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As Erin Mitchell sits in her car outside her kids’ school, she recounts her ride to Team Power Smart stardom, which not only features a $50 reward cheque, but also a leading role in a new BC Hydro commercial.

“When we tell people how little we pay for gas and electricity each month, they’re really surprised,” says Erin, modestly, just a hint of Power Smart pride in the mix. “We’re spending about $200 a month, gas and electricity combined, and that’s a lot less than our friends and neighbours.”

It’s also a lot less than Erin and her husband Chris, who live in a 3,000 square-foot home on a former car race track property between Vernon and Silverstar Mountain Ski Resort, used before they started their first Team Power Smart Challenge about 18 months ago. Not only did they earn the $50 Reduction Challenge reward for saving at least 10% over 12 months, they lapped the field.

“Once we started the Challenge, we replaced a bunch of pot lights – the ones we used most – with energy-efficient LEDs,” says Erin, who teaches special needs students at a local school.

And then the Mitchells discovered MyHydro.

Tracking electricity use online sparked more savings

Switching to efficient lighting was just the start for the Mitchells. Erin and Chris began tracking their electricity use with MyHydro tools, and discovered that within a month or two, they were using 20% less power than the year before.

At the end of the 12-month Challenge, getting everyone in on the Challenge – including their son and daughter – saved them 24%.

“Because you can see what you’re doing hourly with MyHydro, you can see what you’ve been doing at that particular time,” says Erin. “My husband will often say that on Sunday at 10 a.m., for example, you can tell I was doing laundry. So you can notice what’s using the most electricity.”

By going online at bchydro.com and logging in to MyHydro, the Mitchells identified spikes in their energy use, then started tweaking their electricity use.

Changes the family made:

  • When doing two loads of laundry, items are sorted to limit drying to one dryer load, with the rest hang-drying

  • Doing big batches when baking, then freezing items for later, rather than using the oven to bake each weekend

  • A concerted effort to turn off lights in unused rooms

  • Rather than using multiple TVs or other devices at once, holding family movie nights around one TV (with popcorn, of course)

  • Turning the heat down to 17°C in the electrically-heated loft area of the home

  • Opting for shorter laundry washes

Lessons from the Instant Pot

Like so many Canadians, the Mitchells have become huge fans of the invented-in-Canada Instant Pot, and it has changed the way they use energy for cooking in the home.

Following the initial 10% Challenge, Erin noticed that her electricity bill had gone up marginally. She has tracked that to the use of the Instant Pot, but says she expects that her gas bills (larger than her BC Hydro bills), will be reduced because the Instant Pot is replacing so much use of the family’s gas range.

“I just love chicken breast in the Instant Pot,” she says. “I will never cook a chicken breast in the oven or on the BBQ again. It’s just so moist. I used to cook chicken thighs a lot because I didn’t like how dry chicken breast was. But it’s so good, and easy, in the Instant Pot. I put it in for 10 minutes and it’s done.

“I also like cooking things like sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash that can be an hour in the oven, but usually only take 20 minutes in the Instant Pot.”

Falling for the Okanagan, and building an efficient home

Introduced to the wonders of the Okanagan via visits to Erin’s family cabin on Okanagan Lake, the Mitchells moved to Vernon from Langley four and a half years ago. A millwright who now works for the local Tolko plywood mill, Chris was big on getting a large property, something the family couldn’t afford in the Lower Mainland. And as a former drag racer, he was smitten with the idea of living on a three-acre plot of land carved out of the 1970s-era Tillicum Raceway.

“We just fell in love with the property,” says Erin. “Before we knew it, we were building a house.”

The one-storey rancher features radiant heating in all floors, keeping the family’s feet toasty on even the coldest days of the year. Light spills into the interior through vaulted ceilings and large windows, and the home stays cool enough in the summer that the Mitchell’s use a portable air conditioner only about a week a year.

In her favourite room, the kitchen, Erin busies herself with cooking up healthy meals that would make the authors of the updated Canada Food Guide proud. A huge vegetable garden yields everything from peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes, to asparagus, watermelons, and strawberries.

“We live very healthy and active lives,” says Erin. “Chris was just saying a few days ago that he’s so proud of Canada for making those changes to the Food Guide.”

Erin is proud, too, of her family’s ability to balance comfort, health, and efficiency. Asked what most motivates her to save energy, she doesn’t hesitate.

“I think I’m just cheap, to be honest,” she says with a laugh. “I get it from my dad, who we say is the cheapest guy around. In our home, I pay the utility bills, so when a co-worker mentioned to me that you can do the Team Power Smart Challenge, I jumped at it. Once I signed up, we really got into it.”

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