Point of View: The high cost of home cinema

Richard Stevenson makes some tough decisions after receiving a five-figure electricity bill!

Regular readers of this column may find it hard to believe that I have gone green. I mean I have heard of being environmentally friendly, I am aware of carbon footprints and CO2 emissions, but I was never going to let any of that get in the way of my lifestyle. Previously, I made Jeremy Clarkson look like a tree-hugging hippie.

That was the old me. The new me reads energy labels, boils just enough water for a cup of coffee and shouts at the missus if she leaves a light on. Like most lifestyle changes, this was brought about by a single pivotal moment – the arrival of an electricity bill. This bill corrected a meter reading error that had been ongoing, unbeknown to everyone, since I moved into my house six years ago. It was a bill for £20,481!

Despite numerous meter readings a decimal point had ended up in the wrong place. For over half a decade, my bills convinced me that my electricity usage was reasonable and this had lead to something of a gung-ho attitude to energy efficiency. The reality was that the bills were only showing one-tenth of my actual consumption.

While a very fair Npower agreed to write off the accrued bill prior to 12 months ago, the pain hasn’t stopped. The newly accurate meter readings mean my quarterly bills are about to increase by a factor of 10 to what looks like a substantial mortgage payment per month. Apparently my electricity consumption has been growing exponentially and in the last 12 months I have used close to 60MW hours of juice. That is over 6kW of electricity every hour of every day, all year round. Surely there must be a mistake?

No. A two-day electrical investigation took place at the Stevenson ranch, including buying an electricity monitor. Sure enough, I was using over 100kWh a day, and the extended Indian summer meant the heating hadn’t even kicked in yet. Feck!

The home cinema system came under close scrutiny. Powered up and running, the BD player uses about 100W, the processor 150W and the projector 350W. Given ASBO volumes the five stereo power amps draw 600W each and both subs suck another 500W a piece from the wall. Before I have even started the popcorn maker, that is close 5kWh at 16p/kWh. Not a big outlay for a two-hour film I grant you, but the system also draws over 1kWh powered-up and idling for the other 22hrs in an average day. I realised the system running cost is about £3 per day or in excess of £1,000 a year.

Mammoth footprint
That is a huge and ridiculously expensive outlay, even before I get lynched by environmentalists for having a carbon footprint the size of the Isle of Wight. I might also have to admit that installing electric underfloor heating in four rooms, having the hot tub at 38˚ all through the year and keeping my koi carp snug in their three outdoor fishponds suddenly seems a little, um, wrong.

So what’s the answer? Renewable energy? Wind power is impractical as I would need a commercial sized turbine. A 6kWh solar system would cost around £15k to install and would only produce that level of power for a few hours on sunny days. If we put our Labrador on a treadmill it would run like mad for 20 minutes, then fall asleep for the rest of the day, surfacing occasionally to eat, while our local pet shop reckons there simply aren’t that many hamster wheels in the world.

Clearly, economising on the actual energy usage is the best bet. I shall henceforth turn off my home cinema system when it is not in use, I shall wear slippers rather than fire up the underfloor heating and the fish have been advised that it will be a very nippy winter. The hot tub, however, is staying at 38˚ because I refuse to compromise on the essentials.

How are you cutting back to save energy?
Email us your tales of frugality to [email protected]

This column first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Home Cinema Choice