Power Bill Blues



Most of us have already seen our highest energy bill for the year. Some of us had a heart attack. If you expect your electricity charges to exceed your monthly income this year, it's time to make some changes around the house. Keeping comfortable doesn't have to mean throwing your money into the gaping maw of your air conditioner or heater, as if it were some primeval god who demands sacrifice out of you. On this episode of Make it Green Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for an Earth Friendly Life, learn to fight back. But first, we've added a new listener survey button to the Make it Green Girl homepage. So please take a few minutes this week to take the survey at quickanddirtytips.com.

Change the Thermostat

According to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, turning your thermostat up three degrees in the summer and down three degrees in the winter can help you save between ten and fifteen percent more electricity from your air conditioning or heating bill. Set your system to 78 degrees when you're going to be at home, and 85 when you're not during the summer. Set the system to 68 degrees when you're going to be home in the winter, and 65 when you're not.

Installing a timer is a great way to make sure you're saving energy, and your house will still be comfortable when you get home. Have your heating or cooling turn off a half hour before you leave in the morning, and come on an hour before you usually get home. Ask your local hardware store for parts and instructions on how to get a timer for your thermostat.

Avoid Peak Times

A lot of electricity companies have separate rates for various times of day because the demand for power changes with people's activities. The lowest demand is usually in the AM hours, from midnight to noon. In the afternoon, the demand is higher when the sun is hottest and everyone goes home to use their appliances. These are called peak times, and overloads during these peak times can be enough to cause power outages.

Utilities have to size their infrastructure for the largest demand to prevent overloading the systems. The investment in the transmission systems and power generation infrastructure makes the cost of your electricity rise. So, using less energy during peak times will help keep peak prices low too.

For example, wash your clothes in the mornings while you're preparing for the day. Or, start a load before you go to bed and put it in the dryer in the morning before leaving the house. In the summer, take advantage of the sun's warmth – skip the dryer altogether and line dry your clothes. Set your dishwasher at night, so all you have to do is switch it on in the morning. Or lucky you with the timers on your dishwashers, set it to start at 1 am. Don't forget about the oven, too. Try to cook foods as little as possible in the summer. After all, a nice refreshing salad tastes great on a hot summer evening. Summer foods are usually bursting with flavor and don't need a lot of cooking anyway.

Many companies charge more money for each kilowatt-hour we use during summer peak hours of 1pm to 7pm than the rest of the day and other seasons. Some utilities may charge more for winter electricity or gas use, for example if you live in an area that gets very cold. Check out your utility company's fare structure, and try to cut down when the price is high.

Maintain and Replace your Appliances

One of the most effective investments you can make toward reducing your energy bill is buying a new air conditioner or heater. If your unit's older, it can be extremely inefficient. Not only do parts break down over time, but technology in heating and cooling has become way more advanced. Getting a brand new air conditioner can not only save you money, but it saves all of us electricity that would otherwise be wasted.

When your old washers, dryers, and refrigerators break down, replace them with more energy efficient versions. Most vendors include the power usage with the model information, so make sure you're getting the smallest sized unit you can live with. Also, look for the government or industry certifications about the efficiency of the appliance. In the US, those appliances designated with an "Energy Star" logo use from ten to fifty percent less energy than other models.

If you don't have the capitol to replace your air conditioner, or do not own your residence, make sure to maintain the units as best you can. Changing the air filter for your ventilation system every three to four months is the simplest, least-expensive way to help out your heater or AC. A clogged filter makes the pumps work harder, so your unit will function more efficiently if it's breathing easier. This goes for the lint trap on your dryer, and the filter on your heater as well.

Energy Audits

Some utility companies now provide what's called an energy audit for your home. You can get an agent of your energy company to come out to your home and detect leaks and provide energy saving-suggestions customized for your home. This is attractive because the utility company usually has expensive specialized equipment like infrared sensors that can detect leaks in your home's insulation.

You can also do an energy audit yourself using a checklist and a hand-drawn map of your home. This is a fun project for parents and kids to do together. You can appoint your children energy detectives, and have everyone search a room of the house for drafts that indicate air leaks; insulation in walls, around windows, and on piping and the water heater; and weatherstripping on the outside of the house.


Thanks for tuning in to Make it Green Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for an Earth Friendly Life. You can find a transcript of this show at www.quickanddirtytips.com.