Wednesday, December 14, 2005

QUICK GREEN: Starving the Electricity Gluttons In Your Home

If you don't have 100% Green Power or your own solar cells for electricity, there are some surprising electricity eaters in your home that can really add up to a lot of energy usage and increasing your negative impact on the planet. Toning down use of these appliances might save you some cash, and reduce your "brown" footprint.

Everybody knows about Air Conditioning and that power drain -- but did you realize that there are some other major power gluttons lurking?

(Some of this discussion might not apply to a house with 100% Green Power -- if you have solar cells running your electric dryer, then you avoid the fossil fuels entirely. Huzzah!)

HOT HOT HOT: Coffee Maker / Water Heater / Dryer

An electric coffee maker uses a tremendous amount of electricity. The heating element to heat the water draws heavily, but so does the electric hotplate built into the thing, which may run (even in an "auto off" coffeemaker) for several hours.

Our pretty plain Mr. Coffee coffee maker is rated at 900 watts. If it runs for 2 hours, that's 1,800 watt hours, or 1.8 kWh (kilowatt hour) of power. Since the whole house uses between 12-14 kWh in a 24 hour period, you can see how that adds up. Thirty days of two hours of coffee maker use per day, on average, adds up to 54 kWh, enough electricity to run our entire home for four days!

The high-juice draw is true of any heating function performed by electricity. Stove, space heater, water heater, clothes dryer, hair dryer, oven -- even microwave ovens draw tremendous wattage for the time they are in use.

In addition, electrical heat is terribly inefficient in terms of resources these days. Once upon a time, the "Gold Medallion All Electric Home" was touted as the latest and greatest, but that was before we realized we needed to get the most efficiency out of every scrap of fossil fuel.

NOT NOT NOT: Thermal Inefficiency

Fire is still more thermally efficient for heating than overloading an electrical wire to make it glow to produce heat. In addition, a gas dryer and water heater use the energy in the gas directly to make heat, electrical devices use gas at a power plant to make heat, which is then used to generate electricity, which is then used to make heat again -- each step in the process loses efficiency and wastes the available energy.

So, if you can afford it, and already have 100% Green Power or are on Solar or Wind at home, electricity is a fine choice. But if, like most people, you can't afford to waste energy due to the cost, or don't want to leave a dead brown planet for your children, then it is an Easy Green thing to do to monitor, limit, and maybe even eliminate some of these electrical uses in your home.

Now where did I put that non-electric drip coffee maker?


Andrea Rusin said...

And really, the French press pot makes better coffee than my electric Mr. Coffee thing. Of course, I have to boil the water on the stove, but that's at least natural gas heat. If my French press coffe went straight into a thermal carafe, it would be even better. I hope Santa gets THAT hint!

lauren said...

Hmmm...Andrea's suggestion about the French press makes sense. (I was just telling Matthew that I want a nice big thermos too! In fact, we bought one for someone on our list for Christmas, and I had trouble mailing that gift.) The only problem for me is that I have an electric stove - which I hate but I'm in an apartment - so I'd have to use electricity to heat the water to pour into the French press. Then the coffee would get cold and I'd have to use the microwave to re-heat my second cup. Any suggestions??

For the past couple of years, I've been thinking about getting one of those wooden drying racks so that I could avoid the dryer at least some of the time. Being in an apartment in New England means that an outdoor clothesline just isn't going to work! Reading about the high use of electricity for heating might just be in the incentive that I need to finally get one. It seems like it would work especially well for all of those baby clothes.

baloghblog said...

we have the Sunbeam Hot Shot water dispenser.

It heats 2 cups of water (16 oz.) up to boiling in 1 1/2 mins. At 1450W yes it is a power drainer, but

1450W x 2/60 hrs (2 min) = 48 Wh or .048 kWh

Then you could run it through your french press.

[a bit more efficient than the old Mr. Coffee - I'll have to think about that.]

db said...

The wife bought me a Barrista coffee maker that drips into its own thermal coffee pot instead of to a heating element. Never thought of the energy savings, but any coffee lover who has suffered burnt, stale coffee will love this one.

Roger, Gone Green said...

Andrea -- They say the coffee is better, but I just find it stronger. I may have to balance coffee amount / brew time to get my ideal cup. I do like a simple drip cup though.

Andrea, Lauren, db -- Cool note about the thermal press. I also would not object to an "air pump" style thermos to pour the fresh brew into.

