Shelter-in-Place and Your Home Energy
Under the shelter-in-place directive, many of us are coming to grips with what it means to live, learn, and work at home. We are cooking more (hooray!), using more lights, watching more TV, and keeping ourselves cozy and comfortable for many more hours than usual. Over the past week, my family has set up three home offices, for me, my husband and my college-age son, and we’re preparing two more for my junior high- and elementary-age children for when Davis schools start again (currently extended through May 1).
With my whole family at home all day, I realized that we would likely see an increase in our energy bill. We are shifting our energy usage from school, work, and other social gatherings and putting the energy burden on our home and pocket book. I don’t want to face a high energy bill at the end of the month and I bet you don’t either. Because I think about this a lot, and want to help people reduce their energy use, I have some ideas and resources to help you avoid that big surprise by both conserving energy and being more efficient with the energy you do use!
But first, know that our local utility Valley Clean Energy (VCE), that works with PG&E, has put a moratorium on utility shutoffs for non-payment.
As we all continue to all find our new normal, Cool Davis wants you to know we are here for you and your household. In addition to our regular blog posts and newsletters, we will be shifting to provide you with more online content on how to save money on home energy, transportation, and consumption. We will launch blogs and video tutorials and ask that you share your creative local energy saving techniques on social media using the hashtag #LiveCoolDavis. By focusing on the positive outcomes of this simpler lifestyle, we hope to make sustainable behaviors part of a lasting new-normal that builds resiliency for our community.
So, here’s a to-do list of cool stuff we recommend for you while you’re sheltering, working, learning, and playing at home.
- Keep an eye on energy usage
- Set up bill forecast alerts
- Pick the right rate plan for you
- See where your energy goes
- See how small steps add up to big savings
- Plan big investments for even bigger savings
Read on for the details!
1. Keep an eye on energy usage
Take a closer look at your bill to help spot trends and pay attention to how much you owe for electricity versus gas. Get familiar with how many kilowatt hours (kWh) and therms you consume. Explore the seasonal variations and compare your usage to the same month last year.
Better yet, sign in to your online PG&E account at www.pge.com to view Energy Usage Details. The Energy Usage Details graphs can help you identify when you use the most energy. There are also features to compare your current bill to previous bills as well as how you compare to other similar homes.
For a data geek, like me, trying to identify trends is a labor of love. For all your stuck-at-home, spreadsheet-savvy teenagers, this could be a fun assignment for them. Download all your data by logging into your online PG&E account. Select Energy Usage Details, then scroll to the bottom for the small “Green Button” the right corner. The downloaded file can be opened in any spreadsheet software like Excel or Google sheets. I plan to post a tutorial on downloading and graphing your data, so stay tuned.
2. Set up bill forecast alerts
The Bill Forecast Alert tool alerts you if your bill is projected to be higher than you prefer. When you first log in to your PG&E account you’ll see an option for Bill Forecast Alert. If a $50 bill is normal but a $150 would be a shock, set an alert for $50 so you have time to take energy conserving actions and plan accordingly.
3. Pick the right rate plan for you
The amount you pay for electricity varies depending on the rate plan you choose. Refer to your paper bill to determine your current rate (generally on page 3) or log in to your online PG&E account and select Electric Rate Plan Comparison. The tool will calculate which plan is the best for you. Typically, residential customers have either a tiered rate (E-1) or a Time-of-Use (TOU) rate.
- E1-tiered rate. The price of electricity stays the same throughout the day, and only changes when you exceed the baseline allowance during the monthly billing cycle. Stay below your baseline to avoid paying premiums. You can view your tier 1 allowance on your utility bills. See this sample bill page 3 number 7.
- Time-of-Use (TOU) rates. The price of electricity changes throughout the day. During off-peak times you’ll be charged less and during peak times you’ll be charged more. In general, the current TOU plans have peak times of 4-9pm. Avoid using energy during your peak times to lower your bills.
4. See where your energy goes
PG&E Home Energy Checkup tool produces a pie chart to help you visualize where your energy goes. Enter some of your home’s characteristics and other information and the tool will estimate the proportions. The image above was from my last billing period (before shelter-in-place) and I will be curious what next month’s bill looks like. I would guess “Electronics & Other” will see an increase. Each one of the categories can be explored for conservation ideas.
5. See how small steps add up to big savings
Small actions can add up to significant savings on your energy bill! Look below for some steps you can take while we shelter-in-place. In addition to common sense suggestions like putting on a sweater when you’re cold and opening the blinds during the day, Cool Davis has compiled an extensive checklist of personal actions one could take for home energy, transportation, and consumption. Download our Cool Davis Checklist or visit our website www.CoolDavis.org/cool-solutions for all kinds of cool ideas.
