Bright Ideas for Saving On Your Utility Bill

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The average, American family of four will use 10,656 kWh in a year, according to the Department of Energy. Better Farm's average, according to the last year of electric bills, is around 8,000. And that's before the solar panels have been installed on the Art Barn. So what's our secret, when we have so many more than four people running around here at any given time?
  • Use only energy-efficient bulbs. I know this one seems like a no-brainer nowadays, but if you haven't mindfully swapped out your old bulbs for high-efficiency ones, chances are you'll find some of the former still installed in lamps throughout your home. If every U.S. household replaced just one regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb, it would prevent 90 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that by replacing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs at the same minimal rate, Americans would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year. 
  • Utilize passive solar. When you wake up in the morning on a cold, sunny day, open south-facing window shades and let the light (and solar heat) in. In the early evening, let down the blinds and close the curtains to save heat in the house. Keeping your south-facing windows open during daylight hours means you won't need to rely on your heating system as much—or your light bulbs.
  • Lower Your Thermostat. Whether you're relying on electric heat, furnace, or some other way to heat your home, experiment with lowering your thermostat at different times throughout a 24-hour cycle. Try knocking it down as many as 5 degrees before bed, when the house is empty, or during peak daylight hours. We're particularly fierce at the Farm, keeping the thermostat permanently set at 64. You certainly don't have to be as rugged as us, but keep this in mind: each 1-degree drop you make on your thermostat for an eight-hour period reduces your fuel bill about 1 percent. Click here to see just how much you can save at your own home.
  • Watch Less TV. The television is one of the biggest energy-zappers in the home. Depending on what kind of television you have, it costs you anywhere from $24 to $145 or more a year to watch TV.
  • Unplug Everything with an LED Light. Certain phone chargers, televisions, DVD/Blue Ray players, computer chargers, and more all continue to draw energy even when they're not being active (telltale sign? The little red or blue or green LED light). Try plugging your entertainment system and computer console into power cords that you flip off before going to bed at night.
  • Give Your Fridge and Freezer a Tune-up. The condenser coils behind a refrigerator do the heavy lifting of creating cold air, but they can't radiate heat properly if their surface is coated with dust or grime. Once a month, take a vacuum to the coils to keep them free of gunk. Want to knock a few extra bucks off your utility bill? Put your fridge and freezer on timers. Even switching these appliances off for two or three hours over night and during mid-day will make a big difference in energy use and cost.
  • Upgrade for the Long-Term. One of the biggest mistakes people make with home improvements is opting for a break at the register instead of long-term returns on investments. Buying a cheaper washing machine, dishwasher, vacuum cleaner, microwave, or fridge may seem attractive at the time; but consider the amount of money you will spend on the energy costs of that particular appliance throughout its lifetime (also factor in replacement/repair costs). A more expensive item with a better warranty and less energy use can cost you half as much during the life of the appliance.
  • Turn off Lights. It seems so obvious, and yet how many of us actually turn off lights and appliances when we leave a room? This act alone can knock a significant percentage off your energy costs.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.