30 April 2014

Conserving Electricity

I have no idea how electricity is generated in Ireland. Coal was the thing in Fairbanks, and in Norway they had hydropower. Maine was mostly hydropower, too, I think. However they generate electricity here, things are set up to make it easy for people to use less of it.

We’re told that electricity is expensive. We will soon see, I guess. It was very expensive in Maine, so I am curious to see how it compares. During the four years we lived in Maine, we lived in two different apartments on opposite sides of town. In the first apartment, we were told that the electricity we would pay included the hot water for all three apartments as well as the security light. We paid lower rent to make up the difference. Our electric bill ranged from $25-30 per month. We knew that the landlady was very environmentally conscious and had done some stuff to all three apartments to make them more energy efficient and I’m sure the water heater was an energy efficient model.

We ended up leaving that place and camping for a couple of months before moving into the apartment in which we lived for 3 1/2 years. We noticed that the electric bill was significantly higher right from the start--it now hovered around the $50 mark. We wondered how it was that our bill was double what it had been. This apartment was smaller in terms of square footage and there were still the same three people using electricity in the same ways. I knew that rates had gone up in the two months we were camping, but it seemed unrealistic to suppose that this accounted for the entire increase. By the time we left, in spite of our minimal use of electricity and our conscious efforts to conserve, our bill was $78--for a small, 2-bedroom apartment.

It’s been interesting here to look at how things are set up to help people use less. The first thing we noticed while we were in the B and B was that every outlet has an on/off switch. I wondered whether that was just some kind of special thing there, but we have the same thing throughout the apartment. If there is an appliance that is wired directly, there’s an on/off wall switch for that--so our washing machine has one and the dryer has one. I am getting used to turning off something--like the electric kettle or the washing machine--and then turning off the electricity at the wall, too.

The shower has it’s own little water heater. There are no outlets in the bathroom at all, so to turn on the power to the shower, we have a red switch--sounds like a circuit breaker kind of thing. We flip that on and then when we get in the shower, we can turn it on and off from there. The stove/oven has the same kind of thing--before I turn anything on, I flip the red switch and when I’m done, I flip it off. There are still times that I forget to flip the wall switch on and I stand there wondering why something does not work.

The main water heater is in a closet in the hallway and there is a timer on the hallway wall. There’s a switch that allows us to turn the water heater off completely or to have it on a timer. The timer is set to go on during time of off-peak energy times, which start in the middle of the night and end in the morning. I am not sure whether this changes, but at the moment, we move to peak time at 9 am. There’s a dial for us to set the current time, depending on whether it’s summer time or winter time (summer time is what it’s called when they “spring forward” here, which happened on March 30 this year). There is also a “2-hour boost” dial, which we could use if we needed hot water in a hurry for some reason. I do not know when we would use this because we have more hot water than we need--and it is VERY hot. As it was explained to us, there are two coils in the tank--one on top and one on the bottom. If we used the booster button, the top coil would come on and heat the water in the top of the tank. This would be during peak hours, though, and would be more expensive.

There are electric heaters in the hallway and each room. The one in the bathroom has a switch in the hall and a string to pull when you want it on. It’s designed to provide heat when you want it. the others are wall-mounted with timers. These will also be set to come on during off-peak hours. They will store heat, which will then dissipate through the day. I believe there is something similar to the booster dial on the heaters too, which would be used if we were in need of more heat right away. As with the water heater, this would be during peak hours. The apartment consists of a central hallway with each room opening onto that hallway--and each room has a door. So we will be able to close doors to keep the heat (or cooler air, if we decide not to turn on a heater in that room) in each room.

I’m paying attention to how the sun comes in the windows, because in Maine, a good part of our heat came from us opening the curtains and blinds in the living room and our bedroom and letting the sun shine in! Right now we have the sun coming in the sitting room windows in the morning and then moving around to the back and coming through the kitchen window and those of one of the bedrooms. We aren’t using many lights at the moment, because it’s light when we get up and it stays light until 9:30ish at night. I think that in the height of summer, it will be light until after 11. The flip side is that in the winter it gets light late and gets dark early (yay!).

The fridge is large for here, but tiny by US standards. Most of the pictures of places we looked at showed under-the-counter fridges. The one we have is not that small and has a freezer on the bottom--it’s all drawers. I would have made do with a small fridge that sits under the counter, but I must admit I am glad to have the one I do--it’s a decent size and with the freezer I will be able to stock up on fish, bread, and other stuff when it’s on sale. There is enough room in the fridge section. And because it’s not as huge as those in the US, it saves energy--it hardly runs at all. The one I had in my kitchen in Maine was running all the time. On a related note, I have not seen super-sized bags and packages of frozen or other foods in the grocery stores. I did see turkeys featured in Tesco before Easter, which is a huge deal here. I considered buying one and then realized that I probably would have a hard time fitting it in the freezer and the oven, which is also small! The flip side is that in my local Super Valu, they still have frozen turkeys available and they are the smallest frozen turkeys I have ever seen. They would not cut the ice at Thanksgiving in the US. I remember last fall when there were news stories about the dearth of large turkeys. These scrawny birds must not be pumped full of the same kinds of growth-inducing chemicals as US birds.

The oven is not a stand-alone appliance, but is installed in the row of cabinets. It is, apparently something called a “fan oven.” I am not sure if this is the same as a convection oven. It is small. That seems to be another strategy for energy conservation--make stuff smaller! The washing machine is a front-loader that sits under the counter. The dryer sits next to it. One of my personal ways of conserving energy is simply not to use the latter. I haven’t used a dryer in 30 years, except when we were on our big road trip a few years ago and had to use the ones in the laundromats. I am not alone! There are clotheslines all over the place around here and people use them. There was a laundry rack in the water heater closet when we arrived and they were featured prominently at the end of an aisle in the Oranmore Tesco.

All of these things seem very practical and sensible to me--the smaller appliances, the outlet switches, the electric shower, the timers, the clotheslines, laundry racks, and the layout of the apartment with the doors to regulate air flow.  As someone who is always trying to use fewer resources, they all make things much easier!

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