3 - 2008

This $4 gadget saved us $34

Recently I bought a Kill-a-Watt device to measure electricity usage, and I’ll be posting here periodically about what it’s teaching me.

coffee makerTrue confession: We have a fancy Bunn coffee maker that keeps the water heated at all times so we can brew a fresh, excellent pot of coffee (into the dishwasher-safe thermal carafe) within 3 minutes.

We bought this coffee maker several years ago after very extensive research. It retails for almost $150; I combined rebates, discounts and credit card rewards to buy it for a net of around $50, and we have been thrilled ever since. Mr. Cheap is a serious coffee snob, and I must have my coffee HOT, so this has been a holdout among our wasteful appliances.

But thanks to Claire Walter’s question during the anniversary question session, I looked up its energy use and found that it uses 800 watts. Holy guacamole!

The electricity tally – before

I plugged the coffee maker into the Kill-a-Watt for 24 hours and learned that during that time period, the Bunn used 1.1 kilowatt hours of electricity, which (at our actual energy cost) would cost us about $50 per year. (For comparison’s sake, know that our refrigerator costs about $80 per year to run.) That is a lot of electricity for a daily pot of coffee.

Of course, we usually only brew one pot a day, during a set period of a couple of hours in the morning, so we don’t need a tank of hot water 24/7. So the last time we were out at our local superstore, I picked up this little baby:


It’s the simplest of the simple – a $4 manual timer that lets you stick in the pegs to tell the device plugged into it when to turn on and off. I set it to come on around 5:30 a.m. and turn off around 8:30 a.m. (for those weekend days when we might brew a second pot). Then I plugged it into the Kill-a-Watt for another 24-hour period.

The electricity tally – after

On the second go-round, while plugged into the timer, the coffee maker used .35 kilowatt hours, which will cost us $15.94 per year. That’s a savings of 68 percent. We can probably save even more by whittling down the time the timer is “on” — I’ve been clicking the timer to “off” manually when we are finished brewing.

Now we can have our coffee and drink it too.

The alternatives

Aren’t there better options for coffee-making, you might ask?

The alternatives seem to be:

  • Traditional coffee maker. This site estimates traditional coffee makers at 900 to 1,200 watts, so ours is more efficient. The catch with ours is that its default setting is to run all the time. Otherwise, the usage appears to be similar.
  • Manual drip coffeemaker. These are really inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to use — we could heat water with our electric kettle, which would cost about $3 per year for one kettle full or $6 per year for two kettles per day (a more likely scenario; our kettle has a relatively small volume). In addition, it would free up more counter space. On the down side, it means more purchases, more time required to make the coffee, and some kind of finagling to fit it with a thermal carafe for the super hot coffee I prefer.
  • Espresso maker. We have a stovetop espresso maker that fits perfectly on the simmer burner of our gas stove. Making a pot of espresso takes about 10 minutes, and if we used this method exclusively for our coffee, we might make two pots a day, at a cost of about $7.30 per year. The problem is that I don’t like it as much as regular coffee. But if you do, good deal … except for the French press caveat.
  • French press. We used to enjoy French press coffee – strong and hot! – but eventually the press became another gadget cluttering our small kitchen, and we got rid of it. Now there’s another reason to eschew the French-pressed brew: It seems that paper filters absorb oils that can cause blood health problems. So coffee prepared without a filter can raise cholesterol levels. (This applies to espresso, too, but not quite as much as to French press coffee.)

For now, I’ll stick with what I’ve got, and I won’t feel too guilty since we do purchase wind power and fair-trade coffee. Nevertheless, way to inadvertently crack the whip, Claire! And thanks for saving us $34 (and 220 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions) a year.

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