By Amy Levin-Epstein
Using less electricity at home is a win-win: You reduce your environmental impact and your monthly bill. But it can be especially hard to cut back on your energy usage during the dog days of summer, when tongue-wagging temps make you want to blast your AC. Try following these five tips from Bruce Harley, author of Cut Your Energy Bills Now: 150 Smart Ways to Save Money & Make Your Home More Comfortable & Green, and you’ll be seeing green all season long.
1. Replace old refrigerators.
One of the largest electricity guzzlers may be staring you in the face three times a day (more if you’re a snacker). “1970s-era fridges use so much more electricity than new ones that replacing one will pay for itself quickly,” says Harley. “Anything built before 1992 is worth replacing.” When you’re shopping for a new unit, look for the Energy Star label (and if you want to shop even smarter, go to EnergyStar.gov to find various models rated for efficiency). A new fridge could save you up to $200 a year.
2. Switch to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).
Going from traditional bulbs to CFLs is an insanely easy switch that you won’t even notice -- until you get your electric bill. “For lights that are on three to five hours a day, each CFL can save you between $5 to $15 a year, even after accounting for the higher price of the bulb,” says Harley. Shell out a bit more now, and you’ll enjoy a generous reward in the future.
3. Set your fan to auto.
Yes, you want to be comfortable, but running the fan continuously on your central air conditioning system uses a lot of energy and actually reduces the effectiveness of your cooling mechanism. “If you have a comfort problem that seems to be solved by running the fan all the time, chances are it's related to duct leakage or some other energy problem,” suggests Harley. If you have it fixed, you could save a lot of money in the future. Again, look for the Energy Star label when replacing your AC equipment.
4. Get an audit.
Here’s one time when an audit is a good thing: Energy audits are a key step in understanding how much energy your home uses. Once you have a clear idea of the amount of energy you consume, you can begin to make changes that will also lower your bills. Auditing and reducing your energy usage may lead to even more benefits: Many local electric and gas companies offer rebates or other offers for homes that improve their efficiency, and you might be able to get other national rebates or tax credits. (Go to EnergyTaxIncentives.org to see if you qualify.) Even if you can’t get an audit gratis, it might be worth it to pay for one to see where you can really save. Two organizations Harley recommends are the Building Performance Institute (BPI.org) and the Residential Energy Services Network (ResNet.us).
5. End vampire energy drain.
The energy your appliances use even when you’re not actively engaging them is called “vampire energy”. A quick fix for computers is to put it in a “sleep” or “hibernate” mode whenever you aren't using it, suggests Harley, who also recommends skipping the screensaver. “Leaving one running can actually consume more electricity than when you are using the computer!” he explains. For appliances and other electronics, you can either unplug them or pick up a product like the Smart Strip Power Strip, which will automatically stop energy from flowing to appliances that are turned off.
Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who's been published in magazines like Glamour, Self and Prevention, on websites like AOL, Babble and Details and in newspapers like The New York Post and the Boston Globe. You can read more of her writing at AmyLevinEpstein.com.
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