Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to Lower Your Electric Bill

I was asked how I keep my electric bill so low. My $27.00 electric bill didn't seem low, because we have a small apartment. I hadn't thought much about how I kept it low, so I came up with a list of everything we do and don't do.
We have the computer on for most of the day. I often have computer free mornings, but not since I started the blog. I always have ideas in the morning, now. When my husband is home, the radio is on constantly, but it is silent when he is gone. We also keep the bathroom light on all the time. Our bathroom doesn't have a window to let in light, but we could shut it off when we leave. These are the things we do wrong.
So, what do we do right?
I live in Maine, but we still get heat waves, so many of my neighbors have air conditioning. I have also been pregnant three out of the last four summers, so I know heat. I have a unique stay-cool trick. I put my tee-shirt under cold water, wring it gently, then put it on. I repeat the process every few hours. And if I go out, I hop in the shower and get a new (dry) shirt. I let the kids play with water in the bathroom as well.
If you have the air conditioning on at night and use blankets because you've made it so cold, you may be able to turn your air conditioner down or off. The same is true with a fan at night. This may be controversial with my Southern friends, but air conditioning is one of the ways we may expect too much comfort. If you live in Texas, and you think the heat is unbearable, what did the people who lived there before you think? Not the last people that owned your home, but the Native Americans. Native people live around the equator with no air conditioning, and they are not dying from it. We need to drink plenty of extra water when it is hot, but we do not actually need air conditioning. We like air conditioning, but we do not need it.
I have written on alternatives to an oven. I see little real need for me to continue using one.
There is also no real need for a dryer, either. We are in an apartment building that has no land, besides the parking lot. We hung drying lines in the bedroom. We use them year round.
I went around my home and made note of what was plugged in. Everything was something that was used every single day. If you have things plugged in that you only use once per week, unplug them. This will shave some money off the total bill.
We don't have a light bulb in our home that is over 13 watts. There is an initial investment in energy efficient bulbs, but these bulbs last for years and do save money.
I don't let my three year old open the fridge. He just stands there with the door open if I do, so I don't. My husband usually asks, "What's there to eat?" before opening the fridge. If he asks while standing in front of an open fridge, I ask him to shut the fridge, then I list the options. No point in having the conversation with the fridge open. Another option is listing the leftovers you want eaten up on the fridge door so that your family members aren't staring blankly into the fridge. Every time you open that fridge or freezer door, the cold air just falls out. Just picture pennies falling out of your fridge, because you are paying for that cold air.
On the fridge issue, pull your fridge a few inches away from the back wall. The heating coils need space to exchange air and if you don't give them that space, they have to work harder. Also, keep the fridge and freezer full. If this means filling them with jugs of water, do it. It will make the whole appliance more efficient.
I keep an eye on my charger. We use rechargeable batteries in my camera and Dan's portable CD player. I check frequently so as not to leave them plugged in longer than necessary.
What did I miss? What do you do to keep your bill low?


Rachel said...

I still cannot imagine an electric bill of only $27.00! When we got married in 1980 we often went without air to keep the bill down, but I don't think it was ever that low. I think it just goes to show that some expenses depend on where you live. Energy cost more here in Florida. Housing cost more in California. Some food is outrageously expensive in Hawaii and Alaska. I have the Tightwad Gazette books, and from reading them, I can tell that Maine has some obvious economic aadvantages. It just seems a less expensive place to live, and the people seem to be more frugal. Of course, heating has probably gone up quite a bit since Amy wrote her tightwad books. I don't know, but I would think so, just like what we pay for electric continues to climb.

Emily said...

I think that may be true in some cases, but Maine power rates are actually much higher than the national average. I found a chart showing each state's. It's interesting to compare to the national average of $0.12/KWH. Maine is $0.15/KWH, on average, but my bill is actually closer to $0.16. Here is the chart:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. It's interesting. I guess when I had those $100 electric bills it was for a 1500 sf townhouse. This apartment I'm in now though, is a different story. I gotta' figure out a way to change things here...$150-250/month for a 1100 sf apartment!

Rachel said...

