October is Power Smart month in B.C. The province has set a goal to achieve “electricity self-sufficiency” by 2016, meaning that in less than three years, all of our electricity needs would be met by domestic power sources. It’s a lofty target given that our energy needs are increasing each year, but it should be achievable if we all pitch in. BC Hydro has pledged to do its part by upgrading existing facilities and securing new supplies of clean energy. Our job as planet-conscious parents is to raise a generation of conservers!

Enter BC Hydro’s Team Power Smart Challenge. The goal: for participating households to reduce electricity consumption by at least 10 per cent over a 12-month period. The rewards: lower hydro bills, a cheque for $75 at the completion of the challenge, and the satisfaction of contributing to a more sustainable energy future.

Our family is currently halfway through our third challenge. We were “higher use” customers at the beginning of our first challenge, which meant we had nowhere to go but down. We made a few simple but significant changes, and reduced our electricity consumption by a whopping 35 per cent that year.

Thanks to a more efficient washing machine and a daughter’s departure to attend university, the next year’s challenge was almost cheating. Our power consumption dropped a further 15 per cent with almost no effort on our part.

This year’s challenge will require a little more effort. We’ve already made the big changes; now we’re getting creative. But I’m convinced we can do it, and I’m convinced you can too—no matter what your current level of consumption.

Easy payoffs: For a small investment of time and money, you can put your conservation efforts on auto-pilot. If you heat your home with electricity, using a programmable thermostat could save you a significant number of kilowatts. Lower the temperature to 16˚C at night and when no one is home, and you could reduce your heating bill by up to 10 per cent. Check for drafts around doors and windows, and seal with new caulking or weather-stripping. Adjust the temperature on your hot-water heater to between 55˚C and 60˚C, and ensure it’s properly insulated. (If it’s a newer model, it may not need any further insulation. If it’s an older electric model, you can wrap it in an insulating blanket, available at hardware stores. Natural gas heaters should only be insulated by professionals.)

Switching to more efficient lighting is another easy savings opportunity, and the fluorescent and LED options are getting better all the time. BC Hydro’s website has a number of resources to help you select the most efficient lights for all your needs. Installing low-flow aerators on your taps and a low flow shower head in your bathroom is easier than you might expect, and will take another big bite out of your hydro bill. Plugging electronic devices into power bars and remembering to shut them off when they’re not in use is another simple way to save. Standby use (aka phantom power drain) can account for up to 10 per cent of a household’s electricity consumption.

Unplugging that second fridge will also result in impressive savings. BC Hydro would be happy to haul your older fridge away for recycling, and will give you $30 as an added bonus. (Phone 1-866-516-4357 to arrange for pick-up.)

Intermediate savings: Encourage your family to put on slippers and sweaters, and turn down the thermostat another degree or two. Heating costs rise about 5 per cent for every degree above 20˚C you set your thermostat. Feel the need for a little extra warmth when you’re sitting down for the evening? Instead of raising the temperature or having a hot bath to get warmed up, try snuggling under a blanket with a hot water bottle. No hot water bottle? Microwave a rice-filled sock instead.

Wash clothes in cold water, and hang-dry on indoor clothing racks if doing so won’t cause humidity problems. Cook and bake with the most efficient appliances for the job, like a crockpot or toaster oven. When cooking or baking in a full-size oven, make double or triple batches and freeze the extra for future meals. Ensure that your fridge is running efficiently by setting the temperature to between 2˚C and 3˚C, unplugging and cleaning dust from coils at least twice a year, and checking door seals and replacing gaskets as necessary. Fill empty freezer space with water-filled plastic containers, and defrost at least every six months, or when frost is as thick as a pencil.

Black belt conservation: Upgrading your home’s insulation may be less expensive than you imagine, and will certainly pay for itself over time. Upgrading to more energy-efficient appliances may also be worthwhile. Energy Star washers, refrigerators and freezers are particularly good investments in terms of energy savings, and qualifying models are eligible for mail-in rebates from BC Hydro if purchased before October 31. Depending on your budget and how you are currently heating your home, you may want to consider upgrading to a more efficient furnace, or an ultra-efficient heat pump. If you have access to natural gas, on-demand hot water heaters are extremely efficient. Real energy pioneers may want to consider solar water heaters, or generating some of their own electricity with solar panels.

BC Hydro’s website offers a wealth of information as well as a number of helpful tracking tools. To access these tools, login to your BC Hydro account and follow the prompts. To see how your family’s consumption compares to similar households in your area, click on “View Detailed Consumption” and then look for the “Compare” drop-down menu.

To register for Team Power Smart and activate a challenge, go to web link. You must be a B.C. resident and at least 19 years old, and you must have a BC Hydro account with a 12-month history before your challenge period begins.

Happy savings!

Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at web link.