- Program your thermostat. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, now is a great time to install one and get the energy saving benefits. Program your thermostat so your system doesn’t come on unnecessarily, especially at night. You can save up to 10 percent on your heating and cooling energy by reducing your setpoint 7 to 10 degrees for 8 hours a day (while you sleep). I previously used a home/away assist setting on my Nest thermostat that senses when I’m away and sets back my setpoints when I’m not at home. I guess that won’t be effective for the near future.
- Turn off unnecessary lights and plug loads. I have already noticed that during the middle of the day (when normally everyone would be at work and school) I can walk around and find almost every light on and electronics plugged in unnecessarily. Remind your family of the importance of turning off the lights when not in use or assign a member to be the light monitor (This might be a fun chore for a little-one! Make it a game! Whoever turns off the most unnecessary lights throughout the day wins a quarantine prize!)
- Go with LED lighting. If you haven’t made the switch, now is the time! Replacement LED bulbs come in many colors and brightness levels and can be ordered online. Our local hardware stores are still open and have many options for bulbs and fixtures.
- Change your filter. A dirty heating or cooling system filter blocks airflow and makes your system work harder than it needs to. Replace your filter every few months and more frequently when the air quality is bad. I just checked mine and it was due. I took a picture of the filter size and went online to order a 4-pack. Or better yet, set up a subscription service to have a new filter sent every few months so you will remember to change it. Watch a short YouTube movie about me changing my filter and see how easy it can be.
- Line dry your clothes. Line drying your clothes is better for your clothes and your energy usage. Over the last 10 years, I ‘ve made line drying a sport watch some tips and tricks movie on our YouTube Channel and post your line drying on facebook and twitter using #LiveCoolDavis! In the meantime, when the weather is great like we’ve been having, give it a try. Run your washer in the morning and line dry in the afternoon.
6. Plan big investments for even bigger savings
Impressive savings can be achieved with bigger investments. Planning for these bigger investments maybe just the right thing to keep your mind busy right now, below are some ideas to inspire you and help you prepare as we get closer to summer.
- Make a plan for home heating and cooling and other energy improvements. Making a plan for your home energy improvements puts you in the driver’s seat. Typically most people don’t think about replacing their heating and cooling systems until it breaks. When your system breaks during a cold spell in winter or a heat wave in summer, you won’t have the time to consider all your options. You need your system fixed fast, so you typically end up with whatever the maintenance person has on the truck. If you’re considering upgrading your HVAC system to be high-efficiency, moving it to a new location, or switching fuels from natural gas to electric, prior planning can make it possible. Visit our Home Heating and Cooling web page for resources on how to make an HVAC plan, tips for working with contractors, and available rebates and incentives. https://www.cooldavis.org/cool-solutions/hvac-make-plan/ One major benefit of planning? If you improve your energy efficiency first and reduce your heating and cooling load, you might also reduce the size and by extension the cost of replacement equipment.
- Install a whole house fan. Summer is coming and one way to stay cool at night is with a whole house fan. See this great article on the benefits of whole house fans https://www.cooldavis.org/2018/06/22/cool-solutions-the-whole-house-fan/
- Insulate your attic. Attic insulation can be the biggest bang for your energy buck. It also can be done DIY if you have an accessible attic. My husband and I installed R-50 insulation (from basically R-nothing) over a weekend, we bought the insulation and Home Depot loaned us the blower. I got up in the attic, blowing pink snow, while my husband fed the hopper. It actually was fun and my home is so much more comfortable.
- Replace wood burning stoves. Did you know that the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District administers incentives to replace wood burning stoves with cleaner alternatives? The voucher is $1000 or $3500 for income qualified folks. See details of the program on their website. (https://www.ysaqmd.org/incentives/wood-smoke-reduction-program/
- Consider a solar water heating (SWH) system. SWH systems heat water using energy from the sun in rooftop collectors that generally loop into a solar water storage tank. This additional storage tank adds hot water storage capacity and reduces household energy usage. Monthly savings compared to a typical natural gas–fueled hot water heater range from $235 to $250 per year in cash and about 1.12 tons of CO2 emissions. Check out this helpful blog post for more details. https://www.cooldavis.org/2018/11/16/solar-water-heating-systems-cost-effective-and-carbon-reducing/
- Go solar. Solar has never been a better investment. It is literally the only home improvement you can do that will pay you back and then some. Solar contractors are still working during our shelter in place directive and can accommodate no-contact assessments. For our series of three Cool Davis buyers guides on solar, check out our Rooftop Solar web page.
Remember to stay tuned for our new video blog series on Facebook and YouTube. If you have any suggestions for tutorials, please feel free to send them along. If you’re interested in helping us to produce and edit our online tutorial videos please contact Leslie Crenna (firstname.lastname@example.org), our Communications Manager.
Stay safe, cozy, and, most of all, stay home!
Cool Davis Home Energy Campaign Coordinator
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Cool Davis is a coalition of citizens, the City of Davis, and community organizations working to empower our community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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