When You Can’t Afford Your Electric Bill

Budgets take a beating during the summer and it’s not just from the money spent on vacation.

Going to see Grandma or spending a week at the beach are seen as necessary budget expenses by most people. Letting the air conditioner run, leaving the lights on and keeping electronics and appliances plugged in while you’re gone, are avoidable budget busters.

The problem is, the American consumer is not nearly as gung-ho about saving energy as the businesses that make the products that need electricity and the utility companies that supply it.

The average American household spends $1,926 on energy costs, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. That is $200 less than what we spent five years ago, but most of the savings are the result of improvements in home design and energy-guzzlers like air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators and dishwashers in it.

The Environmental Information Agency says that homes built today are 30 percent larger than they were in 2000, but use only two percent more energy. Most home product manufactures now build their devices to meet the strict efficiency requirements of the Energy Star program laid out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Refrigerators are a prime example of the impact the Energy Star program can have. There are more than 60 million refrigerators over 10 years old in the U.S., costing consumers about $4.7 billion a year. Replacing one with an Energy-Star rated refrigerator could save consumers as much as $300 over the lifetime of the refrigerator.

Start With The AC

So finding products with an Energy-Star designation is an easy start toward reducing debt but there are plenty of other ways budget-sensitive consumers can ease the stress on the family finances, some fairly obvious, most not-so-obvious.

The easiest place to start is with the air conditioner unit. Simple things like changing the filters twice during the summer; removing leaves, weeds and anything else choking the flow of air into the unit; using ceiling fans to improve air flow and setting the thermostat to 78 degrees are money savers. Every degree under 78 requires another 7-10 percent of power.

If you’ve got time, and don’t mind spending a little to get a little savings, hang curtains or shades on windows to deal with the sun; seal doors and walls to keep the cool air inside; check insulation and let repair companies perform needed maintenance.

Another cost saver might require nothing more than agreeing to shut it down during peak hours. More utility companies are starting to offer customers that option. One of them, Pacific Gas & Electric, installs a device on your thermostat for free and pays customers $50 for joining.

Your monthly bill goes down and you get $50 to boot … win-win!

Trade Out Your Lights

The next place to hit is lighting, which surprisingly is the second-most costly part of your electric bill. The average home has 50 lights in it. Retire all the incandescent bulbs, replacing them with compact fluorescent lights (CFL) or light-emitting diodes (LED).

One CFL bulb will last 10 times longer than incandescent and save you $30-$80 over the lifetime of the bulb. LED bulbs are rated up to 50,000 hours or 8-10 times longer than CFLs. A house full (50 bulbs) of CFLs or LEDs will save $1,500 to $4,000!

In fact, if every American home replaced just one incandescent bulb with an Energy Star bulb, there would be $460 million in savings and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions from 550,000 cars.

Money in the bank and cleaner air … another win-win!

What Is “Inactive Power?”

One more way to save on your power bill is to invest in “surge protectors” or “smart outlets” to shut down appliances and electronics that stay plugged into wall outlets 24 hours a day.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) did a study on appliances and electronics that draw power, even when inactive. Things like microwaves, coffee makers, computers, home stereos, TVs and DVDs are prime examples of household items that cost consumers, even when they’re not in use.

The NRDC study estimated that the $19 billion of energy is used by inactive devices, or about $165 per household.

Other Ways To Cool Your Bill

A few other areas to tap minor savings from include:

  • Barbecue outside. Cooking indoors can raise a room temperature 5-10 degrees and cause the AC unit to come on.
  • Take shorter, colder showers. Let your water heater rest until winter.
  • Plant some shade trees, especially in front of windows, to keep the sun off your house.
  • Caulk and weather strip entrances to the house.
  • Install an energy-efficient pump on your pool and only use the pump at night.

The good news is that if you act on even a few of these suggestions, you should save enough to spend an extra week at Grandma’s or the beach. It’s a win-win again!

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