The weather’s cleared up a bit, but here’s the bad news: Spring is still a good 10 weeks away.
So even if you haven’t taken the advice of energy experts and turned your home into an efficient, weather-tight machine, complete with weatherstripping and programmable thermostats, it’s not too late to help trim those power bills for the rest of the winter. As a reminder, a lot of us are going to get our biggest bills of the winter any day now.
“Typically, customers’ bills are highest in January-February,” said Debbie Simock, Avista spokeswoman. “Particularly the January one may take people by surprise,” because of the increased power use associated with the holidays.
But there’s plenty you can do to cut your bills for the rest of the winter. In many cases, the savings you achieve now will continue even as the weather warms up.
So here are seven tips, gathered from power companies, consumer experts and other sources.
1: Take care of the basics. Seal up windows and doorways. Look at a programmable thermostat that automatically lowers the heat at times of little use. Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Set the thermostat to 68 degrees, or lower if you can, and set your water heater’s maximum temperature at 120 degrees. See if you need more insulation. If you’re hunting for places where warm air sneaks out of your house, consider power outlets and light switches – and use foam gaskets to seal them.
2: Hurry up in the shower. When it’s cold out, few things feel better than a nice hot bath or shower. But you can save a significant amount – some say a third or so of water-heating costs – by cutting your shower time in half. Add in a low-flow showerhead, which uses half the water per minute or less than a regular showerhead, and you can be saving real money when you shut off the shower.
3: Dust the refrigerator coils. You might be surprised at how much energy your fridge uses: nearly a 10th of the average home’s overall electricity use, according to one estimate. By cleaning off the coils behind – or sometimes under – your refrigerator, you can improve its efficiency and cut your bill. And while we’re on the subject, stop standing there with the fridge door open, pondering the leftovers. Every time you open the refrigerator door, the compressor has to run for several minutes to maintain the cold inside.
4: Unplug. Your TV, computer, microwave – even cell phone chargers – all use power when they’re plugged in but not in use. Energy Star, the government-backed program that pushes efficient appliances, estimates that the average U.S. household spends $100 a year on appliances that are in this standby mode. A University of California at Berkeley study put the cost at $50 to $75 a year and said that homeowners could save up to 26 percent on their electricity bill by eliminating this “leaking” electricity.
5: Keep the furnace running well. Or your heat pump or whatever. Dirty filters and poorly tuned equipment cost you more money in the long run, and experts say the cost of an annual inspection is well worth the money.
6: Don’t turn the thermostat down too far. Keeping it at 68 degrees (lower if you can) during the day, and between 60 and 65 degrees at night are probably good targets. If you lower your thermostat further when you’re out of the house or at night, your system will spend a lot of energy reheating the house.
7: Wash clothes in cold water, and bring back the clothesline. The clothesline may seem impractical at this time of year, but plenty of people have found room for lines or collapsible hangers in their basements or spare rooms. If you use a dryer, keep the lint trap clean and regularly clean lint from the outside vent. And washing the clothes in cold water can save you plenty – the cost of heating water is second only to the cost of heating a home, when it comes to energy use.
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