Before I moved, the utilities in my apartment were included in my rent. That meant all my energy-saving efforts — from cleaning my fridge coils to installing Practecol switches to simply turning out lights when I wasn’t using them — didn’t reap any financial benefits.

So when I moved to West Hollywood, I was kind of excited — to be paying for electricity. Why? I’m a curious person. I wanted to see just how much electricity I was using — or not.

I'm proud to say that my most recent Southern California Edison bill came to just $5.03. I used just 35 kilowatt-hours in December!

Of course, I had to see how my energy usage compared to the average American. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,040 kilowatt-hours (kWh), an average of 920 kWh per month.” However, I live alone, while the average American household is made up of 2.59 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Calculated per person, the average American burns through 355 kWh a month — which means I use up a tenth of the energy the average American does!

This despite that I work from home — which means my wireless router and laptop are sipping energy all day long, along with my mini-fridge. However, those — plus a CFL bulb, if needed — are the only things I have plugged in most days. All kitchen appliances (except the fridge) remain unplugged, as do the printer, stereo, cell phone charger, and a few other electronics, except when in use.

And at night, everything is turned off and totally disconnected from sucking vampire energy with the help of Practecol switches — the computer, the wireless gateway, and — believe it or not — the mini-fridge, because in my tiny studio apartment, the thing makes too much noise when I’m trying to sleep.

Yes, I have energy-efficient light bulbs, too. I have exactly three bulbs — two CFLs, and an even more efficient LED bulb for the closet.

5334639162 e118b483fa My $5 electricity bill

I get an extra reward for using less energy. Southern California Edison’s tier system means that those who use less pay less per kWh. You can see from the handy chart SoCal Edison puts on each bill (delivered and paid for electronically sans paper, of course) that I’m in the low end of the “tier 1″ pricing level.

After comparing my energy usage to other Americans, I felt so awesome about myself that I declared yesterday’s No Impact Challenge topic — Energy: Replace kilowatts with ingenuity — conquered for now. I mean, my next steps would be somehow rigging up solar panels in my apartment complex or getting rid of the mini-fridge altogether or inventing a solar-powered laptop — and I’m not ready to go there yet.

In addition to bragging, I hope I’m making clear in this post that steps like switching out light bulbs and turning off electronics when not in use and preventing vampire power loss really do make a difference — both for the environment and your pocketbook.

How are your own energy-savings efforts going? And do you have any not-too-far-out advice for me so I can get my bill under $5 a month in 2011?

Don't believe her? See her next post, which includes a copy of her bill.