Household Energy Use: Where is your money going?

2009 Energy Use Pie Chart

2009 Energy Use Pie Chart

In order to start saving money on your energy bills and understand home energy consumption, you have to know where the best place to start is.  You could spend your whole life dedicated to cutting out all of your vampire loads, but that probably isn't going to be the best use of your time when going after heating and cooling would produce a much bigger bang for your buck (and time).

The pie chart above shows the percentage of energy consumed in regards to energy bills in the typical American household.  The chart was constructed from a Dept. of Energy survey and shown on the Energy Star website.

The majority of the  money you spend in your house is dedicated to heating and cooling.

This is followed by water heating and then lighting.  So your top three targets are as a percentage of your bill:

  1. Heating and Cooling (49%)
  2. Water Heating (13%)
  3. Lighting (10%)

The good news is that these are the three easiest areas to make an impact!


There are two ways to make an impact in heating/cooling.  You can either buy new systems, or use the systems you have smarter.  I touched on this in my Programmable Thermostat intro.  If there was one step you could take to make an impact on your energy bill, using your thermostat smarter is it.  The great part is that this is incredibly simple.  All you have to do is make a tiny effort to set your thermostat at a level you can live comfortably at.

Water Heating

I'll touch on this more in other articles, but the two ways to impact this are:


And finally you should target your lighting.  But I have a whole category dedicated to this, so this area is covered in detail.

***Update - 12/10/09 - Check out the lighting category, but if your short on time I'll give you two tips to saving money on lighting:

  1. Install CFL's or LEDs.  Do this now.  Use my lighting cost calculator if you don't believe how much money they will save.  And the light quality is just as good as incandescents.
  2. Install lighting timers and sensors to automatically turn lights off when not in use

Basically, find out where your big targets are, and knock them out first.  For instance, in the graph above, electronics (which makes up most of vampire loads) only represent 7% of most American's energy bill.  The majority of the energy they use is when the electronics are on: watching TV, working on your computer, listening to your stereo, etc.  The rest of the time they are in standby mode, but this standby (vampire) load only represents between 1-5% of your overall bill!  So if you were extremely dedicated and unplugged all your electronics when you weren't using them, then plugged them back in when you needed to use them, the most you could save would probably be 5% on your energy bill! Is this the best use of your energy saving time and effort?

I'm not saying you shouldn't cut out your vampire loads, but spend your time wisely and make sure you target the biggest energy consumers first, then start targeting other areas!  Knowing where to start is half the battle, and Mapawatt Blog is here to help.

***Update-9/22/09 - When I recently checked on this post I realized the picture had changed.  When I checked the Energy Star website they had updated the pie graph based on recent data (so I updated the graph at the beginning of the post as well), which changed the numbers around a tad.  The graph doesn't highlight vampire loads, but I'm guessing they are combined somewhere between Electronics (4%) and Other (11%), so I think the 7% number is still probably valid.

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We put in a Geothermal (2 pumps){5 wells x 500'deep}. Huge upfront outlay. 2 problems: very noisy to run - entire house vibrates when they work - had to put in shock-absorbers especially designed for them - better but not completely. If they are installed they should be installed on their own concrete pad not connected to the frame. Also all the pipes in and out should be cut and "radiator" hoses connected and clamped to the copper as a joint to dampen the vibrations. The real problem are the 240 volt motors that drive them - they EAT electricity. So we installed a 10.2 kW PV system to offset the cost - now they can run. The pipes to and from the house have to be buried below the frost line and insulated with very thick insulation. We have since found (for the water lines) that insulating them, then putting them in the thick black corrugated plastic drains with a cut along them, and pumping the foamy stuff around kept the temp (Using a thermostat buried 100' away from the house) at 50 degrees when the temp outside was -15F. We also found that leaving any pilot light on, or backup hot water tank is a voracious power eater. Instant hot on-demand hot water heating is a must. Backup tank is supplied by Solar hot water heater on the roof. Doing the right thing is a challenge, and expensive.
ckmapawatt's picture
Allan, That is a lot! How much do you think you've spent trying to reduce your energy consumption?
Good start but given that HEATING AND cooling are the biggest energy uses, I am a bit dismayed that the most that was offered in this blog was to make your existing systems "smarter" ie "more efficient". BTW- Check out the new "Ecobee" thermostats from Toronto- the leaders in energy saving thermostats. But more importantly... For ALL the right reasons- Economicall, ethically and environmentally, the absolute BEST thing that anyone can do to reduce their HVAC bills (and a significant portion of domestic hot water heating) is to install a geothermal heat pump system. Almost every house can have one with the only exception being one in which there is no place to put in the pipe required for an earth loop. But talk about saving money! About 70% savings in energy when properly designed. And you can pat yourself on the back for dramatically decreasing your carbon footprint by no longer using gas, oil, propane or straight electrical resistive heating. This is applied science at its best. Upwards of 400% efficiency and extremely reliable and with virtually no maintenance (change a filter). We all have to spread the word... I for one am extremely happy that I installed one.
ckmapawatt's picture
GeoJoe, we've written a fair amount on geothermal heat pumps. We're also one of the top hits on Google for Ecobee. I agree that heat pumps are a great way to save energy, but they aren't practical for a large percentage of the population because they are either too expensive (upfront capital outlay) or they don't have the space (townhomes/condos/apartments). But yes, if you have money to invest in energy savings and you have a good location, check out our post on <a href="" rel="nofollow">Where do Geothermal Heat Pumps</a> work.
LED lights should save 30-50% over old style lighting - currently still a little expensive - but worth it - and the life of the light should be 10 yrs or better I installed an Aircosaver for my AC - which is a retro-fit product - took 15 minutes to install and along with a Water Heater Timer - I have averaged almost 30% less every month (except June 2010) since I installed July 2009 - I am now spreading the word - couple of friends recently installed also and my friend Steve told me his Electric bill last month was th lowest its ever been since he moved in - 5 years ago JD - Fort Pierce, Fl
What does everyone think about LED lights
Good points! We discovered when we put the "vampires" on surge protector strips and shut them off when not in use, our electric bill dropped more than 15%. That included the computer and peripherals, the tv, vcr, dvd player. It may represent a higher percentage because we've been nibbling away at it for years with efficient appliances, CFLs and so on, but it gets us closer to making PV feasible.
If you ever want to see a reader's feedback :) , I rate this article for four from five. Detailed info, but I have to go to that damn google to find the missed bits. Thanks, anyway!
I love readers feedback. Can you be specific about what missing bits there were? The blog is a little three months old, so we're still working to fill in all the blanks. Any specifics you can give will be great feedback for future posts!
I usually turn the water heater right down. It saves me about 15 percent yearly. Water is already hot enough without it being scorching. Good article


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