Sunday, February 22, 2009

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Power crazy

This blog post was inspired by a Facebook status. More accurately, it was inspired by Shannon's comment on my Facebook status, in which she asked me to "please blog about this. Now." So when you find it boring, you know who to blame.

So it turns out that the price of energy is rising. You may be surprised to learn this, but apparently there's some sort of problem - you might even call it a crisis - regarding our various sources of fuel for things like, oh, vehicle operation and power generation. Now, I've heard that those prices have been going down lately, but I don't drive a car anymore and I certainly haven't seen such a reduction in my power bill.

In fact, my power bill has reached levels of absurdity. Levels of absolutely ridiculous, ludicrous, infuriating absurdity. I just processed a payment of $268.19 for one month's use of electricity. For a shorter-than-usual 28-day month. While wearing a blanket over my shoulders like a shawl so I can tolerate my 59-degree apartment. Which is my regular evening outfit as of late. So I don't run my inefficient heater any more than I have to. Because I like to save energy. I really, really believe in using as little energy as I can. And it's only partially so I can avoid spending $268.19 on electricity.

Over the summer, my electricity bill was lower than this. $25.89 in July. $26.59 in May. $38.80 in September. When it jumped to $185.02 in December, I was a little shocked, so I called Pepco, our local power utility, to express my concern. The poor guy had apparently heard similar calls from more than just me that day, as he immediately launched into his lecture on how power rates go up in the winter, and how when you start running your heater you're using more power than you typically do, and how these two facts together compound to create unusually high bills. I understood - after all, my bills last winter were pretty high, too. Of course, last winter my heater turned out to be broken, so I was running it hour after hour, hoping to get a little warmth, unsuccessfully - and this winter I have been running it only when absolutely necessary. But still, a hike in winter power bills is necessary, as demand surges and a supply-and-demand economy will react predictably. And besides, I thought - this year my heater has been fixed and is more efficient. And this year I have replaced all my bulbs with CFLs. Etc. etc. (More on my efficiency efforts will follow.) So, I figured, my bills will certainly go up in the winter, but they should still be lower than last winter.

Let's compare:

January 2008: $79.41
January 2009: $202.21

February 2008: $137.59
February 2009: $268.19

March 2008: $161.77
March 2009: I don't want to know

Just for the record, the following are efficiency upgrades I have made to my apartment since last winter, upgrades that I would think would result in lower, not higher, energy bills:

  • I have replaced all my apartment's light bulbs with CFL bulbs. The exception is the bulbs in my living room, which are on dimmer switches and can't be replaced by the standard CFLs. I never use my living room lights (relying instead on a 7-watt CFL lamp.)
  • I got my landlord to replace my wall-mounted, electric-run heater with one that actually works, so when I do run it, I only have to run it for a few minutes to get my immediate vicinity to a level of relative comfort. The rest of the apartment remains cold, but I've grown accustomed to wearing a shoulder blanket grandma-style.
  • I unplug all my "secret energy vampires." Those are the things in your house that drain energy even when they are not turned on. They include everything with a remote control, which is never turned off but is only in standby mode (TV, DVD player, Wii, etc.) It also includes rechargers, so I only have my computer plugged in when it absolutely needs a recharge - same with my phone.
  • I have been out of town more this winter than I was last winter, and when I go out of town, I now unplug EVERYTHING, including my microwave, my alarm clock, etc. I even unplugged my DVR for the entire 11 days I was home for Christmas because none of my shows were new during that time.
  • I often pull clothes from the washer and let them air dry for a while before putting them into the dryer, to minimize the amount of time I need to run the dryer.
  • I turned a couple of old pants legs into draft snakes. Draft snakes are basically long tubes of cloth filled with beans (I used kidneys) that you lay along the foot of doors to reduce draft. They work really well. My apartment is ridiculously drafty, especially at the front door. When I stand near it, I can feel cold air blowing in. With the draft snakes in place, I don't feel that draft. My door is so drafty, I have actually had to use one draft snake on the floor and one perched precariously vertically along the side of the door. It helps keep the apartment warm longer after I turn the heater off. Photo:

I have my concerns, my paranoid theories that something wrong is afoot that I won't be able to solve. My biggest worry is that some portion of the electric outlets for the apartment upstairs (home to six or seven energy-unconscious roommates) are being billed to my apartment. I've raised that concern with Pepco and with my landlord before, but I don't think there's any way that's going to be explored. I also wondered if the electricity meter out front was messed up, but I have learned to watch it in operation and it seems to be running at a rate that is proportionate to how many electrically powered things I have running inside. It also runs much more slowly than the meter for the upstairs apartment. So I think the bottom line is that I have an inefficient apartment - a dryer that takes longer than necessary to dry clothes, an old fridge that wastes electricity, a drafty apartment and a joke of a heater - and Pepco knows they can get away with charging ridiculous rates in the winter. When, oh when, will spring be here?!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Is this real life?

So this is apparently the viral Internet video of the moment, and everyone seems to find it cute and hilarious. I feel like I'm one of the few people who finds it unbelievably disturbing and upsetting. I guess maybe it has its moments of cuteness, like when David discovers his fingers. But when he lifts himself out of his car seat and screams, when he asks, "Is this going to be forever?" and when he asks, "Why is this happening to me?", I think it's horrible. I feel like I should warn you not to watch it unless you're ready to be haunted by it for a long time, but like I said, everyone else seems to think it's just funny. I, on the other hand, think the same dad whose poor parenting led to this kid's need of oral stitches in the first place is securing his place in hell by YouTubing his kid's frightening drug trip. Every time I watch it, I feel like I am watching documented child abuse, and it has given me a few nightmares. I'm not kidding. You've been warned.