All in one

Toolkit makes saving water, energy a piece of cake

The author tests her hot water temperature.

The author tests her hot water temperature.

Photo by Meredith J. Cooper

Last August, my boyfriend, Chuck, and I bought a house near the orchards in Chico. It’s a modest little place, one bedroom, one bath, just right for the two of us and our Boston terrier. But like anything you do for the first time, the learning curve has been steep.

The house was built nearly 70 years ago, so, as we like to tell people, “it’s got character.” Over the past eight months, we’ve been chipping away at a long to-do list. And while saving on electricity and water usage is always on our minds, we just hadn’t gotten around to things like weatherstripping and changing out faucet aerators.

It’s safe to say the DIY Home Energy Saving Toolkit, created by North Valley Energy Watch, was made exactly for people like us. After checking one out at the Butte County Library, upping our energy-saving game went straight to the top of our to-do list. And I learned some things in the process.

First of all, the toolkit is super easy to use. It comes with a booklet that explains how everything works, and each item is marked with either “stays with toolkit” or “keep.” I browsed the booklet before diving in, then Chuck and I chose tasks at random.

The refrigerator thermometer requires 20 minutes in the fridge and then another 20 in the freezer to test temps, so I started by placing it in between the eggs and milk. While it chilled, I dropped a tablet in the toilet tank, which after 30 minutes would show us if we had any leaks.

Then I checked the bathroom lightbulbs and Chuck checked those in the ceiling fixtures. Sure enough, the bathroom light held three incandescents. I quickly replaced them with three of the LEDs supplied in the kit. After entering my saved wattage on the data tracking worksheet provided in the kit (and dividing my daily use by 1,000—this step is missing on the form!), I determined we’ll save about $10.65 a year on just those three bulbs.

Next, I pulled out the water-flow rate bag and, starting in the kitchen, checked how many gallons per minute we’re pumping out. The kitchen sink and shower head checked out in the normal range, but our bathroom sink turned out to be a big-time water waster at almost 2.5 gallons per minute. Chuck quickly unscrewed the old aerator and installed a low-flow one from the kit to drop that down to .5 gpm. Another worksheet equation revealed we’ll save about $22 per year. While in the bathroom, I affixed the shower timer from the kit. Apparently, I learned after a few days, if I don’t wash my hair, I can keep myself to about five minutes; if I do, it’s closer to 10.

Time to check the fridge. The thermometer read perfectly inside the target range (36-40 degrees Fahrenheit). Into the freezer it went (where it also tested fine). Back to the bathroom, there was no blue in the bowl, meaning no leaky toilet. Score!

Electronics account for quite a bit of our energy use (see Ken Smith’s story on page 20). So, I sat down with the Kill-A-Watt Meter, which plugs into the wall and includes an outlet into which to plug a device. I was pleased to find that most of our gadgets and appliances are already pretty energy-efficient. That probably accounts for our relatively low electric bill—according to the booklet, which provides a tutorial on reading your PG&E bill, the average customer uses 540 kilowatt hours per month; our most recent bill was for 186 kWh.

Meanwhile, Chuck used the enclosed candy thermometer to check the temperature of our hot water. On point. We also used the infrared laser thermometer to tell us what we already knew—we’re losing heat through our windows and external wall outlets. Weatherstripping will wait for a nonrainy day, but we did install some of the outlet gaskets provided in the kit.

Going into it, I didn’t realize how involved this toolkit was going to be. But honestly, it was easy. And if we save $30 a year and keep from wasting water and electricity from here on out, it was an hour well spent.