In the heat of summer, electric bills skyrocket as everyone turns on air conditioners just to survive. Add to that the dozens of electrical appliances, entertainment centers, power tools and gadgets we all use—many of which automatically consume power, even when they are supposedly turned off—and you're on the fast track to a monthly money pit. These tips will help you reduce the hidden costs of all those lights, TVs and gizmos you can't live without.
Closing the curtains and lowering the blinds on the sunny side of your house will help keep you cooler on hot days. If you don't want to obstruct the view, consider applying to the glass. Both the do-it-yourself cut-and-stick type and the professionally applied films will reduce radiant heat while allowing you to see through them. Similarly, the Rocky Mountain Institute suggests using outdoor awnings and, if you live in an area that is warm all year round, even painting your house a light color to reflect heat away.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that window air conditioners be placed toward the center of the room on the shady side of the house.
Your house's biggest electricity guzzler is the air conditioner (and heating in the winter), accounting for as much as half of your energy bill. Make sure your systems are running at their highest efficiency by having annual professional cleanings and checkups. To help you remember, schedule a service call either when you set your clocks forward in the spring or back in the fall.
Change the filters of your air conditioner and furnace monthly. Keeping the air flowing and clean is good for your lungs and will help maintain peak efficiency. Don't know how? Ask the pro who does your annual cleaning to show you.
Be sure your air conditioner is the right size for the room. Obviously, if it's too small, it won't do the job. But, according to the DOE, a unit that's too big will result in reduced efficiency, higher electric bills, uncomfortable temperature fluctuations and excessive wear and tear, which means you'll probably have to buy a replacement unit much sooner.
Don't keep your thermostat at a steady temperature. When you're away at work or asleep, turn it up so your air conditioner doesn't click on as often. Better yet, get a programmable house thermostat, like the , or a timer on your window units. That way you can come home to a cool house without running your air conditioner all day. Do the same in winter with your heat. Raising or lowering the temperature can save as much as $100 a year. Heat pumps are one exception to this rule. "A heat pump is more electrically efficient if it is kept at a constant setting," according to George Lewis of the energy company PPL Corporation.
Keep the greenery trimmed around your air conditioners for more efficient air flow. Similarly, if you have a central air conditioner, sweep away any leaves or other debris that accumulated near it over the winter.
Even when you think an appliance or device is turned off, the power may still be on if it is plugged in. This is especially true with equipment that has a transformer (that small black cube on the end of the cord). If your outlets aren't easily accessible, plug small appliances, such as your radio, electric razor, battery charger, etc., into a power strip. Then all you have to do is flick a switch when you aren't using them. Of course, if you are dealing with devices that you program, such as VCRs or radios with clocks, unplugging them may require more work than the savings is worth.
For security and safety reasons, are a great way to make sure the lights switch on and off like clockwork when you're not around. For better security, get timers that allow you to randomly vary when lights go on, which makes it harder for burglars to tell when you're away from home.
may be more expensive initially, but they are definitely worth the investment. A single standard incandescent lightbulb can cost the same to operate as six to 10 fluorescent bulbs—and the fluorescents last about 10 times longer. There are lots of new shapes and types, including attractive compact units that give off a pleasing, soft illumination like traditional bulbs. But "be sure your electric eyes and timers are rated for fluorescent," says Alan Muenzel, owner of DAM Home Inspections, Salt Lake City.
It may take a few years for them to grow, but eventually they will shade your home and lower air-conditioning costs.
When you are shopping for a printer, scanner or other computer peripherals, spend a few extra bucks to buy one that will automatically go into "sleep mode" or turn off when it isn't being used. On the other hand, be selective about which devices you really want with "instant on" convenience (like your television set), because they continuously draw electricity.
When you have a choice between using the microwave or an electric stove, always use the microwave, which can consume as much as 90 percent less energy. For example, it takes 18 times the electricity to bake a potato in a regular oven than in a microwave, according to the Edison Electric Institute. If you don't like to microwave, consider using a toaster oven for baking or roasting small items. Incidentally, a convection oven speeds cooking by about 35 percent (reducing the amount of electricity used) by using a small fan. Looking to skip the oven altogether? Check out our favorite no-bake summer desserts.
When you buy a new refrigerator, consider letting the delivery folks cart away the old one rather than keeping it for those "in case" times. It will cost you about $100 to $150 a year to run—or more if it's an older model. If you can't live without a second unit, put it in the basement rather than in the garage. That's because a basement is generally cooler; the fridge won't have to work so hard.
If your major appliances or air conditioners are more than 10 to 15 years old, they are definitely costing too much to run. Modern appliances that conform to efficiency are 10 to 20 percent cheaper to operate than other products, which will add up to big savings on your electric bills. In fact, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, buying a new air conditioner with an energy efficiency rating (EER) of 10, to replace an older one rated at 5, can halve the cost of cooling that room.
Your electric water heater draws more electricity than almost anything else in your house. Take advantage of most electric companies' off-peak reduced rates by putting your electric heater on a timer that turns off at 6:00 a.m., for example, and clicks back on at 6:00 p.m. Most heaters are big enough and have enough insulation to maintain adequate hot water throughout the day without being switched on. But for those occasions when you want to take a leisurely midday bath, just press a button and it instantly turns the water heater back on.
It's important to make sure the walls and windows of your home aren't leaking air. Just like your refrigerator shouldn't be left open to cool the whole kitchen, your house shouldn't be cooling the yard. Buy a cheap roll of , and seal up those doors and windows. Also, make sure to clean the filters on your air conditioning vents at least once a month — this will help your air conditioning be more efficient.
If you have fans in your house, use them. If you don't, considering installing a few. Fans can go a long way to cooling down a room and take up a lot of less energy than having your air conditioning on full blast. Having fans in your house allows you to program your thermostat up to 4 degrees higher because of the air circulation they provide. Make sure your fans are set to spin counterclockwise at higher speeds to