Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Here's the deal: Save money — energy — at home: tips, tricks, and check out home energy audits


The square footage was the same, so when I moved from an apartment to a house I expected a similar utility bill. They were both in Tampa Electric Co. territory, after all.

A $210 bill in September proved me wrong.

How could my usual summer bill — around $75 — spike that much? We had great insulation. We hiked our thermostat to 85 before we left the house and only dropped it to 81 when home.

We used fans, took quick showers and turned off lights when we left rooms.

I called Tampa Electric to dispute the bill. It's likely correct, they said before offering me a free energy audit.

I was still suspicious a few weeks later when a Tampa Electric employee walked through our garage, peeked into the attic and asked us about our habits.

I could stop unplugging electronics, he said. Those "vampire" devices don't contribute much to the bill.

Our biggest culprits: The windows, air conditioner, refrigerator and water heater.

Using his tips — and a few other tricks we learned — we got our bill to less than $100, even in the hottest months.

With this early summer weather, I know we're in for another challenge. This time, I'm ready. You can be, too.

The air conditioner

AC — can't live without it in Florida. And the math is simple: The less you run the air conditioner, the lower your bill. But everyone has a comfort level they won't compromise. When fans don't cut it, crank your thermostat to the highest temperature you can handle. And when you're gone, turn it up even more.

Tampa Electric's auditor told me to stop running our AC at 85 degrees when we're gone. Try 90, he said. Just watch out if you have pets.

The duct system

One of the biggest energy wastes in Florida homes is the leakage of air from duct systems. About 20 percent of cooled air is lost this way, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If you plan on sealing them yourself, make sure you use longer-lasting mastic sealant or metal tape, not duct tape. Not sure you have this problem? Some electric companies will appraise your home's duct system or provide discounts. Tampa Electric will do an inspection for $50 while Progress Energy pays half the cost. Check your electric company's website for more information.

Comfort tips

Let's be honest — we would all tune our thermostats to the low 70s if we could afford it. Try some other tips for staying cool:

• Forget the jeans. Wear shorts, skirts or dresses around the house, and go barefoot.

• Try not to run the oven. If you need to bake, try to do several items at the same time. That banana bread can go in at the same temperature as the roasting vegetables.

• Stick pajamas and pillowcases in the freezer before bed. It will help you drift to sleep, even in the heat.

• Eat cool items. In my house, ice pops are a summer favorite. Even ice water — heavy on the ice — helps.

The water heater

Turn it off when you don't need it. Some models heat enough water for a shower in 15 minutes. By turning our water heater off, we saved about $15 a month. If you're in the market for a new one, there are plenty of energy-efficient models available. Or pick up an insulated blanket — a cheaper option that's especially helpful in the winter. It can save you up to 9 percent in water heating costs, according to the Energy Department.


There wasn't much we could do about our refrigerator, except buy a more energy-efficient model or follow my mother's sage advice: "Don't stand there with the door open!" But if you're not ready to upgrade appliances, try these tips: Vacuum the refrigerator coils. Run the washing machine and dishwasher only when you have a full load, using cold water when possible.


This is important — especially in older homes, which often have less insulation. And though it can be expensive up front, like many upgrades, it can pay for itself over several years.


Keep your blinds closed — or partly closed — to ward off direct sunlight. And consider installing tinted film on windows that have direct sun exposure. The main problem in my 50-year-old house? The balances that help the window track open and close were breaking down. When I closed the windows, there were still gaps at the bottom. Like holes in air ducts, we were essentially paying to cool the outdoors. Our landlord installed new ones.

Other tips

• Turn computers off.

• Replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, compact fluorescent lights.

• If you get home after dark but want to give the appearance you're home earlier, buy a timer that will kick on at a specified hour.

• Caulk and seal air leaks around windows and doors.

• Regularly change air-conditioning filters.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

.fast facts

Energy audits

Many electric companies offer free or low-cost energy audits and have websites with tips on how to save energy.

Tampa Electric Co.:; (813) 275-3909

Progress Energy:; toll-free 1-877-574-0340

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative:; (352) 567-5133

SECO Energy:; (find phone number online for your area)

Florida Power & Light Co.:; toll-free 1-877-748-4233

Other resources

Energy Star:

Environmental Protection Agency:

Energy Department:
(see "Public Services" menu);

Here's the deal: Save money — energy — at home: tips, tricks, and check out home energy audits 06/28/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:59pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Observations from a liberal, gay, Latino, feminist Florida House freshman


    State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando,  rocked the Florida LGBTA Democratic Caucus dinner at Tallahassee's Hotel Duval Satursday night with his unabashedly liberal and passionate take on the myriad issues he said are key to LGBTQ Floridians. Among them: Access to guns, Reproductive rights, home …

    Carlos G. Smith
  2. Delta Sigma Theta honors outgoing national president

    Human Interest

    During her four years as national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Paulette Walker said she always focused on the comma between "Sorority" and "Inc."

    Paulette Walker, the former director of undergraduate programs and internship in the College of Education at the University of South Florida, will be honored on Saturday for her leadership in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
  3. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SEOUL —Ten U.S. Navy sailors are missing and five have been injured after the USS John S. McCain destroyer collided with an oil tanker near Singapore early Monday morning.

    In this Jan. 22, 2017, photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS John S. McCain patrols in the South China Sea while supporting security efforts in the region. The guided-missile destroyer collided with a merchant ship on Monday, Aug. 21, in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors were missing, and five were injured, the Navy said. [James Vazquez/U.S. Navy via AP]
  4. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  5. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.