We stopped using the energy efficient bulbs because they were expensive and we were having to replace them way more often regular, incandescent bulbs. I've heard other people have had this problem, too. We just try to keep lights off in rooms we aren't in.

Our bill this summer for water/garbage pickup/electric has been around $170. I'd need to look to see the breakdown for each individually. We're in Ohio and have had a relatively cool summer. However, the sun beats in on the front of our townhome in the afternoon and the living room and front bedroom upstairs heat up like an oven! I loathe being hot so we make sure the house stays cool.

I like the idea of clothes lines in the bedroom. How did you make them?

Anonymous said...

Just recently found your site. Very interesting, especially since we are a family of 4 living on $950 a month, so ideas are always helpful.

A note about air conditioning. When I was growing up and even when I was first married we had an evaporative cooler (uses water to cool, for very dry areas) but in the last 10 or so years the climate has changed so that it is more humid so the heat is unbearable. Our window units were out for a bit and inside my house was 105+ for days. There are few trees around in the Texas dessert. And the breeze blows hot. So opening a window only makes for a sandy, hot house. But we can go much of the winter w/ the pilot light on our floor furnace keeping the chill off out of our house, although at times my bedroom temp is 40*, but layers of clothing helps that, and I know up north a pilot flame wouldn't help during the winter.

Just a thought.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be interested to see how you do your pizza.

Emily said...

Rachel, the clothes line is just like one you'd hang from tree to tree. We put bike hooks in the wall and tied a line between them. I also hung two small lines right on the South-facing window frame and hang diapers there. Those I put up with a staple gun.

Anonymous, I'm glad you found the site. I bet you have a lot of great tips, and I hope you find useful info here. An evaporator heater is a great option for someone in the right climate. Thanks for bringing that up.

Anonymous said...

Oops I meant desert. =)

Lis of Ace Cash Express said...

Very nice tips for those who are stretching their hard-earned money. Me, myself learned a lot in this post, not only about frugality but about discipline. But hey, I thought that refrigerators and freezers are working hard when full since there are a lot of things inside that can absorb it's coldness, and thus more energy required. I'm really curious about this. :)

Ace Cash Express

alison said...

I've tried to keep my AZ apartment unreasonably warm in the summer. I just can't do it. But, from mid-October until May, we don't use any A/C or heat, and I tell myself that makes up for it. When my mom comes to visit (from Oregon), we turn the A/C up the morning before she comes, or we have a very unpleasant visit. :)

I mostly do the same things you do. Pull out the fridge and keep it filled. Keep things unplugged that we don't use. We try to keep the blinds shut from 11-5, to keep the direct light out in the long summer. We wear sweats inside in "the winter" because we think that 55 in ridiculously cold. My friend turns off her water heater in the summer--it stays pretty warm here without it on. We use fans in addition to our A/C. We drink lots and lots of water. We also don't have any lights or electronics in our bedrooms, which means when it's dark, it's bedtime, and we mostly use daylight for our activities. We did have a swamp cooler in a different apartment, and we thought it was perfect, until the humid part of summer came along.

Emily said...

Lis, if your fridge is full of air, then each time you open the fridge, you are raising the temperature of the air, and your fridge must recool it. But if it is full of cold food, you won't lose as much cold and the fridge won't have to work as hard. This is amplified in the freezer where the air is colder.

Alison, I love the idea of going to bed when it's dark. Imagine that! My husband works second shift a few days a week, so it wouldn't work for us now, but someday, that sounds nice.

Anonymous said...

I'm struggling to keep my 20 month old son out of the refrigerator right now! He's relentless.

We've had a cool summer here in IN too, and we've only turned the air conditioning on 3 times. I'm a wimp... once it reaches 85 degrees inside, I must have air. We've been switching over our light bulbs to CFL, and recently had to purchase a new stove because my oved died, and I NEED my oven. :) Just today our new refigerator was delivered. The previous one was about 20 years old, and nasty beyond repair (and a huge energy guzzler, I'm sure).

We had our lowest power/gas bill ever this summer at ~$79. Our home is a 1950's 3 BR, 1 BA ranch with a full basement. I was thrilled! I'm hoping it will go down even more with the energy efficient refrigerator.

