Tips to Cut Energy Costs This Summer & All Year Long

Posted August 24, 2010 in Consumer Law by

My electricity bill arrived last week and I cringed when I saw that I’d used about 30 percent more electricity in July 2010 compared to July 2009. With the record-breaking heat, I wasn’t surprised, but I’ve been on a year-long diet to reduce my consumption and lower my energy costs. July was a setback.

While fall may be just around the corner, depending on where you live, you may still face another month of summer temperatures. It’s not too late to take steps to trim your energy costs – and the savings will add up all year long. Some of my favorite tips:

  • Cool off your home without air conditioning: Close east-facing shades or curtains before you go to bed at night and close west-facing window treatments in the afternoon. Blocking out the hot summer sun can dramatically lower the inside temperature. Also, open windows on both sides of your house to get cross ventilation. (You can also temporarily put fans in the window to encourage cool air to circulate.) If you have an attic, consider installing an attic fan to draw out hot air. And use ceiling fans to circulate air within a room.
  • Take a closer look at your windows and doors: Do you have energy-efficient windows that help insulate your home? Drafty windows can cool off your home during winter months and heat up your home in the summer. Federal tax credits are available if you replace your doors, windows and skylights with more energy-efficient products. You can also apply tinting to your windows to help repel the summer sunlight and retain your home’s heat during the winter months.
  • Check your appliances: Check air filters, coils and hoses on air conditioners, heating systems and refrigerators to ensure that they’re free of dust and dirt. A clean appliance operates more efficiently than a dirty one. Is your hot water heater insulated? An insulating jacket can maintain hot water’s temperature, reducing the heater’s need to repeatedly heat water, and cut operating costs by about 20 percent a month. If you have a pool, consider replacing your single-speed pump with a variable-speed unit, which can cut energy costs by up to 90 percent. Could you replace older, energy-inefficient with newer, more efficient models?
  • Do an energy audit, or hire a professional to do one for you: An energy audit looks for inefficiencies and suggests ways to make your home more energy efficient. Things to evaluate include insulation levels, holes or cracks that allow air to enter or leave your home, and poorly maintained appliances that may be unnecessarily using more energy.
  • Investigate real-time electricity pricing: About a year ago, I signed up for real-time energy pricing through Comed, my local electric company. Typically, consumers pay a flat fee for their electricity. But your local electric company buys its electricity at prices that fluctuate throughout the day. If your energy usage increases during low-demand times, you could benefit from real-time pricing. According to Comed, the average customer cuts their electricity bill about 15 percent when they switch to real-time pricing. I now have a widget on my computer that shows me the real-time price for electricity, and adjust my electricity usage accordingly. For example, I use my dishwasher’s timer feature and program it to run at 1 a.m. – when energy costs are typically lower – than midday.
  • Turn things off when not in use, or – better yet – unplug them: Look around your house at the things you keep turned on and/or plugged in even if you’re not using them. Microwave ovens, printers, power tools, lamps, stereos, video games. All of these things use electricity, even if they’re turned off. Get in the habit of unplugging things you don’t use regularly. And if you’re going on vacation, unplug everything but the essentials.
  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (known as CFLs): You may have tried to make the switch to CFLs – which last years longer and use significantly less electricity – when they first became popular. Many people ditched the CFLs because they felt as if the light was too harsh. Improvements have been made, and you can even buy tinted CFLs. Give them another try.
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