You don't have to break the bank to save big on your energy bill, energy experts say. • Just ask Jennifer Mays of Kansas City, Mo. She earned valuable energy credits on her electrical and gas bills by doing a few simple tasks, such as adding more insulation to her attic and spraying expandable foam insulation in the gaps where her home meets its foundation. • Mays' home underwent an energy audit — where a certified expert lists simple ways to eliminate inefficiencies. After completing the suggested fixes, Mays submitted her receipts to her utilities, Kansas City Power & Light and Missouri Gas Energy, and reaped $1,200 in credits. • "We're still living on credits," Mays says. "We haven't had an electric or gas bill since the end of the year." • Here are few more inexpensive ways to use less electricity in your home. Some don't cost any more than time.
Install a programmable thermostat. This is an easy way to shave dollars off your bill, says Kim Winslow, manager of energy efficiency at Kansas City Power & Light.
Programmable thermostats keep you from changing your cooling and heating settings on a whim, she says. You program temperatures for when you're home and away, awake and asleep. In the warm months, general guidelines call for a setting of 78 degrees or higher.
Replace incandescent lightbulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs. In about two years, you won't be able to buy traditional incandescent bulbs anyway, says Chris Albright, a certified energy auditor with Smith & Boucher, an Olathe, Kan., engineering firm. The government is phasing them out in favor of other lighting alternatives.
Compact fluorescent bulbs burn about 30,000 to 35,000 hours before they give out and use between 20 and 30 percent of the energy used by incandescent bulbs. They cost more initially but make up for their expense in energy savings.
However, Albright says, if you really want to stretch your dollars, invest a little more in an LED lamp. They can burn up to 60,000 hours.
Unplug appliances when you're not using them. Don't worry about the biggies, like the oven and microwave and washing machine. But everyday workhorses like the coffee pot, printer and television consume energy even when they're not in use.
An easy way to solve this problem is by using power strips. Then you can just turn off the strip when you go to work or to bed at night, Albright says.
Check doors and windows for weather stripping. Cracks around doors and windows can let cool air out and hot air in during the summer, vice versa in the winter. Some experts estimate you can reduce your utility bill by up to 30 percent just by plugging the gaps with weather stripping.
Change the way you cook meals when it's hot outside. Using the oven heats up the kitchen and makes the air conditioner work that much harder. Try the microwave, or plan ahead and use the slow cooker. Or head outside and fire up the grill.