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Energy Saving Tips From a Rocket Scientist (Really)

We're thrilled to present this smart LearnVest story here on Savvy!

The Scene: A 1500-square-foot, mid-century modern house in Phoenix, AZ, home to Bob and Helen Winkel.

The Inspiration: After unclogging lint from their dryer tube and realizing they were saving $15 a month on their energy bill, they decided to tackle energy-saving around the house.

The Challenge: Cut energy bills in half. Yes, half.

The Story: Despite rising energy prices, Bob and Helen cut their energy bills by 50% last year, saving an amazing $1,300 a year. They used this money to fund a trip to Paris (next year: a riverboat cruise in the Ukraine).

The Mad Scientist: Bob Winkel has been an engineer for over 40 years, and is a Chief Fellow at Honeywell. “It wasn’t rocket science,” says Bob, an engineer who has patents for space shuttle and satellite components – OK, so maybe it is?


Over the course of two years, Bob hooked up smart meters to read energy usage on almost every device throughout the house, graphed data, crunched the numbers, and kept a big binder with all his energy use findings.

The upshot? We get his best tips, sans the meter-reading and number-crunching.

Helen did veto one of Bob’s energy-saving tweaks, though: turning down the hot water heater. “There’s one thing that I need,” she says, “and it’s a hot bath.”

Learn how you can use Bob's tips in your own home after the break!

  • Measuring Your Energy Use. Bob attached smart meters to appliances all around the house to measure energy use in dollars. They cost around $20 at a regular hardware store. “I would go to do something, like ironing, and there would be this energy meter attached to it," Helen laughs. "It was always hanging off the end of something.”

    Bob and Helen also benefited from the Smart Meter that their utility installed late last year, which lets them track their energy usage right from their computer, hour by hour. The readings are so accurate, Bob sees a bump in use from his morning brew.

  • $316 Per Year Savings: Mind The Bulbs. You've heard it before, but shockingly enough, they saw their largest savings from replacing their lightbulbs. Beyond just replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents (which can cut energy costs by as much as $7 per bulb per year; each bulb lasts up to seven years and often costs less than $2), Helen and Bob also tried to be more careful with how they used their lights. “It was a combination of changing the equipment and changing our habits,” Bob says. Use this CFL calculator to compute your own potential savings.
  • $240 Per Year Savings: Thermostat Love. In the summer, Bob and Helen set their thermostat to 78 F, and in the winter they set it to 68 F. Bob found that turning the thermostat up five degrees during the hottest four months of the year saves $60 for each of those months. (Because their heating is powered by gas, the electricity savings during the winter are negligible.) When Bob and Helen leave for a winter vacation, they just make sure to set the thermostat high enough to keep their pipes from freezing. They have an older thermostat (as you can see) but new thermostats are programmable to automatically drop or raise the house temperature depending on the time of day.
  • $36-$200 Per Year Savings: Kill The Vampires Bob has attached all of his computer paraphernalia to the same power strip, which lets him fully disconnect the printer, computer, monitor, and speaker system with the flick of a switch. He does it because electronics keep sucking energy when they’re plugged in, even if they’re off (it's called vampire energy usage). Bob doesn’t unplug the TV entertainment system, though, because it tends to cause problems with his cable box. All the same, the typical household wastes about $200 per year through vampire usage alone. You can put the rest of your appliances on smaller plug-in cord switches, and reap the full savings.
Don't stop there! Read the rest of Bob's tips at LearnVest!
Image Source: Thinkstock
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