Kathy Petersen’s Blog

It all adds up

Posted in frugal by Kathy on March 8, 2010

Recently, I bought a Kill-a-Watt, and I’m very glad I did. It’s basically a little electronic meter you plug into your wall, and plug your electronic stuff into, and it tells you how much electricity it uses. Very simple concept. I first read about it many years ago in The Tightwad Gazette, but never got one. Whenever I would see one advertised, I wanted to get it, but never did until finally a couple of weeks ago.

While you can’t use it to test 220-volt appliances (like my dryer and stove), nor wired things like lights, ceiling fans, and central heat and air, if it can be plugged in to a regular two or three prong outlet, you can see how much electricity it uses.

One downside to it, is that it covers up both outlets, so if you have two things plugged into one outlet, you have to have one unplugged (unless you have an extension cord to reach it) while you test the energy usage of the other.

At $20, it will take me a little while to recoup the cost in electricity saved, but I think it’s worth it. Technically, I could have saved my money and just kept stuff unplugged and saved the money that way, but I would not have known if it were really worth it. For instance, leaving my microwave plugged in all the time draws a small amount of electricity — about 0.048kwh per day, which works out to about $1.40 per year, since my electricity costs about 3 cents per kwh. It’s worth that small cost to me, to avoid having to plug and unplug it every time I want to use it. My coffee maker costs about $3 per year, in latent usage plus making a pot of coffee per day (it’s a small pot — about 4 cups). Considering that I have a little clock on it and can set it to brew the coffee to be ready when I wake up, even if it cost $3 per year just to keep it in, it would be worth it to me. [I actually don’t like coffee, but this is for my husband when he wakes up.]

My husband was not pleased initially when I bought it, because he thought I was going to nag him about how much electricity things use, and make him stop using things like the space heater in the bathroom. That was not my intention at all — it was just to see what stuff uses, especially things like the computer and peripherals, or to see if our refrigerator was sucking electricity and needing to be replaced (it doesn’t), and if I could save money by turning stuff off either during the day while he’s gone to work, or at night when we’re not using it.

I haven’t completed the tour of the house to see how much stuff costs (the nightlight works out to about 30 cents per year, even plugged in constantly), our box fans and bedside lamps are also pretty low-cost, especially considering how little we use them. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the bathroom space heater only uses about 3 cents worth of electricity for 15 minutes of use. Honestly, I thought it was going to be worse than that. It all adds up, though — it would cost over $1000 in electricity if it were running on high 24/7. But, since we only use it once or twice (perhaps three times, depending on how cold it is in there and whether the kids take a bath) per day, and only during the winter months, it’s still worth it — and may even be a bargain, when you consider the cost of heating the entire house enough so that it is warm enough in the bathroom not to be chilly when you’re soaking wet.

Two things that I’ve seen already that can be unplugged to save money, with very little impact on our lives, are an air purifier (that I don’t think even works well), and some electronic devices we rarely use. The air purifier alone uses $3-4 of electricity every month, so just knowing that, we can recoup the cost of the Kill-a-Watt in about 5 months. I make DVDs out of VHS tapes, and have kept the VCR, camcorders, and the MovieBox gadget that connects these analog devices to the computer plugged in all the time. That made sense when I was transferring my own home movies, and those of my mom’s, etc., but I’ve not been doing much of that lately. I discovered, thanks to the Kill-a-Watt, that we can save $20 a year just by not having these things plugged in.

My office was a little convoluted when it came to what was plugged into which strip, and it turned out that in addition to those gadgets I mentioned above, we also had several other devices plugged in that we weren’t using. Since I’m not sure what was plugged in where, I don’t know how much electricity each thing used, so I’m going to have to retest. But this is another reason I’m glad to have gotten the thing — it helps to clear up the junky looking mess of wires (a little bit, anyway) behind our desks, because I actually stopped and took the time to figure out what was running. I could have done this without buying the gadget, but I hadn’t — it was the impetus of buying the gadget that made me really look at this.

I just did this a few hours ago, and am retesting my computer setup. Currently, I have my monitor, printer, and computer plugged in on one power strip, with the power strip plugged into the Kill-a-Watt. I’ll see how much electricity it uses while running, and then how much it uses when I shut things off for the night. It could be interesting. Since it’s all on one strip, I know I can flip the rocker switch to turn everything off at once, so it will use zero electricity overnight. I may just do that, once I see how much latent energy it pulls. Then tomorrow, I’ll figure out my husband’s power strip, which also has the modem and router plugged in. I’m guessing that we can drop our electric bills by nearly $10 per month, just by being conscientious about our usage — particularly our computers.

One thing that makes it a little difficult to see about latent energy usage is that it is usually so low that it may sit at 0.01 kwh for several hours, so it may make some things look like it draws more latent energy than another thing, when in reality, you just happened to notice it right after it turned to 0.02 kwh. But that’s still awfully low — 30 cents per year if it draws only 0.01 kwh for 24 hours, vs. 60 cents per year at 0.02 kwh.

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