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True Confessions: How One South Burlington Family Became Energy Heroes

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A Sunday in September prior to changes and a Sunday in November (11/24) show dramatic differences, especially during the night.
Photo credit: Karen McKenny

Source: Fred Kosnitsky, South Burlington Energy Committee and The Other Paper

Meet the McKennys – Karen (full disclosure – Karen is a fellow member of the South Burlington Energy Committee), Dave, and their three children.  Karen recently told me that their family cut their electricity use in half, and I was intrigued.  How did they do it?  Did it cost a lot, both money-wise and lifestyle-wise, to accomplish these savings?  And perhaps most importantly, why did they do it?

First, do a home energy audit

Earlier this Fall, the McKennys participated in the newly launched Button Up Day, the first of a new annual event to help Vermonters increase their energy efficiency.  Karen had recently joined the City’s Energy Committee and had participated in Vermontivate, a statewide competition around energy conservation and efficiency, and her curiosity about ways to save energy was growing.  She and Dave decided to use their home as one of several test sites for a home energy audit (their audit was conducted by Vermont Gas – audits are also available from other certified contractors that can be found through Efficiency Vermont).  Their home was found to be pretty tight in terms of heating, but their family electricity usage was high – in fact, it was about double the average in the state for their family size.

Using a device given to them during the audit, Dave started measuring the kilowatt hours (KwH) usage of all the electrical appliances and devices in their home.  Some of the results were surprising to them: lights accounted for 25% of their usage; a second, old refrigerator in the garage was drawing a lot of power; and so-called “phantom use” (all the devices such as computers, microwaves with clock displays, televisions and recording devices, cellphone chargers, etc.) was a significant part of their monthly usage and expenses.  (See accompanying table/pie chart).


Second, take action - start simple

They mobilized into action: to reduce lighting usage, they replaced most of their bulbs with Compact Flourescent Lights (CFLs) and rebate programs from Efficiency Vermont brought the cost down to only $.099 per bulb.  Karen reports that they are looking into more CFLs or even more efficient LED bulbs for the remaining bulbs that need to be switched.  They also cleaned out the dryer vents and have seen significant reduction in the energy used.  What about that old inefficient refrigerator in the garage?  The family decided to just unplug it and keep everything in the newer more efficient on in the house. 

Other changes?  Yes!! The McKenny’s research has shown that their decision to turn off all the phantom devices every evening has resulted in some serious savings (see accompanying graphs of daily usage pre- and post-turning off those devices).  “It’s not that hard,” says 15-year old son Hugh Nicholas, who as the last one up is responsible each night for these phantoms.  “I just turn things off.”

Third, enjoy the results!

So what are the results?  The McKenny's September bill, from just before the audit, was about $195, with 1,161 kilowatt hours used.  The recent November bill, after many of the energy savings strategies were implemented, was about $105, with 540 kwH used.  Karen notes that very little was spent to make their changes: a small investment in new light bulbs, cleaning the dryer vent, and getting some power strips to plug the phantom devices into.  “We didn’t spend much money, and didn’t really change our lifestyle.” 

Why did they take the time and make the effort?  “We’re in line to save $1,000 a year, and that’ll be awesome,” Karen reports.  And perhaps equally or even more important is reducing their energy use and all the social and environmental impacts of that usage.  Are they smart savers or dedicated climate/environmental warriors?  How about both!

For more information, contact Karen McKenny (