All it took was a few simple fixes for Ron and Carole Kube to cut their annual energy consumption in half. Courtesy David Dodge

The energy detective

Reducing power consumption is easier than you think

What if we told you that with a few simple changes, you could cut your household electricity consumption in half? It’s possible, and Ron Kube is living proof.

Kube recently installed a solar-power system on his St. Albert home. But before going solar, he checked to see how much electricity his home was using. He was shocked to discover his family was using 70 per cent more than the Alberta average of 7,200 kilowatt hours per year – they were energy hogs.

“We were actually using over 12,000 kilowatt hours a year,” said Kube. “So, then, the question was, ‘okay, where are all those electrons going?’ ”

Ron is a university professor, so his curiosity quickly transformed into a full-blown research project. “I got a little obsessed and I started to measure everything,” he said.

Instead of simply switching his lightbulbs to LEDs and then hoping for the best, Kube first became an energy-efficiency detective. He started with a plug-in power meter. “You can buy one of these things and you can plug them in,” he said. “And then you plug your appliance in, and it tells you how much power it is using.”

Ron checked the coffee pot, fridge, freezer, cookers, entertainment devices, computers and literally everything else with a plug.

The power meter was a great start, but Kube soon felt the urge to dig much deeper. Instead of simply measuring one appliance at a time, he wanted to keep tabs on his entire house. He installed an eGauge energy monitoring system – a device that measures the individual load for each circuit on his electrical panel and generates data in real time.

Once the eGauge was up and running, Kube could go online at any time to see his current electricity consumption, along with totals for the day, week, month or year. He also installed a display right in the kitchen, so he and his wife would be confronted by the evidence every time they passed through.

“Lighting was, surprisingly, the biggest monster in the house,” said Kube. He points to his dining room as a typical culprit. In one fixture, the couple had eight 100-watt incandescent bulbs, for a staggering total of 800 watts. By switching those eight bulbs to LEDs, Kube slashed the total to 112 watts without sacrificing a single lumen.

“We were actually using over 12,000 kilowatt hours a year. So, then, the question was, ‘okay, where are all those electrons going?’ ” – Ron Kube, the energy detective

After lighting, Kube was astonished to discover he had yet another energy-gobbling beast lurking in his basement. “We had an old beer fridge in the basement, and I found out it was taking between seven and 10 per cent of our monthly power – for a couple of bottles of beer and some wine,” he said.

He unplugged the fridge and relocated the beverages. The old beer fridge was using more electricity than his modern fridge and freezer combined.

During his detective work, Kube also learned about the concept of “phantom power.” Sometimes, even after you switch your devices off, they continue to draw significant amounts of electricity. In Kube’s house, the biggest culprit here was his entertainment system, which was using seven per cent of the home’s electricity.

Kube took all the plugs and rerouted them through a simple power bar with an on/off switch. “Now, off is off and everything is great,” he said.

Kube even went above and beyond to run some cooking experiments. He pitted a slow cooker against a pressure cooker and a Thermos cooker. The slow cooker was an energy disaster, using 2.5 times more energy than a pressure cooker and 4.3 times more energy than a Thermos cooker.

With simple, inexpensive measures, the Kubes slashed their monthly electricity consumption by more than half, with virtually no impact on their lifestyle. “At the end of the day, we were able to reduce our power from the 12,000 kilowatt hours a year to 5,300 kilowatt hours a year,” said Kube.

What is amazing about this is the Kubes slashed their electricity bill at a very low cost. Ron replaced 80 light bulbs with LEDs, unplugged the beer fridge, changed some cooking habits and put a smart power bar on his entertainment system.

The Kubes installed a nine-kilowatt solar system when they were still using about 9,000 kilowatt hours a year for electricity.

Thanks to those simple energy efficiency measures, the Kubes now have 4,000 kilowatt hours of surplus solar electricity from their solar system. Kube calculates that he could fuel a Nissan Leaf electric car for about 20,000 km a year with that surplus solar electricity.

If he did use that extra electricity to power a car, Kube estimates the value of the electricity to him would soar to 88 cents a kilowatt hour, since he would no longer need to buy gas.

Kube has even created his own guide to help others follow in his footsteps when it comes to solar and energy efficiency projects, as well as a do-it-yourself electricity audit guide that people can use to learn from his experience.

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