Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Inconspicuous consumption

It's hard to write something really exciting and eye-catching about conserving electricity.  I think that's because there's nothing really tangible to show for our efforts.  You don't see people bragging,
  • "By using double-coupons and sales, I got 450 kWh for only 32¢!"
  • "Look at this cute purse I made with leftover watts I saved from turning off my air conditioner!"
  • "I hit the yard sale this weekend and found a brand-name container of electricity in someone's Free Box!  With the tags still on!"
Electricity is almost invisible, and conserving it doesn't show.  So unplugging chargers while we're not using them, or turning off lights while we're not using them, or unplugging the cable box when we're not using it . . . it's hard to tell whether that's doing us any good.  It certainly isn't something we can show off to our friends.  ("Hey, Edna!  Look at this cute thermos I got on sale!  And take a look at this unplugged phone charger on my desk!")

And other energy-conserving tasks -- like hanging laundry, or turning off the air conditioner -- feel worse than doing nothing.  They can make us look wrinkly or feel uncomfortably warm.  When we don't see the meter ticking, it's hard to know if it's even worth it.  How much money does it cost, after all, to dry those t-shirts?  (I like stiff clothes and towels, so to me, air drying is way preferable to dryer use.  That's why my husband does the laundry in our house.)

If you really need to see the numbers to motivate you to make a change -- if you're not an eco-nut like me whose hobby is following people around the house turning off lights after them -- then you might appreciate getting an watt-hour meter. 

How do you get one?  I tried hard to find a way to borrow one, because they cost a bit of money (about $25, which is expensive by my standards).  I finally broke down and got one two years ago, and I've only used it a few times, but learned a lot each time.  For example, our cable/DVR/TV set-up draws 33 watts (1/3 of a bright lightbulb).  Running that 24 hours is like running a lightbulb one-third of the day (8 hours), so the set-up costs us 8-16¢ a day, or $30-60 a year.

If you live in Lancaster PA and want to borrow mine, just let me know.  

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