Welcome to Cranky Puppy Farm!

This blog belongs to two Gen X-er's smackdab in downtown Kansas City where we've been renovating and decorating two old Victorians built in the 1890's. Our life is filled with 3 demanding Pomeranians (1 of them cranky, of course), honking cars, noisy neighbors and the hustle and bustle of city life but we dream of the day when we can move to our 40-acre farm and hear nothing but the wind and the cows next door. Until then, we're chronicling our triumphs and mishaps here as we try to garden and preserve on 2 city lots, raise chickens, and learn all those things we should have learned from our grandparents. Welcome to our world - we hope you'll stay awhile!

Our Goal: Keep $800,000 Away from The Power Company

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Welcome to the third post in the series related to our solar energy project.
 Click here to start at the beginning!
WARNING: Math ahead!
I'm an energy hog and I'm not proud of it.  Let me tell you how I came to this realization recently and how what I found out might be of use to you. 

You can't talk about implementing solar without first looking at your energy usage.  What I'm going to talk about in this post applies to everyone, though, and not just folks like us that are interested in going solar. 

I'll admit to being that person...the one that grumbles about their high energy bills and then grudgingly writes the check to the power company.  When they raise their rates every year as our provider, Kansas City Power and Light (KCPL), has over the last few years, this puppy goes from cranky to downright surly.  On average utility rates increase 6% to 8% every year - KCPL has raised theirs 7.3%. In 2009, the increase was 16.4%.  So it's safe to assume that we can only see increases coming in the future.  The kicker is that our energy rate is really darn low (10.7 cents per watt) compared to the rest of the country.  Hawaii is over 34 cents per watt!

One nice thing that KCPL provides on their website is a history of your energy usage and I was absolutely mortified to find that our average energy usage over the least year was:

  • Around 45 kWH (kilowatt hours) per day.  The average American household uses around 30 so we are definitely energy  hogs!
  • A total of 21,904 kWH used last year. The average American household uses anywhere from 10,000 to 14,000!
  • At a cost of $2,551.34
  • We're about 33% over average! 

Where is all that power going!?  It's not like we leave all lights blazing 24 hours a day + 5 blenders on non-stop + 6 loads of laundry a day.   It's just the two of us here.  So I am now on a mission to figure it out and try to get us down to average usage which would result in just shy of $1,000 savings per year.  If you couldn't use an extra grand per year, then you might be tempted to stop reading.  But wait....

I'm 43 so, if we use the average life expectancy for women, I have about 30 years left.  (Ummm...typing that made me anxious.  Doesn't seem like a lot of time left, does it?!)

Now let's leave the solar stuff out of the equation and say we save $1,000 per year just by lowering our energy usage.  That means we would have an additional $30,000 in our pocket over the remainder of my life.  If we let it sit in the bank!  Using Dave Ramsey's investment calculator, if we invested that money in the stock market at the average rate of return of  11.69%, those energy savings would grow to $255,884.37!  That's just with cutting our energy usage by 33%.  If we do this project and go completely solar so that we're paying nothing for electricity every month, that savings turns into $800,000 over my lifetime.

You think that's awesome?  Check this out...if I added that money consistently to my existing retirement account rather than paying it to KCPL, I'd be this much richer:


Still with me?  Now the question is how to get our usage down. 

As a first step, I'm going to start looking at what are called PHANTOM LOADS.  I'm talking about all those ghostly appliances that stay plugged into our outlets and are sucking up power even when we think they're not. 

  • See that clock on your coffee pot?  Sucking power.
  • Think your sleeping laptop isn't using power when it's plugged in?  Sucking power.
  • You turn your TV off when you're not watching, but what about your cable box? Sucking power!

The Kill-A-What in action
How do I know this?  I put this whizz-bang gadget called a Kill-A-What on my Christmas list last year.  Santa didn't disappoint, and I've been measuring energy usage on our appliances ever since.  I've found some surprising things.  Like my 24" Energy Star monitor still uses 0.12 kWH even when it's in sleep mode.  So does my laptop *if* it's plugged in (which it always is). 

Amazon sells the Kill-A-Watt P4460 for $26.00, so it's affordable and will easily pay for itself in energy savings.   The first thing I did was to go around the house from room to room and make a list of everything that is plugged in.  Don't forget your kitchen appliances!  And especially don't forget those freezers and refrigerators.   Then pick what you want to test.  Unplug the appliance, plug the Kill-A-What into the outlet, and plug the appliance into the single outlet in the front of the Kill-A-What.  If you program in your electrical rate, it will show you both the kWH the device is using as well as the cost.  Typically, I let these run over a couple of days because some devices cycle their use on and off.

I'm still testing but I hope to come up with a spreadsheet that shows all the "phantom loads" and how unplugging all this stuff could help us meet our goal.  Each one may seem small but when you add them all up together, I think it could be significant. 

After that, we need to look at the big ticket stuff: furnace, freezers, appliances, hot water heater, etc.

What do you think?  Think a 33% reduction is doable?  If you've got ideas for getting energy usage down, I am all ears!

UPDATEClick here to go to the next post in our solar series where we're talking about a cool tool to help you figure out what vampire appliances are sucking your energy.

I'm sharing this with this week's Farm Girl FridayDIY Linky and Homestead Barn Hop hops. Go check them out!


  1. Dang...now you have me thinking of all the items that we keep on. I figure we are even worse off than you!

  2. What company did you go with for the panels?


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