Do you know how much electricity you use? : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Those of you who are looking at backup generators or other alternative sources of electric power might want to start looking at the appliances in your house to see what's gobbling up all of those kilowatts.

In almost every case, the standard household refrigerator is the largest consumer of electricity; that's likely to be followed by your oven and microwave if it's an all-electric kitchen.

It's not to hard to wander through the house to count the number of light-bulbs and other "obvious" consumers of juice, but you'd be amazed how much power is gobbled up by innocent things like answering machines, electric clocks, and various appliances that may be powered off, but have the "instant-on" feature that continues to draw a small amount of power.

After a while, this begins to become an obsession, especially if you're trying to imagine the practicality of operating "off the grid" in the event of a power disruption. I've got both solar panels and also a wind generator, but since we're still living in "normal times" with infinite supplies of power from the grid, I've been rather sloppy. This afternoon, though, I turned off all of the "obvious" things in the house, and found that I was still using approx 200 watts of power.

So I started looking closely, much more closely than before. The desk clock in my office, with the nice big luminescent digital readout, takes 5 watts. The night-light in a dark hallway is glowing, even though it's still daytime; that's another 4 watts. Several other digital clocks added more to the total.

But the biggest surprise turned out to be the phones. I've got three or four cordless phones in various rooms of the house, loaded with features that I don't always use (digital answering system, digital read-out of calls recorded, caller-id, call-waiting, call-this, call-that, call-whatever). Naturally, each one has to be plugged in to standard AC power, and it turns out that they each gobble up 15 watts.

This doesn't sound like much, but consider the arithmetic: 15 watts times 24 hours per day, times 31 days per month, equals 11,160 watt-hours -- or 11.16 kilowatt-hours. It turns out that the local utility company charges $0.09049 per KW/HR, which sounds like almost nothing -- hey, less than a dime per kilowatt to run your favorite appliance for an hour! But it works out to $1 per month just to have the "smart phone" sitting there doing nothing!

Obviously, the dollar-per-month is not the issue, although it doesn't take many of these devices before you're looking at ten or twenty dollars per month of what could reasonably be called "wasted power" consumption. In any case, though, my main concern is that if the local power company has a blackout, I don't want to be consuming more power than my own solar/wind generators can handle.

All in all, it has been an interesting experience. And I think it's something that many of us are beginning to experience in many other areas: how much toilet paper do you really need, anyway? Who ever would have bothered thinking about such things before Y2K?


-- Ed Yourdon (, March 21, 1999



Thanks for the post. I have approched the problem from a different direction. I have choosen not to try to energize the whole house, rather I have dropcords to the power hungry devices I want to run. The Bread machine, the microwave, the rice cooker..... this way I will not waste energy, the only thing "pluged in" to the backup energy system is a "known device".... Energy needs to be conserved if I have to go to the back ups....

PS: the book is great!!

-- helium (, March 21, 1999.


You may not have to worry about those phones given the telecom situation.

I, too, have eight solar panels and two large wind generators. They are not currently operational, but soon be. I'm interested to find out what accessories/spare parts I should consider. I'm rather new to alternative energy and have treated the erection of the components as a weekend hobby. It has been a great learning experience, but I hope that no one shoots out everything in the name of societal "fairness". Thanks for the forum, book and video...

Lighting Up Michigan...

-- PJC (, March 21, 1999.

Yes- as I commented on another post tonite, it's probably a good idea to examine carefully just what you expect a generator to do if you get one. No way no how can your basic affordable generator run a basic American power hungry house, nor will it last very long without repairs/parts- and where do they come from??

We've lived off the grid here for several years, with no "grid" hookup at all. We have solar and wind- a hybrid system. It works very well here- even though solar is not "supposed" to work in this northern latitude.

It's a great idea to look at the power consumption of everything that you have. Some things you probably dodn't even think about- instant on for tv, answering machine, timers, clock radio. Real Goods has a worksheet in one of their alternative energy guides that i used when planning our system. You start by writing down every appliance, number of watts/hour and number of hours in use. Interesting to see it on paper. then you start reducing it like crazy to make it work for a system you can afford.

