Save Money on your Electricity Bill Without Spending a Dime

Home built electric car

My power bills are too flipping high, and I’m willing to bet yours are too. Fortunately, it’s possible to lower them significantly without making significant changes to lifestyle or spending even more money on fancy power-saving gadgets.

We all use electricity, and it’s expensive. As irritating as it is to pay a big power bill, it’s about more than that. We’re all more aware than ever about efficiency and reducing our carbon footprints. Fortunately, when it comes to saving money on your electricity bill, it’s as simple as changing some old habits.

Last year my family bought our first home. Prior to this, we were renting in a place that included utilities so paying a power bill was a completely new experience for us, and it sucks. Our new place is much larger than we’re used to and the bigger the home, the more energy-hungry it is.

Below are 20 changes that I’ve implemented in our household that have lowered our power bills significantly.

1. Turn off the dry setting on your dishwasher

Your dishwasher uses an energy-sucking heater to dry your dishes. Just turn the heat mode off and crack the door when the cycle is done. It doesn’t take much longer for your dishes to dry.

2. Shorten your showers by 1 or 2 minutes.

I like to have long showers, but I pay for the privilege. My water heater runs overtime producing that hot water. Shaving a minute off of a 6 minute shower isn’t hard at all. You can use a cell-phone as a timer for this.

3. Wash small quantities of dishes by hand.

This one is tough for me. I own a dishwasher because I don’t want to do dishes, but running it half-full is like throwing money in the garbage.

4. Hang your laundry.

I love drying my clothes. It’s easy and fast but where I live it’s warm enough 5 or 6 months per year to hang laundry outside. In the winter, clothes can be hung over a baseboard heater or heating duct that’s in use anyways.

5. Turn off your power bars.

I have a power bar behind my television and another behind my computer. There’s no reason to have any of that stuff drawing power when it’s not in use. Just hit the switch on the power bar when you’re done to save energy.

6. Double check before bed.

Do a quick loop through your house right before bed each night and make sure all lights and electronics are off. It costs nothing and can save you a lot.

7. Lights.

Everybody knows to turn lights off but seriously…turn your lights off. I tend to leave them on in the middle of the day when I leave and don’t notice they’re on because of the ambient light.

8. Clear out your refrigerator.

Your refrigerator is a power hog, but you can maximize it’s efficiency by making sure that the vents on the inside top and bottom are clear of stuff so air can flow. Also, the coils on the back (or bottom) need to be kept clear for maximum efficiency.

9. Don’t waste cooking heat.

When you’re done cooking in the winter, leave your oven door open so the ambient heat can heat your house instead of just being wasted. Naturally, make sure that little ones can’t access the open oven.

10. Turn off that fan.

A fan only makes you feel cooler when you’re directly in front of it. It doesn’t cool your house down unless perhaps it’s directly in front of a window. When you leave the room, shut off the fan.

11. Ceiling fan.

Heat rises. In places with high ceilings the heat can get trapped up high in the room. Rather than cranking the heat up, use the ceiling fan to blow it downward.

12. Unplug battery chargers.

They draw power even when they’re not charging. When my laptop power adapter is plugged in it gets really hot even when my computer isn’t plugged in. That’s electricity being converted into heat.

13. Unscrew multiple bulbs.

Some light fixtures have several bulbs in them for redundancy and to direct light. I’ve toyed with unscrewing one or two bulbs in these fixtures. Instantly that fixture uses 50-66% less energy.

14. Clean your lint trap.

You should do this every time you run a load through your dryer. Not only does your dryer use more power, but it’s a fire hazard to have a plugged lint trap.

15. Check your dryer before the cycle ends.

I’ve always dried clothes on the timed cycle. This can be incredibly wasteful. If you select 50 minutes and your clothes are dry after 25 minutes, you’re using 2x more power than needed. This can be avoided by checking your load.

16. Shut off everything for holidays.

When you leave your home for more than a day, completely shut down your home. You can unplug things individually, turn off power bars or switch your breakers off. If switching the breakers off, remember to leave the refrigerator and deep freeze on. Also, unless you’re going away for several days, it can cost more to reheat the water tank than just to leave it on.

17. Track your usage.

Many power companies allow you to check on your daily usage online. It allows me to identify high usage times so that I can try to better manage my usage.

18. Raise your fridge and freezer temperatures.

Set your fridge and freezer to the highest temperature that will keep your food safe. Many people have their fridges so cold that food will freeze in the bottom. There’s no need and it uses more power.

19. Eat bread, not toast.

Those coils inside your toaster are an energy suck. Bread tastes good too.

20. Wash laundry in cold water.

Most things get cleaned adequately in cold water. Unless you’re cleaning something specific, use cold water. Most people needlessly waste hundreds of liters of hot water per year.

