Ten ways to Save Money on your Energy Bill

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Earth Day recently occurred.  It is important that we take the lessons we have learned from all the hype surrounding this now more commercial event and use the new ideas in our daily life.  In this article, we will highlight specific actionable items you can do to save money and also help the environment.

Saving Money at Home

First we will examine how we can save money at home. Can you believe that 20% of all U.S. energy use is from heating and cooling your home?  44% of residential power use is consumed from this heating and cooling.  With natural gas and electricity costs rising each year, we need to immediately take action to save resources and hence money.

New homes are increasingly built with green features.  Over  16% of new homes have eco-friendly components.  Building materials, solar panels, and energy efficient heating and cooling are incorporated into housing.  There is a slight 2% to 10% premium to be paid initially, but in the long run, homeowners will more than recoup their initial investment.

How  to Lower Your Home's Energy Costs

Here is a list of ways to reduce your energy costs in your existing home.  The approximate amount of annual savings is also listed.

  1. Seal air leaks in your walls, windows, and ducts. ($400 )
  2. Add attic, floor, duct, hot water heater and pipes, and wall insulation. ($200)
  3. Adjust your thermostat 5 - 10 degrees lower at night or when you are away with a  programmable thermostat. ($200)
  4. Turn off electronics, gadgets, and other items that continually use power. ($120)
  5. Turn down your hot water heater, adjust your refrigerator settings. ($40)
  6. Switch to a modern Energy Star appliances including Refrigerators, washers, dryers, televisions. ($40)
  7. Wash clothes in cold water ($10)
  8. Switch your windows to double glazed units or multi-paned with low emissivity coatings. (20 year recoup)

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Partnering with Your Local Electric and Gas Company

We assume that you have received energy and gas utility bills that are far too high.  It is time to step up to action, complaining will get your nowhere. Here are some steps to take in order to reduce them:

  • Ask your utility to check the accuracy of your meters.  Have them replace if necessary.
  • Check with your electricity and gas provider for better Rate Plans. (Tiered, Time of Use, etc)
  • Visit your utilities' website for money saving tips. Some give out free energy saving devices, others have rebates on energy saving appliances.
  • Many energy providers have on-line reporting of your energy use.  You can use this to instantly see how much energy you are using before and after improvements.

Keep in mind that most Energy rates are lowest between midnight and 7 AM, try to use your appliances or pool pump during those early hours.

In the San Francisco Bay Area many PG&E customers have tiered energy pricing (E1 Residential Pricing plan)

  1. Prices starts at 13.6 cents for a Baseline amount set by CPUC
  2. Jumps to 15.4, 31.9 cents, 35.9 cents and 35.9 cents as you use more power.
  3. Average home pays 31.9-35.9 cents/KWHr for more than 50% of their electricity usage.

The more you use, the more you pay, so you have a huge monetary incentive to conserve. This figure can vary by geographic location. Over the last couple decades, their power and gas rates have increased by 4% a year. Compounded increased costs makes saving energy much more important to reducing your energy bill.

Save money with Solar Power

It is a great time to go solar. The Federal Solar Tax Credit of 30% is now uncapped. Solar Panels are more efficient than ever. A solar electric system can pay itself back in 7-10 years.  We have had one for years and love it. Think of solar as your personal power station.

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Calculating how much Energy we use

How can you save energy without measuring your electric energy use? Some utilities have online power meters that can help you pinpoint power use, but you really need a tool to help you. The handheld Killawatt or Kill a watt costs around $22 and help you measure your energy use.  Use it with appliances, computers, TVs, gadgets, chargers and more.

We used one and found some interesting facts:

  • Hot water pot drew tons of power.  We now unplug it at night or when we are out.
  • Our Energy star certified Sony LCD HDTV drew a lot more power during standby. We no switch its power strip off when not needed
  • Power bricks were draining a ton of power even when devices were off.
  • Consolidated multiple drives into a higher capacity WD Green hard drive on our PC, switched to a 80PLUS certified power supply
  • Our Sonos music system that streams music wirelessly all over the home.  It has no "OFF" button.  The manual states: "the system uses minimal electricity when it is not playing music".  We measured a 7 watt power consumption for the Sonos S5 unit during standby.That is not exactly minimal especially when you multiply it times several units in each house.  We put this unit on a digital timer so it would not be on 24/7.

As you get more sophisticated, consider the TED Energy Detective. It has mobile apps and a little wireless display unit showing your real time energy use and cost. It can also connect to solar and Home Automation systems.

Whatever your choice, being able to measure how much power you use and how much you save, is essential.

Getting Paid to Save Energy

Be sure to also take advantage of savings that are part of the Federal Tax Credit for Energy Efficiency . This Federal tax credit can save you money in addition to your utility companies' promotions. You subtract the rebate from your tax bill. This credit currently applies to many items including: Small Wind Turbines (Residential) - GeoThermal Heat Pump - Solar panels.

Saving Money on your Heating & Cooling

Here is where we can make a dent on that 44% of residential power use consumed from heating and cooling.  Ways to save include:

  • Apply weather stripping and caulking to seal up air leaks. (Even in light switches)
  • Use a programmable thermostat. Set it to turn off when you are not home. Lower the temp while you are asleep, and raise it before you wake.
  • Fix, seal, insulate leaky air ducts and returns
  • Make sure air can freely flow. Do not cover vents with furniture or carpets
  • Add curtains, window treatments or UV film to windows (Especially South or West facing)
  • Plant a tree to the South or West to block the sun
  • Don't skimp on annual furnace, air conditioner maintenance and filter replacement
  • Upgrade your AC equipment to a more efficient one, if older than 10 years
  • Size your Heater - Air conditioner to your exact needs
  • Open windows on cool nights to remove head, only if humidity is below 60%
  • Prune back trees and shrubs so air conditioners have at least 1 feet space
  • Install a whole house fan or ceiling fan, this lets you run AC 2 degrees lower

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Save Money on Lighting

Some easy way to use less power is to change your lighting.

  • Switch all Incandescent bulbs to Compact Fluorescent light bulbs or LED lights
  • Dimmable lights, Flood lights, exterior lights, and decorative lights are all available in CFL now
  • Place lights on timers so they are not wasting energy when not needed
  • Use motion sensors on external lights

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Save Money on Computers and Internet Access

Electronics are major power consumers. Here are a bunch of tips to reduce their energy use:

  • Set your Computer to Hibernate or Sleep after inactivity
  • Shutdown your computer when it is not in use
  • Connect it and its peripherals to a power strip. Turn it off to prevent vampire power even when it is not on.
  • Put a timer on your broadband modem and wireless router. Turn if off at night.
  • Charge your smartphone and devices, only when necessary

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Save Energy with TVs

TVs use a ton of power. When you go shopping, buy an Energy Star certified LCD or Plasma TV. These use less energy during use and standby. If you already own a TV, try the following:

  • Turn on all energy saving options
  • Set your TV for Home use, not for Electronics Store use
  • Use a mode to called Standard, Cinema, or Movie. Avoid modes named Dynamic or Vivid.
  • Turn the brightness and contrast down.
  • Also use a smart power strip to stop power draw even when nothing is on.

A calibrated TV can save $13 or more a year. Measure your progress with a power meter such as the Killawatt.

Upgrade your Cable Set Top Box. Newer boxes have more functionality and maybe Energy Star Certified.  Just call your Cable company and check.

Conclusion

Ten ways to Save Money on your Energy Bill has given you many tools to save energy and hence money. We hope you found some useful, thought provoking tips. Do you have other suggestions? Please leave a comment.

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