Embracing Austerity

A few years ago (and a few blog locations ago), I really enjoyed joining in the collective attempts of the blogosphere in the “Riot for Austerity”. As soon as I saw Wendy’s recent post about it, I knew I’d have to join in. Over the fall of 2016, I backed off on a few frugal and homestead habits, but have been feeling the need to get back to them. The new “riot” is a welcome reminder to help get on track while we are still in our current home, and to find resources that will help us continue to stay on our path in our new one. I’m quite happy to join in and to have found the new-to-me blog of the new riot’s hostess.

The first thing I’ll be tackling in our utility usage. In our case, living in military housing means we don’t receive any information about our water usage, whatever it may be – my family simply uses good water conservation practices and assumes the best. We do, however, receive a monthly statement of our electric and natural gas usage, and with an electric water heater, our hot water usage does affect our electricity bill. In our case, the statement often comes with a rebate check; our monthly rent prepays for the house and utilities, which are figured into a neighborhood average. Those under the baseline amount receive a refund while those over the baseline are charged for the extra they use.

Since I happen to have recently received our electric & gas statement, it’s rather convenient to tackle Electricity as the first portion of the “checklist” from the Riot. The first thing I did was see if I could scare up some recent stats on the average American’s utility usage. According to the U.S. Energy Information Adminstration, in 2015, the average American’s monthly electricity usage was 901 kwWh. (Since Heating and Cooking Energy is a separate item on the list, I will revisit the bill again – our stove is electric, but our furnace is natural gas.) Moving to a more local usage chart, the average (“baseline”) electric usage for our neighborhood and our floor plan was 881 kWh from November 14 to December 14, 2016. Our usage was 703 kWh, which gave us a net usage of -178 kWh for the month. However, compared to November of 2015, we were “high” – our net electric usage in November 2015 was -284 vs. the baseline that month.

While I am happy to be under both the average American monthly usage and our neighborhood average for the month, I can definitely see room for improvement. The first reason our electric usage was high (for us) was because it gets dark early in our area during fall and winter. Not much I can do about that, as the kids and I usually only have one lamp on (even with both bulbs turned on, it uses less than the dining fixture with three bulbs) starting from about 2 or 3 pm daily. During the summer, we don’t need lamps until 9 or 10 at night, so technically things balance out over the year.

The second reason our electric usage was high was use of the electric dryer. We had more rain during the fall of 2016 than we did during 2015, and I got out of the habit of using our clothesline. We have a small family, but every load of laundry dried on the line certainly helps. Our weather has been freezing (literally) for the past month or so, but on dry days I need to remember to get out there and use our drying racks and clotheslines.

The third reason our electric usage was high was because of the use of the television and the new-to-us gaming console. My parents are avid gamers and upgraded their console, so they passed on their old one, which my kids used to play weekly during lunch at Gramma & Grampa’s house. They’ve had more than enough game time here at home, and we had already been discussing limitations and methods of earning their game time. Showing everyone in the family the difference in electric use will be a big part of the “why” on our upcoming game limits; it will be a more tangible reason to go along with the information about too much TV and game time being bad for their brains and their behavior.

So – all that said, here are my goals for decreasing our electric usage over the next 60 days or so (we move at the beginning of April):

1) Plan for use of clothesline and drying racks for laundry – this will require a lot of weather app consulting and me donning gloves and winter gear, since the cold weather affects me very quickly. At the very least, I can use my large wooden drying rack indoors and just plan for the extended drying time. Even if I have to run the loads of laundry through the dryer for a short amount of time to finish them off, it will immediately be less than running six full loads of laundry through the dryer for the full dry time each week.

2) Incorporate the use of our kerosene lamps in the evenings to replace some of the electric lights we do use. I have a handful of lamps that are half full; I can burn their kerosene out prior to the upcoming move and create a nice ambience at dinner time in one fell swoop.

3) Finalize my decisions regarding gaming times/earning methods and institute the new policy with the kids this week. This should cut down on the bulk of the new usage. We do not have cable or satellite, so we’re not a “TV as background noise” household; we normally have very specific, short periods of time that we watch TV together as a family.

How do you address electricity usage in your home? We have fairly good conservation methods in our family, but I am always open to hearing what others are doing. It’s my hope that something will pop out to me as one more thing I can do to cut our usage even further. At some point, I’ll try to share a little list of the things we do already – maybe they’ll give you ideas if you’re just starting out or looking for ways to improve as well. What do you say – shall we “Riot” together?

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