The other day I took a hammer to a frequently used pot and struck it several times. In the process, I made it more energy-efficient by flattening out the bottom so that it sat squarely on the element. Then I repeated the exercise with several other aluminum pots and pans.
The latest rise in the electric utility bill was the reason.
The trouble, as well as the joy, of electric power is that it is all too simple to use. We flick a switch and a light goes on, the pop-up toaster gets breakfast under way, and the element turns red under the kettle.
Electricity has brought a convenience and efficiency to our lives which was inconceivable to former generations. Few of us today would want to be without it. In fact, a majority of us are probably prepared to pay, even if grudgingly, the steadily increasing price of that efficiency, My electric bill, $35 for December 1978 came in a $99 this season.
In my home, then, electricity costs run to about 83 cents a day a person. That's not much more than many folks pay for a cup of coffee, decafeinated or otherwise, and a doughnut on the way to work in the morning. In other words, with a little effort, one can still rationalize electric utility bills despite the rising costs.
On the other hand, the option to conserve is always with us whatever the cost. The housewife who retired her toaster to the scrap heap on learning that it was a heavy consumer of electricity missed the mark. While it is true that a toaster requires an impressive number of watts (1,146) to make it work, it is used for such short periods that its overall impact on the energy bill is slight.
You can get a lot of toast for the $2.40 a year it costs to run a pop-up toaster in the average home in the expensive Northeast.
Similarly, the cost of electricity to power a blender in an average Northeast home is little more than 6 cents a year; and a mixer or beater twice that amount.
On the other end of the scale, the hotwater heater is likely to run to $250 a year, and almost $290 if it is a quick-recovery unit. An automatic-defrost, 17. 5-cubic-foot refrigerator will cost close to $140 a year, and an automatic-defrost freezer a little more than $100 a year.
These costs are based on 6 cents a kilowatt hour, a not uncommon rate these days. Fuel-adjustment charges, of course, push these costs higher still. Because of fuel-adjustment costs in the Boston area, for example, the average rate now is 10 cents a kilowatt hour. In other words, a hot-water heater here is likely to run out at close to $425 a year; an automatic-defrost refrigerator/freezer at $225.
So, knowing the more fuel-costly appliances in the home (the clothes dryer and range are the next in line), we can make intelligent decisions in trying to cut costs.
If we're in the market for a new item, we can start by buying right. The federal government has made it a lot easier to choose wisely by mandating that energy- efficiency labels be attached to all major appliances. They tell us which appliances use the least energy to accomplish the same amount of work.
Then there are relatively simple steps we can take to cut energy waste with our existing appliances:
Water Heater: It's the most watt- hungry piece of equipment in the home and much of its appetite comes from keeping unused water hot for hours on end. So, slow down the heat loss by insulating the tank. Kits are available from hardware stores and outlets specializing in alternative-energy items. Or you can wrap conventional pieces of fiber-glass batting around the tank, attaching it in a series of bands from the bottom up.
Also insulate the hot-water pipes as far as you can. A lot of heat is wasted en route to the faucet. Various types of insulation can be bought for this purpose from the hardware store. If you don't mind the look, you can wrap and tape newspaper, up to one-half inch thick, around the pipes.
One of the biggest hot-water savers is the reduced-flow shower head. Remember, too, the Navy way to shower: soap down first and then rinse off.
Refrigerator and freezer: Locate these appliances in the coolest parts of your kitchen. Open the doors only when necessary.
For the same reason, let hot foods cool down before refrigerating them. I know of one housewife who, in winter, allows items destined for the freezer to freeze overnight in an outside shed before they go into the freezer. Defrost regularly. A layer of ice, more than one-quarter-inch thick acts as as insulator, making the cooling units work harder than usual. Cover dishes tightly. This prevents frost-forming evaporation from moist foods. Keep the appliance moderately full because air is harder to keep cool then chilled foods and liquids.
Electric range: Choose the right utensils. For maximum efficiency the cooking utensil should be as large, or very slightly larger, than the hot plate. Flat-bottomed, heavy utensils give the best results.
This brings up the reason for taking a hammer to some of our pots. Over the years they had become uneven so that they would lean to one side and not make good contact with the hot plate. A little tapping with a hammer when the utensils were hot remedied that situation.
Bake several dishes at the same time. The oven uses no more energy. In effect, you get two or more dishes for the price of one.
Following are tables which show the average annual consumption of electricity in US homes for various appliances. They were developed by the Electric Energy Association and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and published in the 1980 Better Business Bureau's "Home Primer" booklet (Suffolk University, Boston, MA 02108):
Food preparation average annual wattage kwh Blender 300 1 Broiler 1,140 85 Carving Knife 92 8 Coffeemaker 1,200 140 Deep fryer 1,448 83 Dishwasher 1,201 363 Frying pan 1,196 100 Hot plate 1,200 90 Oven (microwave) 1,450 190 Range with oven 12,200 700 Sandwich grill 1,161 33 Toaster 1,146 39 Waffle iron 1,200 20 Laundry Clothes dryer 4,856 993 Iron (hand) 1,100 60 Washing machine 512 103 Water heater 2,475 4,219 (quick recovery) 4,474 4,811 Housewares clock 2 17 Floor polisher 305 15 Vacuum cleaner 630 46 Food preservation Freezer Manual defrost (16 cu. ft.) 1,190 (automatic def.) 1,820 Refrigerator/freezer Manual defrost (12.5 cu.ft.)$1.500 (automatic def. 17.5 cu.ft.) 2,250