work for you?
For many of the southern states, summer temperatures are already in full effect. Translation? Most Americans are ponying up more cash to cover their rising energy usage. But summer doesn't have to be a killer when it comes to your electric bill.
Robert G. Ozar P.E., assistant director of the Electric Reliability Division at the Michigan Public Service Commission, says that curbing your energy usage can "dramatically" lower your energy spending. In other words, switching out one traditional light bulb for an LED won't make a noticeable difference—but converting all of them might make a sizable dent in your monthly bill.
Read on for some insider tips that experts say will help slash your summer energy bill.
1. Tweak Your AC Usage
Air conditioning is the number one cash guzzler during the summer months. What's more is that most of us simply accept it as the unavoidable cost of keeping our homes comfortable in the sweltering heat. Not so, according to Ozar. "The air conditioner is a huge electric expense for people, but a really simple thing that people can do is just close the blinds; that can do a lot," he advises. "And in the long run, just planting some shade trees is another really inexpensive way to help with your AC bill."
Ari Vanrenen, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric Company, adds that 78 degrees is the magic number. (According to PG&E, your AC unit burns up roughly 3 to 5 percent more energy for every degree below 78.) She also suggests raising the thermostat to 85 degrees when you're away, and taking advantage of fans. "A ceiling fan while home and running the AC [will allow] you to raise your thermostat setting about four degrees Fahrenheit," says Vanrenen.
In terms of maintenance, Vanrenen also emphasizes the importance of keeping your unit clean. A dirty filter, for example, will only push your system to work harder, which wastes energy.
Another major money-saver often takes the form of a new thermostat. The Nest Thermostat is a set-it-and-forget-it model that automatically adjusts to your preferences. If used properly, it can reduce heating and cooling bills by about 20 percent.
"You can set the Nest to automatically ratchet the temperature up until you're uncomfortable, then you adjust it manually to set it back down, and it learns what you like," says Ozar, who has the Nest in his own home.
Honeywell also makes great, user-friendly programmable models.
2. Switch to LED Lighting
Most of us have heard about LED lights and their purported benefits, but do they actually live up to the money-saving hype? Ozar says yes. In fact, lighting represents a huge potential savings category. "About 38 percent of the potential energy savings for a residential electric customer would come from the category of lighting," he says.
He adds that manufacturers are beginning to drop prices and that many utility companies are now aggressively rebating LEDs. While the bigger price tag deters some, Ozar predicts that over the next five years, the price of LED lighting will converge and be no more than a compact fluorescent bulb.
It's the energy efficiency that really makes LED lighting an attractive investment. "Energy-efficient lighting, such as LEDs, can use 75 percent less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs, which can mean big savings in the long term," says Vanrenen.
3. Get an Energy Audit
If you're looking to cut your energy bill, getting an energy audit is a great place to start because it pinpoints exactly what's eating up your energy bill. For example, you may find that an old refrigerator in the garage is using a ton of energy. The good news is that many utility companies offer what's known as a walk-through audit.
"It involves having a professional from the utility come into your home and do a quick walk-through," says Ozar. "Usually they'll do something like install some LED lights or a low-flow shower head, and also give you suggestions on things that are easy to do that will save you money."
Those who prefer to dig a little deeper can also look into a home performance audit. This is a more in-depth, high-tech energy assessment that actually measures the air infiltration in every room. For instance, infrared cameras may be used to detect missing insulation. The final result is a crystal-clear analysis of your energy consumption.
4. Look Into Smart Appliances
It's no shocker that appliances represent one of the largest categories for potential energy savings. If you're in the market for any new home appliances, going the energy-efficient route is well worth it.
"Energy-efficient refrigerators can use at least 20 percent less energy than older models," says Vanrenen. Energy-friendly washing machines also use less water, and Vanrenen suggests washing full loads of laundry using cold water. "Ninety percent of the energy used by clothes washers goes to water heating."
You should also consider using your appliances during off-peak hours when possible. Ozar says that in some cases, there can be a three-fold rate increase during peak times, especially if your utility company is using a time-of-use rate schedule."For customers who have the ability to defer usage until night time—for instance, to run their clothes dryer during the night—you can save money on a time-of-use rate schedule."
In the same vein, low-tech gadgets like dimmers and occupancy sensors represent a great (and mindless) way to reduce your energy usage. An added bonus is that many are compatible with LED lighting.
5. Unplug Your Electronics
While many of our major home appliances, like refrigerators, need to stay plugged in, experts advise unplugging your other electronics when not in use. Devices like chargers, TVs, cable boxes, modems, routers and streaming devices are pretty much on 24/7. According to Ozar, most people are unaware of how much energy their electronics are using until they do an energy audit.
"A power strip that you can turn off is a really good way to prevent these devices from consuming power all night long," he says. "Most people aren't on the Internet at night, so you can also consider putting them on a timer." In other words, it's not just about turning the lights off when you leave a room—it's also about turning off your electronic devices entirely.
6. Take Advantage of Consumer Rebate Programs
Higher up-front costs sometimes scare people away from investing in energy-efficient appliances and home upgrades. But the good news is that most utility companies now offer some sort of consumer rebate program."Energy-efficiency programs are a win-win," says Ozar. "It's a win for the utility, and it helps them to lower electric rates to everyone; and at the same time, those rebates can help defray the initial costs of energy efficiency measures to the customers."
Con Edison customers in New York, for example, can take advantage of rebates of up to $1,000 on certain high-efficiency equipment. Duke Energy in North Carolina has similar programs in place. Check out your utility website to see what your company has to offer.
7. Make Energy-Efficient Home Improvements
For homeowners who are in it for the long haul, there are some long-term home upgrades that can deeply decrease your energy spending. Solar panels (also called solar PVs) are picking up more steam."A lot of people today are thinking about solar PV, which is becoming more and more popular," says Ozar. To get the most bang for your buck, he advises first making all the energy-efficient tweaks you can before going to a solar PV system. "The cheapest form of energy is the energy you don't use, so it's important to do that first." For example, installing energy-efficient appliances and transitioning to LED lighting before installing solar panels is by far the most cost-effective approach. "Then you can install a much smaller solar PV system," adds Ozar.
Cool roofs, which keep homes considerably cooler by reflecting sunlight, are another viable option. Some cities even offer significant rebates for these. Similarly, there's currently a 30 percent federal tax credit on solar PVs.
Whether you're looking to make major home improvements or just find little shortcuts to lower your utility bill, there are plenty of options out there to help you keep more cash in your pocket this summer and beyond.
Images courtesy of ©iStock.com/shapecharge, The Nest, Tripp Lite
Any product or service prices/offers that appear in this article are accurate at time of publish, and are subject to change without notice. Please verify the actual selling price and offer details on the merchant’s site before making a purchase.