We have two 75 watt panels and a Air 303 wind gen. That's it. We also have a generator for laundry, power tools and backup for long still cloudy stretches- not too often though. Our inverter has a built in battery charger(nice)- so if the gen runs we can charge the batteries.

Our fridge is propane. We run lights(compact florescents), computer, printer, mixer, blender, vcr, stereo, etc off this system. BUT- we monitor the use and adjust it accordingly. for instance, the wind is blowing madly now, a storm is coming in(it's snowing actually so it's here), so the wind gen is charging and I feel free to get on the web for a bit. It's a whole different way of thinking actually. We DON'T leave the computer on unless we're at it working.

Other things-we raised day old chicks several times- requires a light for the brooder- a 25 watt light left on 24 hours sucks juice let me tell you- especially in February- but if you're on the grid- you'll probably never even notice one 25 watt light at all. A whole different way of thinking.

-- anita (, March 21, 1999.

Thanks Ed,

All I know is I'll be using less next year. But since we're on a power topic, I've been trying to find out something for 6 months!

How much power do the X-10 controllers that plug into AC wall sockets use? The power rating printed thereon always state maximum load they can handle, not actual consumption.

Anybody know?

Thanks in advance.

Jolly likes X-10

-- Jollyprez (, March 21, 1999.

Hi Ed,

I would have thought that water heating was the largest consumer of power. Next would be the electric oven. But all up in NZ the average in about 3 to 5kw. Electricty cost less than 1/2% of income per capita. Running solar water heating in the summer and a wetback on the wood stove in the winter reduces dependence to a minimum.

-- Bob Barbour (, March 21, 1999.

I'm going the solar route and intend to add an AC leg that will go down the mail hallway. In the ceiling above each door I'm installing an outlet with one plug and switch. These will be on the inverter and fed from only it. This way you can have a little AC available to each room without having to integrate that power source into the entire house (and worrying about running around unplugging things that are power hogs).

Just a thought.


-- j (, March 21, 1999.

Could someone offer some advice?

I bought 3 Sears 12 V Die Hard Deep Cycle Marine batteries & a 1500 W DC inverter. I'm waiting for a solar panel to arrive in the mail, but I'm not so sure the 1 panel will be enough. I planned to use 1 battery at a time (just for a light & tv or microwave). And, while I was using 1 battery the other one or two could be recharging (this way I won't badly drain any battery and I'll have another for backup if I need it).

Any suggestions on how many & what size solar panels I should use?


-- Joan (, March 21, 1999.

Joan, don't do it. If you drain one of those Sears batteries more than about 50%, you will most likely destroy it. Better you should get at least two more panels (3 amps each), then hook the batteries in parallel so that they are still 12v, but act as one BIG battery - a battery bank. Run your inverter off the bank - but don't try to run a 1500 watt load off your 1500 watt inverter while it's connected to those three relatively small batteries. That'd be a 125-amp load on the bank, and you couldn't maintain it for more than a few minutes without harming the bank. If you had a load that large running for 15 minutes, it would take three standard 3-amp solar panels almost full day to recharge the bank, in the best sunny conditions.

-- sparks (, March 21, 1999.

Ed, We went at this problem backwards. Not how much power do we USE, but how much must we absolutly have to survive and live comfortably. We did that because of financial restraints. After soem big brain skull sweat we decided all we HAD to have is enough power for the well pump. Everything else we can do by alternative means. We even went solar to power commincations gear and some back up lighting.

The generator is sized to give us a 50% margin on well pump startup and use. Turns out we can get by easily with a small 5kw gas generator run for a few hours every few days.

As an aside.... we'll never go back. We LOVE our nonelectric lighting, wood stove, cookstove, oil lamps, Propane stove, etc etc. Our life style is improving greatly thru these efforts.

-- art welling (, March 21, 1999.

Gulp!!! Thanks, sparks!!! I'll give this to my son to figure out!

I have no idea what the hell I'm doing!!!!!! I'm so-o-o-o frustrated!! I HATE this whole shittin' mess!!!! God help me!!!!

