Episode 57: December 12, 2012
by Eric Escobar
Before we get into this week’s episode, I want to remind you to sign up for my fun and free Holiday Helper live event on Thursday, December 13 at 9pm ET. I’ll be answering all your questions about gadgets and technology so you can be sure to make the techies on your gift list very happy. RSVP at shindig.com/event/tech-talker-holiday to reserve your spot. I look forward to meeting you!
This week’s episode was inspired by a rather high electric bill a family member of mine received. They wanted to know what the heck was sucking up all their electricity and how to cut their utility usage. I thought this would be a great topic for a Tech Talker episode because oftentimes it is all our electronics using the power.
So in this week’s episode we’ll be going over how technology can help save on your electricity bills.
The first thing I want to cover are lights, lights, and more lights! I’m sure by now you have seen or heard about CFL light bulbs. CFL stands for “compact florescent lamp,” and they are generally the curly light bulbs you see in stores. Here’s the difference between regular incandescent bulbs and CFLs: CFLs heat up gas until it releases light, while incandescent bulbs heat up a thin piece of metal until it produces light. For a visual reference, an incandescent bulb is the traditional light bulb that appears above your head when you have an idea!
CFLs are the more energy efficient replacements for the old incandescent light bulb. When they were first released, these bulbs had a few kinks, but now manufactures have had time to iron out the bugs that caused most of the user complaints. Now CFLs have many features such as 3 stages (used in lamps), a warmer glow, and increased life expectancy.
CFLs might be a little bit more expensive than your traditional incandescent light bulbs, but they will last longer, and consume a quarter of the electricity! The savings are so great that one light bulb can offset its own cost if used regularly throughout the year.
So if you want a really easy way to cut down on your electric bill, replacing your regular bulbs with these lights is the way to do it. Now there are also LED bulbs, and I believe that these bulbs will be the future of lighting one day. But for now, they just don’t produce enough light to make them a 1 to 1 replacement for your standard bulb.
The next best way to cut down on your utility bill is to install a smart thermostat. Many utility companies will offset the cost of a smart thermostat because of how much it can improve your home’s efficiency. So what exactly do I mean when I say a smart thermostat? Well, most of you probably have a dumb thermostat at your house. You can program it to kick on and turn off at specific times. It probably has the same schedule for every day of the week and runs just fine that way.
But here’s how a smart thermostat can save you money. At first it will act like a normal thermostat that you program it with a few of your temperature presets. But after this point, it comes alive! It has sensors that can detect your presence and turn off your heating or cooling when you’re away. This thermostat essentially learns from you and your habits and adjusts to better serve them. One of the most popular brands of smart thermostat is Nest.
It has an app for your smartphone that will allow you to turn your air-conditioning or heater on or off when you’re not there. This may not sound too revolutionary, I mean, it turns on and off when you’re there and when you’re not…great.
But just stop to think how many times you’ve forgotten to turn your system off when you’ve left to go out of town, or even when you left to go shopping for a few hours. If you forget to turn your thermostat off or down, you’re essentially running it for no reason. It is especially meaningful when you take into account that heating and cooling of a home take up more than 50% of your utility usage!
So far, the CFL light bulbs and smart thermostats I’ve talked about will help you save on electricity. But how about finding out which appliances use the most energy? For this task, I’ve found an awesome little $19 tool called the Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor. This is basically a small device that measures the amount of electricity an appliance uses. It’s like a small surge protector with a screen; one end goes into your wall socket and the other plugs into your appliance. From there it will display how much juice your device uses.
Once you do this, you will really be surprised at which appliances use the most electricity in your house. I swear that when I got my meter, I went around my entire house checking everything. Did you know that a hairdryer is one of the heaviest users of electricity? Same goes for space heaters. It’s pretty fascinating to see which devices draw the most power.
The device will show you the power a device uses in a unit of watts, or kilowatts. You can take this measurement and multiply it by the number of hours the appliance is running, and by the cost per kilowatt.
So for example, my computer consumes .2 Kilowatts or 200watts. If it is on for 10 hours, at a price of $0.10 a kilowatt-hour, then (0.2Kw) x (10 hours) x ($0.10/Kw-Hr) = $0.20. So it would cost me about $0.20 to run my computer for 10 hours. And if I left it on all month for 24 hours a day it would cost about $14. You can do this for every appliance in your house and create a pretty cool spreadsheet to show your family…who will look at you, and think you’ve gone crazy!
I also thought it was interesting to note that it costs about $3 a year to charge your cell phone. Just a fun fact! But in spite of how crazy your family will think you are for creating a spreadsheet of your kilowatt usage, it will be tremendously helpful to see which appliances utilize the most power and adjust your usage to save money.
If you have any questions about a specific gadget or electronic item you want to give as a gift this holiday season, I’ll be hosting an online meet-up courtesy of Shindig! I will be answering your questions LIVE on December 13th at 9pm EST. Click here for info and to RSVP today! I look forward to meeting you.
Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.
Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!
CFL Light Bulb image from Shutterstock