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Do you have tips for cutting utility costs?

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A

Many consumers have experienced the shock of opening the utility bills this winter. Costs have increased for several reasons. Electric companies are sending power to more homes than ever, while also working to upgrade failing equipment. In addition, oil prices soared to record highs in 2005. Add inflation and power-hungry electronics in the home, and consumers have a near guarantee that utility costs will go up. Consider these tips for cutting utility consumption.

Turn the thermostat down. For every degree lowered on the thermostat, about 3 percent will be saved on the heating bill. If you turn the thermostat down 10 degrees when you are at work and again when you go to bed, for a total of 16 hours, you can save about 14 percent on heating costs. An easy way to do this is to add a programmable thermostat to automatically turn the heat up or down at certain times of the day. These cost between $25 and $75. Wear sweaters or sweatshirts when you are home. Add an extra blanket to the beds.

Install energy-efficient shower heads and faucet aerators. They reduce the amount of water released by up to 50 percent with almost no noticeable difference in pressure. Defrost the freezer twice a year to reduce running costs by 10 percent. Replace air filters every two months during heating season. The furnace will run more efficiently and use less energy. Wash clothes in cold water and don’t over-dry clothing. Liquid detergent works well in cold water. Special cold water detergent can be purchased, but can be costly. Clean the lint filter in the dryer each time you use it to increase drying efficiency. Shower, don’t bathe. A bath uses about twice as much hot water as a 5-minute shower. Don’t leave the faucet running while washing dishes or brushing teeth. Running water only when necessary saves thousands of gallons of water a year, as well as the energy to heat it.

Use the dishwasher. Washing and rinsing dishes by hand three times a day uses more hot water and energy than washing one load a day in an automatic dishwasher. Run your dishwater only when it is filled to capacity. This will cut the costs of energy, water and detergent. Always use the shortest washing cycle. Scrape dishes before loading them in the dishwasher. Use task lighting when working at a desk or workbench and turn surrounding lights off. Consider using small appliances for cooking rather than heating the oven. Portable frying pans, electric grills, crock pots, microwave ovens and toaster ovens are great alternatives. Use glass or ceramic pans when baking in the oven. You can reduce the oven temperature by about 25 degrees and cook foods just as quickly. Do not open the oven to preview the food. Each time you open the door, the oven temperature drops 25-50 degrees. Watch the clock or use a timer instead. Use fans wisely. In just one hour, a hard-working bathroom or kitchen fan can expel a house full of warm air. Turn fans off as soon as they’ve done the job. Limit the use of the traditional fire. Fires actually suck heat from a room. If you have a gas or electric fireplace, be sure to use the blower to spread the warm air throughout the room. Close off seldom-used rooms and shut the heater vents in the rooms. Turn the water heater down. A water heater should be kept around 120 F. This reduces power usage without a noticeable difference to the user, and constitutes 30 to 40 percent of your energy bill. A water heater set too high can also cause burns. Keep heating vents clear. Blocked vents prevent heated air from circulating efficiently. Open curtains and shades on south-facing windows during the day to allow solar radiation to warm inside airspace. Close curtains and blinds at night to retard the escape of heat. Block air leaks. On a windy day, hold a lit incense stick to draft areas such as chimney flashing, recessed lighting, windows, door frames, ducts, flues and electrical outlets. Install door sweeps, caulk, weatherstripping and outlet gaskets where cold air is entering. If you leave a room, turn the light off. If you leave the house, turn the computer off. These are two of the biggest electricity consumers next to heating and cooling. A computer burns 100 to 200 watts of power sitting idle. If you leave it on while asleep or at work, it can cost about $5 a month. Leaving lights on can waste another $5 to $10 a month.

Use fluorescent lights inside and out. Fluorescent lights produce the same amount of light as a standard bulb and use only about one-third the power. Insulate pipes. If you can see pipes in an unfinished basement or under the house, wrap them in insulation. This will keep the water in the pipes warm, causing you to use less hot water from the water heater. It also provides warmer water faster to faucets. Create a “warm room.” Lower heating bills by heating just the portion of the house that you spend the most time in. Heat the room with a portable electric heater rather than the furnace. Don’t use the dishwasher’s “heat dry” cycle. This wastes energy. Dishes will air dry within a few hours. Run your dishwasher at night on air dry. Sign up for budget billing for your natural gas and electric bills. This allows you to pay the same amount each month throughout the year, rather than paying high bills in the winter and low bills in the summer. At the end of 12 months, an assessment is done to ensure that you pay only for the energy used. Contact your energy provider for information.

Posted on 26 Jan 2006

Adrie Roberts
County Director, Family & Consumer Science Agent, Cache County

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