Why is my Electric Bill So High? 7 Ways to Save Electricity

by Chris Tecmire

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Electricity…unless you’re Amish, you probably have it.  And if you’re Amish there’s a good chance you’re not reading this anyway.

My point is that we all have to deal with electric bills.  And electric bills can be rather mysterious.  One month your bill is high and the next month it’s higher, so everyone in the family starts blaming each other for leaving the lights on or watching too much TV.

So, why is your electric bill so high?  Let’s take a look at 7 ways to save electricity in your home and a whole lot of money in the process.

7 Ways to Save Electricity in your Home

1.  Wash your clothes with cold water

The cost of running your washing machine depends mostly on two variables – whether it’s front-loading or top-loading and the temperature of the water.  Front-loading washers use less water and less energy than top-loading washers, so while they cost a bit more on average, they may be a wise investment if you do a lot of laundry.

However, much of the cost of washing clothes is directly related to your water heater.  Hot water costs more than warm water and warm water costs more than cold water.  The difference between washing with hot water and washing with cold water can be up to 40 cents per load!  Check out this calculator to do some math for yourself.

So, always wash with cold water if possible.  Or better yet, get out Grandma’s old washing board and do it by hand instead :)

2.  Hang up your clothes instead of using the dryer

It’s commonplace in many European countries to use clothes lines and other drying racks instead of the bulky electric dryers that we’re used to in the U.S. of A.  In fact, most of the world hang their unmentionables instead of using a machine.  When possible, it might be a good idea to follow suit if you don’t already.  An electric dryer is one of the biggest electricity hogs in your home.

My dryer costs me about 60 cents per load.  As a great philosopher once said (probably), “Drying clothes in one of those fancy machines ain’t cheap.”

3.  Seal and insulate your home correctly

This is for those who have electric furnaces or use space heaters.  Heating and cooling accounts for nearly 50% of the energy consumption in the average home.  Make sure your home is well insulated and there aren’t any drafts or seams near windows and doors.  You could get high-tech and use a draft detector to find the leaks and drafts or you could just get naked and walk near all the windows on a cool day.  Stop when you feel a shiver.

4.  Use your air conditioner sparingly

Your central air unit is most likely costing you around $0.40 – $0.50 per hour that it’s running.  That may not seem like much, but if you rely on central air to keep your home at a certain temperature all summer long, that equates to a lot of moola.

Even window units can be quite expensive.  My wife and I have a medium-sized unit that costs around $0.12 per hour.  If it was running constantly for 4 months, it would cost us about $350.  So, we only use it at night when the evening temperatures reach a certain threshold.  The rest of the days we use shade, open windows, and ceiling fans to cool us down if needed.

5.  Update your old refrigerator

I’m all for saving your money and being content with what you already have.  It’s one of the biggest keys to frugality and being financially free.  I can’t stress that enough.  However, if you’re keeping ol’ Betsy around in the garage and she’s old enough to vote, you may need to reconsider.

Refrigerators have made great strides in the last 10 years or so when it comes to reducing energy consumption.  So, swapping a 2002 fridge for a new one isn’t going to drastically alter your electric bill.  However, anything born before 1993 is costing you at least an extra $100 per year.  And if you bought it back when disco was still king, we’re talking about a $200 – $300 difference in annual electricity consumption.

6.  Change the “sleep” setting on your computer

When my computer is on and ready to go it uses around 100 watts.  When it’s sleeping it uses about 2 watts.  You may notice the difference.  100 > 2.

We recently switched the setting on our computer so that it sleeps after only 10 minutes and we haven’t minded at all.  We thought about just turning it off after we’re done using it and turning it on when needed, but we’re lazy and use the computer sporadically throughout the day.  I have no interest in waiting two or three minutes every time I want to check something online, so we decided to let it sleep instead.  And it’s worked great.  It only takes a second for it to bounce back once I hit a button, so there’s no inconvenience, but plenty of money saving.

7.  Invest in LED light bulbs

I already covered this in great detail, so I won’t say too much more here.  The average LED bulb uses around 10 watts and the average incandescent bulb uses 60 watts.  Multiply that by the number of light bulbs in your home and the number of years that LED bulbs can last and it all adds up to a worthy investment in most cases. (Click this link to see more detail on this subject)

What about standby power or “vampire power”?

Any time that someone talks or writes about how to save electricity, they almost always tell us how important it is to unplug all our appliances and electronics when we’re done using them even if they’re turned off.  Why is that?  It’s because more and more products these days are still drawing electricity despite the fact that they’re technically “off.”  For example, a TV needs to be ready at any moment for you to hit the power button on the remote, so it has to be on “standby” even when you think it’s off.  It knows how cranky you get when the Golden Girls don’t appear on your TV screen immediately.

So, how much money is it really costing me to leave my coffee pot plugged in?

The real question is whether it’s worth pulling the plug every time I’m done making a pot of coffee or playing Wii.

The answer is…it depends.

I used this wattage meter that I bought on Amazon to check how much electricity was being used when the devices in my home were on and when they were off.  It told me exactly how many watts were being used so there was no guessing.  It was actually pretty interesting.

After testing everything, I decided I don’t have to stress out about this “vampire power” that everyone seems so worked up about after all.  For most devices, it’s pretty minimal.  Here’s a quick list of a few of the appliances in my house and how many watts are used when they’re off, but still plugged in.  The price listed is the amount of money it will cost me to leave it plugged in all day every day for a month.

Box fan, toaster oven, coffee maker, and many others (0 watts – $0)

Blender (0.5 watts – $0.05 per month)

Alarm Clock (1.3 watts – $0.13 per month)

TV (2 watts – $0.19 per month)

The vast majority of devices in my home (other than the big appliances like the fridge) used less than 2 watts of standby power.  So, what I plan on doing is unplugging the ones that are very simple to unplug when I’m done (the blender, rice cooker, etc), but leave the TV and alarm clocks alone.  I’m willing to pay $1 or $2 per month for the convenience of having those devices ready to go when I want them.  You may feel differently, but experts like Michael Blue Jay estimate that standby power only accounts for 1% of our electricity usage.  We have bigger fish to fry.

One exception to this rule is the DVR or digital cable box.  I don’t have one, so I wasn’t able to measure it, but apparently they can use 30 watts or more even in standby.  Yet another reason to ditch your DVR and start watching TV online instead.

If you’re looking to cut your electric bill this year (and who isn’t?), start with the electricity hogs – the electric furnace, air conditioner, washer, dryer, stove, fridge, dishwasher, computer, hot water heater, and lights.  They account for the vast majority of your energy consumption.  Once you’ve done all you can there, start unplugging the items that won’t be too much of a pain to unplug after each use.  Kitchen appliances are often a good example of that.  And, as your dad always used to tell you time after time while you were growing up, “Turn off the light when you leave the room!”  It’s still good advice.

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Light bulb image courtesy of Janaka Dharmasena / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Rozzanne March 14, 2013 at 8:22 am

Great advice! We bought a front load washer and dryer and started using cold water a couple of years ago and have seen a vast difference. It’s nice to know how much the vampires are using of our electricity too. Thanks Chris!