The Great Water and Electricity Challenge

12 November 2008
One of the wonderful things about living simply is that when you simplify your life, you become more frugal and green. You put the days of excess and mindless consumption behind you and you focus on conservation. This leads to your home using less water, electricity and gas, you use less fuel in your car and, in turn, not only save money, you do your fair share in saving greenhouse gases. I find it absolutely incredible that even though we know the climate is changing, few governments around the world have done enough to make the changes needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There are some very interesting graphics relating to the USA here, but let me tell you that my own country (Australia) falls far short of where it should be, even though we are told repeatedly that our Great Barrier Reef is dying and will be dead by 2050!

It's up to us, folks. We are the ones stepping away from the mainstream to live in a way that our neighbours don't always understand. As well as not spending like drunken sailors and living as frugally as we can, it's up to us to cut our own usage of fuels that will contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so will put us in a win-win situation: we lessen our own burden on our planet and we save money in the process.

There are any number of footprint site on the internet that will tell you what your current footprint is, but I think it's better to do something more practical - measure your own usage and take steps to reduce.

This is my challenge to you: I want you to read your water and electricity meters first thing tomorrow morning. Write down what your meters read and write down the time you do your reading. Then, that day and the following day do your normal routines without thinking about your meter reading - this is to get an accurate measure of your normal usage or electricity and water over two days. Next to your meter reading, write down what you do that uses your electricity and water so you know what contributed to your usage. So if you do laundry, write down how many loads, if you have a bath or a shower, write it down, etc.

When you've monitored yourself for two full days, and at the same time you read your meter on the first day, read the meter again - and write it down. Then, for two whole days, I want your to reduce your electricity and water usage as much as you can. Turn off lights when you leave a room, turn off your computer when it's not being used, reduce your heating or cooling by a few degrees, do as much baking as you can at the one time, cut back on laundry, take shorter showers, turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. It's difficult to suggest ways for you to save as we are all so different, but you will know. And please know that all those tiny savings definitely add up - nothing is too small to do.

I hope that a lot of you will do this with me. If there is enough interest we may do a week long audit - it will be more accurate. When we do the longer audit, we'll include our cars as well and monitor our use of fuel. But this will give us a good idea of areas in the home where we can cut back. It's important that we all do our fair share. Your home contributes to this global mess, just as mine does, so make sure everyone in your home knows what you're doing and ask them to help. This is a job for everyone - even small children, for it is their future world we're all effecting.

Here is an old post about reading water meters. Reading electricity meters is here. If your system is different, go the the website of your supplier and they should have details on how to read your meters.

Don't forget to do your first readings early in the morning of your next new day. Work two days doing your normal routines. On the following morning at the same time, do another reading - this will tell you what you used the two previous days. Then work two days cutting back as best you can on both water and electricity. On the next morning at the same time, do another reading of both meters - this will tell you what you used when you cut back. When you have your figures for your normal days and your followup readings for your two days of conservation, post them in the comments section of the post I'll do on the weekend. By Monday we should have all our figures in and we'll talk about it on Monday.

My hope is that we see some changes that will show us all how we can cut down on our usage on a permanent basis. You will save money doing it, and in these times of rising prices, that is a great goal. But remember too that you'll be doing something practical from your own home to reduce your own greenhouse gas emissions and that is something we should all be striving for.

In an attempt to spread the word, post about this on your own blogs and get as many people as you can to join us - every person who joins will add to a greater reduction.

Please let me know if you're joining in. I'll be here to help you as much as I can.


  1. Here in the UK some utility companies are offering incentives to customers who cut down on energy use. It seems strange for a supplier to be paying us not to use their product. We are already being much more careful. I get up earlier now, too, to make the best use of the daylight. A lot of the year we seem to get up after it has been light for some time, yet sit with the lights and heating on after dark for longer than we perhaps might. As you say, every little change helps.

