Animal House: Power your home with pets

How much electricity does it take to run your home for a year? The answer depends on a number of different things. Mostly it comes down to how many appliances and gadgets are sapping juice from your electrical sockets.

The vast majority of Americans have their power supplied by utility companies. Nonetheless, there are those who go off the grid, turn to alternative energy, or combine the two.

In fact, finding ways to power your house by alternative means has been done before. A quick Internet search brings up a number of experiments.

Movoto Real Estate’s favorite example comes from across the pond. In 2009, “Bang Goes the Theory,” a Brit television show, filmed an episode centered on how many bicyclists it would take to power a house for a day.

There is also this example: The Green Microgym in Portland. The gym captures energy from cycling and other exercises, which is then channeled into the power outlets.

Nonetheless, the majority of experiments in this realm are centered on using people power to run small electronics such as an oscillating fan. The team at Movoto, however, wanted something more interesting. Our solution: Put our freeloading pets to work.

Power Your Pad With Man’s Best Friend

Recently, we looked at some of the nation’s most popular pets, and then calculated how much energy they would produce. We used this as a basis for figuring out how many pets it would take to power a house for a day.

Before we get to the reveal, we should note a few things. We calculated our pets running (and in one case flying) at a constant speed over a 24-hour period. We know this isn’t possible. If you’re a stickler, assume our no-longer freeloading pets are working in shifts.

So how many pets would it take to power your home for a day?

  • Cats: It would take six cats running at full speed to power your house for a day.
  • Dogs: It would take one greyhound running at top speed about 17 minutes to power your house.
  • Hamsters: It would take 765 hamsters running at a reasonable 2 miles per hour to charge your house.
  • Birds: It would take 1,105 canaries flying at a reasonable 15 miles per hour to charge your house.
  • Lizards: It would take 31 Bearded Dragon lizards scurrying at about 25 miles per hour to power your house for a day.
  • People: (not that we advocate having people for pets) It would take an average-sized male running for about 10 hours and 20 minutes to power a house.

How’d We Do It?

To figure out how to make the most of our freeloading pets, we needed to crack open some old high school physics books and contact some animal enthusiasts. To calculate the numbers, we needed to know three things:

  • The weight of the animals, along with their speed
  • The average amount of energy a home uses in a year
  • How to calculate energy

It’s Electric

When it came time to figure out how much electricity a household uses in a year, we turned to the government. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2010 the average U.S. residential utility consumer uses 11,496 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, which averages out to 958 kilowatt hours per month. From here we were able to make an assumption for how much power a household uses in a given day.

We estimated that a home uses 32 kilowatts of power per 24 hour period. Of course, this number will fluctuate on a given day based on a person’s needs. If it’s the dead of summer or the middle of winter, prices might be higher.

This figure let us know how many pets we’d need to keep the lights on.

Animal Home

To calculate how much energy our usually loafing pets would produce we needed to know both their weight and how fast they could move. Instead of trying to figure out how fast they scurried to their dinner bowls, we turned to encyclopedia and informative websites.

Our find:

  • Cats: The naturally spotted Egyptian Mau has been clocked running up to 36 miles per hour. We went with a less daunting 30 miles per hour and a weight of 3.8 pounds.
  • Dogs: No dog is faster than a greyhound. We chose to use a 65 pound animal, making it about the average size (perhaps slightly heavier) of an adult male greyhound. These pooch sprinters can reach a speed of 39 miles per hour.
  • Hamsters: Round and round they go. At .44 pounds these little critters can run upward of 6 miles an hour in short bursts. We chose to have our hamsters maintain a steady 2 miles per hour.
  • Birds: We admit that there’s no feasible way to have your pet bird run on treadmill or exercise wheel. But we’re sure a clever person can find a way to harness the power of a 0.04-pound canary flying at a comfortable 15 miles per hour.
  • Lizards: Considering the popularity of reptiles as household pets, we felt the need to include one in our calculations. Unsure of how to capture energy from a snake, we went with a lizard and chose the Bearded Dragon, which can run at an impressive 25 miles per hour.
  • People: The average American male weighs about 195 pounds. While not an Olympic event, the record for the fastest mile was set in 1999 by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, who hotfooted to an astonishing 3:43.13. Of course, Morocco’s fast man was an athletic specimen. We cut our human generators down to a more reasonable 15 miles per hour.

How to Calculate Energy

Looking back at our high school physics classes, we wished we would have paid more attention. Thankfully, at least one of Movoto’s staff remembered the necessary steps to calculate how much work our pets (and our exercise-happy jogger) would create in a 24 hour period.

Work is measured in joules. Once we knew how many joules each pet could create we were able to convert these into kilowatts and watts per hour.

So next time you leave the lights on, consider how your dog feels.


The Movoto blog is a service of Movoto Real Estate. David Cross is a writer for Movoto and former journalist.

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