Nothing has quite the same effect on a person than opening up a monthly power bill only to discover that you are spending way more than you used to. You begin casting your eyes around your house, looking from appliance to appliance — devices that you value and depend on. Now, there’s a traitor in their midst. An energy vampire that’s sneakily draining away power and running the cost of your modern convenience through the roof.
Fortunately, if you find yourself staring down your toaster once a month while screaming “why is my electric bill so high?!” over and over, you can learn how to save on that power bill with a little know-how.
Calculating Your Energy Expenses
Figuring out how to reduce your electric bill can be as simple as figuring out what’s costing you the most. To do this, you can follow a simple formula to determine how many kilowatt hours (kWh) a device is using in a month or year and then find ways to cut back where possible.
Kilowatt hours are essentially a way of measuring how much power a device uses in an hour of being turned on. If you look at most appliances, they will supply a wattage or a range of wattages the device operates at — how many watts it burns in an hour. Once you have the wattage, simply divide that by 1,000 (to convert the watts to kilowatts) and then multiply by how many hours a day you use the item. That will give you a basic figure for how many kilowatt hours a day you’re using with that item.
From there, you can use the U.S. Department of Energy’s number for the average U.S. utility rate of $0.12 per kWh, or you could get more specific and get your rate straight from your energy provider. Based on what your costs are, you can then determine which appliance or device is the actual energy vampire and what’s not really using much electricity.
Of course, there are certain devices that still suck power even after they’re turned “off” — and that’s a major issue. You need to be aware of how many are actually continuing to draw power even when they’re not on, including devices like your computer, instant-on TVs, surround sound systems or even cable and satellite TV boxes. For that matter, anything with a built-in digital clock is pulling a little juice.
The National Resources Defense Council estimates that almost a quarter of the energy used by your home is consumed by idle devices that aren’t even on. It estimated that the average household in Northern California spends between $210 to $440 a year on energy vampires and the country as a whole spends $19 billion a year for electricity it’s not really using.
How do you deliver the proverbial wooden stake to the heart of your energy vampires? Unplug things you aren’t using, use power strips for devices you know use power while idle, adjust power settings on things like your computer or TV and consider getting timers for outlets to help control usage.
Central Air Conditioning
Average Wattage: 3,800 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.46
This is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to inflating your utility bill. Keeping your home cool in the summer is appealing, but it comes with a luxury price tag.
A 24,000 BTU central air conditioning system uses about 3,800 watts of power per hour. At $0.12 per kilowatt-hour, you’re paying $0.46 an hour to run this system, which can run 24/7 in warm climates. If that’s the case, your air conditioner could be costing you almost $11 a day, or nearly $340 a month during the summer.
Make sure you are using your system effectively by adjusting the temperature appropriately, closing off areas of the house that aren’t being used and shutting the system off completely when no one is home.
Average Wattage: 4,700 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.56
Heat pumps can be more cost-effective than baseboard heating, but it’s important to make sure you’re using the right pump for your home and your climate. Being able to shut off heat or cooling to rooms that aren’t being used will also help keep your energy costs down.
That said, a heat pump often surpasses central air in terms of the impact on your utility bill. A heat pump uses about 4,700 watts of power, translating to a cost of about $13.54 to run it all day or nearly $420 if you have it on non-stop for a full month in the winter.
Average Wattage: 4,500 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.54
Your water heater uses 4,500 watts of electricity per hour, so it’s costing you 54 cents an hour. Fortunately, your water heater doesn’t run all day long — it only runs when it’s actually heating water. The less hot water you use, and the lower the temperature of that water is, the less energy your water heater will use. So while the energy draw is higher than your air conditioner on an hourly basis, you will most likely run it a lot less over time — SFGate puts the typical usage at about three hours a day — a cost of about $50 a month.
But if you want to get that even lower, adjusting your water heater to the lower temperature setting will save energy. Make sure you are using hot water efficiently by only running the dishwasher when it’s completely full, and only using hot water to wash clothes when it’s absolutely necessary.
Average Wattage: 2,790 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.33
At 2,790 watts per hour, your clothes dryer is costing 33 cents an hour to run. So, if your typical load takes about an hour, you should be getting about three loads to the dollar from an electricity standpoint. To reduce your costs, make sure you’re only drying a full load of clothes and use the drying sensor if you have one, rather than the timed drying option.
If the weather cooperates, hang sheets outside to dry. You’ll save money and, as a little treat, you’ll also get that fresh, outdoor smell.
Average Wattage: 725 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.09
A well pump uses about 725 watts of power per hour, costing you $0.09 cents an hour to run. To save money when running your water pump, make sure you have the right type of pump for your home and that it’s only running when it needs to be.
