11 tips to trim your power bill
There are a lot of ways to trim your energy usage on the farm, some of which can make a pretty big difference on your monthly utility bill. Here are a few ways you can trim your bill and get more efficient at your place.
The "biggest thing most farms can do to save energy," says Fred Daniels, program manager for Franklin Energy in Wisconsin, is changing to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL). They're the "curlicue" bulbs you can get wherever you buy standard bulbs. A 23-watt CFL yields the same light as a 100-watt standard bulb.
What's that mean in dollars and cents? CFLs usually cost around $3 each and typically will pay for themselves in 4 months. Ultimately, Daniels says between CFLs lifespan and efficiency, they will save around $10 to $12 per year per bulb. Plus, they'll last up to 10 years, he says.
Take out those standard T-12 fluorescent light tubes and replace with newer T-8 tubes. They're smaller in diameter, Daniels says, and they use a lot less energy. "They don’t hum, they don’t flicker, and there is at least a 20% overall energy savings compared to the T-12. Use them in shops and livestock barns, anyplace you are mounting area lighting 15 feet or more above the floor," he says.
Replacing older cattle water tanks with low-energy livestock waterers can eliminate the need for a 1,500-watt heating element, the most common size used for cattle waterers. "Replace the big tank with a small energy-efficient hydrant waterer with a smaller heating element to keep it thawed," Daniels says. "It’s a smaller volume of water, and if the livestock are drinking regularly, it won’t freeze and may use no energy at all."
Removing a 1,500-watt heating unit and replacing it with a 250-watt unit can take operating costs down to less than $20/month, Daniels estimates. Because of the cost of the unit and its installation, it can take up to 5 years for the newer units to pay for themselves, he adds.
If you irrigate, moving to a lower-pressure system -- going from 100 to 40-60 psi -- can reduce pumping horsepower needs by 25%, saving up to $2,500/year for a 1,320-foot center pivot once changing all the nozzles. If you're pumping with a diesel system, you may be able to pay for the system in 2 years.
You likely can't eliminate your tractor engine block heater altogether, but you can trim your energy use a lot by putting yours on a timer. That way, it runs in cycles, usually for just a total of a couple of hours a day. The timer will cost you around $50, but it could potentially cut your energy bill for this purpose from $100 to $10 per month, Daniels says.
Newer programmable thermostats aren't just for your house. Try putting one on each of your livestock barn vent fans. Then, program them to turn on additional fans, for example, when the temperature reaches a certain level. Using these tools can save you up to 15% on your electric bill, and they can pay for themselves in 2-4 years, Daniels says.
You can trim the amount of power you need to take care of a common task on the farm by looking at your compressor. If it doesn't match up with the jobs for which you're using it, consider replacing it. "If all you need is to pump up a couple of tires, you don’t need a 300-gallon compressor," Daniels says.
Insulating hot water pipes is very inexpensive and can trim a few bucks off your utility bill, but not a lot, Daniels says. But, make sure you don't wrap your water heater in insulation, as that can void your warranty, he adds.
Do you use a greenhouse? If so, consider infrared-rated insulation film and thermal blankets for the outside of the structure at night, when most of the heat is lost. Daniels says this can save up to 50% of your greenhouse heating bill, which accounts for about 80% of the cost of maintaining a greenhouse.
Get a few ideas to save a few bucks on your farm's monthly utility bill (contributed by Gene Johnston).