Saving energy—and money—on your utility bill is simple if you follow these guidelines.

Save energy; save money. © Zimmytws |

Thanks to extreme weather conditions and poor public utility policies in some states, home electric bills have shot through the roof. Unfortunately, forecasters predict no end in sight to even higher electricity prices.

What can you do to take the strain off your electric meter? Here are 10 easy ways to slash your electric bills:

1Turn off lights you’re not using. This is a no-brainer and certainly one of the easiest measures of all, and yet it is a key step toward acting with a conservation mindset. Just flip a switch to stop wasting hundreds of watts of power every day.

2Cut back on the lights you use. Indoors, use dimmers or decrease the wattage of bulbs. Opt for task lighting instead of general room lighting where possible. Outdoors, put motion sensors on light fixtures so bulbs only turn on when and where they are needed.

3Adjust your thermostat. An air conditioner uses a tremendous amount of electricity when it runs. During the summer, you can realize major savings by raising the set temperature to 78 degrees F. or higher. Conversely, turn the set temperature down during the winter (as a rule of thumb, every degree you lower a thermostat’s set temperature in the winter will save 3 percent of energy costs over a 24-hour period.)

A programmable electronic thermostat

4Use an electronic thermostat. If you don’t already have a programmable electronic thermostat for your heating/cooling system, strongly consider replacing your existing thermostat with one. This device can be set to automatically adjust temperature settings to energy-saving levels when you’re sleeping or away from the house.

5Run the forced-air system’s fan. Run this fan instead of the air conditioner—to maintain a comfortable temperature during the summer. Simply flip the thermostat to “Fan Only” to recycle air throughout the house. (Of course, in a hot, humid climate, running the fan alone won’t cool and dehumidify the house.) Also, regularly replace the heating/cooling system’s air filters to improve efficiency.

6Maintain your refrigerator. Because it is one of the biggest energy users in the home, a refrigerator should be operated at maximum efficiency. This means opening the door only briefly and adjusting the “Cold” control according to the manufacturer’s directions. Vacuum refrigerator coils to remove dust. Defrost it if necessary (though most refrigerators today are frost-free). To reduce the amount of power the refrigerator’s motor uses, consider plugging it into an electronic induction motor control such as the Power Planner, available in home improvement centers.

7Use electrical appliances less. Only run an electric dryer with full loads or, even better, air dry your clothes. Opt for cooking in the microwave instead of with an electric oven. And don’t forget to turn off the coffee maker when the coffee is done. When buying new appliances, check the EnergyGuide label to be sure they are energy-efficient models.

8Turn down the water heater temperature. Reduce the water temperature to a maximum of 120 degrees F. An electric water heater devours electricity! Consider switching to a gas water heater.

9Replace standard incandescent lightbulbs. Use highly efficient compact fluorescent bulbs instead, which use from about one-quarter to one-third the energy to produce the same amount of light (a 20-watt compact fluorescent will give you about the same light as a 75-watt incandescent). Though most cost considerably more than conventional bulbs, they last up to 13 times longer, which makes them a long-term good buy.

Use natural light to brighten a room. Andersen Windows

10Use natural light. Longer days and a higher summer-sun angle afford you an opportunity to let Mother Nature help with the energy bills. The trick is to admit light without summer heat gain or glare (or winter heat loss). Fortunately, you can control heat gain and glare with window coverings and window films, available at home improvement centers. To increase the amount of natural light that floods a room, bounce it off the ceiling and walls with the aid of louvers or operable blinds (light-toned ceiling, walls, and floors work best). For more about using daylight, see Daylight Techniques for Light & Warmth.

Though some of these methods may appear as though they will give you only minor relief from staggering electric bills, adopting several or all of them can result in significant overall savings. Many utilities charge higher rates for the portion of your electrical usage that exceeds baseline requirements. When you trim away the excess fat, you can dramatically lower your bills.

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About Don Vandervort
An avid builder and remodeler, Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort