Summer Energy Bill Woes: Do You Know WATTs Up?

Summer Energy Bill Woes: Do You Know WATTs Up?
July 22, 2014 | posted by The Institute

With the end of the spring semester finally in the rearview mirror and the summer in full swing, I am sure that many of our fellow students at UTSA as well as fellow San Antonians are dreaming of a nice vacation and at least a few days spent lounging by the pool with a tall, cool, delicious book (or twelve). However, we here at the Institute are reminded that summer is the time when residential energy use peaks. We decided to catch up with fellow team member and local, efficient apartment living aficionado Sally Graham for some advice on inexpensive and easy ways for apartment dwellers to reduce their energy bills this summer.

In characteristic humility, Sally describes herself as the “typical person living alone in a one bedroom apartment.” However, there is nothing typical about Sally and her super low energy bills. Sally lives in a 683 square foot (sf) apartment that was built in 2009. Despite living on the top floor of a building that faces due west, allowing the afternoon summer sun to really “heat up the apartment like crazy,” Sally still managed to average 456 kWh of electricity consumption per month during June, July, and August last year. That equates to an impressive electric intensity of about 0.67 kWh/sf during the summer. Sally’s energy use during the summer of 2012 was similarly impressive, as she averaged 505 kWh of consumption per month and an electric intensity of 0.74 kWh/sf. In fact, over the course of 2013, Sally managed to limit herself to 4,222 kWh of electricity consumption. This equates to an average monthly use figure of about 352 kWh and an average electric intensity of 0.52 kWh/sf.

Figure 1: Energy Consumption for Sally's Apartment

Sally achieves much of her energy savings by setting her thermostat relatively high at 78 degrees between May and September when home and then bumping it up a few degrees each day before she leaves for work. Sally notes that she originally had to be very conscientious in this effort, as her apartment does not have a programmable thermostat. However, she now finds it pretty easy to remember to turn the thermostat up before leaving for work and she notes that the apartment stays pretty comfortable at these settings, especially when running a ceiling and/or floor fan while at home. Sally explains, “fans can reduce the temperature of a room by up to four degrees.” Though she notes that with tenant rules “you can’t do much in an apartment” as far as infrastructure upgrades are concerned, Sally has taken the time to put up solar reflecting curtains, install high efficiency CFL light bulbs in all her light fixtures, and install a low flow showerhead. Sally also keeps her refrigerator setting between 36 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit and her freezer setting between 0 and 5 degrees F. She also only washes her clothes in cold water. For folks living in older apartments, Sally notes that some light weather stripping around doors and windows, a door sweep at the bottom of the door, and solar reflecting curtains can also be good measures to prevent energy loss and lower bills. As she states, “every little bit helps.”