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One Moment, Please... A family energy challenge

Fri, Jan 31st, 2014
Posted in All Commentary

Over the past number of years, I have noticed that I have turned into my parents. I can’t recall how many times I was asked if I was born in a barn when I was a kid, but the answer was always “no.” But, once I became a parent, I could see why my parents were so concerned with me leaving the refrigerator door open, not turning off lights in a room, leaving the TV on when nobody was watching the TV, and “heating the outside.”

All of the aforementioned costs money. Money spent on a variable expense like utilities takes away money for other things.

And, while parents will keep telling their children the same thing over and over again, it doesn’t seem to resonate. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this parental challenge.

While writing my article last week regarding the cost of the electricity provided by companies in our region, I started to take a closer look at my electric bill for our home in Fountain.

I very quickly realized that our energy consumption was extremely high, far above the Minnesota state average of 793 kilowatt hours per month.

So, I kept thinking about how our family could become more aware and embrace an opportunity to reduce our consumption. After all, while we cannot control the rates, we can control the consumption.

I told my wife about my idea, and we gathered our children in the “play room,” which is where our kids keep all of their toys. In this room, we have a 4-foot-by-8-foot chalkboard hanging on the wall. I taped our Tri-County Electric Cooperative bill on the chalkboard, and then told our children about the amount of electricity the average household consumes in the state of Minnesota.

With chalk in my hand, I wrote down our energy consumption and then the figure of 793 kilowatt hours. Our daughter is 9-years-old and our son is 6-years-old, so they are grasping addition and subtraction well enough to help calculate the difference. My daughter grabbed the chalk and began the subtraction equation to conclude how much more electricity we were consuming than the average household.

Since our children are both motivated by different things, I had to think about how to get them involved in reducing our energy consumption. I know my daughter is deeply concerned with the environment, with one of her favorite movies being “The Lorax.” And, my son, while also concerned with the environment, is additionally motivated by money; he likes to save up his money to buy toys.

So, I told our children how our planet only has so much energy that can be produced with the resources we have available. I referenced what happened in the movie “The Lorax.” Then, I told our children that we were going to try an experiment for the month of February.

We are going to tape our January 2014 TEC bill on the chalkboard, take the total amount spent in January and divide by 31 days -- and then multiply it by 28 days. That figure will give us an apples-to-apples comparison from January to February. We will have 28 days of electricity consumption in January to compare with 28 days in February.

And, after we receive our February TEC bill, we are going to figure out the difference between the two months. The amount of money saved from reducing our electricity consumption will be given to our children. So, if they can shave $40 off of our electricity bill for the month of February, then they will split that savings to each receive $20.

After that family meeting, we told the children that we should walk around the entire house and look at everything that consumes electricity. They were pointing at everything: lights, computers, TVs, alarm clocks, the microwave, the stove, the washing machine, the dryer, the dishwasher, the refrigerator, and the Wii gaming system.

And, then we began turning off or unplugging things that were drawing electricity. If it wasn’t being used, then why have it plugged in and drawing electricity? We also told our children that if we want to make this work and be successful during the month of February, we all need to keep an eye open for anyone leaving lights on or leaving a TV on when nobody is in the room watching TV. There were so many things the kids pointed out throughout this process that I could tell they were really connecting with this idea. This will be a team effort, and our family needs to work together.

I have no idea how this experiment is going to work, but I figure it is worth a shot. I hope my children start to understand that electricity costs money. And, hopefully they’ll gain a perspective on all that goes into owning a home, including paying for utilities.

After our family meeting and tour throughout the house, our daughter said that “even after the month of February, we should keep it going and do this all the time.”

I immediately replied, “Well, I don’t think we’ll be giving you two money every month.”

She said, “No, it’s not about the money. I meant that we should try to use less electricity all the time.”

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