a peek inside the fishbowl

26 May, 2011

Reno post #008 – The hydro hydra

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Home/reno

Thank you for your comments and tweets about my post yesterday. Piper is better today. Phew.

The Hydra is a multi-headed mythical beast you might remember from Herculean stories. If you cut one of its heads off, more sprout up to replace it. A nightmare, really. You wouldn’t want to meet that thing in a dark alley, no sirree.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the rising costs of our utilities and trying to figure out if there’s something we should be doing when we renovate the house, something in addition to putting in a high-efficiency furnace.

I think our hydro consumption is kind of like that hydra. We – as a society – are concerned about replacing a few incandescent bulbs with CFLs but then again we have more television sets, computers, and a whole host of other electrical devices than ever before, all rearing their heads, draining our power resources.

Would it be terribly tacky of me to ask you to share what your last hydro bill looked like and describe your household usage? What do you think your biggest hydro issue is? And how is the new “time of use” billing affecting your family?

I think it might be interesting to compare notes.

Our billing period is two months long. We’ve haven’t been incorporated into the world of time-of-use yet, but it’s coming.

Our last bill was $120.43. It’s more if it’s an especially hot summer, but I’m not sure how this compares across the board. I think it’s pretty good for a family of four in a home that’s approximately 1500 square feet in size.

What we do

  • We turn off lights when we’re not using them.
  • Most of our lights are CFLs.
  • We wash most of our clothes in cold water.
  • We have a natural gas-powered clothes dryer (which is a huge savings for us).
  • I line dry a lot of my own clothing (mostly because I want them to last longer).
  • We use the shortest cycle on our dishwasher and only run it when it’s fully loaded… and we don’t use the “dry” cycle.
  • We have one television, which we turn off when we’re not watching.
  • We run the air conditioner only during the warmest evenings on the hottest days of the summer (although we had to run it recently because Mark’s allergies have been particularly bad this season).
  • We have a kettle to boil water for tea (we don’t use the stove for this).
  • We use the BBQ more often than the oven in warmer weather.
  • We try to cook efficiently: putting lids on pots, turning the oven off a few minutes before the timer goes, keeping the fridge door closed (and we have a small fridge too, and no second chest freezer).

What we could be better at

  • Turning our computers off when we’re not using them.
  • Checking that phantom load we’re always hearing about. Speaking of which, did you know you can borrow a tool to measure your phantom load from the Ottawa Public Library?

Anyway, yes. I am worrying about these things, because to have a larger home means that our bills will be that much higher too. And although I don’t think we’re in a position to build solar panels on the roof (as much as I’d like to) I do believe that some extra energy savings can be built into the plan before we build.

All of this aside, I believe that commercial hydro usage is absolutely out of control. Our little families are switching off our lights yet acres of malls and giant office buildings blast air-conditioning to chill-inducing temperatures and keep their lights blaring at all hours. I think something should be done about that too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

26 Responses to "Reno post #008 – The hydro hydra"

1 | Christine

May 26th, 2011 at 12:01 pm


We started practicing with the new restrictions a couple of months before they were implemented. I never run the dishwasher or the dryer during peak hours, and I use a clothes line in the summer months. We turn the lights off, and unplug the television when it isn’t in use. I don’t let the computers idle on standby and we’re mindful of our hot water usage.

Since the new program was implemented our hydro bill actually went down by almost $50 a month! Clearly if you make the effort there are savings to be had.

2 | Javamom

May 26th, 2011 at 12:34 pm


We do ever single thing you do in your list. The time of use has been a little bit hard to follow during the winter months because frankly, starting laundry at 9 pm or later is not my thing. So instead we did laundry on the weekend. Which sometimes was a drag. Now the time is moved up a couple of hours so I sometimes throw in a load of clothes at 7 pm and the DH will either hang it up or put it in the dryer prior to going to bed (he’s the night hawk around here).

The dishwasher runs whenever the last person goes to bed (which would be DH on most night). If we have to run the dishwasher during the day I do a rinse followed by a quick wash, rather than the full cycle. Not sure if that helps. But simple calculations tell me that less time is better than more time (and with warmer weather coming, we use less pots and ovenware so there seems to be less dishes to wash anyway).

I can’t recall exactly how much the bill is (it’s 2 months here in Toronto too) but I know that August and February are highest consumption (A/C and heat). I like the way the little charts give us a comparison to last year’s months, and it’s nice to see our efforts are reducing a fraction each year.

