Every month, my husband logs information from our utility bills into a spreadsheet. Comparing the past 12 months to the same 12 months in 2005, we used:

• 40% less water
• 46% less natural gas
• 75% less electricity (from the grid)

Bragging about efficiency plays into the worst stereotypes of California: smug, self-righteous and self-congratulatory. Yet conspicuous underconsumption has actual benefits, both to the individual and society. You’re showing what’s possible, and helping to nudge trend lines and public policy in the right direction.

So here’s how we did it. We didn’t do it all at once, and we didn’t do it all right. But if it helps provide some inspiration, it’s probably worth sharing.


Seven years ago, we added solar panels, which provide the bulk of our electricity. During daylight hours, we sell power back to the utility.

While battery technologies like Tesla’s Powerwall might one day become common, for now most residential solar works like ours. Beyond permit hassles when we first installed it, selling back to the grid has worked out well.

We’re paying less than a dollar a day for electricity, and that includes charging our primary car, a Nissan Leaf.

In addition to generating power, we’re also using less wherever possible. We have almost entirely LED lighting, including outdoor lights. Lighting only accounts for 14% of total residential electricity consumption, so while it’s important, it’s not the only thing to look at. For example, we got a variable-speed pool pump, which uses 80% less electricity than a single-speed version. With rebates, the new pump paid for itself in the first year.

In colder climates, thermostats are mostly for controlling heat, but they also regulate air conditioning in the summer. We switched to Nest thermostats, which include an Airwave feature that makes smarter use of the compressor coils.

Water and Gas

We moved to a more-efficient hot water heater with a circulator pump, which gets hot water to the tap faster, sending less down the drain. We use solar to heat the pool.

Because we live in California, we’re always mindful of the drought. Our water use is down 25% from last year. We had already switched to native landscaping, so most of the savings this past year probably came from better sprinkler timers that use an iPhone app. (We have the Rachio.)

Could we push our consumption of water and power lower? Maybe, but to do so, we’d need to able to identify where we’re using utilities in a much more granular, real-time way.

We still don’t have a smart meter. We don’t have anything like Google Analytics for amps and gallons. Without that kind of information, it’s hard to know what areas are really worth our attention.

So we’re left guessing, and relying on other people’s experience. That’s mostly why I’m blogging what we’ve done. If you have suggestions for great ways to do more, hit me up on Twitter.