I've definitely seen a difference with the methods we're using. BUT... you ROCK!!! $27??? That's amazing. :)


Anonymous said...

Hi, Emily! How many kilowatts was your bill for? Is that on budget? Wht is your highest electric bill in winter? Is your heat gas or electric? Our highest bill ran $196 last winter & was for approximately 2,400. We have a small apartment & nothing much running. Since your electric is so low , I wonder if maybe it's hooked up wrong & someone else's apartment is paying part of your electric.What you are paying is usually what a water heater itself will use. CAn you list what all is using electric in your apartment? Is your water heater electric?I really like your blog. Lisa

Emily said...

Great question! Heat and hot water are covered in my rent, which is $600. The owner didn't separate the bills for each apartment unit. So, we're paying for it, just in our rent. It took a while to find an apartment with that situation.

My KWH have run have run from 150 to 250, but we are usually well under 200. One month when we weren't careful, the bill climbed up to almost $40.

When we first moved, we moved in our stuff, but didn't actually move in for two more weeks. My father in law had plugged in our fridge during the move. For those two weeks that we weren't here, we used 45 KWH, so I would say a good half of our bill goes to a fridge.

Lyn said...

You're doing amazing with the electric bill. I live in an all-electric home, so it's quite challenging as I live in New England too - especially in the winter.

And no, New England is not cheap to live in by any means. We get some pretty cold winters here! We are one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Hi there! I'm absolutely loving your site and I aspire to live as well as you do on so little. I'm in Northern Ontario, Canada, and my friends think I'm amazing because my electric bill is under $100/mth. However, here there are a number of other charges on the bill even if you're not home - there's a $38 "delivery" charge which essentially pays for the lines, a varying "debt repayment" charge (a % of the bill) from back when the utility company wasn't charging enough(?!!) plus 13% tax on the whole shebang, so even if I unplugged everything in the house, the bill would be $55-$60. My boys are graduating high school this year and I will be moving to my cabin in the woods with $400 worth of solar panels and batteries - not bad when you consider that I'll have power forever for only 4 months worth of on-grid power.
Keep up the good work - you're an inspiration!

eccentricterri said...

We use 13w compact flourescent bulbs. We have a max of 2 lights on the house at time. Our living room light is on most times. One might be on in the extra room or the kitchen but get turned off if we leave the room. Most of our appliances are on power supplies so they can be turned off after usage. My husband isn't great about this but he is trying:) I will turn things off when he is finished if he forgets, which is often.

My biggest issue was air conditioning in the summer. My husband works 3rd shift thus trying to sleep during the hottest part of the day. If it starts to affect his ability to sleep or do his job then it does go on. We use a ceiling fan or a box while trying to catch the natural breezes first!

We have a huge 60 gallon hot water tank that was installed before we started buying the house on land contract. In the next couple of months, we will be putting in on demand systems in the kitchen and bath. I doubt that we will see the savings since a 7.0 chest freezer will be bought about the same time to help with food savings.

We don't have a full size refrigerator instead we have a 4.4 cubic fridge. We don't buy much that needs to be kept cold. We buy small amounts of milk because all my cooking is done with powdered milk. Many fruits and vegetables will keep out of a fridge. If the supermarket keeps it in an isle then it doesn't go in my fridge. In the past, we were wasting more energy due to the empty space.

The computers are powered on more than necessary. We don't have a tv so we use the netbooks for radio and movies. Our netbooks consume very little power but do not have the ability to do every thing that my husband needs so he has a more power desktop computer. It is still energy friendly and small. It doesn't sound frugal but 2 netbooks and 1 desktop were rather inexpensive. They cost less up front than most people spend on just one computer with the added benefit of using much less power. The desktop is rarely used but can be vital for some of his projects.

I am looking into thermal cooking to save electricty too. I haven't had a decent set up in the kitchen to try it until recently. In the summer, I will be trying solar cooking. We have a wood stove so I have been experimenting without much success to make a dcent meal.

Our eventual goal would be to produce our own electric needs and limiting them as much as necessary so solar costs would not be outragous.

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