Honestly, we don’t bend over backwards. We do our best. There are days when I can’t help it and that dishwasher runs 3 x or a child throws up and sheets are thrown in the wash or the endless rain prevents the jeans from drying on the rack downstairs no matter how many days you leave them hanging there…but we do our part. I honestly don’t think we can reduce more. Unless we install solar power panels?

On that note, we try to use rechargeable batteries. Don’t know how much energy the recharger sucks out of the outlet…but that’s connected to producing waste…like I said. We, like most who visit here, do our part.

3 | binki

May 26th, 2011 at 1:46 pm


To clarify….that’s $120.43 for one month or two months? And how much do you pay for 12 months (1 year)?

4 | andrea

May 26th, 2011 at 1:59 pm


Binki – Our last billing period was 59 days and yes, we just got our bill for $120 and change. We paid $899.27 in 2010.

5 | andrea

May 26th, 2011 at 2:01 pm


I’m posting this on behalf of a reader who sent me the following:

“My recent bill, which arrived yesterday, covers 31 days (we’re with Hydro One). The bill is for $119.78. We have a 3400 sq ft house. In the winter, we use electric heat to heat the second floor. We only turn the electric heat on when we’re in the room; usually at night. For 2010 we paid $2184.53 (tax included). Since we both work from home our bills might be slightly higher than the typical family. We still have a kid at home too during the day and there’s 2 adults (more laundry, more dish use, etc). However, without much thought we tend to use most our electricity during off-peak hours.

We don’t have central air, but we do have a couple of window units and a portable air conditioner that we can move around the second floor when necessary.”

6 | Kaitlin

May 26th, 2011 at 2:08 pm


We’re in a 2BR, with a washer and dryer (which gets used more now with the dog and the mud and such). It’s just under 1000SQFT, but we pay about $80-90 monthly. i suspect that this is because I’m pretty terrible at turning off lights and constantly have my iphone or macbook plugged in to charge.
reading your post made me realize, we can be a lot better about this.

7 | blakeroo

May 26th, 2011 at 2:17 pm


Our hydro total for last year was $1089 (for entire 12 months). We have a 1 1/2 story Victory Home (1953). Try to use wash, dry and use the dishwasher during off-peak hours. I work from home, and have two little kids around most of the day.

We try to abide by everything on your list. Working on the phantom power thing. Finally found a power bar that divides load between things that must stay on (or the TV needs to be reprogrammed), and things that can turn off. Fabulous (at Home Depot, Belikin I think).

8 | binki

May 26th, 2011 at 2:19 pm


Wow. We pay $200 every two months – for our 1500 sq foot house. We have an electric dryer which we use a lot. And we leave lights on at night (front porch, back deck, bathroom). We need to have a closer look at what we’re doing/using that’s using so much darn hydro. We don’t even have AC. I’m going to try a few things (line dry in the summer, cold water wash, turn off more lights) to see if it makes a difference. Oh and congrats to those of you who make an effort and drive down your hydro bills. I’m VERY impressed and determined to bring our down to Tompkins levels.

One last note about dryers. Our electric dryer has a feature (like most dryers) that lets you “DRY WELL” which I use to make sure jeans are dry. That may be a problem since I have noticed that it can still be running 2 hours after putting clothes in the dryer – although it’s not hot drying. It seems to just be turning and “fluffing”with room-temp air – so that clothes don’t wrinkle. Considering we have a super-modern high-speed spin washer that makes for very little moisture in the clothes when it goes into the dryer, our drying time should be less than 30 minutes. I’m going to try setting the drying time to 30 minutes instead of using the “very dry” setting. I’ll report back on what I find.

I think it’s a great idea to share this info. Why not? I’ve always been curious how we were doing. Turns out…not so good. I’m now determined to do better.

9 | Mark

May 26th, 2011 at 3:21 pm


I think it’s useful to note here what our Gas bill is as well. ($85 a month) We have a gas dryer and a gas furnace so for those who have an electric dryer or baseboard heaters you may not have the same gas bill as we do. I think you ultimately need to combine the two utilities into one monthly charge as they can be both be a part of home energy use.

10 | Marianne

May 26th, 2011 at 4:03 pm


I’m in a 4-bedroom nearly 300sq foot house. In 2010 we averaged $85 per month over the entire year. Our highest bill of the year (covering 2 months) was $247, which included pretty much all of our sumemr air conditioning.

