My local library system has partnered with my local power company to make Kill-A-Watt energy meters available for check-out, just like a book or video. A few weeks ago, I checked out a Kill-A-Watt. These things look like a remote control and a power strip had a baby. You plug your appliance into the Kill-A-Watt, and plug the Kill-A-Watt into the wall. The meter monitors and records the energy being consumed by your appliance in Kilowatt Hours (kWh).
I have been curious (concerned) about the power consumption of our two garage freezers. We use these to store the seafood, game, grass-fed beef and locally raised lamb we buy in bulk. We purchase from farmers and from a meat and seafood wholesaler I have worked with since my professional chef days.
I’ll admit, I really like having a freezer full of meat. It makes me feel food secure, and between the freezer and the veggie garden the frequency of my grocery store and Costco trips is pretty limited. We have consistent access to meat and seafood we feel is more ethical to consume, and in theory we save money and gas over weekly or more frequent trips to Whole Foods.
All that happy squirrel-with-a-nut stuff aside, I’ve had this nagging feeling that paying for the electricity to keep all this stuff frozen might be seriously cutting into the savings we realize from buying in bulk.
Naturally the first thing we plugged into the Kill-A-Watt was our pair of freezers. The freezers are both upright models. These are less efficient than chest style freezers but were the best we could do in our space arrangement. One is relatively new and Energy Star rated, the other is fairly old and almost certainly not rated for anything. Here’s the results:
- The freezers were plugged into the Kill-A-Watt for 670 hours. This is just under 28 days.
- Over that span, they consumed 104 kWh.
- This works out to 3.725 kWh per 24 hour period.
- Our electrical rates are 8.04 cents per kWh. Note that this is quite low. The 2007 national average was 10.65 cents, so we have a smoking good deal on electricity up here in the Seattle area.
- At current electrical rates, we pay about 30 cents a day to operate our two freezers.
- Assuming that usage over that 28 day period was relatively standard, we should expect the annual electrical consumption of both freezers to be about 1360 kWh, with an annual operating cost of about $110.
Interestingly, the Energy Star estimate of the newer freezer puts the annual consumption at 690 kWh, with an estimated annual operating cost of $73. Multiply that by two (cause we are talking two freezers here) and our Kill-A-Watt generated numbers are extremely close to the estimate numbers.
But what does that all mean? Well, here’s a comparison. A 60 watt light bulb left on all day would consume 1440 watt hours. This equals 1.44 kWh. So powering both our freezers uses the same energy as leaving 2.6, 60 watt incandescent bulbs on all the time.
So what I’ve learned is that, at current electrical rates, it continues to be economically beneficial for us to buy our meat and seafood in bulk and store it ourselves. This does not, of course, address the environmental issues with our up-sized energy consumption.
I will admit that this particular dilemma is something I struggle with. In order to run my home in a way that allows me to support farmers and food production systems I believe in, I am using additional energy resources. These may or may not be offset by the greatly minimized food-miles my meat travels, and the reduced trips I take to the store. I don’t know.
In order to serve meat that is, in my opinion, quantifiably healthier for my family, I am using a shit-load of Cryovac freezer plastic to keep it all in prime condition.
In preserving and procuring and planing ahead, my spoils are made dependent on an energy grid that can (and eventually, in some windy winter storm or another, will) fail.
I do not have any good answers. I know that attempting to balance the role of my homestead in the larger world can sometimes be tricky. A plethora of good small changes compete for my time and attention and not all of them are simultaneously possible to implement. Some bad things cannot be brushed aside, because without a little bad, the better isn’t possible at all. And many things are in that awkward in-between place where the good-bad accounting gets muddy.
How do you balance preparedness, personal economics, energy consumption, food-systems support and the like?