  2. I'm in - will do the electricity. I'm very greatful we do not have to pay for our water - it's all in our rates bill.


  3. Great idea Rhonda

    We are on tank water so I know we use about 100litres per person perday becasue even during the drought last year we only bought one load of water in fact we average (according to the water delivery man) 1 1/2 loads per year so in the 6 years we have been here we have had nine loads of 3000 gallons of water extra.

    Electricity I have never measured so I will definitley do that this week.


  4. Hi Rhonda,

    I will monitor my Electricity & gas, we do not have a meter for our water, but will have a think at how we can cut back on our water usage anyhow.
    I have been meaning to do this, but never gotten around to it.
    Lets see what happens xxx

  5. Cuch a good idea-we always monitor ours as our electric and city gas and water companies can really make big mistakes in reading the meters. We have caught them over- charging us many times.

  6. Sounds great Rhonda and I know so many of us are really trying to reduce water and power consumption. My question is: how do we get the powers that be worldwide to REALLY start taking action. Not vote catching action but obvious changes with their intent for the future made clear. A couple of years ago we travelled to India and China and unfortunately the problem is almost mind dumbing when you see their pollution problems. I agree all small steps are a start but who is making the huge steps that need to start worldwide NOW?

  7. I'm in! Thanks for suggesting this challenge Rhonda.

    A note on greenhouse gases and climate change: yesterday the ABC reported that the presidentof the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is looking for land to purchase so that his people will have a home in the future.

  8. Charis, we live in strange times indeed. It's good to see you again.

    anonymous, they are tough questions to answer. I believe we cannot ask others to do something unless we have first done what we can in our own homes. That done, it's up to all of us to ask our local members of parliament where they stand on the matter, and what they and their party are doing about it. Nothing motivates a politician more than a local voter who is politically aware and who is constantly asking questions.

    I think focusing on the global situation makes a lot of people believe they can do nothing, when in fact if all of us, both at home and in our workplaces, do what we can and motivate others to follow, a lot of change will happen.

    Rose, in the South Pacific, many islands are already affected. My sons went to school with some students from Tuvala (near Fiji) and they have already lost a metre of ground surrounding their islands. They have applied to New Zealand to take some of their people.

  9. What a greay idea Rhonda, I'm in.
    I can only monitor the electricity as I have tank water and we are already very sparing as it is the only warwe we have...This is a great idea....

  10. I am in! This summer I stopped using my clothes dryer and cut my electric bill in half. I have told all my friends and family- they think I am nuts! I can't dry outside as too many birds and their waste. But a few lines in the basement work fine. If you really plan and think about your day and your needs- cutting back does not adversely affect you. It takes some effort but well worth it! I need to research how to read my water meter. Thanks for the great post and I look forward to reading others stories.

  11. I'm in for the challenge but I can't do the water as I don't have access to the meter

  12. I am very ready to do this - was thinking about it yesterday - so this is timely. Thanks Rhonda!

  13. Rhonda,

    Let me start by saying thank you for your wonderful blog. I read every day and learn something new every single day.

    I wanted to share an experience with you that happened at our house just this past month. We've always lived within our means but this past winter my husband was hurt at work and out of work for 4 months. Since we had savings we were ok until he got back to work, which we have worked hard to restore and improve upon.

    Up until this time, however, I never really paid that much attention to our electric bill, because we turn off lights when we leave the room, we hang clothes on the line, or dry them for the shortest time possible in the dryer, and consumed electricity reasonably, or so I thought. To further reduce our bill, I decided to change some lightbulbs to compact floursecent and unplug everything that didn't absolutely need to be plugged in 24/7.

    Rhonda, by making these changes, our electric bill went from $136 to $89 in just one month! I was astounded!

    Thank you for reminding us to do a little bit more every day to reduce/reuse and make ourselves happier in the process.


  14. I work out of my home five days a week and the two days that I am home, of course I use much more water, gas and electricity. That is when I do most of my cooking and baking, as well as all my laundry and house cleaning. When would it be best for me to do this audit of my usage? I was thinking if I did one for the five days a week, and then another for my two days at home, that would be the most accurate and I would see exactly what my cutting back would do.

