As some of you know, the homes that both Babci and my family live in were fixers when we bought them. My home is now been fully redone but babci’s is still in progress.
I thought that today I’d do a little Babci vs Sandy head to head smackdown and see who comes out on top.
Energy Efficiency – Vampire Appliances
Okay, I concede immediately. I really should use Mike’s tips on Phantom Appliances. I have gobs more electronics than babci does. We have multiple computers, I have a home office, we have cell phones that need charging, etc. Babci actually goes around unplugging everything and she doesn’t even own a cell phone, computer, digital camera, camcorder, etc. It’s a little annoying when I go to use her microwave, toaster or radio and they are all unplugged. I don’t think she keeps anything plugged in ever. The only thing that’s consistently plugged in is the TV and that’s because it’s hard for her to reach the plug (and even that was unplugged the other day).
I’m pretty sure my family would revolt if everything they used was unplugged at all times. This one she wins hands down. Can you imagine not having a computer?
Babci 1, Sandy 0
Energy Efficiency – Electricity Usage
Babci’s electricity Bill is 1/3 of ours and I am constantly complaining to my husband about it. He reminds me of 2 things. The first is that it’s unfair to compare ourselves to someone who grew up without electricity and second, we are a family of 4, so our expenses should be higher. Babci actually hates bright light because she grew up on candlelight. I’m always complaining about how I can’t see in her house and when I put a bigger wattage bulb, she complains that it’s too bright.
Sandy’s actions – Pros: all energy star appliances, CFL bulbs throughout the house and constantly getting screamed at for turning off lights in rooms that people aren’t currently using. Cons – using the dryer, air conditioning and in general having more stuff that needs electricty.
Babci’s actions – Pros: 7 watt bulbs that you can’t see anything when they are on, line drying her clothes. Cons: She likes to keep her water heater at scalding temperatures. She also has old appliances.
Babci 2, Sandy 0
Energy Efficiency – Weatherproofing
I think I was 15 years old before Babci finally spent the $180 it took to insulate her attic in my childhood home. Afterwards she couldn’t believe how big a difference it made. Babci also had 33 windows in her apartment building and it was just impossible to do it all at once because she didn’t have the money to replace them. Since borrowing money to do it never entered her pretty little head, every time she got an extra $250 bucks, she would replace 2 windows. I think it took her another 10 years to put double pane windows in her apartment building. Before we got the new windows, we’d hang plastic up in the winter. It helped, but it was a lot of work and a thin sheet of plastic is not as good as a pane of glass with air in between.
When we bought our home, our attic and ducts were insulated before the first winter came upon us. We also had a programmable thermostat installed. It did take another 8 years before we had the doors and windows replaced in our home though. The doors were pretty rough but the windows weren’t as horrible as the 100 year old ones that were in my mom’s home.
In Babci’s current home, the insulation is horrible and the people framed the walls backwards with the 2×4’s set the long way so that there is only 2″ of clearance for insulation in the walls. In addition to the crumbling plaster and need for new wiring, this is yet another reason for gutting rooms, so that we can frame out the walls and insulate with 4″ of fiberglass. Some walls don’t even have any insulation at all.
Think I win this round. Energy efficiency is always at the top of our list of improvements but it was insulating her house at age 15 that showed me what a quick payback time it was.
Babci 2, Sandy 1
Energy Efficiency – Heating
Babci grew up cold and hungry…so these are two areas that she splurges on. As a result, certain parts of her house are sauna-like at all times, and other parts of her house she stores her root vegetables in because they are so cold. When Babci went to Poland, one of her pipes froze, but thankfully didn’t burst. After that my husband put his foot down and had the house set to the 60’s for the entire time she was gone, all day 24 hours a day.
The result? Having a couple of hot rooms costs a lot more to heat than having a whole house of warm rooms. Her bills were actually about $50/month lower when we heated the whole house to the mid 60’s than when she curtains off the kitchen and it’s 80 but keeps the rest of the house frigid. She also has steam radiators so those are pretty difficult to control. It takes a lot longer to heat the house and it does overshoot quite a bit. Forced hot air is much more efficient and way lower maintenance. It’s something to consider if you’re buying a new home. Radiators stink and they’re noisy and take up a lot of room.
The department of energy has some great tips on heating/cooling . It’s worth a read in itself. In fact, even my furnace installer was spreading around a myth that this article dispelled. He told me that a furnace has to work harder when it has to heat a whole house up more than a few degrees and to never set my programmable thermostat lower than 65. WRONG. That’s a myth and it’s pretty sad when a professional says that stuff. The Department of Energy also has some data that says: By turning your thermostat back 10°–15° for 8 hours, you can save about 5%–15% a year on your heating bill—a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. Those are some big numbers.
Just as a data point, for our 1700 sq ft home, we went from using 3 tanks/oil a season to 2 (right now ~$900/yr savings) for the improvements we made: Insulation, new windows, doors, furnace, programmable thermostat). Payback was about 5 years and we’ll definitely hit it in our home, plus it helps resale value having new windows/doors, etc. We keep our house at 68 during the day and 65 at night. We pay less in heating/year than Babci and have for years. We did end up having to change both furnaces for different reasons and honestly I didn’t notice as big a difference after replacing a furnace as I did when I just plugged up the house and kept the cold air from coming in. It did help some, but if I were to choose to spend some coin, I’d do the insulation, doors and windows first, furnace second.
Babci 2, Sandy 2
Energy Efficiency – Summary
I guess Babci and I are tied up and I swear I didn’t plan it tha way. I still want to do more with our electricity bill, but I’m pretty happy about where we’re at with our heating costs. Now that I work from home on some days there is a slight uptick in costs for electricity and heat. I guess the last tip I’d say, is that there is definitely a dual benefit to being at work. You don’t have to use energy during that time, so not only are you earning money but you’re using someone else’s electricity and heating during those hours. I know some of the frugal extremists even do things like charge their phones at work so they don’t have to do it at home.
What energy efficiency improvements are still on your list?