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7 tips to lower energy bills

By Paula Pant · Bankrate.com
Monday, January 21, 2013
Posted: 7 am ET

I'm a little scared to peek at my gas and electric bill this month. I've been running the heat continuously, which means my utility bill will be sky-high.

In the spirit of lowering gas and electric costs, I thought I'd dig up a few tips that can help people lower their home energy bills.

1. Install storm windows

Storm windows offer an additional pane of glass affixed outside of your normal windows. These create an extra air pocket between the outdoors and your home. They add a supplemental level of insulation to your home, and are far cheaper than buying new windows.

2. Turn off your dishwasher's heated-dry function

The heated-dry function makes your dishes dry faster, but most people aren't impatiently watching the minutes tick by while they wait for their dishes to dry. So, let your dishes air dry.

3. Install CFLs

Compact florescent light bulbs, or CFLs, use far less energy than regular incandescent light bulbs. They cost marginally more upfront -- at one hardware store, a four-pack of CFLs costs $11 -- but they more than pay themselves off in the form of lower electricity bills.

4. Air-dry hair

Blow-drying your hair uses energy, but air-drying is free. If you shower daily and use the blow-dryer for 20 minutes after each shower, you can cut more than two hours of energy use per week by air-drying.

5. Unplug electronics

Anything that's still plugged into your wall outlet will drain small amounts of energy, even if the appliance is turned off. When they are not in use, unplug appliances such as your toaster, blender and coffee grinder, as well as electronics such as your stereo and TV.

6. Hang your clothes to dry

Hanging clothes to dry is far more energy-efficient than balling wet clothes together and blasting them with high heat.

Line-drying outdoors is best, but in wintertime (or in areas with frequent rain) you can hang your clothes on an indoor drying rack.

7. Shut off vents to unused rooms

Close the air vents leading into any rooms in your house that are currently unused. There is no reason to heat or cool an empty space. Shut the door that separates the room from the rest of the house to reduce air flow.

Paula Pant blogs at AffordAnything.com about creating wealth and living life on your own terms. She's traveled to nearly 30 countries, owns five rental units and works for herself. Follow Paula on Twitter @affordanything.

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10 Comments
Joyce
November 25, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Compact florescent light bulbs, or CFLs, use far less energy than regular incandescent light bulbs. They cost marginally more upfront --

FROM THE ABOVE: I WAS TOLD TO GIVE FLORESCENT LIGHT BULBS MORE USAGE TIME, ALWAYS HANDLE WITH GLOVED HANDS. THE OIL FROM HANDS CAUSE THE BULBS TO BURN OUT QUICKER. DON'T KNOW IF ANYONE WAS TOLD THIS SAME THING, BUT IT IS WORTH A TRY.

Wendell Ferrell
November 02, 2013 at 10:30 pm

We save by using oil-filled space heaters & just heat the room we are in. No heat at night. I get up early & start warming up the kitchen, living room & dining room. We have a few of LED lights-the most expensive to buy but the most efficient-but use only in the summer.

Brenda
October 30, 2013 at 3:42 pm

I use nothing but CFLs and have for 3 years now. I have had only one "burn out". I have bought several different brands and from different stores. (I replaced over time as I am on fixed income) I live in a house that was built in 1956, I had the connection to the house from the powerpole updated 5 years ago. I feel strongly that there must be a problem of some sort in your lamps or house if they are going out so quickly, you may want to look into this. Using these bulbs have cut my power bill by about $6-$10 a month, I have more than recaptured my cost of the bulbs. #7 IN forced air heating, you need to also close the vent and perhaps do as my mom did & cover it with a piece of light weight cardbord, taping it on the sides then close the door, do this ONLY in rooms you use on rare occasions. It also can help if put one of the cute door strips at the bottom of the door. #1 windows) If you cannot afford to get the "fancy" plastic window covers, get a inexpensive sheet of painting dropcloth plastic and masking tape at a Dollar store in your area. Make your own covering for windows inside. Yes you will not be able to look out these windows quite as well, but choose your level of importance.

Brenda
October 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I use nothing but CFLs and have for 3 years now. I have had only one "burn out". I have bought several different brands and from different stores. (I replaced over time as I am on fixed income) I live in a house that was built in 1956, I had the connection to the house from the powerpole updated 5 years ago. I feel strongly that there must be a problem of some sort in your lamps or house if they are going out so quickly, you may want to look into this. Using these bulbs have cut my power bill by about $6-$10 a month, I have more than recaptured my cost of the bulbs. #7 IN forced air heating, you need to also close the vent and perhaps do as my mom did & cover it with a piece of light weight cardbord, taping it on the sides then close the door, do this ONLY in rooms you use on rare occasions. It also can help if put one of the cute door strips at the bottom of the door. #1 windows) If you cannot afford to get the "fancy" plastic window covers, get a inexpensive sheet of painting dropcloth plastic and masking tape. Make your own covering for windows inside. Yes you will not be able to look out these windows quite as well, but choose your level of importance.

Ruth
January 29, 2013 at 3:12 pm

@Charles - I agree with your comments about unplugging electronics. Being obsessive about it is not the answer.

