commercial users. And next year, rates are expected to rise again with the implementation of time of use pricing.

As a resident of Ontario, what am I to do to deal with rising electricity rates? There are really only three things to do: nothing, reduce consumption or become a micro-generator.

Doing nothing is not an option.

Producing your own electricity is easy enough. You could call your local solar PV company and get started on installing solar panels on your roof so as to offset the price increases by selling surplus energy you generate back to the Ontario electrical grid. The rates offered under Ontario’s Feed-in-Tariff program are lucrative, too: $0.802 cents per kilowatt hour for rooftop system under 10 kW. According to some estimates, a 10 kW system will generate nearly $11,000 in annual revenue.

This is a great option. Of course, it’s only an option if you have the money, or can get the financing, to put the pricey system on your roof. I don’t have any hard figures on how much a 10 kW system would cost, but payback periods for solar PV are usually in the 10-year time frame. You do the math.

If you’ve got the cash, or access to it, go for it. One solar PV contractor and certified electrician, who has his own 60 kW system on some farm land, once told me that Ontario’s FiT program for solar PV is like having a licence to print money. For whom, I’m not sure though.

I’m considering this option, but I first have to convince my wife that using our reserve cash would be money well spent. She understands concepts like payback and return on investment, but envious stares from colleagues as she struts around the office in a pair of killer Fluevog’s (really nice, and expensive, shoes) is not the kind of payback or ROI I’m talking about. Just kidding, she has a very solid understanding of these financial concepts.

So where does that leave me? The boring unexciting concept of reducing electricity consumption.

The dilemma with this option is to monitor how much electricity is used throughout the day and determine the actual cost of using that electricity. If you know how to read an electricity meter, I can guess you can do that. I don’t so I had to look for a device that allowed me to see in real-time my energy usage both in terms of kilowatt hours and dollars and cents.

I settled on the Power Cost Monitor system. The system is made by Blue Line Innovations. There is also a Black & Decker version and it’s also produced by Blue Line. I wrote about the company last week. The article is here. (I want to stress that this is not an advertisement for Blue Line. I had been looking for a device or combination of devices that I could use to help reduce my electricity bill.)

After installing the device on Sunday, I watched the monitor as it showed me how much money my airconditioner was sucking out of my wallet. After about two minutes, I shut the airconditioner off.

So with my next hydro billing cycle set to start early next month, I’m going to take the next two weeks to monitor how much money my electricity use is costing me. I’m not going to change any habits – when it’s hot, I will let the airconditioner run. Once the new billing cycle begins, I will start to experiment with how I can reduce my electricity usage and document my trials, tribulations and successes in the CGT Blog: Powering Down.

In the almost two days the device has been operating, I’ve noticed a few very interesting things:

  • The coffee maker costs about 10 cents per hour to operate when it’s brewing
  • The TV and cable box cost around 5 cents per hour to run
  • The nine pot lights in my kitchen cost about 4 cents per hour when they are on
  • My airconditioner costs around 40 cents per hour to run
  • The microwave costs about 15 cents per hour to run

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