Beating the Energy Bill Blues

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Polar vortexes and extreme droughts have been hot-button topics for meteorologists this year, and we’ve all experienced the effects of those extremes on at least one end of the spectrum. When the temperature hits a terrifying number, keeping your home comfortable is paramount, but the resulting energy bill can put a lot of stress on your budget. Sometimes you just can’t avoid running the heat or blasting the air conditioning, but there are things you might be overlooking that can really add up on your bill. By taking care of these common money pits, you can brave the elements in your climate’s extreme months and shave some dollars off your energy bill at the same time. Consider these tips to help your home weather the storm without breaking the bank.

Lose the leaks
When you’re looking for ways to skim off the top of your energy bill, the Environmental Protection Agency advises first sealing any cracks or openings in your home. “Hidden gaps and cracks in a home can create as much airflow as an open window, and can cause your heating and cooling systems to work harder,” the EPA states on its website. “Sealing coupled with insulating your home’s shell is often the most cost-effective way to improve energy efficiency and comfort.” Common air leaks include attics and basements, wiring holes, plumbing vents, recessed lights, windows and doors. Small changes such as sealing door and window leaks with caulk and weatherstripping can make a significant change in your energy bill.

Keep energy use efficient
The way you heat and cool your home plays a large part in your energy bill, so be smart about how you use your systems. Start by setting your thermostat a few degrees above what you’d normally decide is comfortable in the summer, and vice versa in the winter. According to the U.S. Energy Department, your heating and cooling systems won’t have to work as hard (thus using less energy) if the difference between the outdoor temperature and that of your home is smaller. If you live in an area that gets significantly cooler when the sun goes down, turn off the air conditioning and sleep with the windows open and only use your cooling system during the day. Try to avoid using heat-generating appliances such as ovens during the day, when the sun is beating down on your house, if you’re trying to stay cool. Take care not to place lamps or other hot electronics close to your thermostat; it can misread your home’s actual temperature by sensing the excess heat from nearby appliances. Finally, get a programmable thermostat and turn off the air conditioning or heat when you’re going to be gone for more than a couple of hours–there’s no sense in cooling or heating an empty house!

Be a fan of fans
Ceiling fans are a common installation in most rooms. Take advantage of them. “Ceiling fans can reduce thermostat settings by 4°F and use much less energy than air conditioning. Just remember, like any appliance, they’re only useful to people when they’re actually around,” according to the U.S. Energy Department’s website. Use ceiling fans for fair-weather days and save the air conditioning for days of sweltering heat.

Unplug the unused
Just because that lamp is turned off doesn’t mean it’s not using energy. Unplug appliances whenever they are not in use, and you’ll notice a small change in your energy bill. Lamps, coffee makers, computers, chargers and the like do not need to be left plugged in. Buying a power strip that these things are connected to streamlines this process; then there’s only one cord to unplug.

Start a new laundry cycle
Change the way you do your laundry and you’ll see big savings on your bill. Wash clothes in cold water whenever possible; cold-water detergents are easy to find and make your clothes just as clean as washing in hot water. According to Forbes magazine, this switch can save you up to $152 per year. Save on dryer sheets by line drying your clothes; no dryer sheet can beat the smell of clothes dried in the fresh air anyway. If it’s raining or chilly outside, simply dry your clothes inside on a drying rack. According to Michael Bluejay, an expert on energy savings frequently featured in Forbes, NPR and Newsweek, you can save almost $200 per year by avoiding the dryer.

It seems that no matter your location and climate, there will always be those times when your home needs to work extra hard to keep you and your family comfortable, but that doesn’t mean your budget should have to stretch to accommodate; comfort and affordability don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are tons of tricks to employ, both big and small, that will help you keep your energy bill well within your budget without your becoming weather weary. HLM

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