Grit Blogs > A Long Time Coming

Lower Electric Bill: All Things Energy

A photo of Shannon SaiaIt’s been a busy few weeks around here. Much change is afoot.

About six weeks ago I was smacked with an electric bill over $700 – not good. To make matters worse, it’s not the first time. For the past few years there have been a few months in the summer and a few months in the winter when our bills have spiked outrageously. Sometime last year we pulled out a year’s worth of electric bills and mapped out our kWh usage, and the results were remarkably varied. Bills at the height of the summer heat and the winter cold were as much as three times higher than the milder spring and fall months. Over the past few years this pattern has been predictably stable, and so has the kWh usage. So why was I surprised when I opened up that $700+ dollar electric bill?

We’ve been aware that the house has issues. The first few years we lived here we ran an old and decrepit oil furnace. This was in those years following 9/11, when oil and gas prices were escalating. We were paying substantial electric bills then, and about $180 year-round on top of it for oil. In fact we had stopped using the oil furnace there for awhile and were using a woodstove for heat, which was working out just fine. But as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, we have space issues around here. So every year we would disassemble the wood stove and get it out of the house to make more living space during the warmer months. We had it in the winter my daughter was an infant. But a year later, when she was toddling, we were hesitant to install it. For that crucial year, it didn’t seem safe. We were worried that she might touch it, or fall against it. So we bought oil and cranked up the furnace again – and a few days later when the HVAC people came around to clean and inspect it, we were warned that it was rusted through and unsafe. We were advised not to use it, and you didn’t have to tell us twice. We didn’t like having an oil furnace anyway, so we figured, good riddance.

That year we heated with electric space heaters – not the most efficient or inexpensive thing to do. The following year we had the furnace removed and put in a heat pump. It was better, especially in the summer, but in the coldest months the bills were still high. This winter we decided we were going to be smarter. This fall we insulated our attic – a long-overdue project that made a difference in the overall ambient temperature and in our electric bills – until we got the bill for that month when we had feet of snow on the ground and 16-degree winds whipping in at us from off the river. We had thought we could get through the winter with lower bills with the insulation alone. Obviously this was not the case. So by the beginning of February we started talking about bringing the wood stove back in.

Well, one of the glass panes on the front of the stove broke last year, and would need to be repaired. In the meantime we had closed the space up with metal which was safe enough as far as keeping the fire where it should be. But the stove was no longer airtight when it was shut, and so it was running less efficiently. Still. We have high electric bills. We own a woodstove, and we have had almost two cords of wood outside curing for a year and a half. Putting the stove back in the house is a no-brainer, right?

Well. Since the last time we had the stove in the house, we’ve put a deck on the back of the house, and the stove will not fit through the gate opening. We own a box truck with a lift gate, but it needs a water pump, and we can’t get it started to move the stove to either door, and let me tell you, that sucker is HEAVY.

Curses. Foiled again.

Long story short, we broke down and ordered a pot-belly stove from the Northern Tool Catalogue. We had it installed and in use by mid-late-February. It works great. The heat pump is running much less often.

Wood stove installed

Oh, and I stopped using my dryer. I bought a nice drying rack and have been using it faithfully. I’ve been reading our electric meter every Friday, and this past week – the first full week with the stove running and the dryer not being run – we used half the kWh that we had the week before.

We’re excited to make even more changes in this direction. By the time the addition is done we’ll have our old stove fixed, and will put that one in the other end of the house. Another project between now and next winter is to put insulation into the walls of the old part of the house. It was built in 1918, has plaster walls for the most part, and there is no insulation in them at all. So that is definitely on the list.

In other news:

I’m signed up to attend a backyard poultry class this coming weekend. I’m really excited about that.

My Tamworth is heading to the butcher on 14 March, so I should soon have half a hog in my freezer.

I am getting true leaves on my broccoli seedlings. I managed to get one cauliflower and one Brussels sprouts seed to sprout. I have a lot of lovely little Early Jersey Wakefield and Red Acre Cabbage seedlings. This weekend I’m starting some tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and celeriac. I’m just waiting for the first halfway decent day so that I can go outside and clean up and re-engage with my garden.

Finally, inside and outside, I can feel the onset of spring!

3/9/2010 7:57:39 PM

Shannon--holy cow--$700??!! We're in an old house too (well, old for Alaska, which means about 1950-ish), and have been saying for a while now that we need to insulate our attic better. We supplement with wood heat sometimes. When we got married, the house still had an ancient oil furnace that would periodically go out and was really hard to restart, so I insisted (as is a wife's perogative!) that we replace it with a new furnace. We're hooked up to natural gas--is that available where you are? Our dryer is also gas, and the gas bill averages about $80/month. Good luck with all your plant starts--it's always fun to watch them grow. Alaska Susan

s.m.r. saia
3/9/2010 5:56:27 AM

Thanks MountainWoman!

mountain woman
3/5/2010 12:29:07 PM

Shannon, When I read about your electric bill, I couldn't believe it. Wow!!! We went to an outside boiler a few years ago because oil to heat the house was way too costly for our budget. We have timber land so it only costs us work to gather and split the wood. We also have a wood stove running as well. I loved that you are going to have a clothes line. It's also on my to do list for spring. And Nothern Tool is our favorite catalog :-) I think your pot belly stove is really great!

s.m.r. saia
3/5/2010 6:58:14 AM

Thanks! We are definitely enjoying it!

nebraska dave
3/4/2010 5:39:24 PM

Susan, that’s a mighty fine looking stove you got there. The beauty of having the wood burning stove is, it’s not dependant on electricity. No blowers to wear out. No thermostats to go bad. In fact there are virtually no moving parts to wear out. Unfortunately it is a bit messy dealing with the ashes and some what back breaking to process the wood for the stove. Old houses and high heating bills just seems to go together. Those old kitchen cook stoves really took skill to use. My Great Grand Mom knew just how many corn cobs that would stoke up just the right heat in the stove and just how far to leave the oven door open to make the best biscuits and to bake the best bread ever. I don’t know how she did it but she was the master of the kitchen cook stove. Many pies, cookies, cakes, and other assorted yummies came out of that stove. To keep things cool in the summer she had a cabinet door that she opened and pulled on a rope and pulley mechanism to bring a basket up out of the ground under the house. A dumb waiter they called it. In the Winter they just put stuff on the enclosed porch unless it got really cold then it was usually cool enough in the house to keep the butter from melting and the milk from souring. Some people would say that those were the good old days. As for me, I think they were just the old days. Quite frankly I like the heated flush toilets instead of the little house out back with the Sears catalog.