So far in 2011 our bills are coming in higher, closer to $120 per month. I’m now a stay at home parent, so we’re seeing more energy consumption during the day. Also, through the winter months we were using electric space heaters in the two children’s rooms overnight (the baby every day the 3 year old on really cold nights as her room is farthest from the furnace), allowing us to save on gas by turning down the heat to the rest of the house but increasing our electric bill.

We have a gas dryer, gas hot water heater, and gas cooktop as well as gas furnace. Our appliances are all Energy Star rated (or were at time of purchase … though they are all less than 5 years old so probably pretty close to the current standards).

I’m interested to see what happens to our bill when time of use billing comes into effect, but we won’t see it until the fall as we are in the zone in which Hydro Ottawa has just filed to say that they won’t be compliant by the provincial deadline due to some kind of technical issue.

11 | Marianne

May 26th, 2011 at 4:05 pm


Sorry, that should read 4-bedroom nearly 3000 square foot house. Otherwise those would have to be matchbox sized rooms!

12 | Anu

May 26th, 2011 at 10:09 pm


1000 sq ft old house, oil heat/hot water.
Hydro: central A/C set to 26C, dryer, stove, dishwasher & fridge, many computers on a lot, recently (last year) monthly hydro average is 80$. Curious to see how it will change with the new time of use billing.

13 | Glen Gower

May 27th, 2011 at 12:05 am


I find it hard to compare month-to-month usage with our hydro bills. They arrive every two months but usually the number of days varies significantly from bill to bill. And the dates that the meter is read doesn’t always match up properly with billing dates, so the numbers are skewed & the amounts are adjusted in the next bill blah blah blah blah

Our last two bills:
March 30, 53 days, $125.68 ($2.30/day), kilowatt consumption 945 (17.8/day)
Feb 7, 64 days, $192.64 ($3.00/day), kilowatt consumption 1510 (23.5/day)

Not really sure how we managed to shave off that much usage from March to February. Will be interested to see the next bill — we’ve been running the dishwasher & laundry at night, the kids are vigilant about having us turn off the lights.

14 | andrea

May 27th, 2011 at 9:07 am


Thank you all! This has been enlightening. It seems like some the things we’re doing does make a different. FYI – the Ottawa Hydro website has an interesting feature… did you know you can track your hourly usage? And exactly what you paid hour by hour? It’s kind of cool.

15 | andrea

May 27th, 2011 at 9:09 am


Binki – I never use the “dry well” setting. It seems that things just get overdried whenever I do. Heat drying isn’t good for clothes either.

I forgot to put something on my list in the original post – windows! We replaced a whole bunch of windows last year and it made a big difference in our heating costs.

16 | Mark

May 27th, 2011 at 9:10 am


Glen, you are right about there not being much consistency from bill to bill. For example, the bill that Andrea quotes as $120 is not exactly typical for us and is actually slightly lower than the recent bills. As well, when they installed our smart meter our bills went up as a result.

It’s hard to know if there was a sudden rate increase or they were getting more accurate readings. One useful thing though as they introduce TOU billing is that you can logon to your profile on myhydrolink website and actually see your daily use broken down into the various TOU parts.

You can also organize it by dollar amounts. I think ultimately that can really help with conservation as you can see the instant effects of daily activity and when during the day you are using the most Hydro.

17 | Paula

May 27th, 2011 at 10:18 am


Great post – I too always wonder about these things. My bill looks similar to yours (approx $120-$125 every two months) and our house is 2000 square feet, family of 5 with 2 kids home during the day. We did notice a difference last year with the HST and the rate increase though. August was painful! You should do a post on monthly grocery bills – now that would be really interesting!

18 | Natalie

May 27th, 2011 at 11:22 am


Mark makes a good point about combining gas and hydro bills to determine total energy consumption. I just paid our last hydro bill and it was 88.08 for 58 days. We use an electric dryer but cook with gas (stove, oven, BBQ). Our gas bill is $95 monthly on equal billing and we’re about breaking even so far this year. We live a 1400 sq ft house (end unit townhouse), two adults, three little kids and a big Golden Retriever. We make modest use of the AC during the summer and we haven’t turned it on yet this year. We used to be more meticulous about saving energy but since going back to school and juggling a busy household, we tend to do laundry and run the dishwasher when it’s most convenient otherwise we’d be up all night ;) We also don’t line dry anymore which I really miss.

