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?!


amelia said...

Grandpa Doug, this is the most hardcore sleuthing I have ever seen. Do you save all your old power bills? And yes, spring needs to arrive. I am SO SO SO sick of winter.

Jacelle said...

I would pay money to see you sitting there with Edison with you and your lap blanket sewing beans into your old pant legs...hahaha. THanks for the tip on the power vampires. Noted. I need to make some changes of my own.

Erin said...

Wow. I think you can officially no longer make fun of tiff for her old man phrases (although I do think something seems amiss with your power bill).

doug said...

Pepco keeps about a year's worth of old bills online. Come on, people. It's the Internet age. "Do you save all your old power bills?" Who's the grandpa?!

Marie said...

Your power bills seem way out of line to me. Rates might be drastically different there from here, but yikes. We have a gas heater, so if I combine my gas and electric bills for January, I'm at about $200. Our house has about 2,000 square feet of finished space, but it's new, of course.

Heidi said...

I very much enjoyed your pics of the draft snake. Just wanted to put that out there.

SB said...

First of all, how much is your gas bill? Or is everything (water heater etc.) run off of electricity? Still, our combined gas and power has never been more than $160, and is generally much lower in milder months. And that's for a 3000 square foot home and a family of four (and sadly we don't go to nearly the same conservation lengths as you do). Something seems amiss. I'd do a poll of other residents in you building. Have you thought about moving? I'm sorry for your grief. You work too hard to have all your money going to The Man. :) And thanks for indulging me with this post. I found it very interesting. You’re not a grandpa, just a real grown up.

doug said...

To Shannon's questions: I pay a flat $25 rate to the landlord every month for gas. As far as I know, the only thing that uses gas is the water heater, which I share with the upstairs apartment.

As far as polling the other residents, my apartment is the basement of a row house, so it's just my place and then the main house upstairs, which is shared living space among like six people. I've talked to them about it and they pay a ton for electricity, too.

Kelly said...

One word: Snuggie!
The snuggie will make your transformation to the grandpa side complete. Also, they do make dim-able CFLs, but they aren't easy to find.

King Jimmie said...

This is not fair. NO ONE goes to the lengths you go to in order to conserve, and yet you are getting screwed harder (and deeper) than anyone I know. Move home. And don't give me that shit about there being no jobs. You can take a 50% pay cut and still come out about even after you factor the difference in cost of living, and apparently, the cost of electricity. Seriously, I can't stand all of this stuff about your mold, and your backed-up sewage, and your broken heater, and your ridiculous electricity bill, and... It kills me! You don't deserve it Douglas! And I need you here for the following:

- My bachelor party
- Tuxedo fitting
- My wedding
- The birth and upbringing of my children
- The birth and upbringing of the Ridd children
- The birth and upbringing of Phil's children?
- My birthdays
- Steph's birthdays
- Gizelle's bithdays
- Your birthdays
- Sunday dinners
- Various bar outings
- Jazz games with you, me, and Phil
- Game nights
- Road trips
- Superbowl parties
- Summer barbecues
- Wii tournaments
- Christmases
- Easters
- Halloweens
- Decemberweens

You get the idea. Just come home. Thanks.

SB said...

King Jimmie has the right idea. Come home!!

doug said...

It's hard to say no to a king.

Emmalee said...

You ARE getting screwed, royally!!! I was pretty upset about our electric and gas bills for Jan too! It was about $260, up from last year's $180, and we hadn't ever tried to be energy conscious...so now we turn off all lights, unplug the appliances we can, etc. Maybe you should move to Portland where bills are still high, but not quite as high as DC! :) If moving back to Utah doesn't work out, that is...

Emmalee said...

OH! and as you see, we keep record of our bills too...not the actual bills, just a record of them. I don't think it's grandfatherly, just fiscally responsible! :)

Wendy said...

You should use candles and bunson burners to heat up your food. Damn the man who is taking you for a ride on that electricity deal. If you don't figure it out, I'm sending you a check for an undisclosed amount every month.

Joe said...

this sounds really crazy. i'm very careful about my energy vampires, too, so it sounds like you must be heating all of the upstairs as well for the prices to be so high. Dominion Power (just across the river here in VA) doesn't come anywhere near those prices. I'm betting the basement apartment is just horribly insulated.

Ben said...

Late to the game here, but a friend is in the same predicament. Don't suppose you could post your kWH historically along with the bill amounts? This would help see how much the impact is rate increases vs some sort of funky measurement/reading issue by their meter readers.