Thursday, July 30, 2009

Top 5ive Ways to Cut Your Electric Bill

Using an air conditioner will keep you cool as the mercury rises this summer, but that's about the only relief it will bring. Cooling costs can comprise a sizable chunk of your electricity bill -- and this summer those costs are going to be even higher than last year. In fact, electricity prices are expected to increase 4.3% this year, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
While there's nothing consumers can do to stop the utility companies from raising rates, there are ways to keep the electricity bill under control. Here are five ways to do so.

1. Program Your Thermostat Want to return to an air-conditioned home after a long day of work without leaving the A/C on full blast all day?By investing in a programmable thermostat, which costs anywhere from $35 to $115, you can program the air conditioner to turn off or raise the temperature while you're not at home and then kick in right before you return home. Doing so can help you save 10% on cooling and heating bills each year, says Ronnie Kweller, a spokeswoman with the Alliance to Save Energy. Another helpful hint: Close the blinds and shades to block the sun and keep it from heating up the room.

2. Buy Energy-Efficient Appliances Household appliances can eat up a lot of juice. When shopping for new appliances look for the Energy Star label. Buying products that meet Energy Star's criteria can save consumers up to 30%, or $700 a year, according to the EPA. Refrigerators, especially, can hog a lot of energy. Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for Energy Star suggests replacing any refrigerator that's 15 years old or older. New units consume 50% less energy than ones made in 1990, according to Energy Star’s most recent data. Can't afford to replace the refrigerator? Clean the coils beneath and behind your refrigerator regularly so it runs more efficiently, says Kweller. Also, refer to the owner's manual to find out the unit's recommended temperature and keep it set at that amount, she says.

3. Replace Light Bulbs One quick way to lower your electric bills is to replace your energy-hungry incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs. The initial cost is higher -- basic CFLs costs $2 to $5 apiece compared to around $1 for an incandescent bulb -- but they're far more efficient. Consumers can save up to $50 per CFL because they use about a quarter of the energy that incandescent light bulbs use and they can last up to 10 times as long, says Kweller. Check out the Environmental Defense's buying guide, which can help you select the right bulbs for your home.

4. Turn Off and Unplug Gadgets Even when they're not in use, cellphone chargers and laptops can really add to your electricity bill if you leave them plugged in all day long.Standby energy use accounts for 5% to 8% of all home-energy consumption and costs the average household $60 to $100 a year, says Kweller. Plug items that you use frequently, such as your computer or television, into a power strip that can be switched off before you leave the house. Also, enable your computer's "sleep mode" rather than letting it go to a screen saver. That small gesture can save up to $75 a year, according to the EPA.

5. Take Advantage of Tax Incentives Making energy-efficient improvements to your home is one way to reduce your electric bill and receive a gift from Uncle Sam. Thanks to the stimulus bill, homeowners can qualify for tax credits of up to 30% of the cost of making energy-efficient improvements for a total maximum one-time credit of $1,500.Of course, installing new doors or replacing the roof are pricey endeavors, so you want to make sure you know which items qualify before doling out the cash. For new insulation to qualify, for example, it must meet the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (check product labeling or call the manufacturer).

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