Our parents were right: turning off the lights when you leave a room saves money. The same goes for turning down the thermostat, especially when you are not at home or while sleeping.
Because energy prices are at their highest level in decades – and since January 10 is National Cut Your Energy Costs Day – here are some suggestions that both homeowners and renters can come up with to help reduce home energy bills, even in winter.
US energy prices rose 33.3% in 2021, according to consumer price index data released in December by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food costs were number two, rising 6.1% during the year.
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These two categories contributed to an overall increase of 6.8% in the consumer price index in 2021, which was the largest increase in consumer prices since 1982. The price of goods not related to food or energy also increased by 4.9% last year , especially in the price of used and new vehicles.
What should you set your heat for?
A closer look at energy costs shows that most consumers experienced large increases in their domestic heating and cooling bills during 2021. Fuel oil prices rose by 59.3%, while natural gas prices rose by 25.1% and electricity costs rose by 6.5% . Gasoline prices also rose 58.1% during the year, the largest increase in 40 years.
However, there are ways customers can control how much energy they use, say Somerset County energy providers.
“Heating rooms in homes and water for washing and showering are the primary causes of winter energy bills, so it’s crucial to control your thermostat,” said Todd Meyers, a senior communications representative at First Energy Corporation.
First Energy is the parent company of Penelec and West Penn Power, which distributes electricity to approximately 31,000 customers in Somerset County.
Meyers said setting a home thermostat to 68 degrees or less in the winter, and the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees, can save customers money on their energy costs.
“We can not control the weather, but we can control the thermostat,” he said. “68 degrees is the baseline that most people can feel comfortable with (at home). Each degree you can lower your thermostat can result in a savings of about 3% on your energy bill.”
It also helps to harness the solar power of the sun. Open curtains and blinds on windows where direct sunlight penetrates during the day, then close them at dusk.
Turning the thermostat back to 60 degrees when no one is home – or at night when everyone is asleep – also reduces energy costs. Use extra blankets or an electric blanket to keep you warm overnight instead of raising the thermostat or using a space heater, which can be dangerous.
“Instead of keeping (the home) at a constant temperature, customers can have savings if they turn the (thermostat) down,” Meyers said, “and it’s not difficult for the equipment.”
Because a hot water tank can use up to 25% of the home’s total energy consumption, finding ways to reduce this consumption can increase energy savings. Turning the tank’s thermostat back to 120 degrees still provides sufficient hot water for washing and bathing, while reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the water.
This change alone can save customers at least 10% on their energy bills, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
People’s gas company gives many of the same recommendations to its natural gas customers according to an article “5 tips to save on heat” on the company’s website.
Taking a shower instead of bathing, washing clothes in cold water and washing full load whenever possible can also reduce overall energy consumption.
Should electronic devices be unplugged?
Today’s homes have a variety of electronic devices used for work, school, communication, and entertainment, such as computers, televisions, cell phones, and video game consoles.
Many of these devices stay plugged in and draw energy even when not in use, said Emily Baer, director of marketing and membership services for Somerset Rural Electric Cooperative Inc. The utility distributes electricity to 13,765 members in five counties, including Somerset.
To reduce the amount of “phantom energy” that these devices use, Baer recommended unplugging electronic devices when not in use or when the customer is not home. Telephone chargers should also be unplugged and video game consoles should be turned off when not in use to save energy.
Frequently used devices – such as televisions, computers, monitors and routers – can be connected to a smart power strip to prevent constant drafts of energy from an electrical outlet.
The Edison Electric Institute also recommends turning off a computer monitor that is not being used for 20 minutes or more. A computer that has not been used for more than two hours should also be turned off because it takes less energy to restart the computer than to leave it idle.
Ways to reduce energy consumption
- Limit the use of exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathroom in winter, as the extra heat and humidity can be beneficial for a home’s dry indoor air.
- Use microwave ovens, slow cookers, fryers, toasters and other small cooking appliances whenever possible to prepare meals or reheat food. These appliances use less energy than an oven and stove.
- Resist the temptation to open the oven door while baking or cooking, because more energy is needed to replace the heat lost when the oven door is opened.
- Replace traditional incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs that use much less energy. This change alone can reduce a home’s energy costs for lighting by up to 85%, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
- Newer LED TVs have a brightness setting preset at the factory for use in a retail display. Lowering the brightness to the “Home” setting provides additional energy savings.
- Check around windows and doors for air loss, and add weather cover, seal or plastic coating to keep the cold air out and warm air inside. Air leaks can be responsible for 25-40% of the energy used to heat (or cool) a home, according to the Edison Electric Institute.
- In winter, switch ceiling fans to the “reverse” setting to draw warm air from the ceiling and recirculate it around the room.
More energy-saving suggestions can be found in “More than 100 ways to improve your electricity bill” at the Edison Electric Institute or from your local energy provider.
Can I choose my own electricity supplier?
Residents of Pennsylvania also have the option of shopping and choosing the company that produces the electricity for their home.
To help customers make an informed decision, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission offers information about the process – including what questions to ask, how to choose a provider and understand the different prices and terms – at papowerswitch.com.
What to do with a large energy bill
Customers who have trouble paying their energy bill should contact their supplier right away instead of avoiding the situation, Meyers said.
“Customers struggling to pay bills should pick up the phone and talk to us … otherwise we may not know they’re having problems,” he said. “Our customer service representatives can refer them to programs that can help offset overdue balances, or we can negotiate payment plans to help them manage their electricity bill.
“The last thing we want to do is shut down everyone’s power. It’s not good for our customers – nor good for us.”