School is back in session, but there are plenty of hot days still ahead. So it’s worth exploring what you can do to afford keeping your home cool.
A little preventive maintenance and some other easy fixes can help keep costs down.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that the average home electricity bill will be 3.9% higher between June and August 2022 than 2021. The Energy Information Administration estimates that running an air conditioner (AC) accounts for 12% of all home energy expenditures. And with heat rising well into the 100-degrees-Fahrenheit range, many of us can expect to be using AC nearly every hour of the day.
With air conditioning often costing $25 a day to run — or nearly $800 per month — it can pay to get creative with how and when you use cooling measures in your own home: your electric bill will thank you.
25 ways to reduce your electric bill
From using Mother Nature’s cooling abilities to closing off unused rooms to simple maintenance checks and fixes, these two dozen plus one ways to avoid sticker shock from your electric bill are worth your efforts.
1. Get a free home energy assessment
Many power providers offer free home energy assessments or home energy optimization kits. Xcel Energy, which serves much of the northern midwest and mountain regions of the U.S., provides a free virtual visit with a Home Energy Squad member, followed by a free kit to optimize your residential electrical usage.
2. Seal cracks and leaks
When the heat is high, don’t let any precious warm or cool air escape due to drafty doors and leaky windows. Seal these money-draining spaces with inexpensive draft tape, often ranging from $9 to $15 on Amazon.
3. Upgrade to efficient equipment with a rebate
Although upgrading heating systems and thermostats can be pricey, many electrical companies offer rebate programs. ConEd, which serves New York City, offers rebates on smart thermostats. So does California. Check with your energy provider to see if rebates are offered in your area. This could mean more than $100 back in your pocket.
4. If you have a smart thermostat, use it
For those who already have a Nest or other programmable thermostat in your home, take the time to program it. Smart thermostats offer zonal and timed heating and cooling, which on average will save most homeowners 10-12% on heating bills and up to 15% on their cooling bills.
5. Take a timeout on energy consumption
To cheaply lower your electric bill, consider adding an outlet timer to window unit heaters. These helpful gadgets cost $10 to $20 and will make your home more energy efficient and limit the amount of “phantom power” (the power your devices leech from outlets even when not turned on) contributing to monthly energy bills.
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6. Let mother nature do the work
Although typical clothing dryers do not themselves increase electric bills all that much (they cost about $100 per year in energy), leaving a hot dryer running multiple times a week can heat up your living space, resulting in you (understandably) cranking up the AC. Instead, try air drying your clothes when possible. The summer sun has to be good for something, right?
7. Invest in one-time duct cleaning
A major cause of ineffective or inefficient home cooling may be from clogged ductwork. Over the years, debris like dust, pet hair, and dander can accumulate in vents and make it difficult for air to flow smoothly throughout your space. Cleaner ducts = less need to turn up the air conditioning. Fortunately, HVAC system maintenance is pretty affordable, and a one-time vent cleaning will only take $200-$300 out of your home maintenance budget.
8. Change your air filter
Air filters do just that — filter out tiny particles and debris generally undetectable to the human eye. This provides us with clean air circulating in our homes. However, these filters need to be changed about every six months in order to work properly. Clogged filters inhibit effective air flow and can lead to higher energy costs due to forcing your air systems to work harder to pump out cool air.
9. Run appliances at night
Some electric companies charge higher rates during the day (aka peak hours) and lower rates in the evening (aka off-peak hours). It can help save a few bucks here and there to run larger appliances like dishwashers, clothing dryers, and washing means while you’re getting some shut-eye.
10. Make the move to LED
Incandescent bulbs release about 90% of their energy as heat. Couple that with the fact that they generally are not energy efficient and it’s enough to make the case to switch to LED bulbs. LED bulbs can save consumers as much as $75 per month and they give off little-to-no heat.
11. Replace window screens
As we already mentioned, leveraging Mother Nature when possible to decrease your bill and your energy consumption is a great idea. In this case, replacing snared, ripped window screens with relatively inexpensive new ones can help to better insulate your windows, preventing any unwanted major cracks or gashes from emitting hot, humid air into your home.
12. Insulate hidden areas
Any item in your house that has pipes behind it (toilets, sinks, etc.) likely is simply sitting in an open hole in the wall with no insulation. This means that in the summer cool air could be leaking out or warm air could be seeping in. Consulting with a professional to learn more about how adding insulation behind toilets and sinks can help make your home more energy efficient by eliminating these air leaks across your house.
13. Close the door
If you live in a multiroom home, closing the doors to unused rooms will consolidate your air conditioning usage to fewer rooms, and it will keep that room much cooler. Pick a room or two to hang out in for the majority of the day, and shut the doors to the others to naturally create zonal cooling. A painless way to lower your electric bill.
14. Reduce phantom power
Even if something like a lamp or TV are not turned on, the fact that they remain plugged in means those items could be leeching “phantom power” from your home, and jacking up your electric bill. Phantom power refers to the electricity consumed by objects when they are off or in standby mode. This allows them to quickly turn on, but means your electric bill pays the price. Consider unplugging lamps, appliances, and more when not in use to save on your next energy payment.
15. Add an energy efficient power strip
While you’re unplugging unused objects, think about adding in an energy efficient power strip to cut down on your bill. Some estimate that installing energy efficient power strips (which are only $20 to $30 each) can decrease home power use from 20 to 48%, which translates to more than just a few dollars back in your pocket.
