When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879, utility bills weren’t even a flicker on people’s list of expenses. Little did anyone know that over 134 years later, electricity would become such a bothersome commodity across the modern world — one that we can’t live without, but which hinders our savings as we take great pains to pay our utility bills month in and month out.
Thankfully, you don’t need to forgo heat, air conditioning or go to extremes, like living by candlelight, to reduce your electric bill. And as much as the thought of becoming a nocturnal-housekeeping energy vampire to cut down on peak power usage sounds inconvenient at the least, there are ways we can begin consolidating our energy and saving money with a few small tweaks to our daily habits and schedules.
Plus, there are programs out there that will pay you for it, too.
Household Energy Costs
Utility bills are likely one of the most unwelcome pieces of mail. According to EnergyStar, a recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory concluded that a typical single-family home pays $2,200 in annual energy costs:
- Heating: 29 percent
- Cooling: 17 percent
- Water Heating: 14 percent
- Appliances: 13 percent
- Lighting: 12 percent
- Electronics: 4 percent
- Other: 11 percent (includes miscellaneous power sources like cable TV boxes, stereos and ceiling fans)
EnergyStar and the U.S. Energy Administration (EA) have noted that the average American household pays between 11.3-11.8 cents per kilowatt hour of energy usage. That range varies from state to state. The EA says that households in Connecticut and Maryland pay some of the highest monthly electric bills — over $142 and $143 per month, respectively.
But don’t chalk it up to just Northeast winter heating bills; even residents of bucolic Hawaii, according to the EA, fork out the most expensive energy payments at $203.94.
Calculate Energy Usage
Figuring out how much energy your household expends is as simple as understanding how much power your appliances output. An electronic device’s wattage is its measure of generated power and the basic figure used to determine your electric bill.
Utility companies normally convert total wattage from, say, a microwave oven, into kilowatt hours (or 1,000 watts). Multiplying the total by the utility carrier’s going kilowatt-per-hour rate determines the annual cost. The U.S. Department of Energy gives this example:
Getting an idea of how much power a household appliance or device uses can be eye opening, too. Though a standard 32-inch flatscreen TV only burns 150 watts, and a video game console — like a Nintendo Wii or Xbox — or a laptop PC only use up to 70 watts at a time, it’s the major appliances that take up the bulk of our utility bills.
Dishwashers, according to several sources, can use up to 3,600 watts; clothes dryers, 4,400; central air conditioning, 3,500; and central heating (in cold climates), up to 26,500 watts per use during a frigid winter. Added up over the duration of a year can make it seem like your annual net income pays only for utilities.
How to Save Electricity
Shaving some dollars off your utility bill compels many people to make energy-saving investments that don’t pay off. It may also conjure up thoughts of keeping an empty, unplugged fridge, forgoing central heat or stockpiling candles for your sole source of light. But the frugal minded know that it’s easier to save on electricity than mimicking life from the 17th century.
Turn off (and unplug)
Think about it — what’s the point of leaving the TV on when you’re not watching it, or lights on in an empty room? Turning on appliances only when they’re being used will save you money in the long run, as will unplugging small appliances like cell phone chargers, which continue to drain energy even when they’re not in use. (The same goes for shutting doors and windows to conserve heat — or air conditioning — to specific rooms.)
Skip the spin dry
Invest in a drying rack and take the time to air dry your freshly laundered clothes. It’s not as convenient as a quick 30-minute spin dry blast, but your wallet and wardrobe will thank you for it. Also, experts suggest investing in a front loading washing machine, and washing in cold water. It’ll use less power, water, heat and hence, cost you less.
Change your bulbs
Energy saving light bulbs have quickly gained popularity in the last few years. Choosing them over standard incandescent bulbs in your home saves energy and money. Efficient light bulbs cost more, but pay off in the end; Michael Bluejay, the famous “Mr. Electricity,” says that by replacing 10 60-watt conventional light bulbs with energy efficient ones, you can save $123 per year.
Cut it out
If you’re lucky enough to live in a temperate part of the world where heat is needed sparingly, and air conditioning not at all, why use it? Opt for ceiling fans in place of an energy-sucking central A/C, and space heaters instead of heating ducts.
Install timers for outdoor lights so they don’t shine during the day when they’re not needed. Consider using thermostats and A/C units that can be programmed to lower the temperature when the house is empty. Studies show that your utility bill could be lowered 10 percent in the process. EHow.com says that it can save you $300 annually.
Off-Peak Energy Usage
Using timers is one of the best ways to curb your electricity usage during peak hours. By becoming an off-peak user — using appliances when power demand and rates are lower — you can save money and develop a new routine.
But before breaking out the vacuum at 3 a.m. and risk waking the family or neighbors for your troubles, think twice. Turn on your dishwasher or clothes dryer after 8 p.m., during off hours, and give the power grid a break.
According to the Industrial Assessment Center, by shifting your household chores to off-peak times (reasonably speaking), you could save $75 per year.
Check with your local utility provider to see what their off-peak rates are, which may vary from state to state, region to region. You might even get paid for it!
Government Utility Programs Offer Rebates
One incentive to doing your laundry or dishes on the downtime is a cash reimbursement. Many government and utility provider sponsored programs offer rebates and money back deals rewarding people who use more electricity during off-peak hours. In the Phoenix, AZ area, for example, local public service providers offer the Time Advantage Plan, which reimburses customers for using the bulk of their electricity from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m., and in a second version, 7 p.m. to noon.
Some basic rules of the plan require local residents to operate major electric appliances — water heaters and the like — with timers, set for off-peak hours. Manually operated appliances like washers, dryers and dishwashers should be used during the off hours as well, and daytime electricity use must be kept to a minimum.
Arizonians have lucked out. A program called the Salt River Project, according to AZ Central, offers a $75 cash rebate for clothes washers and $20 for dishwashers meeting energy-efficient guidelines. Likewise, by embracing solar energy, installation of a sun-powered energy system can save residents between $13,500-$18,000 from local utility providers.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power rebates customers up to $750 for upgrading to energy efficient appliances. By meeting similar energy certifications, the LADWP pays out bonuses of $250, $500 and $750. An added $3,280 in rebates is provided in conjunction with Los Angeles County and Southern California Gas Company.
Across the country, there are similar energy efficiency incentive and rebate programs offered from state to state. As a starter, people interested in saving money on utilities can check with several nationally based organizations, such as:
- The Tax Incentives Assistance Project
- The Alliance to Save Energy
- The U.S. Department of Energy — especially its Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program
- EnergyStar — the organization maintains that if 1 in 10 homes used energy efficient backed products, it would reduce carbon emissions the same amount as planting 1.7 million acres of trees
Electricity bills will continue to rise, but there are ways to circumvent the impact they make to your monthly and annual utility expenses, and it won’t take a boycott to your utilities to make it happen.
Choosing energy efficient appliances, using them during off-peak times and looking into rebate offers from utility providers can help save you electricity and money, while earning some cash at the same time — an illuminating idea (energy efficient, of course).