Lower Electric Bills

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Big House, Big Electric Bills

My husband and I recently received a house that was left to him by his parents. The house is huge and has electricity bills to match. How can we lower the price each month? Please help.
Pamela H.

Talk to the Experts

Actually there are dozens of things you can do. First of all, call your local utility. Most will provide a free energy audit of your home. This audit will tell you problem spots where you are losing valuable energy in the form of heating and cooling. They will also suggest low cost solutions, such as foam inserts that go around outlets and switches cutting down on heat loss. Films for your windows can cut indoor temperatures in the summer substantially. Look for some of the newer types, they're amazing. Replace weather striping on doorways and get a special blanket for your hot water heater. One thing to definitely consider is whether you need all that space in your huge new home. Closing unused space off should be handled with care since heating and cooling systems are often balanced for a specific configuration. You don't have to live in the dark to reduce your energy spending. You just need to talk to the experts.

Lights Out at 8pm

To lower our bills, we have set all of our appliances at the energy saving setting. We keep our thermostat set at 80 during the week when we are at work and drop it to a comfortable 77 when we are actually in the house. We have low-wattage lamps and nightlights and make lights out a rule at 8pm. I bought a battery-activated reading light for any paperwork or reading I want to do after that time. When I was growing up in a huge house, I remember Dad cooling off the house by opening all the windows and turning on a whole house fan that sucks up the air. It would pull the cool air in from outside and the whole house would cool off in a matter of minutes. Had he ran the air conditioning to get the same effect, he would have spent a fortune. In the winter, instead of cranking up the heater, my husband and I have a small swivel heater that we bring into the room we plan on spending the majority of our day (i.e. living room or office). That way, we are only heating the room we are in and not all the rooms in the rest of the house where we aren't.
Brooke in Arcadia

Seal Off Unused Rooms

An effective way to lower your winter electric bills is to seal off all the unused rooms. Shut the heating ducts off and close the doors. The heating system will run much shorter cycles and only heat the rooms being lived in. This will knock your bills down to size. Be advised; bathrooms may be the exception depending on how cold they get. You don't want to freeze your pipes.

If the windows on the house are single pane glass, use the clear plastic covers that shrink when you blow-dry them. They are very effective at stopping drafts. Install them on the inside.

Don't run your computer 24/7. You shouldn't do that anyway. Running you computer 24/7 adds up to around $200 a year in wasted electricity.

Make sure your doors and storm doors don't draft. If so, seal the one you don't use in the winter.

Get an insulation jacket for your hot water tank.

Clean your furnace! That's one people miss. If it's dirty, it takes much longer to heat up and won't burn efficiently. This will also cause your blower to run much longer than it should.

Install Attic Fans

  1. Install attic fans to vent hot air outwards. You may have to install more than one, depending on the size of your attic.
  2. If the attic entrance is inside the house, be sure the edges are insulated well.
  3. Get a thermostat timer, so when you're not home the house is not being heated/cooled.
  4. Get a hot water timer and set the water heater to only come on during the times that you need hot water. (Ask all family members for input on this one.)
  5. Hang clothes outside to dry whenever possible instead of using the dryer.
  6. Check insulation around doors/windows.


Try Compact LED Lights

LED light bulbs in fixtures that were used the most lowered my bill by about $25 per month consistently.

Time of Use Plan

I recently contacted our local electric company to find out what programs they have to reduce our monthly bill. The information that they sent regarding their time of use plan looks like it will save me about 25% to 50%. In the brochure, the electric company states they will switch out our old meter for a new one at their cost. The new meter will monitor our time of use and will give us a much lower price on off peak hours. For example, in summer, they will charge us 5.8 cents per kWh instead of 9.09 cents per kWh. In winter, the cost is 4.4 cents per kWh instead of 7.89 cents per kWh.
Robert K.

Use Your Fireplace

You've inherited an energy "hog," but I'm sure it's got great character! I grew up in a home built in the mid-1800s with drafts and exorbitant utility bills to match. My suggestions to you are not terribly expensive, but can make quite a difference.

First of all, if you have a fireplace, use it! Have it swept, cut or buy a cord of wood from a "country" friend for use this winter. You may be able to drop your bills by 25% to 50%. Even though cordwood may cost you $100 up front, it will pay for itself over the course of the winter. In fact, it may allow you to keep your furnace off on all but the coldest days.

Another thing you can do is shut off all but the main living and sleeping areas, so there is less to heat. Insulate the bathrooms if possible. Also lowering your thermostat settings when you aren't home or are sleeping can help a bunch. It takes a while to get in the habit, but you'll rest easier knowing it will make a difference. You can lower the temperature during the time you're there too, just wear a sweater or use a blanket. I think there's something romantic about that as well!

You can use that ugly plastic sheeting over your windows, but I'd rather make a window quilt! They are cheap (less than $10 each) and they can be put up each winter with a simple tension rod and rolled up or down according to the weather. They form a pocket of air that insulates so that the cold surface of the window won't draw out heat from your home and keeps drafts from coming into your home at the same time. There are several sites online that can tell you how to make one. Right now, I'm trying out new ones made of fleece that don't ravel when washed. Or you can purchase thermal drapes. They do make a difference, but they are expensive, nearly $100 per window.

Another thing you can do is go "draft hunting." Any drafts you can fill in with paintable caulking or foam will be money in your pocket. It has an added benefit of keeping the bugs out. Look for gaps in the siding, around windows and doors, and behind the trim and electrical outlets. Make sure to use a product safe for use in electrical receptacles. Adding insulation to the attics, walls and floor can make a huge difference, especially in an old house that may have no insulation at all. Aside from the walls, you can do the attic and floor yourself.

Go Solar

Get a solar heating system. It will pay for itself over time, and if you have excess energy, many utility companies will buy back the electricity from you.

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