Average Wattage: 1,320 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.16
Besides being a safety hazard, a space heater is an energy hog. The average one uses 1,320 watts of energy — a cost of 16 cents per hour.
Rather than using a space heater to keep a space warm, address the underlying issue. You might need additional insulation in the room you’re trying to heat, or you might be able to block drafts by sealing around doors and windows. And, as always, a sweater or a blanket should be your go-to zero-cost way to warm up.
Average Wattage: 710 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.09
By consuming 710 watts of electricity, your hair dryer is costing you about 9 cents per hour. You can reduce your costs by reducing usage or letting your hair air dry first — and then use the dryer just for styling. Using the low setting instead of high will reduce your energy usage as well. However, unless you’re running a salon out of your house, it’s probably a safe bet you’re using it for no more than an hour a day — meaning drying your hair probably costs a little under $3 a month.
Average Wattage: 2,100 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.25
Your electric range uses about 2.1 kW per hour, but that will vary widely depending on how many burners you’re using and at what intensity. Either way, even if you’re cooking for three hours a day every day, you’re still spending just a little over $20 a month on energy for your stove.
Average Wattage: 225 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.03
Your refrigerator uses about 225 watts of power per hour, costing a mere 3 cents per hour. However, while that’s not a huge energy drain, it’s also an appliance you can’t turn off. Those 225 watts an hour translate to $262.80 annually with relatively few avenues for reducing the bill, meaning your fridge will probably cost you more in total than your space heater despite drawing a fraction of the energy on an hourly basis.
There are some tips that can help lower your electricity bill without turning off the fridge. Keep foods covered as the moisture released by foods makes the compressor have to work harder. If you’re in the market for a new refrigerator, make sure you get one that’s the right size for your family — a full refrigerator uses less energy than one that’s half-empty. And of course, decide what you want before you open the fridge to minimize the time the door’s open.
Average Wattage: 2-6 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.00024 – $0.000762
The 2-6 watts drawn while charging your phone seems hardly worth mentioning, but it’s the power your chargers draw while it isn’t juicing up your phone that makes this device stand out. Leaving that charger plugged into an outlet all day still uses 0.1 to 0.5 watts per hour. That is also not a lot, but in this case, it’s pure waste. If you have a charger at home that’s plugged in 24/7, you’re costing yourself up to 53 cents in electricity.
Computers and Monitors
Average Wattage: 75 watts for a computer, 42 watts for a monitor
Cost per Hour: $0.01
Your computer doesn’t draw a ton of power, even when it’s on, with a typical desktop costing you about a penny an hour. Just be sure you’re setting your sleep and hibernate modes to take advantage of non-use and downtime to dial back the energy usage. Sleep mode usually uses just 1-5 watts an hour.
Average Wattage: 35 watts
Cost per Hour: Under $0.01
A ceiling fan can be a good alternative to air conditioning. At 35 watts of consumption, leaving your ceiling fan on all day will cost you about 10 cents, which is an outrageous bargain when compared to the $11 a day your air conditioner would cost.
One great tip in climates with cooler nights is to turn on your ceiling fans in the evening while keeping your windows open. The fans can draw in cool air all evening that will help keep the home cool into the next day.
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Incandescent Light Bulb
Average Wattage: 60 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.01
Get this, a 60-watt incandescent light bulb uses … 60 watts of power an hour. This is one case where you probably don’t have to go searching for the informational panel to get a wattage — most bulbs put it right on the package. A 60-watt bulb costs you about a penny an hour ($0.0072 to be specific) while a 150-watt bulb will run you about two cents an hour.
However, the better question might be “why are you still using incandescent bulbs?” Using newer, CFL bulbs will save you a lot in the long run — both on your energy bill and on your trips to the hardware store. Compared to a 60-watt incandescent bulb, a 15-watt CFL bulb uses a quarter of the energy and lasts 10 times as long while a 12W LED light uses as little as a fifth as much energy and lasts 25 times as long.
Average Wattage: 330 watts
Cost per Hour: $0.04
The average dishwasher costs 4 cents per hour to run, meaning it likely costs you about $0.04 to $0.12 per load, depending on your washer. Running your dishwasher only when it is full will help you save energy, as will finding opportunities to hand-wash dishes when there aren’t enough to warrant running the dishwasher.
Household appliances are becoming more efficient all the time, so look for the most efficient model when it’s time to replace your refrigerator, dishwasher, laundry pair or other appliance. Replacing an old appliance, even if it’s still working, may make economic sense if the energy savings are there.
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About the Author
Joel Anderson is a business and finance writer with over a decade of experience writing about the wide world of finance. Based in Los Angeles, he specializes in writing about the financial markets, stocks, macroeconomic concepts and focuses on helping make complex financial concepts digestible for the retail investor.