October 08, 2020
The cost of electricity can eat up a substantial portion of your monthly budget, particularly if you live in a part of the country where power is pricier. The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that the average residential electric bill in the United States in 2019 was $115.49 per month, with Hawaii topping the list with an average monthly bill of $168.21.
The good news is that most of us have room for improvement in how we consume electricity. Even better news—many of the improvements we can make cost little or nothing to implement. So, if you’re looking to save some money on your electric bill, consider putting some of these tips into action.
NO-COST TIPS FOR LOWERING YOUR ELECTRIC BILL
Exercise Better Thermostat Control
A 75° interior during the winter may help you forget about the cold outside, but you’re consuming more electricity to reach that balmy temperature than you would to heat your home to a still-comfortable 68° to 72°. Even if your furnace isn’t electric, the fans that blow hot air throughout your home are consuming electricity, and any gas or oil or coal used to heat air in your furnace costs money, too.
The same holds true for air conditioners and fans during the summer. If you can be comfortable in your home at a temperature in the high or mid 70s, then setting the thermostat to the low 70s, or even the 60s, is wasting money cooling air past the point where it’s cool enough to do the job.
Rather than heat your entire home to a toasty temperature, consider knocking off the chill by wearing a sweater or sweatshirt. It’s far more cost effective to raise your own body temperature than the temperature of the air surrounding you. During the summer, consider dressing down to cool off. While there’s obviously only so many clothes you can take off, if you’ve got the AC set to a temperature so cold that you’re wearing layers indoors, you should probably raise the temperature and lose the layers.
Strategically adjust and set your thermostat throughout the day as well. For example, if you’re cranking your heat at night when you’re sleeping and already plenty warm under the covers, that’s a waste of hot air and money. If you don’t have one already, consider upgrading to a programmable thermostat that you can set to go on and off at certain times of the day. Many thermostats can even be set or adjusted remotely by smartphones. By setting and adjusting the thermostat strategically throughout the day, you could save money by not wasting energy to heat or cool air when it’s not needed.
Turn Off Unused Lights
Leaving a light on in an unoccupied room may save you the drudgery of having to turn the light switch to “on” the next time you enter the room, but it’s not doing your electric bill any favors. Also, give some thought as to how many lights you need on in rooms you are occupying. Do you really need the overhead lights on to watch television when a smaller table lamp might be just as adequate and make the screen easier to see? Or, do you have the blinds drawn and the lights on even though there’s plenty of daylight outside to illuminate the room? Would an energy-efficient reading lamp work just as well for reading that novel in bed as having the bedroom lights on?
Turning off unused or unnecessary lights is low-hanging fruit in striving for a lower electric bill. Depending on how many lights you typically leave on, it could quickly result in noticeable savings on your next electric bill.
Take Shorter Showers
A 20-minute hot shower may be relaxing, but it’s probably about 15 more minutes and way more hot water than you actually require to get clean. If your water heater is electric, just knocking five or 10 minutes off of your showers could result in substantial savings on electricity—especially if you have a large family and everyone takes at least one shower per day. If your water heater is gas, shorter showers may not save you much in electricity, but they could make a difference in your gas—and water—bills.
Unplug Unused Appliances
Just because an appliance isn’t being used doesn’t mean it’s not drawing power. Many electronic devices draw what’s known as a phantom—or vampire—load, which, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory, amounts to about $200 per year in energy costs for the average U.S. home. Devices that may draw a phantom load include phone chargers, coffee makers, microwave ovens, computers, televisions, and more.
An obvious way to reduce the cost of phantom loads is to unplug devices not in use. So, rather than just shut your coffee maker off in the morning, consider unplugging it as well. Or don’t leave your phone charger plugged in when it’s not actively charging your phone.
Another option is to plug these devices into an advanced power strip (APS). There are several types of advanced power strips, but they all work on the principle of shutting down devices that are not in use but still drawing power. Some are programable, some have built in sensors, while others can be turned on and off remotely by your smartphone.
Are your appliances set to perform cost effectively? According to the FDA, to safely store food, your refrigerator should be set at or below 40° F, and your freezer should be set at 0° F. So, keeping your fridge close to freezing and your freezer below freezing is doing nothing to keep your food safer, but it is wasting electricity and money.
Likewise, your water heater’s temperature setting may go higher than 120° F, but according to the Department of Energy, setting it to 120° F could save you from $36 to $61 a year in standby heat loss and over $400 in demand losses. It could also save you from scalding your skin by preventing overheating of water.
Wash & Dry Full Loads
If you’re running your washing machine with only a couple of items in it, you’re likely wasting electricity and almost certainly wasting water. Instead of washing multiple loads throughout the week, consider running fewer but fuller loads throughout the week.
