I don’t know about you, but electric bills always seem to be a bit esoteric in a way. It hard to wrap my head around ways to start saving on something that I can’t really see or tangibly feel. But that’s the point, I guess. We often don’t realize the electricity we are using, but once we start to notice, we can start saving — big time!
For us, turning off lights, unplugging what we’re not using, and so forth, are all common sense things we know to do, but it’s too easy to flake out about these things. We have been super diligent the last month or so to keep on top of these simple changes.
The price of everything keeps going up, but our wages have not, so as a family we have to regularly look for new ways of saving money. We recently did an energy audit of our home, and after acting accordingly, we found ourselves saving nearly 20% off of our regular light bill. I think with more diligence, I might be able to save further.
Most of the articles I found, when I googled the phrase “lower my electric bill” advised “buying newer appliances.”. I’m sure that will saving you some cash on the electric bill, but back here in the real world, I have some alternates for you if you’re looking to save money precisely because you don’t have a few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket…
The Do-It-Yourself Energy Saving Audit
First of all, most of your electric companies do have a sort of energy audit program that will help you figure out how to save money on your electric bill. In our case, they recommended new appliances with the energy star rating (our appliances all were free or cheap via Freecycle, craigslist, or auctions).
This time around, when I decided to take a fresh look at our energy usage, I did a do-it-yourself version that I heard from another blog (I can’t find the article to link to it! Sorry!!).
Most people would say to look at the wattage on your various electronic devices. This is not entirely correct. The wattage listed on those is showing you the wattage that it should perform at, not necessarily what it actually does. If you’re like us and have older stuff, then those may not be a true reflection.
The best way, I’ve found, is to find a friend to help (or older responsible child, in this case, teenagers). You can’t really do this on your own as easily as with two or three people.
Have one person shut off all of the switches at the fuse box. The other person, standing outside watching the little spinning thing-a-ma-bob in the electric meter, should note when everything stops spinning. You’re now at zero.
Person number one now should turn on each switch, one at a time, to see which one makes the thingy spin faster (yes, we’re really technical here). If you have a third person, have them turn on each appliance or electronic item one at a time. Make sure things are all plugged in (phone chargers, laptops, radios, etc.).
This will give you a fairly good idea of what makes the wheel spin faster, which in turn drains money from your bank account to Edison’s.
Armed with what I saw via my spinning wheel, we started doing some practical things:
1. Unplugging anything not in use means saving money
I was a little shocked to realize that leaving anything plugged in, even if it’s turned off, still makes the wheel spin. It spins slower, of course, but it’s still drawing some power. This, I discovered, is called “Standby Usage.” If you aren’t using it, unplug it.
Alternately, a serge protector power strip (we bought a box of them at auction for $10 — I’ve also seen them at garage sales and thrift stores, and of course, new) will allow you to more easily switch things on or off. All but one of our power strips ceased to draw power when turned off.
Some examples of this include the computer, as well as our TV, DVD player, X-box and satellite receiver box. I think turning off the master switch for these items was one of the biggest savings.
2. Charge Items that Need Charging when They Need a Charge
Three years ago, I needed a new alternator in my car, around the same time dear husband needed one in his. The mechanic told me that the common denominator in most of the bad alternators he sees lately is a cell phone charger plugged in all the time. (I know the car’s electrical system is different from home electric, but I thought I’d throw that in). Since only using the car charger when absolutely necessary, we’ve not needed an alternator, whereas it had been an annual purchase.
which brings me to my point…
Since the advent of cell phones and other fun handheld toys, I’ve noticed in my home and others charging stations with phones perpetually plugged in (when not being played with). In my brain, somehow I thought that if the phone was fully charged, then the phone would magically know to not draw any more power.
In my rather unscientific study with the spinning thing in the meter, the phones that were fully charged seemed to make it spin the same as an uncharged phone.
Only plugging in my cell when it needed to be charged (it has great battery life, by the way), and only plugging in other things when they need to be charged (phones, mp3 player, ereader, etc.)
3. Use Big Items in Off-Peak Hours
Surprisingly, our electric bill is not a standard rate all day or all week long. There are certain days and hours when it is less expensive to run an appliance, as the cost per wattage is lower.
I started to use items like my clothes washer and dryer only during off peak hours, after discerning from the electric company’s website exactly what those are. Our energy company has an additional program to sign up for that will save a family even more if they use less energy during peak hours, though with my husband’s work schedule that will not work for us.
Hanging clothes out to dry would probably help me with saving money, but I live in Michigan, and it’s winter. We’d be waiting three weeks for our clothes to dry, or dealing with mildew on clothes if we hung them in the basement. This summer, I shall be using my lines more though.
4. Turn off Lights or anything else you aren’t using
Yes, just like dad used to tell you to do. I like lots of light – it helps me feel energized in the winter. However, I’ve been working on being more frugal with the lights unless absolutely necessary. I’ve also turned off anything else I’m not using. I suppose that’s a “duh”…but I used to keep the computer on for ease of looking things up all day long. Keeping the computer off unless needed has had the added benefit of keeping me off the computer unless absolutely necessary.
5. Use CFL’s if possible or Lower Watt Light Bulbs
I’m not a fan of CFLs, but they do save money both in wattage used and in how long they last.We have been using them 12 years now.
6. Saving with Your Hot Water Heater
If you have an electric hot water heater, try to use hot water mostly during off peak hours. Put a hot water heater blanket around the heater. Drain the water and sediment out of the tank annually, to improve it’s functioning. Our hot water heater, according to the energy audit, comprises half of our electric bill, so any savings I can do on it helps.
Just these few simple rules (can we agree they are pretty simple?) shaved 20% off of our electric bill last month. That is a pretty good size savings!