16. Lower the hot water heater temperature
The default temperature for water heaters is 140 degrees, which wastes between $36 and $61 a year, according to the Department of Energy.
According to the DOE, lowering the temp to 120 degrees is perfectly fine for the majority of the population. If you or a member of your household has a chronic respiratory disease or a suppressed immune system, though, it may be best to keep your water heater set to the default temp.
17. Decrease door drafts with a draft stopper
Using the aptly named draft stopper on your doors can further prevent air leaks throughout your home. For only $8, you can keep prized air conditioned air circulating in your space without losing it to wasteful door leaks. Another painless way to save money.
18. Use exhaust fans
Exhaust fans are those that are generally already built into your home, like the kind above a stove or shower. These fans do an exceptionally good job at circulating air and removing moisture and humidity from that air. Running these fans even when not cooking or in the shower can improve air circulation and decrease the need to crank up the heat and your power usage.
19. Go through a checklist
Owning or renting a home comes with all sorts of maintenance. It can be hard to keep track of what to do at what time of year in order to keep your space clean and efficient. Referring to a home checklist like this one can ensure you are ticking off the correct boxes to prepare your home for warmer months, potentially saving you some dough on electric bills throughout the summer.
20. Rearrange your furniture
Go through the house and check to make sure that you don’t have beds, dressers, bookcases or other furniture block cooling vents (especially taller items like bookshelves). If the vents are blocked and air conditioning isn’t evenly distributed, this may cause you to turn up the air conditioning unnecessarily.
21. Seal the chimney
Sealing off your chimney — or at least closing the damper — prevents cool air from leaking out and hot air from wafting in. There are lots of different ways to seal a chimney, from a $50 chimney balloon to using plastic to cover the hearth. Consult with a professional to find out what’s right for your home.
22. Use less water
Although most folks are billed for water separately from electricity, you can save a pretty penny by being more conscious about how much water your family uses in the summer, when droughts and water shortages are common. Instead of filling up a multigallon kiddie pool at home for children or furry friends to cool off in, consider taking advantage of public pools and beaches, many of which cost just a few bucks for admission.
23. Upgrade your blinds
It’s no secret that sun-facing windows can cause a room — or the entire house — to heat up beyond what’s comfortable. Flimsy blinds are more than just ineffective, they could be causing your electric bill to rise. Spending around $30 for a set of blackout curtains will help keep your home cooler by entirely blocking out the sun, decreasing your need to crank the AC.
24. Dinner for breakfast
Well, not actually. But being smart about using the oven can keep your home cooler and result in lower electrical bills. Cooking with an oven in the morning, when it’s cooler out, can prevent your home from overheating when cooking say, at 5 p.m. Likewise, using an oven closer to those off-peak hours means it may not cost as much to run. A cooler house using less AC and a delicious meal is better than that.
25. Become a fan of ... Fans
Fans are a tried-and-true way to cool down in warmer months. Sprinkling fans throughout your home uses less energy than an air conditioner and can leverage cooler evenings to provide a naturally pleasant temperature without the energy bill hike.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about electric bills:
We answer some of the most asked questions about electric bills and what makes them so high.
How do I reduce my electric bill?
To reduce your electric bill, take stock of how many hours of electricity you use a day (some things like water heaters and refrigerators will always be running, and that’s OK) for things like the dishwasher, washer and dryer, floor lamps, and accessories such as stereo equipment. Then, begin to see where you can limit the amount of time those home furnishings are in use. This will slowly but surely start to reduce your home electric bill.
Most electric bills are tabulated by multiplying the rate you pay per kilowatt of energy by the total hours of device and electricity usage that month. This gives you your total electric usage in kWh — kilowatts per hour. From this formula, we can see that electric bills are based on how many hours of electricity you use each month.
Why is my electric bill so high?
There can be many reasons as to why your electric bill is so high, including inefficient appliances, infrastructure in need of repair and poor insulation. Another reason could be that you leave all your appliances plugged in all the time. This is called “phantom energy costs” or “vampire energy costs,” meaning that even when a device is not directly in use, if it is plugged in it is still using a bit of energy. There may be things that can be unplugged like computers or entertainment systems.
If appliances such as dishwashers are decades old, it’s likely that those models are no longer the most energy or water-efficient on the market. Although no one wants to purchase a brand-new major appliance, this can save you money in the long run.
Poor insulation can be a huge drain on energy efficiency. If you have major cracks in your window frames, walls, baseboards, and more, you are basically watching your hard-earned dollars fall through those gaps. Likewise, if doors are left open (especially the garage door or patio door) haphazardly you are bleeding cold or warm air (depending on the season) through those areas, causing your home heating or cooling to work harder, thus costing you more money on your electric bill.
What costs me the most on my electric bill?
The most costly items on an electric bill are the culprits you probably already guessed: air conditioning, heating, and large home appliances come in at the top of the list. This is why it makes it all the more important that your home is energy efficient with updated models of each home appliance.
Some sneakier money-eaters on your electric bill are incandescent bulbs, hair dryers, and space heaters. A hair dryer consumes about 1,200 watts per hour of usage and costs 12 cents an hour to operate while a fridge generally only consumes 1,000 watts and costs 10 cents an hour to run. While you may not be using a hair dryer for an hour, you can see how daily use of such an accessory could add up.
This is where a free home inspection by your local utility company may come in handy, if such a service is offered. Energy experts can let you know if your appliances are up-to-date from an energy standpoint as well as what other surprising items in your home may be contributing to an overly high electric bill.
This story originally appeared in The Penny Hoarder.