Posted in Uncategorized

HTEC August 2015 Update

I’ve been silent on here for a while. Below is an update on what’s happening on the EV front as well as what you can expect on the blog in the second half of 2015.

EV 2.0

At this time, the resurrection of my electric car dream just isn’t in the cards. You may remember that last year I scrapped my electric Chevrolet Sprint and sold the parts. This decision was made because my donor car needed a ton of work, my batteries were at the end of their life and our second child was due soon. A two-seater, limited range EV no longer suited my needs.

I planned on using the parts to build a better, lithium-powered car late last year. That plan was curbed by personal issues and the purchase of a home. Since then, I’ve taken a new job closer to home and am commuting on a bicycle now.

This is good news for me. I loved my electric Sprint, but these changes in circumstances have opened up possibilities for me. I am considering converting my bicycle to electric power and even building an electric motorcycle over the next year or two. A motorcycle’s light weight and lower voltage requirements mean that a conversion can be done for thousands less than what it would cost to convert a car. Also, I now have access to a larger shop and fabrication tools at my new job.

What to Expect on the Blog

Over the last 4 years, this blog has focused exclusively on electric car conversion. Typically, those among us who want to tear our cars apart and rebuild them as fully electric vehicles are interested in green technology of all sorts. From this point forward, this blog is going to cover a variety of green topics including ideas and projects to make your home more efficient.

I have to admit, I really hate the word ‘green’. Whenever I hear that word I picture some barefoot 20-year-old in a Seattle Starbucks on reddit complaining about how wasteful our generation is. It’s buzzy, and I’ve never liked buzz words.

But I do love green technology. I love that there are people out there in their garages cobbling together electric cars, motorcycles, bikes, solar energy systems and a thousand other projects that are making the world a better, more efficient place. In my opinion, it’s those people who are really making a measurable difference in the world.

Today, I raise a glass to those guys. The guys who go out and pioneer change in their own lives. The guys who aren’t afraid to cut, weld and blow stuff up. The guys who take to the forums and share what they’ve learned for the benefit of others that they’ll never meet. Those are the guys who inspired me to build my electric car three years ago, and they’re the ones that provided me with the tools and information to make it happen.

As much as everybody reading this probably wants one, most of us can not afford a Tesla Model S. Most people however, can afford a few thousand bucks to put together an awesome, medium-range electric car in their garage.

That’s why I’m here. I want to inspire you to build awesome stuff, save energy and save money, and starting today I’m taking that beyond electric car conversion.

Electric Car Conversion Guide

As I write this, my book on building a simple, cheap electric car is being edited. I wrote this book to help folks like me cut through the technical jargon and learn the basics needed to build simple, cheap electric transportation. Basically, I’ve written the book that I wish had been available when I started my conversion.

I’m going to offer this product for free to my email subscribers before I make it available publicly. If you want to be informed when it’s available enter your email at the top right hand side of this page and you’ll be the first to know.

I hope you’ll come back and check out the blog as I explore ways to make your electric, gas or hybrid car more efficient, and bring you tips, tricks and projects to make your home more efficient as well.

Until next time.

Posted in Saving Energy at Home

What Happened to EV 2.0?

February 2015 Update

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted here, and much has happened. In April of 2014, we welcomed our second child, a boy this time into the world and the last 8 months has been a bit of a whirlwind. Our family upgraded (more like a downgrade, really) to a minivan from our long-serving Toyota Matrix, and I haven’t had a whole lot of time for anything, including EVs and this site.

What happened to the Sprint?

It’s a bit of a story. In December of 2013, I was driving the EV to work and back, using it as my daily driver. It was going well except for the lack of heat which I never really got sorted out further than pre-heating the car in the morning. I had a couple of incidents that resulted in completely draining my battery pack. The first was me needing to make an urgent detour on my way home from work one day and not properly estimating my range (I was pushed home by a friend). The second was a result of me handing the keys to my wife and evidently doing a poor job of explaining how far she’s allowed to go.

Having completely drained my already heavily used pack twice, it was just about done. I only had enough range to make it 10 or 15 kilometers after those incidents, and that was no longer sufficient for use as a commuter. As I was not in a financial position to buy new batteries at that time, my beloved Sprint was relegated to occasional use as a short-distance second vehicle.

In January of 2014, my family and I went to Hawaii for two weeks. It was a fantastic holiday and I highly recommend the Big Island by the way. It’s way less congested and with a whole lot more to explore than Maui. Just my $0.02. Although I suspected that I had a leak somewhere due to an occasional wet carpet on the passenger side, I was not prepared for the 4″ of standing water I came home to. At this time, the car also needed a wheel bearing, brakes and a few other things. Knowing that a second child was on the way, and the EV was a short-range 2 seater with mechanical issues, I had to re-evaluate my time and financial priorities. I ended up disassembling the car and storing all of the EV components planning a new project in the form of a 4-door with lithium, heater etc.

