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7 ways to minimize electric bills during a polar vortex winter

It should come as no surprise to most Americans that utility bills are higher this time of year. With bizarre weather patterns, even those in the southern parts of the country are feeling a bit chilly. Fortunately, there are a ton of ways to cut down on energy use and bring those utility bills down. According to the Department of Energy, here are seven ways to trim down the bill and save.

 

1. Install a programmable thermostat.

This can save you year round. Programmable thermostats often come with the ability to customize each day of the week, meaning you can adjust the heating or cooling of your home based on your own schedule. These thermostats are as inexpensive as $20 at places like Home Depot or Lowe’s and claim to be easy to install. Modern technology has even put Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats you can monitor from a computer, tablet, or phone. While these thermostats run on the more expensive side (a minimum cost of about $100), they do offer the convenience of remote control and often come with pre-set schedules geared toward saving energy and cutting costs.

2. Take sunlight into account.

Allowing sunlight to light your home instead of lamps and other artificial lights obviously saves you electricity. Even with shortened days this time of year, sun shining in the windows can help with warming your home. Alternatively, when you’re trying to keep your home cool in the summer, the sun can push your cooling system into overdrive and rack up costs. Be sure to use curtains or other window dressings that will work for both times of year. Keep curtains open on windows that get direct sunlight in the winter, but use blinds in the summer to reflect those heat rays back outside.

3. Use ENERGY STAR certified products.

The savings listed on the label when you go to pick up a new TV might be underwhelming, but using ENERGY STAR certified products can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Imagine if you replaced your current washer, dryer, microwave, and TV—household objects used regularly which are also big power consumers—with models using the latest energy-saving technology. The Department of Energy reports that this could save you up to $750 over the lifetime of the products. Just having an ENERGY STAR certified TV, for example, almost halves the amount of electricity used by your big screen each year, according to the EPA.

4. Switch out your light bulbs.

About 10 percent of your total energy usage goes toward lighting your home. The average monthly utility bill in the U.S. (as of a 2012 Energy Information Administration report) is about $110, which means you could be spending something like $11 a month just to illuminate your living space. That’s $130 or more a year. Switching the light bulbs in your most frequently used fixtures can cut down on costs in a couple of ways. By using ENERGY STAR qualified fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs rather than the traditional-but-dated incandescent bulbs, you could save up to 75 percent of that annual lighting cost, not to mention that CFL bulbs can last up to six times longer than incandescent bulbs.

5. Put that on/off switch on power strips to use.

Some of today’s biggest energy consumers are devices used in many American households, such as televisions, gaming systems and desktop computers. Unless completely powered off, these devices continue to use electricity, even when not in use. Device chargers for cell phones, tablets and laptops also continue to use up your energy, even if they aren’t plugged into their devices. Electronics that continue to use electricity this way are often called “energy vampires,” and they can leech up to $100 a year out of your pocket. Plugging these devices into a power strip or surge protector (a good idea for those expensive electronics) can help to keep your wallet from getting sucked dry. Just flip the switch on the strip to “off” when the electronics are not in use, especially if you plan to be gone for more than just a day.

6. Make the most of your water heater.

The average person uses approximately 80-100 gallons of water a day or at least 30,000 gallons per year. More often than not, that water has made its way through your water heater. From the shower to dishwasher, hot water is essential to the American way of life. All in all, it takes up anywhere from 14 to 18 percent of your total utility bills. Turn down your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to reduce the cost of heating your water, and install newer low-flow showerheads to decrease the overall amount of water used. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, older showerheads use up to 4 gallons of water per minute, while new showerheads have cut that down to 2 or 2.5 gallons per minute. Also be sure to fill your dishwasher as efficiently as possible to reduce the number of times you use it throughout the month.

7. Take care of your heating and cooling system.

If your heating and cooling system is not properly maintained, it could be expending additional energy just to bring your home to the temperature you want it. Having a qualified technician perform annual maintenance ensures that your system is running like clockwork throughout the year. Anything from a leaky hose or pipe to a clogged air filter will decrease the efficiency of your home’s system and increase energy costs. You should also clean the air filter once a month and replace the filter altogether regularly.

 

These are just some of the ways you can help to bring down energy expenses in your home. For many more, see the comprehensive list below in the infographic provided by Peirce Phelps.

Image courtesy of Peirce Phelps

Image courtesy of Peirce Phelps

6 comments

  1. All good advice except I wouldn’t lower the hot water heater to 120° as I’ve read that one should have the order be at least 130° or hotter in order to sufficiently kill germs and bacteria on bathroom and kitchen utensils that could be harmful if ingested. Instead, one should limit their hot showers to 10 min. or less.

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