The same goes for drying, especially if your dryer is electric. Instead of tossing only a few items into your dryer, load it at or near its recommended capacity. If you live in a place where the sun shines frequently, consider air-drying your clothes and skipping the dryer altogether. Don’t have a clothesline or nice weather? You can make an indoor clothesline for just a few bucks.
COST TIPS FOR LOWERING YOUR ELECTRIC BILL
Weatherize Your Home
This may sound like a lot of work, or a significant investment, but there are actually quite a few steps you can take to weatherize your home that cost very little. For example, adding a door sweep under a front door with a cold/hot-air-stealing gap under it can be done for around $10, depending on which model you select. Likewise, a role of foam weather stripping for windows or doors can typically be found at most home-improvement stores for even less.
Depending on how creative or industrious you want to be in weatherizing your home, there are multiple low-cost steps you can take that won’t cost you an arm and leg—and don’t require you to be a do-it-yourself expert.
Change HVAC Air Filters
A dirty air filter in your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system creates more resistance to air flow. This means your system has to work harder and consume more power to pump the same amount of air through a dirty filter as through a clean one. Energystar.gov recommends changing your home’s air filter when it looks dirty or, at a minimum, every three months.
Use Energy-Efficient Bulbs
According to the Department of Energy, simply replacing the bulbs in the five most frequently used light fixtures in your home with bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR can save you $75 each year. Yes, energy-efficient bulbs typically cost more than incandescent bulbs, they not only save you money on power, they also typically last 3 to 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, so you should also save money on replacing burned-out bulbs.
Consider Upgrading Your Home’s Insulation
If your home has insufficient insulation, that means cool or hot air could be escaping and costing you more in electricity to heat during the winter and cool during the summer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a homeowner could save an estimated 15% on cooling and heating costs by adding insulation and weather-sealing a home.
A 2019 National Association of Realtors report estimated the typical cost to upgrade a home’s insulation at $2,400, so an upgrade isn’t necessarily cheap. But is it worth it? That really depends on the math. If you crunch the math and a 15% savings in energy costs will exceed the cost of an insulation upgrade, then it may well be worth it for you. Plus, you may wind up more comfortable in your home if it’s better insulated.
Replace Older Appliances with Energy-Efficient Ones
This tip also isn’t cheap, but it could save you on your electric bill down the road. While it may not be worth replacing perfectly good appliances with more energy-efficient ones right now, when an appliance gives out, and it’s time to shop for a new one, look for the ENERGY STAR and consider the estimated annual energy cost in making a buying decision. For example, if a more energy-efficient refrigerator costs $100 more than a less-efficient model, but it’s estimated to consume $20 less in electricity per year, that model will pay for that $100 premium in only five years. And most Americans keep refrigerators far longer than five years.
Install Ceiling Fans
If used correctly, ceiling fans can help you save energy and money. A cooling breeze passing over you from a ceiling fan in the summer may allow you to run the AC less frequently or at a lower temperature. In the winter, if you run a ceiling fan backward, it can help pull cold air from lower in the room and push warm air from higher in the room to the walls and down to ground level.
But, because they are electric, fans need to be used strategically. Which means, if there’s no one occupying an air-conditioned room with a ceiling fan on, then it’s costing you money to power the fan without enjoying the benefit of the breeze it creates. So, if you invest in ceiling fans, turn them on when you’re there to appreciate their benefit and off when you’re not there.
Consider Going Solar
This isn’t a viable option for many because it represents a large initial investment that may or may not pay for itself. According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, the average cost for a residential solar system ranges from $15,000 to $25,000, and the average payback period ranges from six to nine years, depending on the cost of the system and electric bill savings.
Depending on where you live, what you pay for electricity, and what a solar system costs in your area, it may or may not be a good investment. For example, if you live in a sunny place with relatively expensive electricity, solar panels may be a viable option—especially if there are federal, state, county, or even city tax credits or other incentives for going solar. It’s a big commitment, so you’ll want to crunch the numbers and determine just how cost effective it could be to go solar before making a move.
While there’s no optimal strategy for lowering your electric bill, it’s probably easiest to start with steps that cost you nothing: turning off lights, managing the thermostat, etc. Then, once you see some savings, consider implementing some lower-cost steps, like replacing light bulbs with more energy-efficient ones and weatherizing your home. If you build enough momentum, and see enough savings, that could incentivize you to go even further by investing in bigger-ticket improvements like more energy-efficient appliances or an insulation upgrade.
Let your decreasing electric bill serve as your cue for increasing your efforts.
After realizing he couldn’t pay back his outrageous film school student loans with rejection notices from Hollywood studios, Sean focused his screenwriting skills on scripting corporate videos. Videos led to marketing communications, which led to articles and, before he knew it, Sean was making a living as a writer. He continues to do so today by leveraging his expertise in credit, financial planning, wealth-building, and living your best life for Credit One Bank.
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