Someday, I dream of driving an electric vehicle and having solar panels generating clean energy on the roof of my house. These are some great goals, but it’s essential to be realistic about the changes you can make today and the ones needed to make those dreams come true. To make changes, I’m tracking my utility data.

Why should I track my usage?

There are numerous reasons.

The two that don’t require explanation are saving money on utility bills and reducing the impact on the environment.

I’m tracking my utility usage to enable me to get solar & an electric vehicle in the future. I did some basic napkin-math and figured out the (very rough) amount of electricity that I should generate from rooftop solar. Ideally, I don’t want to pay a utility company, so I need to find a way to get my household use below the generation potential.

This challenge is increased because, at some point, I’ll be moving off methane, and I’m currently uncertain how much power will be needed for an electric hot water tank & furnace/heat pump.

The lower my electric draw, the better positioned I’ll be to make these transitions.

Utility Tracking

I first began seriously tracking my methane (natural gas), electrical, and water usage shortly after buying my home.

However, my “tracking” consists of taking the totals from my bills and popping them into a spreadsheet with graphs. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a significant first step that provides an overall view of usage and general trends once there are enough data points.

Based on data from January 2019 – December 2021, my methane use is trending downward, decreasing by over 14%. Electricity use jumped by almost 37%, likely due to adding some space heaters and the COVID-transition to working from home.

Water, having jumped in 2020 due to the increased laundry from daytime potty training for one child and nighttime potty training for the other, came back down a bit in 2021. We’re still potty training one kid, so the slightly higher level isn’t too surprising.

The thing is, that’s pretty much all the info that I can tease out of such broad tracking. I can guess the causes but can’t know them. That’s why it’s important to begin tracking specific appliances & their usage patterns.

Tracking Appliances

Fridges & freezers use a lot of power. But replacing these appliances is the only way to reduce usage.

Dishwashers, clothes washers, and dryers are very easily tracked. These devices have a significant effect on electric & water usage. As methane heats my hot water tank, my dishwasher affects my methane consumption.

Every machine is slightly different, so be sure to check the manual for water usage, cycle lengths, and the number of watts.

I use my spreadsheet to track usage with that data, and it calculates the power and water requirements. The first week sets my benchmarks, and it’s a simple matter of trying to find a way to trim use after that.

Devices can track appliance use, but they’re expensive and require installation by a licensed electrician. Maybe I’ll get one of them someday, but for right now, choosing a few select appliances and monitoring them is the best way to go.

What else to track?

Stoves, ovens, and microwaves are three more devices that contribute to using electricity (or methane in some homes).

Toilet flushes and shower duration are probably the most straightforward pairing for water usage.

There’s little point tracking LED lighting use, but desktop computers can draw a significant amount of power.

I won’t be tracking any of those now but may choose to expand my tracking in the future.

But why track?

Without tracking the information, how can I see whether my efforts to reduce usage are having any effect?

It’s great to say I will use less power by doing laundry less often. But if you don’t track your laundry use, how do you know you’ve used it less? Also, is it one load less or ten? Are you doing laundry less often but with the same number of loads?

It is impossible to know if I’m making the changes I think I am without tracking.

Other Utility Reduction Efforts

As mentioned last week, I’ve also started using some smaller solar panels to run specific devices and charge stuff like cell phones, tablets, and small backup batteries. Small power generation efforts can affect the overall draw of the system.

Tracking down power vampires is another critical step (more on this another time).

Holding Myself Accountable

There’s a lot more work to do, but every step brings me a little closer to my goals.

It’s key to hold ourselves responsible for the changes we try to make.

When it comes to tracking my changes, I already keep track of it in spreadsheets and via Scuttlebutt. But I want to take that one step further. As a result, my Utility Reduction & Power Generation project pages will, once released, help readers hold me accountable.

Changes will happen. But no one can do it alone. We need to work together for there to be any significant effect. Enough drops in a bucket will cause it to overflow, eventually.

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