All: As to heating the water, baloghblog is probably right that the hot shot thingie would create a pot of water at low wattage, although one would have to experiment with the a wattage meter to know for sure. I understand the frustration of imposed cooking methods! In that respect the Mr. Coffee could be cheaper at making the coffee, just turn it off and dump it into an air pot to hold it.

Although electric water heating is not thermally efficient these days, it could be more green than gas IF you sign up for some sort of Green Source power (see links in main article), even without solar cells.

Wow -- glad this created so much discussion! Interesting process that is developing as we each inspire the others to be better, and can share ideas . . . ain't technology wunnerful!

WattHead said...

Roger, you're forgetting one of the worst types of energy gluttons in your home - phantom loads (also known as energy vampires). 'Phantom loads' refers to all of those devices that you think are off but are in actuality only on 'stand-by' and are still drawing power. According to this Treehugger post on stopping phantom loads, the US EPA estimates that up to 75% of all household energy use goes to feeding devices you think are off!

Now that seems a bit high to me, but it illustrates the large amounts of energy wasted to devices drawing a phantom load. Such devices include:

-TVs, VCRs, DVD players, stereos and anything else that is waiting in stand-by to respond to a remote control.
-Anything with an LCD display like your microwave, stove, etc.
-Anything with an AC-DC inverter or power regulator (those little boxy things that plug into the wall) including cellphone/iPod/other-electric gadget chargers, steroes, laptop chargers, etc.
-Computers and monitors.

What can you do about phantom loads? Well, the easiest thing to do is to put such electric appliances and devices on power strips that you turn off when you are not using them. This will eliminate the phantom loads for all the devices on the strip and is easier than unplugging them from the wall (another option). This is what I do in my house - I have one power strip on my desk for my computer speakers, laptop charger, cellphone charger, printer etc., one by my TV for the TV, VCR/DVD player and antenna box and another for my microwave. My girlfriend has another on her desk for her computer and chargers. Together, these four power strips eliminate all the phantom load devices in my apartment except the stove (with its LED clock). I simply flip off the power strip when I'm not using the devices - it's just as easy as turning off the lights in a room when you aren't in that room.

I have 100% wind power electricity but that doesn't mean we should go ahead and waste electricity. The worst part about phantom loads is that they are a complete waste of energy, powering appliances you thought were turned off and aren't using at all! Eliminating the phantom loads in my apartment have helped keep my electricity usage very low.

The other option is to purchase EnergyStar rated appliances. These devices are not only more energy efficient than comperable appliances but also have to meet stringent requirements on eliminating phantom load draws.

According to Treehugger, EnergyStar appliances "can use up to a full half of the standby electricity of standard household gizmos. If all the 'average' US houses adopted Energy Star, it would be like taking 1.5 million cars and their 20 billion ton of greenhouse gases off the road." Now that's no small impact!

In my opinion, buying EnergyStar is obviously a lot more spendy than simply buying a power strip and doesn't work for someone in an apartment (excepting for your computer - note: all Apple computers are EnergyStar rated) but for those of you with the money for new appliance, make sure you but EnergyStar and make sure they are efficient!

katie said...

hi! i have a thermal french press! for real! I just got it from my local coffee roaster/cafe. Stumptown, in Portland, Oregon. A friend had a similar thermal french press that she got from rei, and I looked there initially, but couldn't find it. Hers was cooler than mine, the lid screwed on. But it broke at some point. That was a couple of years ago.
I'm actually looking for a low watt space heater, that's why I found this site. Does anyone know of a good very low wattage space heater?

Anonymous said...

Low watt heater: How about a heat lamp bulb that you can get from a Farm Supply store? The heat from one of these is Infrared, and it feels just like the sun shining on you. I love them! They take 250 Watts and you need the special reflector base that plugs in to the wall. You can hang the base from a hook on the ceiling. They are great for a basement office.

Roger, Gone Green said...


Any use of electricity to make heat is relatively inefficient compared to fire (gas). However, there are some places where electricity is the only option (a basement perhaps) and it may be that the infrared light described is more efficient (although NOTE: I have no idea if there are any risks to health from constant exposure to artificial infrared lighting).

As it happens, if you leave a 250 W bulb on for, say, 8 hours,that's 2 kWh per day (2000 Watt-hours). My entire house uses about 12-15 kWh per 24 hour day, so you can see that that one bulb would constitute a large proportion of my electric usage. If it was on longer, it would have an even greater impact. So, all in all, I still recommend a good organic cotton flannel over any electric heating device . . .

Saira said...

That seems a bit high, but it illustrates the large amounts of energy wasted to devices drawing a phantom load.