Wednesday, May 20

lights out! (uh hu, splash splash splash)

Doing the power dance is the first thing every expat I know complains about during their first few weeks in their new (or rustic) Italian flat. All those jogs up and down the stairs (and those bastards tricking you into thinking you're getting a 2nd floor flat when it is actually on the 3rd) to go flip the breaker, sometimes 3, 4 times a day. It's the tough love version of energy conservation.

I've learned what things in our apartment are the energy hogs. The older water heater in the second bathroom and the oven are the two biggest pigs. I can't have ANYTHING else on when these suckers kick in.

Then there are the moderate pigs... the washing machine, dish washer, the hair dryer, the vacuum cleaner, the other water heater... I can have one of these on at any time, but two of them is testing the limits... depending on the combo and the amount of background power consumption we're doing (lights, computer, cell phone charging...), it can mean lights out.

This is where I've found that my aversion to house keeping is actually a strong point. I'm so rarely inspired to operate more than one of these appliances at a time that I'm not so put out by the fact that I can't.

And there are little tricks that you learn. I've started a load of clothes in the wash (and the eco wash cycle is two HOURS long) and I decide that I need a shower. Well I know that if I don't want to end up in the dark (and jogging downstairs in my robe), I flip the hot water heater off before getting into the shower. There's enough hot water there for me to take a shower, I just can't have it switch on while the clothes are in the wash. (just remember to turn it back on two hours later so that M has some hot water for his shower the next day... can you guess how many times I've forgotten to do this?) Or, when your getting ready for a dinner party and you've got something cooking in the oven but need to vacuum... just flip off the oven for a few minutes (don't forget to turn it back on). Or you need to dry your hair but the washing machine is running (we use that sucker a lot)... go and hit "pause" while you run the hair dryer. We have a gas stove top, but some friends of our have an electric one and they cannot have more than one burner on at a time... I don't have a solution for that one... eat raw?

Basically, it's all a major PAIN IN THE ASS.

That said, I am very aware of our energy consumption. Although I'm not certain on this, it must end up saving energy. I'm so disinclined to use the vacuum now I prefer to sweep or mop. And I avoid firing up the oven at all costs (ever reheat pizza on a griddle?). Actually, I don't have any other electric kitchen appliances. We shut off that second hot water heater since we so rarely use hot water in that bathroom anyway.

Not sure how to bring this one home. I can't imagine any American purposely putting a low consumption circuit breaker on their home. I'm not even sure this is possible. Can you request to have a lower power limit? I can't imagine a politician that inflicted this kind of pain would end up being very popular. But maybe that's what we need... some tough love. Someone to say "sorry sweetie, you've had enough juice today."


Edited to add some more info... the standard power limit in the typical Italian flat is 3-4 kilowatts. The place where we stay in the summer has a 1.5 kilowatt limit. Sometimes (you get charged a higher electricity rate) it is possible to upgrade to 6 kilowatts.

Just to give you an idea, here is a list of general power consumption for typical appliances:

Common Dedicated Circuits


Power Required (watts)

Electric Range

5,000 (240 volts)

Electric Dryer

6,000 (240 volts)

Space Heater

1,000 and up

Clothes Washer


Furnace (blower)




Refrigerator (not required)


Freezer (not required)




Central Vacuum



1,000 and up

Garbage Disposer


Kitchen Countertop (two circuits)Appliances



Coffee maker


Toaster oven



Blow dryer


You can see it's pretty easy to get over 3 kilowatts!


  1. Many a time i read your blog and go..thats so like here !

    Being tricked into thinking 2nd floor is actually 3rd floor is one for sure ! :)

    There arent any more kitchen appliances we sport either. and of course, we have one less minus the dish washer !

    And ofcourse, some one ought to stand up and say, enough juice has gone down the tube ! And i have been doing it my own small way !


  2. Anonymous9:26 PM

    Very cool post. Thanks!


  3. a very entertaining post.:D we have the same problem here...cost of electricity in the Philippines is just outrageous. i think we have the highest electricity rate in Southeast Asia, second to Japan. so instead of using a hair dryer, i dry my hair with an electric fan; and to conserve energy, we need to limit our usage of AC to 5 hours a day. at 32-34 degrees C, people save energy by cooling off in the malls.:D

  4. We, in the U.S., are so spoiled. I lived in Brazil without electricity for 18 months and no running water for 2 years. Instead of looking back and thinking about how I was deprived, I often feel nostalgic about the simpler life I led there. Now, on the web site for the town where I lived, there is a photo of the town's cell tower. I'm not sure if that is progress.

    You can read about my adventures in Brazil at:

  5. I know in Toronto they wanted to put a low consumption gadget on my parent's house. The sort of thing that would turn off if they used X amount of power. The 'rents are energy hogs but they declined.

  6. I had no idea that energy conservation like this even existed! I am utterly amazed!

  7. excellent post- so interesting

  8. Anonymous4:43 AM

    I wanted to say that I so enjoy your posts. They are always interesting and thought-provoking. I may not always comment, but I'm always reading. Thanks!


  9. Same as India, power is always cutting out...but I have no washing machine, dishwasher our 8th yr we just got an air conditioner (only cos we're here in the hottest months healing), and a hot water heater for my poor body :) Otherwise before the accident, we were as independent as we could be...

  10. Wait...not independent from electricity, but from luxury appliances, I meant :)

  11. I lived in Istanbul - same deal.

    Now I actually enjoy sweeping the flower, rather than get out the vacuum. I tell myself I'm being zen - and it works!

  12. go green..will energy prices again on a toll, its gonna b tough again this summer

  13. Anonymous6:45 PM


  14. Anonymous6:47 PM

    Sorry about that. I can't seem to leave a comment without it being anonymous. This is The Pagan Sphinx.

    Regarding your lack of motivation to run more than one appliance at a time: I had to chuckle. I have very much the same sentiments, much to the dissapointment of my old world mother! :-)

    Thanks for participating this week!


  15. I had the BEST time picturing you running from place to place hitting switches, hearing your hubby screaming in the cold shower, serving raw meat at dinner! Great post! :) I think we should all evaluate how much energy we consume. Only I would struggle with the whole one burner thing!!

  16. That is what people seem to think my life must be like in Korea, whereas I have the most ingenious heating system ever (underfloor heating - I'm Canadian and I have to say it rocks) and cheap bills and I don't think my power's been out more than once in the four years I've lived here.

  17. haha i love the images, especially of you forgetting to turn the hot water back on lol.

    I recently changed from The Gnu, and i changed my URL, so if you've been following me i don't think my posts will have been showing up.

  18. Ha, yeah, I sweep the flower. Geez!


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