We Spend $850 a Year on Clean Energy for Our Home & Car (One Fifth the National Average)

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The great unsung news about decarbonization is how much money we all stand to save when we power our homes and transportation with clean and efficient electricity. The five people in our household (our family of 4 plus 1 renter in an Accessory Dwelling Unit on our property) offer a powerful example. We spend $850 per year on energy costs which includes all the fuel for our home and car. That is one fifth (20%) the national household average and a staggering one tenth (10%) the per capita average!

Sources: EIA 2021 (electricity costs), American Gas Association 2021 (gas costs), EIA per capita gasoline expenses (2020) x 2.5 people per household.

Are we living in the stone age? No. Then what’s the secret to our suspiciously low energy expenditures? We electrify everything, make s**t efficient, and use clean electricity. If you’ve been following our mini-series, you’ll know those are also the not-so-secret pathways to decarbonize our lives and world.

Our 1980s ranch in a Portland neighborhood a few miles from downtown. Image courtesy of Naomi Cole and Joe Wachunas 

The Four Ways We Save Money (and Fight Climate Change)

Electrify and Heat Pump it Up – The 21st century, decarbonized, all-electric home will save you oodles of money. We electrified our abode by transitioning to hyper efficient ductless heat pumps for heating (and AC, though we mostly rely on passive cooling) and two heat pump water heaters (one for our main house and one for the Accessory Dwelling Unit). These heat pump technological wonders make our home more comfortable, provide endless hot showers and use a hard-to-believe one quarter of the energy of their gas counterparts. Heating our home at 67 degrees Fahrenheit through the winter costs us around $250. Heating all our water for the year costs another $100. Oh, and don’t forget our heat pump dryer that costs about $100 a year to dry our clothes. (Going electric also allowed us to eliminate gas connection fees which can range from $200-$600/year).

Drive Electric and Drive Less – Like our house, we save a lot of money by going electric. From our Nissan Leaf (our first car purchased in 2017) to the Tesla Model 3 we’ve driven cross country multiple times, we love the dollar savings we get from running our car on electrons. To drive our average 8,000 miles per year, we use approximately 1,900 kWh, which costs $247 (at 13 cents a kilowatt hour). We are also lucky to live in a neighborhood with a high walk score and access to mass transit and have a lifestyle that accommodates just one car. With the average household owning 1.88 cars, driving/owning less saves our one car family lots of moolah.

Nissan Leaf Road Trip (back in the good old days with only 85 miles of range!) Image courtesy of Naomi Cole and Joe Wachunas 

3. Go Solar – Included in our extremely low energy bills is about $1,000 a year worth of sweet electricity that our 28 solar panels have provided since 2012. We feel lucky to be among the 8% of American homes that currently have solar and love the savings and pollution-free electricity they provide. Over the last five years, our panels have produced an average of 7900 kWh a year (about $1,000 worth of electricity at the average American rate of 13 cents/kWh). For argument’s sake, since some homes can’t go solar, even by adding this solar cost to our annual electricity bill, our energy costs are still only 43% of the average American household.

Our rooftop solar provides us about $1000 worth of free electricity per year. Image courtesy of Naomi Cole and Joe Wachunas 

4. Make Your Home Efficient – The final strategy that contributes towards our thousands of dollars a year in annual savings is simple, old-school efficiency. This is where we started our decarbonization journey. We have efficient water fixtures (shower heads and aerators) and appliances (all the heat pumps mentioned above plus washer, lights, and induction stove). We added extra insulation, replaced windows and sealed air gaps. And of course, we practice common sense, energy saving behaviors like passive cooling, natural daylighting, and hang drying laundry in the summer.

None of these strategies are really groundbreaking, or difficult, and their combination shows just how much average homes like ours can save on energy bills. There are definitely upfront costs, but by making a plan to replace your car and appliances as they age, you can strategically transition to this cost-saving, low carbon life over a period of 5-10 years (or sooner if your budget allows). Plus, the Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes this step by step approach with its 30% tax credits (up to $2,000) on most of the efficient, electric options that can be taken repeatedly on an annual basis. Throughout our series, Decarbonize Your Life, we’ll dive deep into each of these strategies and technologies and show how this decarbonizing, money-saving process doesn’t have to be daunting and doesn’t require loads of money or lifestyle changes.

But Wait There’s More! Per Capita Savings Get Ridiculous

We’ve been comparing our household energy costs to the average American household, but if you look at our family (and tenant) individually, the savings from the all electric, decarbonized life get ridiculously good. That’s because we have 5 people (and sometimes 6 or 7 because of an attached space we occasionally rent on Airbnb) living under our roof compared to the 2.5 people in the average home.

Sources: EIA 2021 (electricity costs), American Gas Association 2021 (gas costs), EIA per capita gasoline expenses (2020) x 2.5 people per household.

Per person, we spend 10% as much on the electric, renewable, energy that powers our lives compared to what the average American spends on fossil-fuel-powered energy. Wow. If we weren’t living this life, and already paying hardly anything for the clean energy that powers our home and car, we’d almost think it was too good to be true. The Decarbonized Life will save you boatloads AND make our world a better place, and those still stuck on the fossil sauce are paying far more in energy costs for the privilege of polluting our world. Check out all our detailed calcs, add any energy saving tips or analysis we may not have considered, and let us know what you think about the low-cost, decarbonized life in the chat.

This article is part of a series called Decarbonize Your Life. With modest steps and a middle-class income, our family has dramatically reduced emissions and is sequestering what remains through a small reforestation project. Our life is better for it. If we can do it, you can too.














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Naomi Cole & Joe Wachunas

Joe Wachunas and Naomi Cole are passionate about decarbonizing their lives. They both work professionally to address climate change — Naomi in urban sustainability and energy efficiency and Joe in the electrification of buildings and transportation. This passion, and their commitment to walk the walk, has led them to ductless heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, induction cooking, solar in multiple forms, hang-drying laundry (including cloth diapers), no cars to electric cars and charging without a garage or driveway, a reforestation grant from the US Department of Agriculture, and more. They live in Portland, Oregon, with their two young kids and write about their decarbonizing adventures at decarbonizeyourlife.com.

Naomi Cole & Joe Wachunas has 21 posts and counting. See all posts by Naomi Cole & Joe Wachunas