-- Joan (, March 21, 1999.

We've assessed what our electricity goes to, and we've come out believing that if Y2K turns out to be that bad, we're gonna have to do without it. A generator has a finite lifespan. And while it would be great to have solar, we can't afford it amidst our other purchases for this event. Therefore, all of our preparations are built around the precept of no electricity. So if the grid can't deliver it, we're going without it.

-- Brett (, March 21, 1999.

Hi Ed and gang...

We who have lived solar for years call these power wasters "phantom loads". They are incredibly pervasive. They include:

"Wall cubes" .. those innocuous little squares that we hang on wall outlets which in turn power chargers for (and) our portable phones, laptop computers, toys and games, and more;

Remote control circuits in electronics such as TV sets, stereo gear, CD changers, and others;

Electronic igniters in gas stoves;

Doorbell transformers;

Touch lamps that vary in brightness with by touch;

Appliances that use an "electronic" ON/OFF as opposed to a mechanical ON/OFF switch. Included here are newer computers, TV sets, dimmers, CD changers, tape decks, and many other items;

Alarm systems;

... and a whole collection of other things we almost never consider.

If one goes solar, we learn to use many power strips with a good mechanical ON/OFF switch. To these, we connect all of our appliances and electronics. We than turn the strip off as soon as we are done using the appliance. Like a faucet with a small drip, and as you've discovered .. it all adds up in a hurry. Power you save is power you don't need to generate .. and power you don't need to store in a solar-electric setup.

20+ years living with solar energy .. and still learning...

Regards from the upper Midwest USA northwoods...


-- Dan (, March 22, 1999.

Joan- don't do it that way. First- what size panel are you getting(in watts)?? Then- wire the batteries in parallel. Make sure you are not using more than you produce or you'll run the batteries down too far. A 1500 watt inverter is BIG. We have an 800 watt one and it handles everything but the washing machine and table saw and other big tools.

So- with one panel, you won't produce enough juice to draw on 1500 watts for any length of time. (See my notes above on our set-up). write back if more questions.

-- anita (, March 22, 1999.

Joan and Brett, I suppose most of us will do everything we can to hang onto whatever electric living essentials we can, even if we have to ration that down to very small daily usage. However, the bottom line is that we can do without any of it, if we make the psychological as well as the physical adjustments. The Amish have survived without electricity, phones and automobiles for many years. My own grandparents lived on a small farm without any of these things, not even indoor plumbing. A quality life is possible. Of course we all hope it won't come to that, but what if it does?

-- Gordon P.Connolly (, March 22, 1999.

If you don't have natural gas or propane, the largest user of electric in you house is the electric hot water heater.

-- sal estrada (, March 22, 1999.

I found that the ghost loads were killing us. Now we use somthing, and unplug it as soon as we're done. Our electric bill last month was $45, versus $80+ same time last year. Some of it could be accounted for in milder winter (furnace runs less), but I suspect that alot of it was in ghost loads.

I've set up a solar rig for well pump, and some small appliances, no inverter.

If only I could afford the most efficient refrigerators... (can't get them anyways, as the backlog is HUGE).

-- Bill (, March 22, 1999.

Loud and clear, altogether now. Groove in, test, and use your y2k preparations & infrastructures enough so you are completely at ease and knowledgeable with their use & quirks.

-- Mitchell Barnes (, March 22, 1999.

When I visited the Real Goods Solar Demonstration Center in Hopland, CA, the salespeople suggested taking advantage of the extensive solar knowledge of their tech department.


Real Goods web-site:

Technical Assistance

If you require technical assistance with the design of a renewable energy system or installation help, please call 1-800-919-2400, Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm. Our Technical Department can also be reached by faxing 707-462-4807 by email at, or by post:

Real Goods
555 Leslie ST
Ukiah, CA 95482-5507

-- Diane J. Squire (, March 22, 1999.

my plan is to go without electric. i am alteady using mostly dried and canned foods, and it turns out i don't really use the stupid fridge except for ice, which i can live without next january.

generators around here will be for charging batteries for communications.

-- jocelyne slough (, March 22, 1999.

