Can You Get Arrested if You Kill-A-Watt?

P3 International P4400 Kill A Watt Electricity Usage MonitorMy 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?


  1. says

    We balance these things the same way you do: by weighing the costs and benefits of each choice. Yes, your freezers use energy (so does my chest freezer), but I suspect the energy savings over conventional growing and transportation methods is great.

    Making sure the sapce your freezers are in don't get too hot in the summer will help on the energy consumption. That would mean possibly insulating the garage. "Reflectix" might work well.

    Like you, we worry about energy grid failure. Temporary outages are not too worrisome if short enough. A freezer should keep food frozen for up to 48 hours if the door is not opened.

    In worst case scenario, I would can what's in my freezer. That would be easy as it's all vegetables, fruits, and grains. The grains would just be stored in a cool place. In fact, we've considered at some point digging a hole in the ground and sinking a large galvanized bucket in for cool storage options. Making it rust and animal-proof are the two issues to work out.

  2. says

    Chili – our freezers are placed in our insulated but unheated garage which is, itself, on the North side of our home. This is a bit of a happy accident, but one I would try to duplicate elsewhere. In our mild climate, the garage stays between 40 and 70 probably 90% of the year. This definitely cuts down on how much work the freezers have to do to maintain their temps.

    As almost everything that's in my freezers is protein, and I don't pressure can (and couldn't, anyway, in the event of prolonged grid failure) if the power goes way out our provisions are screwed. We have contemplated getting a gas generator as a backup system to hold us over in the event of a temporary power outage, but that's a whole 'nother series of cost-benefit analyses, isn't it?

    Excellent tips, thanks.

  3. says

    I was going to suggest that dehydration (with a solar dehydrator) might be an alternative, but then I remembered where you live. LOL

    Our back-up plan for cooking/canning includes the solar ovens (not so useful for you), a rocket stove (definite possibility for you), and a propane stove. 'Course in a prolonged outage, the propane would run out and supplies would dry up. And I'm not sure if you could get consistent enough heat from a rocket stove for pressure canning.

    So many factors to consider!

  4. says

    I live in Vancouver, with somewhat similar conditions to Seattle. Even knowing about the cloud cover here I would suggest considering solar power for just your freezers. If we can power hot water tanks with solar here in the pacific northwest surely we can power two freezers? That might ease your sense of guilt a little, even though I personally believe that the usage you're talking about is better than all the driving.

  5. says

    I have a similar set up and concerns as you.

    Where I live the most likely time for a prolonged power outage would be the winter, and that in it of itself mitagates some of the potential damage to the freezer stored food.

    In the case of a power outage that was not during the cold or not soon to be resolved, I really think this is a place where community can help. Our neighbor, for example has a couple of generators. But he is a bachelor and has no food stock piled, what-so-ever (I'm pretty sure he buys food everyday for each meal). So we could really come to a mutually beneficial arrangement wherein, his generators help keep our food from spoiling, and we feed him. Of course, generators are only temporary as well, and in the event of something extending past that, we're pretty much screwed.

    We could definitely dehydrate, but only if we do it ahead of time, and I'm not a huge fan of jerky. Possibly smoking meats is an option. We've been on the hunt for an oak barrel that we can use to make a smoker in our yard, as I saw done at the local living history museum last summer. We watched them smoke two chickens in a barrel over bricks dug in the ground. It was Uber cool and we've been wanting to do it ever since. This could even be done in the winter, provided you already had the hole for the bricks dug. ??

  6. says

    I sent a request to my local library to allow for renting Kill-A-Watts. Fortunately for me, my library is one of the leaders in the state – if anyone is going to start doing something like this, it would be them.

    Thanks for the great idea! Now I'm going to call my local electrical provider and see if they have a loaning program.

  7. says

    Our local electric company doesn't provide this service – but the woman I spoke to seemed very excited about it! She's going to pass the idea along the line and hopefully they will start offering meters for individual appliances (a part of me would like to put one on the computer, because I suspect a good third of our electrical usage goes towards this thing). I also gave her – and my local library – your website. Hopefully things will start moving in this direction down here!

  8. says

    Very interesting experiment. I will check out Sno King and King Co. for those next time I'm there.

    That said, we too have two freezers (and a fridge) in our garage. One upright was a handmedown from my space consious brother. I know the beasts use a ton of electricity, but for what we store in them, it's worth it to me. I will save the world in other ways. Maybe if we didn't MAKE electricity here with our rivers, I wouldn't think like that, but we do so I can afford to buy in bulk and feed my family healthy meals all winter long. It's not like we have the ability to dig a root cellar.


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