How to audit your energy usage

Alberta is a energy producing province, but we’re also large consumers of energy compared to most other provinces. Plus, a lot of the energy in our province is from fossil fuels like coal and gas, which have a big environmental impact. Strangely enough though, not many people seem to know how much energy they’re actually using. Do you know? Do you pore over your utility bills when they come in? I didn’t, but when I started to it certainly got me thinking. Studies have shown that people who monitor their energy use typically see reductions of 5-10% per year (approximately $40-80), just by being more aware of when devices are on and how much each appliance uses. Taking control of our energy usage at a household level is one way we can make a difference and often save some money.

Know what you are using

Many people are not very aware of how much energy they are using. Even if you take a look at your electricity or gas bill, things like kWh may not mean much to you. So what is a kilowatt and kWh? A kilowatt is 1000 watts and kWh is kilowatt hour, which is the measurement for usage.  For example, if you have a 60 watt LED light bulb and left it running for 16.67 hours you’d have used 1000 watts or a kilowatt. Or a 400 watt fridge for 2.5 hours would be a kilowatt. You get the picture.

Ok, now we understand that, to help reduce your energy use you need to use that information to understand how much you are using. Measuring and monitoring your energy consumption are important steps. By measuring your energy use initially, you will be able to measure your impact as you start to implement other energy saving tips. There are several ways to measure your energy use at both household and appliance level: 

Household

  • Keep track of your energy usage by reading your utility bills and/or reading your electric and gas meters. Most gas and electric meters have 4 or 5 small dials that read left to right that tell you how many units (kWh) of gas or electricity you have used.  If you’d like to keep your utility company honest you can compare to make sure the readings are correct. Just figure out the number at the beginning and end of the month, subtracting the number from the start from the one at the end to know the usage over the month. Multiply this by the price per kilowatt hour your utility company charges then you know what your energy should have cost. If you compare the usage from your previous months bills (or comparable billing month the previous year to account for seasonal fluctuations) you can start to see differences in usage from implementing energy saving measures, or if you haven’t made any changes but your energy usage has gone up you can consider why there may have been a change and address it. 
  • If it’s within your budget you could invest in a whole-house electricity monitor: You can buy simple, safe devices that easily clip onto your meter’s cable from places like Home Depot. They give you up-to-the-minute information about how much electricity you are using, even down to the appliance level, and how much it is costing you (along with CO2 emissions, as well). 

Appliance

  • Similarly to buying a household monitor, you can also purchase one for individual appliances and devices and they generally are just used between your appliance end plug and the wall outlet to measure energy use. These come in a range of price brackets. It may be useful to get a quality device to ensure accuracy, but this is dependent on your budget. 
  • To get an idea of the use of individual appliances without an appliance monitor you can use your meter to help measure, it’ll just be a little less accurate. Check your meter and note the number before you start using an appliance. Run the appliance (for example, your dishwasher or clothes dryer) and then go and read the meter again. The change is likely to reflect fairly closely the use of that individual appliance depending how many other appliances you have running at the time. 

Once you know where most of your usage comes from and when it occurs, you can consider replacing specific appliances or modifying your patterns of use. 

DIY Energy audit 

You can use Environment Lethbridge’s DIY Energy Audit​ to conduct an audit of your losses and potential savings. It walks you through auditing your house in five key areas: air leakage, insulation, heating and cooling equipment, lighting and electronic/appliance use. Please take note of the “Know your limitations” box on page two to ensure safety and allow appropriate time to conduct a thorough and safe energy audit. 

If you’ve already started to monitor your usage and then you start to fix some of the inefficiencies you find during your audit you may well see some improvement in your energy use immediately if the appliances or leak for example, are considerable energy draws. But, a lot of the items are likely to be relatively small gains that become considerable cumulative improvements over time and when multiple changes are being made and the gains compound.

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