Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tips on Reducing Your Electric Bill

 Other than rent or a mortgage payment, your largest monthly residential expense is probably your electric bill.  Personally, I loathe the electric company, both the utility in Ft. Wayne, Indiana and the utility in Austin, Texas.  They charge too much for their service, provide a regulated, mandatory product, and do some really stupid things with their profits.  For example, here in Austin, the City Council is working with the utility to increase the use of solar energy, requiring businesses to install solar panels and spending tax-payer money to create solar-farms.  Now, I am all for the environment, but it will be decades before these projects see a profit, in the meantime we are hurting financially NOW.  We are also sitting on huge reserves of natural gas; cheap, clean, readily available, and easy to convert into electricity, that the powers-that-be will not touch.  Meanwhile, a massive wind-farm has been built in the northwest of the state to provide energy to Austin and Dallas.  The problem is that they did not plan on how to get the energy from the farm to the cities; most of the municipalities between the farms and the major cities do not want the power-lines running through them.  Even the guy who pushed for the project, Boone Pickens, is saying basically that the project is a bust.

 Hey, City Utilities!  How about just refunding us some of our money back?

 I know, it isn't going to happen.  So, we need to figure out how to keep from giving them our money in the first place.

 Being in Central Texas, the place I chose to start my war against my electric bill was with my Central-Air/Air Conditioning.  Using some simple, logical tricks is already cutting my electric bill down to size.

 The next thing I am dealing with are my lights.  I am going around my house and converting every bulb to the Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs.  CFL's initially cost for one bulb the same price as a pack of four incandescent bulbs.  They emit the same amount of light with less heat and about a quarter of the watts.  The jury is still out on the actual savings from using these bulbs.  In theory, the bulbs are supposed to last longer, but I am reading mixed reviews.  If they do last longer, then I am saving money on replacement bulbs.  They use less energy to produce light, so it is a given the my energy costs are reduced.  I did read an argument that the heat emitted from a standard bulb reduces heating costs, but I live where I want less heat, not more, so cool bulbs are a plus.  Besides, heating your home by light bulb, even partially, doesn't seem terribly efficient.

 The major downside to the CFLs is that they contain mercury, so they technically have to be disposed of differently than standard bulbs, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it.  There is also the same issues some folks have with other fluorescent bulbs; the irritating hum and the harshness of the light.  These are absent from the bulbs I have purchased, so either the design has improved since these complaints were first voiced or I am not sensitive enough to notice.

 Meanwhile, my electric bill is lower... not necessarily because of the CFLs, but I don't think they are hurting my cause.

 When I used to go to bed at night, turning off all the lights in my home, my living room would be lit up like a Christmas Tree.  There were indicator lights on my computer's hard-drive, monitor, and printer/scanner.  My phone would glow while being charged, as did my mp3 player.  The red "off" lights on my television, DVD player, video-game system, and stereo components all let me know they where "off" while still tapped into the electricity in order to stay lit. 

 The energy being used is called "idle power", or by the much cooler moniker "phantom power", and it accounts for roughly 75% off all power used by household appliances.  Even when your stuff is off, the little clocks, computer chips, and what-not are still doing their thing and sucking power out of your wall socket to do it.

 The solution is simple; use a power-strip.  A power-strip was used originally for computers, and comes typically with some kind of surge-protector component, but the best part of this item is its off switch.  Flip the switch, and everything plugged into the strip is OFF... really off, not "red-light-on-pretending-to-be-off" off.  Every day, before we leave for work/school, we shut-down everything.  Every night, before bed, one charging station stays on, everything else is off.

 And where a power strip is not practical, we just unplug whatever.  Does your microwave really need to be plugged in all the time?

 The next place I look to save money is on drying my clothes.  If I haven't mentioned it, I live where it is HOT.  Crazy hot, "like fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk" hot.   I don't know why I have a clothes dryer.  I do what my grandmother did... I hang my clothes on a clothes-line.  I think I spent $3 on the rope for the line itself, maybe another $1 for the hooks, and less than $1 for the 50 clothes pins.  I am fairly certain that my clothes dry faster on the line, and suffer less wear-and-tear than they would in the dryer.  I am making the natural heat of the day work for me.  Now that is environmentally and fiscally sound!

  All these tricks are simple, cost effective, and the WORK.  Managing my air-conditioner, changing our light bulbs, using power-strips, and drying my clothes on a line has helped cut my electric bill in half!  Keep your money in your pocket, and out of the hands of your local utility and City Council.  You are much better at spending it than they are.

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