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How to Cut Costs in Your Electric Bill

Marcy lives in Austin, Texas and has written about environmental issues and conservation for more than a decade.

Saving a few cents on electricity can add up to many dollars each month.

Saving a few cents on electricity can add up to many dollars each month.

Follow These Tips to Lower Your Electric Bill

Energy costs have fluctuated here and there, but over a period of years, it’s clear that we pay more for electricity today than we did several years ago.

Sadly, incomes don’t appear to be increasing at a similar rate, which means for $100 more you pay per year to keep the lights on and run the air conditioner, you need to cut a similar amount from other expenses just to break even.

Worse yet, power companies sometimes struggle during major weather conditions just to keep up with the demand. Blistering heat waves or protracted periods of cold weather can drain power grids and create rolling black-outs, or even longer interruptions.

8 Ideas for Saving Energy and Reducing Your Bills

You can take steps to reduce your own consumption (and your electric bill!) and help conserve energy. In fact, if every household adopted a few strategies to cut usage, we would likely not have shortages and would see fewer rate increases.

  1. Monitor and Adjust Your Thermostat
  2. Consider a Programmable Thermostat
  3. Maintain Your Air Conditioner and Heating Unit
  4. Use CFL Bulbs—and Turn off the Lights!
  5. Maintain Appliances and Replace Seals
  6. Use Power Strips
  7. Check and Replace Weather Stripping
  8. Unplug Chargers and Appliances

1. Monitor and Adjust Your Thermostat

Small adjustments on your thermostat can save many dollars. Energy experts point out that raising your indoor temperature by even one degree can save about two percent in costs.

Two percent may not sound like much, but if your monthly air conditioning bill is $200 (as are many in hot climates), you’ve just shaved $4 off your bill. Raise the thermostat even higher and you’ll lower costs even more.

There’s little reason to keep a room at 72 degrees, and even fewer reasons to keep it at 68 degrees. Turn on the fans, and set your thermostat at 75 to 78. When you leave home for more than a few minutes, raise it even higher, to around 80 degrees. The house will still seem cool when you step back in the door (especially if it’s 90 degrees outside and humid), but you’ll have saved many dollars you would otherwise have wasted by cooling an empty dwelling.

If you’re used to running your unit at 72 degrees, switching to 78 degrees would save around $12 a month on a bill that’s normally $200. That’s several gallons of gas, or a few fast-food lunches. Or money in your savings account.

More than that, it’s also less energy being consumed from your area’s grid, and less drain on our natural resources.

2. Consider a Programmable Thermostat

Many people wonder what a programmable thermostat actually is, and how it can work. Installing one, and (more importantly) using it, can help reduce your bill and also relieve you of the hassle of remembering to adjust the temperature when you leave each day.

Programmable thermostats can be set to turn the unit on or off, or raise or lower the temperature according to your schedule and when you want to run the unit. It can adjust the usage to match your comings and goings, and even turn things on to make the house comfortable before you get up each morning.

Some units allow you to program one way for weekdays and another for weekends. And, of course, you can override it manually if you need to.

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In recent years, some environmentally conscious energy providers have begun offering free thermostats and installation to their consumers. This is cost-effective for them in the long run, because if more households have these devices, the overall savings and reduction in fuel usage will offset the cost of providing the thermostats.

Some areas also offer a small rebate if you get the thermostat installed and also agree to have your unit cycled off for brief times during periods of very high usage.

This doesn’t mean you’ll sweat for hours every afternoon during the high-demand hours of 4-7 p.m., it means that if there’s a serious surge in usage during extreme hot weather, your unit will turn off for many 15 minutes at a time to help the system keep up with demand.

Chances are, you won’t even notice the brief interruption. But at the same time, you’re too busy to think of turning it off yourself on those occasions, so the system-wide program does it for you. And you can feel very environmentally supportive for participating in the program.

Check with your electric provider to see what sort of rebates and conservation programs are offered.

3. Maintain Your Air Conditioner and Heating Unit

Most of us turn on the air conditioner every summer and turn on the heater every winter without paying attention to the condition of the units and whether they need to be cleaned or maintained.

You're wasting energy and money if you aren't doing basic maintenance on your heating and cooling units. You can clean your furnace fans and do simple AC maintenance and repairs yourself. All these steps are easy to learn and will save money.

Changing filters helps as well by reducing resistance for the air flow and lowering pollution in the house as well (good filters really do pay off - financially as well as in health terms).