As last year drew to a close, we bought our first home. It’s our first, and unfortunately does not have a garage, further reducing the likelihood that I would be able to get back to the EV any time in the near future. After some long, hard thought, I sold all of my EV parts to a local fellow who is in the process of turning them into something awesome. I will provide a link as soon as I find where his project is documented.

What’s next?

I’m still an EV nut. That’s not going to change. My plan is to build a 4-door lithium-powered electric machine in the form of a Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe or similar. None of the major parts that I used in the Sprint conversion would have been well-suited for a larger, lithium-powered ride anyways. I don’t know when I’m going to be able to get started on the new car. It’s entirely possible that at some point in the future I’ll decide to abandon the dream in favor of a used Leaf or Model S, it’s hard to say what the next 5-10 years are going to look like. If you’ve had young kids, you understand.

What about this site?

I built this site as a testament to the fact that a cheap, reliable EV is not only possible, it’s not really that hard. I’m not an electrician, a mechanic or an engineer, and I did it. This site will stay here and serve as a resource for anybody else like me that wants to get off of carbon and start using electrons to power your ride!

I plan to update the site occasionally, although not with the same frequency as when I was knee-deep in my conversion project. I have a lot of knowledge to share about what I did, and I will be available here if you have any questions.

Thanks for visiting the site. The Sprint conversion was an extremely rewarding experience, and I hope the info on this site encourages you to get out there and get started on your own conversion project.

Posted in Chevrolet Sprint Conversion

How Much, How Far, How Fast?

With any electric car conversion, you’re going to have to ask yourself three questions in the planning phase – how much, how far and how fast? There’s a saying amongst electric car builders that when it comes to range, cost and speed, you can pick any two. In other words, it’s possible to build a long-range fast car, but it’s going to cost you. Or you can build a cheap and fast car, but you’re not going to get the range you probably want.

There’s a lot of truth to this. For example, with my electric Chevrolet Sprint, I chose lower cost and speed, and didn’t get much for range. I could have built a longer range car that was still cheap, but wouldn’t have been capable of the highway speeds that I need around my place.

You’ll notice that the major manufacturers are all struggling with this. The Nissan Leaf for example is capable of around 120km real-world range. This number will drop significantly when the car is used in mountainous or hilly areas, if you use the A/C or heat a lot etc. Every little bit counts. Based on the fact that the car is selling, we can assume that people feel that the range is adequate. Having driven one on a few occasions, I can vouch that the acceleration and top speed are more than acceptable for a compact car. The price however, was the compromise. At more than $30k, it’s not cheap enough yet for most people to consider.

No matter what, you’re going to face this when you build your own electric car so it’s best to figure it out early:

How Much?

How Far?

How Fast?

Posted in Electric Vehicle Articles

The Long History Of Electric Vehicles

Some people hear about the movie “Who Killed The Electric Car” and think that the electric car made it’s big debut in the form of GM’s EV1 in 1996. Others may be sure that the electric car can trace it’s roots to the hippy dippy tree-hugging movement of the 60s and 70s. The truth is, the electric car is well over 100 years old. It predates the gasoline car in fact.

The invention of the electric car has been attributed to several different people. The consensus seems to be however that American Thomas Davenport was responsible for inventing the first viable electric vehicle in 1835 – a small locomotive.

Below is a timeline of the history of electric vehicles. It’s interesting to note that even as far back as the mid-1800s, the major component holding back mass adoption of electric cars was a viable battery pack. Guess what the main thing holding us back from mass adoption of EVs today – an affordable battery pack capable of a respectable range.

Riker Electric Car

Early 1900s Riker Electric Car

1830s – Scottish inventor Robert Anderson is credited with inventing the first crude electric carriage powered by a non-rechargeable battery.

1835 – American inventor Thomas Davenport invents the first viable electric vehicle – a small locomotive.

1859 – French physicist Gaston Planté invents the first rechargeable lead-acid battery.

1883 – England opens the first commercially successful electric tram/trolley engineered by Magnus Volk

1891 – American William Morrison of Des Moines Iowa invents the first successful electric automobile.

first electric car

William Morrison’s Electric Car

1897 – Electric cars used commercially for the first time. Built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia, they were used as taxis in New York City

1899 – Believing that electricity will power the future of transportation, Thomas Edison begins his quest for a long-lasting, powerful battery suitable for use in commercial vehicles. Although his work resulted in improvements on the battery technology of the day, he ultimately abandoned his quest a decade later.

1900 – Electric cars have gained traction in the United States. Nearly 40% of all vehicles in America are fully electric.

1907 – Electric Vehicle Company, which had bought out several other small electric car manufacturers, suffers a fatal blow from a bank crash.

1908 – Henry Ford introduces the mass-produced, gasoline-powered Ford Model T. This car has a profound effect on the American automobile market and is the beginning of the end for production electric cars. Thanks Henry!

