“A penny saved, is a penny earned.” It’s a proverb that for the longest time didn’t make sense to me. When hearing it over the years I would think, If I don’t spend a penny my bank account doesn’t decrease, but it also doesn’t increase. Thus it is a penny saved, but certainly not a penny earned. Then I had a few weeks of interaction with a Kill A Watt that changed everything.
Talk of living full-time in an RV had been ongoing for a few months. Since our lifestyle is highly dependent on electricity it was clear we were going to have to figure out how much we use, and how we could produce it while on the road. We’re that family that is doomed when the EMP goes off.
We do as much as we possibly can on electronics in an attempt to make life easier. All of our pictures since 2002 are digital images. Important documents have slowly been migrating from paper to digital since around 2013. Our kids spend time on tablets for fun, and one of our sons requires a tablet to communicate. The bills are paid almost exclusively on-line. We require a good file-backup system, and prefer digital books causing us to rely heavily on reading devices. We love tech! All that tech, in addition to the normal toasters, microwaves, ovens, mixers, and other devices that just about everyone uses.
But we didn’t just enjoy electronics and electricity, we have taken them for granted. In fact our ignorance to how much power we use had us accusing our power company of being misleading in their usage-awareness graphs! There were months that our household used over 1600 Kwh of power while our neighbors had used far under 800 Kwh. Every month we’d look at the bill and see that our usage was double that of our average neighbor. Quite often it was more than four times that of our “efficient” neighbors.
Never giving our actual usage a thought we just said, “That can’t be real. Whatever.” After checking with the people right next door, not quite as tech-heavy of a household, we found that their usage graphs looked similar. That cemented the idea of deception and we just blew off those graphs for years. Liars!
The Meter Doesn’t Lie
Enter the dream of full-time RV living and we needed to know how we’d function out there power wise. We’d need to figure out what we were using for power, and how we could produce that power on the road. One thing was clear: We wouldn’t be able to produce an average of 1300 Kwh per month without running a generator almost constantly. Even in the early stages of this idea that didn’t seem like a good plan.
So, we acquired the Kill A Watt. There are many meters like this one on the market and they all might be fantastic but this is the one I’ve used and I have loved it! I use all of the features of this meter in my effort to track our power usage and needs. The two features that I find most vital are the watt reading and the cost calculation for the item plugged into it.
The watt reading is handy for converting the power to other levels of use. For example, I know that this unit is measuring usage at 120 volts, but what I really need to know in the end is what does that equate to if I’m running it off battery power.
22 watts at 120 volts works out to 0.18 amps. But if I stick that 22 watts on a 12 volt battery system It becomes 1.8 amps. That’s need-to-know information when building a solar system! Yes, there are inefficiencies when converting from DC to AC but for gathering general information it’s enough to get a rough figure.
The feature that tells me how much it costs to operate what is plugged in gives me a more understandable version of what effect I’m having on my usage. It’s really cool to know you cut your power usage in one area from 1617 Kwh per year to 62 Kwh per year, but I find it far more useful to know that means I went from $220.00 per year to $8.33 per year. That is the savings I managed to make by changing out one device in my home, and altering my usage of it a bit.
Using the Kill A Watt
With all the different items in our power-consuming life we need to know not only the maximum draw, but also the average. Take my coffee pot for example; It takes roughly 1300 watts to run my coffee pot while it’s brewing. That drops when it’s just keeping the coffee warm. Then when I shut the pot off, it draws no power at all until the next day.
Some days we would brew one pot of coffee, others we’d brew two or three. Knowing its maximum pull is fantastic for understanding how big of an inverter we might need. But, I also need to know a usage pattern/average to help me figure out how big the battery bank needs to be in order to make coffee even with a few days of clouds when the solar power is less than great. This average comes by keeping a specific device metered for a reasonable amount of time.
Fun fact: It used to cost our family 40.00 a year in electricity, on average, to brew coffee. That doesn’t count the cost of the coffee, filters, or replacement of worn out pots. That is only the power. We drink maybe a pot of coffee per week now, rather than one to three per day.
When testing a new piece of equipment we try to use that item in the same manner we always have. In some cases, such as the coffee pot I mentioned above we’d have to keep the meter tied up for a week or more in one area. After working slowly through a few pieces of equipment I started to see how we could make some changes and cut power use. The savings that could potentially be was impressive. In fact, I have gained so much benefit from this device, I now own two of them.
A Penny Saved…
Here is our power-bill graph for April 2016 through September 2016. Our cut off is mid-month.
April shows we were consistent with the previous year. January through March were similar. On May 27th, 2016 (roughly half way through our cycle) we purchased the first Kill A Watt. By the following week we were making decisions on how we could start battling our excessive power usage. By June we were already seeing progress, but the following months made it obvious that we were making effective changes.
Finally, this month (September 2016) we hit a milestone. We were actually below the “All Neighbors” average for the first time in over 10 years. Even better, the money we’re saving each month on our energy bill equates to just short of a 4% increase in dispensable income. Add on income tax, and we likely just gave ourselves a more than 5% raise.
A penny saved, is a penny earned.
Like and follow us on Facebook to find out what kind of things we did to cut our power bill! If you have any tips or tricks for cutting power usage, please share them. We look forward to learning more power saving tips moving forward.