4. Use CFL Bulbs—and Turn off the Lights!

Some of us grew up with a regular mantra from Mom and Dad, “Turn off the lights!” when we left bulbs burning needlessly. It’s hard to imagine that one little light bulb can add dollars to your bill, but it’s true. Better yet, install compact fluorescent bulbs in all lamps and fixtures you regularly use.

Incredibly, converting to high-efficiency fluorescent lighting can save about about 25 percent of your lighting costs and energy use for each bulb. The bulbs cost more on the front end, but they last for many years (about eight times the lifespan of regular bulbs) and save far more than the initial expense over the long haul.

Fluorescent bulbs also generate far less heat than regular bulbs. Maybe you’ve noticed how a room suddenly cools when you turn off several incandescent bulbs (such as those huge panels of big bulbs that were popular bathroom fixtures a few years ago). You’re paying more to air condition rooms that are needlessly heated from the lighting.

Cleaning Your Refrigerator Coils Can Save Energy

5. Maintain Appliances and Replace Seals

While you’re installing new bulbs in the house and changing out your thermostat, check your appliances to see whether they’re still in good shape. Swapping out the seal on an old refrigerator can save on your bill; you won’t be sending cooled air between the cracks.

Do you really need that extra (and possibly outdated) refrigerator in the garage? If you absolutely have to have it, make sure the seal is in excellent shape, because it already has to run more than usual just to keep up with being in a hot garage.

Any other appliance that can leak energy should be checked as well. Dryers and dishwashers both have seals. You’ll save more money by hanging clothes outside and turning off the drying cycle on the dishwasher. But be sure to check the seals and keep them in good shape.

Be sure to clean your refrigerator coils to keep it from running harder (and longer) due to build-up of dirt and dust. This can also save you costly repair or replacement expenses if the motor burns out from overheating.

6. Use Power Strips

Do you use power strips on your computers? And are you buying Energy Star computers and printers when your old units bite the dust?

Both of these steps can save many dollars. Computers don’t need to run constantly (how many hours do you spend sleeping each day, or at work?). They drain energy and also generate heat (which makes your AC unit work harder).

Simplify your life and install power strips. With one switch, you can turn off several devices and save the money you’ve been wasting.

When your printers need to be replaced, look for Energy Star ratings (almost all are designed this way now). You’ll save a lot over the lifetime of the printer because it will not run needlessly to warm up or cool down.

7. Check and Replace Weather Stripping

Are your doors and windows sealed well from the outside elements? Weather stripping takes a beating from rain, heat, hard freezes and other weather-related conditions. You may well be leaking much of your cooled (or heated) air into the outdoors due to having worn weather stripping.

While you’re checking those areas, assess whether you need to upgrade insulation or wrap your ductwork (another step that can save tons of money).

Efficiency experts estimate that many homeowners can save hundreds of dollars by wrapping ducts (a step that has dramatic pay-back value) and changing out worn weather stripping. Attic insulation is a bit more expensive, but you'll recoup the investment in just a few seasons.

Cell phone chargers drain energy.

Cell phone chargers drain energy.

8. Unplug Chargers and Appliances

Every cell phone or iPod charger that’s left plugged in can drain small amounts of energy even when not charging a phone. Commonly called “energy vampires,” chargers are known for siphoning off energy even though they’re not attached to a device. Unplug the entire charger when your phone (or iPad, iPod, whatever) has a full battery and avoid this insidious drain on the nation’s energy grids.

Some chargers are more green than others (but even those can suck energy when not in use), but if your charger feels warm when it’s just plugged in and idling, it’s definitely draining electricity. And you’re paying for it.

Kitchen appliances can also drain small amounts of energy (and some can even be fire hazards if left plugged in – toaster fires are more common than you think).

If you’re going to be on vacation, unplug any small appliance with an LED display (even your clock radio). After all, you won’t be home to look at the clock anyway, will you?

Small Steps Equal Big Savings

These are small steps, but taking collectively, they can reduce your electric consumption (and your bill) dramatically.

As a nation, we can save millions of dollars and kilowatt hours by adopting these simple steps. In the long run, this will save additional dollars through avoiding the cost of new power plants or increased expenses in fuel purchases.

As individuals, you'll not only feel good about conserving energy, you'll save money you can use for other things.

Which would you prefer – spending hundreds of dollars a year on wasted energy and needless electricity usage, or having some extra dollars for that family vacation?