19 | Lynn

May 27th, 2011 at 12:33 pm


I’ve noticed a huge increase in our Hydro bill with the introduction of time-of-use billing. We have a 2200 square foot house and our last two bills were in the $180 range. My problem is that since I am home during the day, I am doing things like running the dishwasher and doing laundry during peak hours. I need to revamp my cleaning schedules and habits but I haven’t given it enough though – yet.

I really love having a laundry day when everything gets washed and put away. I’ll miss it.

20 | Marianne

May 27th, 2011 at 1:36 pm


Mark, good point about looking at both the gas and hydro combined to get a better picture of energy consumption.

For 2010 we averaged $85 per month on hydro and $90 per month for natural gas. (Obviously it fluctuates depending on the month, but the spreadsheet we use for tracking our finances lets me see what our monthly average was for the year).

21 | BeachMama

May 27th, 2011 at 1:57 pm


Hmmm… ours is usually up around the $200 or more mark for two months, we conserve energy as much as possible but looking at others notes it would seem we are way up there, will have to go back and rethink the Hydro again… sigh…

22 | Maranda

May 27th, 2011 at 2:37 pm


Our bills are over $200 since the last rate increase and addition of the HST. They’ve been $225-$250 for two months (Ottawa Hydro). It kills me to spend that much on hydro! We do all the things you do, other than we absolutely run the AC all the time, although I try to keep the temperature moderate. Even at this time of year when the temperature isn’t that high, I need it for the humidity due to my fibromyalgia.

We’re a family of 6 in a modest three bedroom home, and I’ve tried to get our bills down, but our washer and dryer go twice a day on average and dish washer 2-3 times. I hand wash some of our dishes, but that uses more water, not sure which is worse. We are not big tv watchers, and the tv is off when not in use, and we are careful with the lights. We do have two fridges (necessary for this many people!) but our appliances are newer… All that to say that I am amazed at how low your bill is! I estimate our electric dryer costs about $13 dollars a month, so the difference is more than that.

One thing I do want to try this year is tinting the windows in the back of the house. Our family room and kitchen get very hot due to the amount of sun they get in the afternoon. We also installed a ceiling fan in the kitchen to try to keep it cool. I don’t want to have to cool the entire house because of two rooms.

I’ve been meaning to pick up one of those thingers from the library… I should do that!

23 | Tiana

May 27th, 2011 at 3:51 pm


Interesting fact: making 2 slices of toast uses the same amount of electricity as having your (new) computer on all day.

Modern thinks like tvs and computers are being designed to use very minimal electricity. Look into usage for things like hair dryers, irons etc.

24 | binki

May 27th, 2011 at 5:06 pm


Hey Beachmama and Maranda….good to see that we’re not the only folks in the $200 range. It’ll be interesting to see how much the hydro-saving measures I implement, actually make a difference.

25 | Ginger

May 27th, 2011 at 8:41 pm


I decided to post even though my info isn’t really important to your discussion since I live in Texas. I have to say at first I was pretty confused. When you said Hydro I thought you were talking about water but then nothing else in the post made sense. I am curious as to why it is referred to as Hydro. Is it electricity derived from water power? In Texas we refer to it as our electric bill. We have three different energy bills: electric, water, and gas. Our electric is metered once a month (an average of every 30 days). Our last bill was for $114 (of course in US dollars). But it has been an uncommon spring with cooler spells when we don’t run the AC as much. In the summer our bills can top $200 a month pretty easy. But that is usually in August and September when we have heat advisories and even at night the temperatures don’t drop below 85*F (roughly 30*C) and the day temps easily top 100*F (38*C) and are usually even higher.

We do all of those things that you do plus some meant for hot climates. All of our window have blinds and some (like the ones that face west and south) have insulated roman shades that are drawn during the heat of the day. We also had more insulation placed in our attic last year and we have seen a significant decrease in our electric use compared to the past.

Anyway, I know it doesn’t help you much but I found the information so interesting and I thought I would share how it is here. Just for curiosity sake! :)

26 | binki

May 30th, 2011 at 1:46 pm


Many Canadians refer to electricity as “hydro” which is short for hydro-electricity.

Canada is the largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world, generating over 60% of its electricity using hydroelectric dams.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human offspring: Emma (23) and Sarah (21). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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