  15. Rhonda, please sign me up for this. A brilliant reminder for me to keep on top of such basics :)

  16. Hello everyone. I'm really pleased you're joining in. Change often starts in our own backyard.

    Cathy,I really enjoyed reading your comment. Well done!

    Larissa, your comment was great too. Isn't it amazing how much those simple changes can make. Our bill dropped a lot when we replaced all our ordinary globes with CFs about four years ago. We haven't looked back since then. Keep up the good work, love, and let's see how much you save when you monitor your usage.

    Claudia, yes I think one work day and one off day would be a great start. Remember that you could keep it going all week - you'll get a more accurate view then. We might do a week long one in the next week or so.

    If you can't access your water meter, do what you can with the meters you can access. If that's just electricity, that's fine.

  17. Thank you for doing this challenge. So have so many readers that you inspire daily... hopefully many will respond.

    We are a homeschooling family, so my 4 children and I are always home. Our electric bills average $30/month, gas bills have been less than that per month- though it should change now that winter is here. Our water is much lower, too.

    We've made many changes but nothing that we would call inconvenient. The greatest payoff, I notice, is that we are raising concerned young citizens.

    I wouldn't be able to join your challenge, but just want you to know that I'm on your team here:)

  18. Im in I will do it also...
    This should be interesting

  19. I too will take part by reading my gas, water & electricity. I don't expect there to be a huge difference, but I might just be surprised.

    Deb, Moruya (Far South Coast NSW)

    PS. My identity is anonymous; this blogging is new to me and I have no idea what the others are. Maybe someone can post a link so I can learn to understand.

  20. I'm in to, Rhonda. I have my water tank plumbed into my washing macine and toilet, so I know that's a big reduction. Not showering so much these days since I broke my arm...such an effort to get it covered etc, and the worry of slipping if I'm on my's amazing how good a warm wash there's another little saving.

    When I got my first water bill after moving into this house, before I put the tank in, I thought $58 was a bit much for 6months, since I'm almost obsessional about not wasting a drop, so queried it with council. The woman laughed....she said there hadn't been a bill under $200going back 3 years, so I'd done well.

    I'm similarly careful with electricity, and will be interested to monitor my usage.

  21. I've been doing a unit check daily for months now and can pinpoint what sends the meter whizzing round (and sadly using the oven to bake is one of them . . . If I am using the oven nowadays, I make several things together and cook the evening meal in there to make best use of having it on.) We have our own private water supply here from a natural spring, so we are very fortunate. When we downsize elsewhere, it will come as a shock to the system that we have to PAY for our water, but we use it as sparingly as we can - fortunately we live in a very wet area, so no great shortage of supply!

  22. Rhonda,

    I would love to tke part your challenge, but because of where we live it will not be easy. We live in sheltered housing where the heating is supplied from a district heating system, no matter how frugal I am with the heating we still have to pay the same heating costs. It makes me very angry when I see windows open letting out heat because some of the other residents have their heating on is a difficult situation to be in. I cannot dry my clothes outside much as I would love to....we have nowhere we could do that, so everything has to go into the dryer, although I had thought about getting a clothes airer and putting it in the bathroom to dry clothes overnight. I cannot say how much elctricity that would save.Our charges for heating, hot water and the laundry facility have just almost doubled, the council have had to re-negotiate the cost of gas.

    We very frugal with water, we do have a water meter fitted and I pay just £8 a month for the water we use, there again we do not have a washing machine, but have to use the communal laundry.I only wash when I have a full load, again it annoys me when people use two washing machines to wash a small amount of clothing in each and then do the same with the dryers. The other thing that drives me wild is t they do not clean the filters in the dryers this cuts down the efficiency of the dryers and then they wonder why it takes so long for their clothes to dry. I check the filters before I start the dryers and clean them when my washing is finished.

    Electricity is another matter, I have almost stopped using my electric oven because it is so inefficient. I use a combi microwave which cooks at least 20degrees lower than the oven, or my Romuska. I also use a pressure cooker for meat that requires tenderising, turning the hob off at least 5 minutes before the end of cooking time, the solid plates take ages to cool down, drive me mad because they are so ucontrolable. We have no gas in the apartment which would be my preferred medium for a hot plate.

