Have you been shocked by your recent electric bills? There are plenty of reasons to save electricity, from the well-being of the planet to the size of your pocketbook. We asked readers to share some of their more creative tips for saving electricity. Although you can save a bundle by, say, ponying up for better insulation or more efficient appliances, these are quick fixes that require little more than paying attention. Sandy Bauers, Philadelphia Inquirer
Heat: Put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat. How low can you go? Every degree saves about 2 percent of a typical heating bill. Close blinds or curtains at night to keep in the heat. Check ducts for leaks. Close vents in rooms that are unused or that get too warm. Close the fireplace flue.
Hot water: Turn the temperature down. Wrap the appliance in an insulating blanket. Wash clothes in cold water. Get a low-flow showerhead, which will make it feel as if you're rinsing with the same amount of water, but you're not. Take shorter showers.
The fridge(s): Unplug the second one in the garage. Get rid of it. Now. It's probably old and inefficient. Use an ice chest for parties. On the fridge that's left, vacuum the coils so they operate more efficiently. Keep the fridge and freezer full, which lessens the air exchange when you open the door. Fill large spaces with closed, empty milk jugs — again, to lessen the air exchange. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge; they'll help with the chill factor.
Dishwasher: Run it only when it's full. If you have an "air dry" setting, use it.
Lights: Yes, simply turning them off would help. But consider wattage, too. If you have a 60-watt bulb in a hallway, will 40 do just as well? Compact fluorescent bulbs may be unpopular — think mercury and a sickly yellow light — but closets and garages are good places to begin to make friends with the technology. Even more efficient LED bulbs are getting better and becoming more available. Although they're still alarmingly expensive — I confess, I recently paid $48 for a bulb to go in a fixture over the kitchen sink — they'll last longer than your roof and use as little as one-tenth the electricity of an incandescent.
Laundry: Dry clothes on a line or rack. If you must use a dryer, clean the lint trap every load for better air circulation. Set the timer for less time than you think you need and let the clothes finish drying in the leftover heat. Hang briefly if still damp.
Unplug: Most homes are full of "vampires" — electronic devices that aren't really off even though you've hit the off switch. They're still using energy because they're searching for a remote, operating a clock, remembering your choices. Look for anything with a digital display or a little red light; unplug when not in use. Or get a power strip that will, say, turn off the printer and monitor when you turn off the computer.
Ceiling fan: These aren't just for summer use, especially if you have high ceilings. Remember that warm air rises. Flip the switch so the fan blows up, which will make the warm air circulate across the ceiling to the edge of the room and down the walls, mixing with the cooler air below.