Kids playing in park fountain
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You can cut your power bills this summer without having to buy a lot of gadgets or sit at home in the dark.

Maybe you’ve already got ceiling fans, heavy drapes on your windows to keep out the heat, and you’ve sealed any cracks or openings to prevent warm air from leaking into your home.

Here are five easy, low-cost things you can do to reduce your energy costs during the dog days.

1. Unplug electronics you’re not using

Most people waste power without realizing it by leaving appliances and electronics plugged in while they are not in use. These energy vampires drain power even when they are turned off.

“… One we all should know but probably don’t: ‘Off’ means unplugged,” says Bob Hart, a real estate broker in Santa Barbara, California, and an instructor in energy efficiency and sustainability with the National Association of Realtors. “People have no idea how many things in their house (use) electricity 24 hours a day.”

Anything with a clock or light that stays on when the device is powered off is a vampire, as is a plugged-in charger that’s not charging anything.

This doesn’t mean you have to go around plugging and unplugging your electrical devices all the time. Instead, plug in electronics to surge protectors, or use outlets that connect to wall switches. That way, when the surge protector or wall switch is turned off, there’s no power to drain.

2. Program your thermostat

You might be planning to get one. You might already have one. But unless you actually learn how to use a programmable thermostat, you’re not going to get the benefits of it.

A programmable thermostat can save you up to 10 percent a year on your heating and cooling bills, says Ronnie Kweller, director of communications at Emerald Cities Collaborative and past spokeswoman for the Alliance to Save Energy.

So get out the booklet that came with the thermostat and read it. Or have the customer service department talk you through the basics. Some power companies have special help lines for that purpose.

3. Load up the washing machine

You use the same amount of water and energy with a dishwasher or washing machine, regardless of whether the machine is full. But with full loads, you get a lot more for your money. And you run the machine less often.

Some other ways to save:

  • Do laundry in cold water. Running the water heater for things such as showers, dishwashers and laundry accounts for about 14 percent of your total power bill, Kweller says.
  • Skip the “dry” cycle on your dishwasher. Either hand-dry dishes as you put them away, or let evaporation do the work for you.
  • If your neighborhood allows it, check out one of those “solar clothes dryers,” says Hart, otherwise known as a clothesline. If clotheslines are prohibited in your area, try a discreet drying rack on your back patio or deck.

4. Avoid frigid air-conditioner temps

Who doesn’t come in from the sweltering heat and want to crank the air conditioning down to a temperature penguins would love?

Icing down the whole house to cool off for a few minutes is expensive. Keep the air conditioning at a reasonable setting and look for other ways to cool off when you first come inside. Have an icy drink, put a cold compress on the back of your neck or change into cool, absorbent clothes.

Another effective strategy: a quick, cool shower.

5. Go wireless

Sometimes it pays to get away from the two-dimensional electronics for a while. Literally. Ditch the Facebook friends to spend a little time with people you know from the real world.

Organize a game night, a poker party or a craft night with friends. Close Instagram long enough to work in your yard. Or have some fun with a container garden on your patio. (Real tomatoes don’t require wattage. And if you eat what you grow, you can save on your food bill, too.)

The goal: Unplug, unwind and connect in a way that has nothing to do with power cords and networks. You’ll save some electricity and recharge your own batteries at the same time.

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