    We turn off everything we can before we go to bed and try not to leave things in standby mode. I turn my computer off when I am not using it and also turn the charger off as well. All our light fittings have energy saving bulbs in them, and we go as long as we can before we put the lights on inthe evening. Yesterday was such a bad day we had to have the light on in the living room all day, but I use table lamps rather then the central ceiling light which has 3 40w bulbs in. We very rarely have that on.

    However I can read the electricity and water meters starting tomorrow.

  23. Wow, what Larissa had to say was very inspiring - it goes to show when you think you are doing all you can, perhaps there is even more that can be done!

  24. This is a brilliant idea. My elec bill is exorbinant so this would be helpful. (It would also be helpful if I learned how to spell!)

  25. Out in the country (where I live) the older folks talk about the days before our county water system -- when everyone had cisterns. Many of the older folks still live as though they have a limited water supply and I think that my generation would do well to live by the same principles. You make an excellent suggestion of actually writing down meter readings to be able to see the daily usage in print.

    Blessings and thanks for your wonderful posts!


  26. Hi Rhonda, I'm definitely in! I read my meters this morning at 6 AM.
    Electric meter @6AM 11-12-08_47723
    Water meter@6AM 11-12-08_103282
    Every litle bit helps. Donna J.

  27. I'm in for the electric meter! We have a well so can't measure this. I'll bet I could do a lot better with water waste, though. This summer we put in a clothes line which you know about already Rhonda:) I turned off the old fridge in the basement and we purchased a new freezer to replace the old old one we had. Just those things alone made for a 20% reduction in electric usage. I've gotten several florescent bulbs to replace high use lamps and plan to buy a few more each month.

  28. Hi Rhonda,

    I will give it a go...I always thought I was SO CAREFUL with power but our winter bill here was a SHOCK! Thanks for the motivation to REALLY look at it!


  29. I am also jumping on wagon. I will read my meters tomorrow morning (the 13th). Rhonda, would you be able to tell me how to put a "link" to your blog in the words of Down to Earth? Do you know what I mean? I mentioned your blog on my blog, and I want to link to it. Thanks,

  30. I'd like to take part in this, as we are actively trying to reduce our electricity use and I'm already very careful about the water. I've taken a few steps already to try to cut back on the electricity usage. I've turned my immersion heater right down as the only thing the water from there is used for is washing up and washing hands as we all take showers rather than baths. That has saved loads of money on my electricity bill. I've really rationed the usage of the tumble dryer (I live in a flat, so sometimes I have to use it if the weather is too bad to dry clothes outside for weeks at a time, and it's amazing how laundry piles up when there are four people in a home!) and make sure I never have more water than is necessary in the kettle. With regard to the water, I was the first person I know in my area to get a water meter, seven years ago, so I've been aware of water usage since then. Whenever I run the hot water tap to fill the washing up bowl, I always fill my watering can, and then a couple of two litre bottles with the cold water that comes out before the hot. I then use the spare water to fill the toilet cistern after flushing.

    I will do my best to try to remember to take my meter readings in the morning, but I have an appalling memory and may need to be reminded!!

  31. i dont turn on the lights at night, while i watch tv..havent done it in years..It hard to crochet in the dark, but iam doing it..
    been trying to use less water..Here in our county they are telling us to conserve water as we dont have much rain in the winter..
    i think every bit helps..

  32. Count me in on this Rhonda, for my electricity and my gas.

    I gave away my tumble dryer and now dry outside or inside on airers overnight. I use my slow cooker and my combi/micro instead of my big fan oven. Also just bought a remoska but not had much chance to use it yet.

    I'm sure turning off and unplugging appliances is something that would make a big difference to my spends, and will also be a help with my current mission to reduce pc time!

    I used to have a water meter and learned to be mean with it! A flat charge is included in my rent here now, but I still don't waste it, its our most precious resource.

  33. Rhonda, I enjoy your blog, and make sure to check it every day. I will join in your challenge, being limited to electricity though. Our water meter is now enclosed and read by satellite from the village office - something new, to eliminate errors, and meter readers.