"Marine deep cycle" batteries are not the same as "golf cart deep cycle" type deep cycle batteries. Spend a few extra $$ and get the golf cart types. They are more ruggedly constructed and will last longer.

If you run a microwave oven it will suck alot of current from the batteries for the short time it is running. You need to have batteries in parallel to even out the draw down (how much each battery gives out). This will keep your batteries from dying any sooner than they have to die. The number of 'deep' discharges will strongly affect battery life. Try to never drain you batteries more than 8 to 10% per cycle. The more batteries you have tied together and the shallower the typical discharge between recharges then the batteries will last longer.

It is important to think about appropriate TYPE of energy used for a particular job. As mentioned in another thread here designing a solar electric system to run an electric clothes dryer is probably not a very good fit. Here is what I've come up with for my circumstance.

Indoor Space heating: wood/solar via good windows/alot of insulation

Cooking: propane

Water heating: on demand propane heater

Lighting in areas like bathroom: Electric flourescent high effeciency

General lighting: propane mantle lamps

Refrigeration: outdoor cold box/root cellar, also bought a high effeciency electric from Europe

Water pump: mechanical, bicycle driven w/ option for electric motor

Power tools and other: solar electric

Most companies which sell solar elctric systems will give you some help in 'sizing' your system. Its OK to have only one solar panel, but you need to understand that you will not have as quick a recharge. If you live in nothern areas you may only get 2 to 3 hours average sunlight per day. A 80 watt 12v panel may only deliver approx 6 amps per hour for a total of 12 to 18 amps for that day.

If you have a 220 amp battery then you can normally use 12 to 16 amps per day from that battery without hurting it. If you have three of that type together then you can take out 36 to 48 amps per day (provided you put it back in the next day from the panels) and the batteries will not be hurt.

Its alot like a household budget. If you only spend what you 'make' (or a little less) then you will be OK. But if you keep dipping into your savings then at some point you will be flat busted. In this case it is the batteries that will fail you. So the more panels you have it is like having more earning power or a higher paying job. The bigger the battery bank is like having a better saving program. All this has to be balanced with what your other preparation needs are.

-- David (ConnectingDots@Information.Net), March 22, 1999.

The things that generate heat are the ones that use the most power. Oven, stove, clothes iron, water heater, clothes dryer, house heat and bathroom heat lamps. If it uses 220v (us and canada) then it is a power hog.

-- Cherri (, March 22, 1999.

For designing a backup or off-grid power system, it's been the standard practice to do a full analysis of your power usage...aka "load analysis". Then a full site evaluation to determine your site's wind, solar or hydro potential...often over a 1 year period to determine the seasonal variations. This is actually the most accurate way to size a system...taking into consideration your unique electric usage patterns and the available renewable energy available at your site. BUT...with folks being so concerned about Y2K (and earth changes, biblical end-times prophecy, severe weather emergencies, NBC events, etc.)and the time to prepare seemingly growing shorter every day, I'm finding it makes the most sense to size a backup power system to fit your budget and then have the customer learn to live within the resulting energy "budget" constraints. What feels like "living like a refugee" today may be actually be quite comfortable if things do wind up spiraling down the porcelain receptacle in the future. A lot of the folks who are running off of their renewable energy systems right now are fine tuning their systems and their power usage habits...I've been doing that for 2 years now myself and really glad I started when I did! I've got customers who are doing Y2K fire drills...simulating extended blackouts...actually turning it into a fun family event. They know what to expect from their power system AND from their family during an outage...information that could prove invaluable in an emergency. I have to agree completely with the folks who posted above who said that energy efficiency and conservation together with non-electric alternatives are the way to go. AMEN! I enjoy my Aladdins and wood cookstove as much as my wind generators and solar modules. It all works together in a nice blend of new and old that we feel really comfortable with. It's hard to wean yourself from 'unlimited' power...start now...don't wait 'til the end of the year. It's like a diet...a change of lifestyle is better for long term results than going cold turkey. And Y2K aside...the independence and peace of mind of the whole thing is well worth it! Roy

-- Roy @ Four Winds (, March 22, 1999.

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