Model T Electric Car

1908 Ford Model T

1912 – Charles Kettering invents the electric starter. This is significant as the hand-cranking required to start gasoline cars was a big part of why many people, particularly women, chose to drive electrics.

1920s – The electric car, after decades of success, ceases to be a viable commercial product and production stops completely. There are many factors that contribute to the downfall of EVs. Consumers wanted the longer range and higher speeds offered by gasoline-powered cars. In addition to this, most of the major concerns about gas cars had been addressed by this time. Gearboxes were becoming less complicated and easier to use and gasoline was widely available by the 20s. Really, the issue with electric cars was the same as it is now, people wanted to be able to drive as long as they wanted, and fill up their car quickly.

1920s-1960s – Electric cars are more or less forgotten during this period. It’s the golden age for gas-powered vehicles.

1973 – The Arab oil embargos of ’67 and ’73 have left Americans waiting for hours at gas stations and fuel prices skyrocket. A moderate interest in alternative fuels is rekindled during this period. The US Department of energy funds efforts to try and produce a cost-effective electric car.

Electric CitiCar

CitiCar EV

1974 – The awkward looking CitiCar makes it’s debut at the Electric Vehicle Symposium in Washington, D.C. Built by Vanguard-Sebring, it boasts a top speed of just over 30mph and a respectable warm-weather range of 40 miles. By 1975, Vanguard-Sebring is the 6th largest automaker in the US. Unfortunately, the company is dissolved only a few years later.

Italian car maker Zagato, starts producing the Zele. An electric microcar with an all fiberglass body. It is sold in the US under the name Zagato Elcar. This and the CitiCar are two peas in a pod, both tiny and awkward-looking!

1975 – The US Postal Service buys 350 all-electric delivery Jeeps from AMC to be used in a test program.

1988 – General Motors agrees to fund research for a practical consumer electric car. GM teams up with AeroVironment to produce what would become the EV1. The EV1 is the first serious attempt at a modern, long-range electric car. It was only leased, not sold to consumers. Even though the reviews for the EV1 were almost universally positive, when the leases were up, General Motors took back every unit without offering the leasers an opportunity to buy the car. Every single one was crushed. Some electric car enthusiasts have argued that GM never intended the EV1 to be a serious commercial venture.

GMs EV1 Electric

GMs EV1

1990 – California passes the Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate requiring 2% of the state’s vehicles to be zero emission by 1998 and 10% by 2003. The law is repeatedly challenged and weakened to reduce the number of fully electric cars required.

1997-2000 – Several major manufacturers release all-electric vehicles. Nissan’s Alta, Ford’s Ranger EV, Toyota’s Rav 4 EV, Chevy’s S10 EV, Honda’s EV Plus are all offered in the US, although most of them only for lease. Many have since ended up on the used market. 

2002 – G.M and Chrysler sue the California Air Resources Board to have the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate repealed.

2003 –  G.M. announces that it will not be renewing leases on the EV1, nor will it offer the car for sale to leasers. They blame their inability to keep up with parts support.

2005 – All but 40 or so of the EV1s have been reclaimed by G.M. and “recycled”. The remaining vehicles have been disabled and now live at museums and universities.

2006Tesla Motors announces their all-electric Tesla Roadster at the San Francisco International Auto show. It is to go on sale for the 2008 model year with a price tag of just under $100,000.

Nissan LEAF EV

Nissan LEAF

2009 – Nissan unveils it’s new all-electric car, the LEAF. It has a range of over 100 miles, a top speed of 90mph and a battery pack that can be quick-charged to 80% in 30 minutes. Nissan works to set up charging networks in several countries to support charging for the LEAF.

By the end of 2009, several manufacturers have announced new all-electric vehicles. GM’s Volt (actually a parallel hybrid with a 40 mile all-electric range), Nissan’s LEAF and Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV are all to be released over the next two years.

Since the 80s, electric cars have been kept alive thanks to the efforts of regular guys converting vehicles at home rather than by the half-hearted efforts of the major manufacturers. In the late 90s it seemed that some of them were going to take EVs seriously for a while, and then they all cancelled their EV programs.

There is new hope for electric cars on the horizon with Tesla swooping in and quite frankly making the EV effort put forth by the big 3 over the last 2 decades look silly. Tesla, as a new manufacturer has managed to develop and build two commercially viable all-electric cars in the last 8 years, and become profitable in the process (well, sort of).

Because electric cars more or less ceased to exist between the 1920s and 1970s (save for a few exceptions), electric cars missed out on a key period in automotive development. If companies had been investing their research and development dollars into electric vehicles all through the 20th century as was happening with gasoline vehicles, EV technology would be much farther than it is today.

Posted in Electric Vehicle Articles, Uncategorized

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