  34. I'm jumping on the wagon - what a great idea especially for a home with two teenagers that think long, hot showers are either a necessity or a God-given right!

  35. Count me in Rhonda ! You have already inspired me to cut down on electricity & water consumption.
    Our most recent power bill was $20 less than the last bill & $35 less than same time last year !!! I'm looking forward to squeezing it down even more with your latest challenge; thanks for your encouragement to us all.

  36. Hi Rhonda just wanted to drop by and thank you (very belatedly!) for dropping by on my UK thread. It has taken me the longest time to adjust the settings so I know when someone leaves a comment! Now, I get an e-mail every time which helps as my blog grows. Thanks for inspiring it!

    In terms of gas and electricity, we have noticed quite a change since moving to our flat 18 months ago. It's much smaller and has double glazing, both of which have saved us alot. Plus we never leave things on standby. I am trying to have a 'no TV' night. We did this for a worldwide 'Blackout' night that happened in the summer and it was good, apparently many folks around the workd did it and we plan to do it next year too. However, weaning myself off tv will be hard - but worth it!

  37. O.K., I'm in for the electric. We have a well for water so we don't know about that. But electricity... eeekk! my family needs to cut back. Should be interesting!

  38. I will read my electrical meters this morning, our bill is not too good. however we also run a business off it too - our farm. Currently we have incubators, milking machines, heat lamps for chickens, lights, pumps and electrica tools using power for our farm.
    I can't do a meter reading for water as we use tank water and bore water. We can, however, make a big effort to reduce our water usage. We are one large tank short while we are building our house so we are already careful with water usage but every little bit helps.

    My grandparents, who are in their 80s, live in Sydney. They have always been water and power wise; and surprisingly not all people their age are. Nan always went crook about people hosing off driveways when they lived in their house. Now they are in a unit (downsized when the house was too much for them) Nan collects the shower water by keeping buckets in the shower with her, these water her balcony potplants. She has been a wonderful inspiration to me in many ways.
    Bec xxx

  39. Thanks Rhonda Jean for allowing as to participate as a group. I need all the motivation I can get.
    We have an electric pump for our water to the house from the bore and that certainly moves the meter around. Have started my readings.
    Patricia in North Queensland

  40. I think I'll have a crack at this too. Again, I work in the week so there's nobody home in the daytime then. I'll take my reading tonight/tomorrow morning and work it from there, so I get a weekend's consumption. It would be interesting to compare that with two weekdays' use.



  41. Rhonda,
    Like many, I read daily and am so inspired by what you are sharing with us.
    I am in on the challenge, a bit later than some with the starting though.
    I would like to do the week long challege after the two day one, as I also think it would be more acurate. I can cut out a shower and not do dishes/laundry for a day or two. But for a week.... I would have to be more cautious in my consumption and truely make a change that will hopefully stay for the "long haul".
    Thank you for the challenge.
    Shannon B, Monmouth OR

  42. Hi Rhonda,
    I am a bit late too, but I will join this challenge. We are already taking alot of steps to reduce our usage but I am sure we can try harder.
    I took my first reading today.

  43. I think that this is a great idea, we are usually shocked when we take stock of something that we take for granted like power and water usage.
    We are in the lovely position of only using renewable energy in our home and workshop and all of our non-potable water is is collected rain water. We are lucky enough to get our lovely drinking water from a friendly neighbour's well.
    We do however use bottle gas to cook and heat our water for washing. We have taken some measures to try and reduce or gas usage.
    In the winter when the stove is lit anyway we have gotten into the habit of leaving a large saucepan of water on the stove for washing dishes. We also often cook one-pot meals on the stove and have recently bought an electric steamer for cooking when we have a lot of electricity.

  44. Hi, I'm in! It's 7am and I just went out and read my meter. I've already been doing a cutting down process but would like to do more. I want my bill down from $50-100. I'm sure it can be done. Water is a well and on electic pump.
    Thanks for getting my gear in rear!



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