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by Shirley Byers Lalonde

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Recently divorced and realizing I would have to live on a substantially reduced income, I knew two things. I wanted to stay exactly where I was in the house I loved. And, in order to do that, I would have to find ways to cut down the costs that home was incurring.

One of the areas in which I thought I could save money was the monthly utilities. I live on acreage with a self-contained water system so I don't pay municipal water rates. I do, however, pay monthly rates to Sask Power, the electricity provider, and quarterly rates to Sask Energy, the natural gas provider.

Talking to singles living in houses of about the same size as mine, I figured my natural gas consumption was about as low as it could go. But when I had vinyl siding put on over the existing cedar siding and two windows replaced, I managed to reduce that cost even more.

However, when I realized that I was paying about thirty dollars more per month for electricity than a single friend in a much larger house I knew that was an area I needed to look at very carefully. A few simple changes reduced my power bill by over one third and saved me $360 per year. And all it involved was a little research and a little imagination with absolutely no reduction of my personal comfort.

The first thing I did was to walk around the house pulling out plugs and turning down settings. In my basement sat two big, old electricity guzzlers. A large fridge and a gigantic deep freezer. A little research showed that those appliances were each eating up about five to ten dollars a month in electricity. I found new homes for the bits and pieces in them and pulled their plugs.

While I was in the basement, I turned down the setting on the gas water heater and said "See you in November" to my clothes dryer.

"Whenever you make cold or heat, that's when you will use the most energy," says Larry Christie, Supervisor, of Public Affairs & Community Relations at Sask Power. I put up a clothesline in the back yard and used the free wind and solar power available there to dry my laundry in the summer.

Upstairs, in the kitchen, I found that I could turn down the setting on my fridge so that it ran far less frequently and still kept its contents safely cool. I keep a specially made fridge thermometer in it at all times just to make sure. Saving a few dollars on electricity is moot if I die of food poisoning.

One of my biggest and easiest savings was in lighting. Here's a pop quiz. Which consumes more electricity: a 1,000-watt (1 kW) baseboard heater operating for one hour, or a 100-watt (0.1 kW) light bulb left on for 10 hours?

The answer is they consume exactly the same amount of electricity. It's all about kilowatt hours. That means that the higher the kilowatts on that light bulb over your head and the longer you leave it burning the more it's going to cost on your power bill.

Every bulb in my house was a one hundred watter. And they were always on. I took one trip around my house turning off lights, then another replacing all those 100 watt bulbs with sixties and forties. And I made sure they were only turned on when someone was actually in the room and the light was needed.

My kitchen has two light bulbs. By replacing one of those with sixty watt bulb and one with a forty watt bulb (even if I do not reduce the usage), I will still slice my power bill for those lights by a little more than half.

"Fluorescents (light bulbs) can be even cheaper but they don't necessarily provide the best light," says Christie. Some people are troubled by them. He suggests, "Energy efficient bulbs are available in both fluorescent and incandescent. Make sure you buy a bulb that's appropriate for what you're doing, and when you're not using it, switch it off. Don't leave it on because that's basically the killer."

Christie also suggests that the air conditioner should be used judiciously. Install a timer on the furnace thermostat, which will automatically lower and raise the temperature at preset times. (Even if the furnace is gas powered, the fan is electric.)

If you have rooms you're not using, turn the vents down. Direct heat to rooms you are using, especially if you have a two-story house. Make sure you turn the vents down at the switches located on the ducts near the furnace rather than on the registers in the rooms. Keep the lint trap on the dryer scrupulously clean to save energy and reduce fire hazard.

When it's time to replace your windows, if you can afford it, you might want to think about energy efficient windows. Double paned windows provide some insulation value and are frost-free. Also, certain windows allow the light but not the heat to enter your house. This means that in winter the heat from the house will not escape. In the summer, the heat from outside will not come in.

Is it cheaper to leave the computer on all the time or turn it off when not in use? Christie says that computers use very little electricity but turning them off and on wears out electronic components. "Leave the computer on but shut the monitor and modem off when not in use."

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