I learned the hard way by unplugging an above-the-stove microwave during a 2 week vacation. When we came back, the display panel was hosed up making the microwave difficult to use. We could have made due, but we were going to sell our house and had to get a new one. Then we ran into the problem where the new ones wouldn't fit the opening we had! We eventually found a microwave that would work, but had to spend a few hundred dollars for it plus the handyman to come up with a creative solution to install it.

So bottom line, it was really penny-wise and pound-foolish for us to unplug that microwave.

Viv
January 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm

My utility company sent me free CFLs a few years ago, along with information about the cost savings vs incandescent bulbs. The CFLs were sent in packages of two, every few months.

I immediately switched out my incandescent bulbs with the CFLs as they arrived. When the utility company stopped sending them, I bought CFLs to replace the remaining incandescents in my home.

I have only had to replace one CFL, which was in a fixture that I use most and it was one of the first two bulbs that I switched.

I unplug my television, computer, printer, and coffee maker when not in use.
I don't unplug anything that would cause me any trouble. It's a matter of seconds to unplug and then a couple of minutes to get the computer and printer ready when I want to use them.

My house is small, so every room is in use, no need to block off a vent.

Charles
January 23, 2013 at 10:19 am

Paula --

You may have stats from the EPA, but I have actual use facts. My source is my actual experience. I stopped buying the CFLs because of my experiences. Based upon my experiences with CFLs, my claim is completely true, and the EPA claim is false. I purchased a four-pack, as mentioned in the original tip, and within about 3 months or so, all 4 bulbs were expired and wouldn't work. I have bought individual bulbs and had the same results. I have also bought the CFLs at different retailers, just in case it was a bad batch. But after purchases at 3 different retailers, I decided that it was the format and not the retailer or batch.

I moved into a new place in October 2012, and still have the same incandescent bulbs that I put in at that time. I have had to replace 2 CFLs that I bought last year, and those weren't even used all the time. I use the incandescent bulbs more frequently than the CFLs, but have to replace the CFLs more frequently. So how is that saving me any money? It seems to me that it would actually cost me more money in the long run to continue using CFLs as opposed to normal bulbs.

As for #5 and 7, I will agree with you on both of those issues. I only brought up my points because that is what has been preached for years by experts.

However, in the original tip for #7, you say "currently unused rooms". It could be argued that by adding the word "currently" in that tip, it would lead people to think as I did when I posted my comments. If my child is not using their room for a day (or weekend, in my case), then that room is, by definition, "currently unused". So, is it your recommendation that I block off that room for the weekend while my child is gone?

In the end, it's up to each individual person to decide how they will save on their energy bill. And you offer some really good tips, not all of them practical for every person, but great tips anyway.

Paula Pant
January 22, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Charles -
With regards to #3:
Your claim that CFLs only last 1/3rd as long as incandescent bulbs is untrue. What source can you cite that from?

According to the U.S. Enivornmental Protection Agency, "CFLs also have a very long lifespan, typically 6000- 15,000 hours compared to the 750-1,000 hours for a normal incandescent bulb, so they save energy and replacements over many years."

With regards to #5:
You are expected to use judgment. I said to unplug "appliances such as your toaster, blender and coffee grinder, as well as electronics such as your stereo and TV." If you own a high-end TV with a special clock that needs to be reprogrammed after every power shutoff, then use your judgement with regard to that specific electronic. However, there is no reason you can't unplug the majority of your appliances.

With regards to #7:
An unused room is, by definition, a room that is not being used, such as a spare room. If someone is actively using it as a bedroom or office, then it is not an unused room.

jim
January 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm

in regard forced air systems. The furnace doesn't know that that unused bedroom is cut off. My furnace mentor always told me to let it rip as it was designed.

Charles
January 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

In regards to #3, CFLs... Yes, they may use less energy, but they last only 1/3 the life of regular incandescent bulbs, so where is the savings? I mean, if I have to buy 4 or 5 packs a years to continuously replace them, please tell me how I'm saving any money. I bought a four-pack of CFL bulbs, and within 2 or 3 months, all 4 bulbs were dead and needing replaced. Where is my savings in that?

In regards to #5, unplug electronics... While this may work for items such as toasters or coffee makers, what about the newer TVs that require a complete reprogramming if they've been unplugged for more than an hour? What about cable boxes that require almost 30 minutes before you can effectively use them? What about clocks that need to be reset (including resetting alarms) after they've been unplugged? While it may save a few pennies in your electric bill, it takes much more time and personal energy to deal with the fallout of these issues.

In regards to #7, shut off vents/rooms... great idea, except for the fact that if you close vents and the door to say, your child's room, because nobody is going to be in there for hours, when your child goes to bed, the room is either too hot or too cold, depending on what season it is. This idea might be great if you have a room that is designated as a storage room, but not for rooms that you use on a daily basis.

Overall, I'm for saving money on my energy bill, but that can be done other ways, such as turning lights off when not in use; using timers for lamps or other electronic items; or limiting your use of some items. To be honest, these 3 ideas cause you to either spend more time or money to be "energy efficient".