With Central Air Conditioning Season well underway, I thought it was a good time to produce a series of articles about how to reduce your electricity use. This article is the first in a series on “how to” reduce your electricity use. In this case I’m referring specifically to “plug load” and not heating.

Consider this: when you go on a diet you always have a specific target amount of weight you want to lose. It doesn’t matter that it’s five or twenty-five pounds, it’s that you know how much you want to lose and you work towards achieving that amount. And how do we arrive at the targeted amount we want to lose? By knowing where we’re starting from. With body weight, it’s a pretty easy process: you step on a scale, find out how much you weigh, (calm yourself down after you’ve read the number) and decide what weight you ideally want to be and what weight is realistic. That part in between — the actual losing weight process — is the hard part, but the point is, you can’t know how much weight you need to lose until you know where you’re starting from.

It’s the same with conservation, be it energy, water, transportation or living better. If you want to lower your environmental footprint, you can’t really make any real progress unless you have a good idea of where you’re starting from. That’s the point of benchmarking. Benchmarking will help you figure out how much you’re using and give you an idea of where you need to go from there. Also, once you know how much you’re using, you can tackle the easy “low hanging fruit” first — kind of like the “first five pounds of water” when you start a diet. Get fast and easy results and it will motivate you to continue….right?

Another point of benchmarking is discovering how much energy or water you use versus the average family living near you. Finding that out can either be a startling revelation if you use more than average, or comforting, if you already use less. In Ontario, in 2007, the average family of four used just under 900 kWh of electricity monthly. Since the majority of Ontario homes are heated with natural gas, you can assume that electricity use is mostly plug and lighting load.

How do you compare? To find out how much you use, pull out your electricity bill. There is a lot of juicy information on that bill — at least here in Toronto. Not only can you see monthly comparisons from this year’s use versus last year’s, but also your average daily consumption and total number of days included in the billing period.

According to our bill, our family of five consumes 26 kWh per day outside the air conditioning season for a total of about 786 kWh per month. While it’s less than the 950 kWh used by the average Ontario family of five, it could be better.

Our house has a smart meter which means I can go online at any time and check out what time of day I’m using the most electricity. Like any family, our heaviest usage times are first thing in the morning and at night. Big surprise.

So, I have two goals that I’ll set myself and aim for over the next two months. The first is to decrease our home’s overall electricity consumption, and secondly, to try to shift more of our habits to mid and lower peak-use times. Let’s say I decide that I want to decrease the amount of electricity we use by 30%. I’m not sure yet if that’s realistic. Depending on how we use electricity will help determine what changes I can make to lower our consumption. How will I do that?

Stay tuned for part II: the DIY plug load (electricity) audit.

BEC Green

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