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Spending more time at home? Tips on keeping your utility bills low

With Coronavirus sending employees and students home for quarantine or social distancing, you may find yourself and your family members cooped up inside. That means more people using tablets and computers, opening and closing the refrigerator, turning on lights, and adjusting the thermostat. If you don’t take the proper precautions, you could find yourself with higher-than-average utility bills. 

Here are some of CUB’s top tips to keeping your power bill to a minimum.

1. Unplug unnecessary devices. 

Your coffee pot with an LED clock, your phone charger, a DVD player—even though these items may not look it, they are constantly drawing power. The wattage they use individually may not amount to much. But when combined, these dormant devices can account for as much as 10 percent of household energy use. So turn off and unplug devices you aren’t using. That includes TVs, radios, and gaming consoles. And when you are finished charging a device, be sure to unplug the charger. 

2. Take advantage of your windows.

Don’t waste electricity on desk lamps or overhead lights when you could just open the curtains. Choose the brightest room in your apartment or house to work. Plus, sunlight is good for your health, and we could all use a bit more exposure as we emerge from the winter months.

If you do use lights, make sure they’re LEDs. Most LED bulbs have a lifespan of 20,000 to 50,000 hours and are 80 percent more efficient than other bulbs. The Washington Post reported that a typical home switching from incandescent to LED bulbs could save $600 a year.  

3. Use your technology’s built-in energy savings features.

When you’re not using a device, shut it off. But if you need your phone or computer, take advantage of energy-saving features often built into your device. Some devices have sleep mode, low-battery mode, or idle mode that can reduce energy consumption. Energy Star says activating these power management controls on your computer can save you between $10 and $100 on energy costs per year. You should also deactivate controls that eat up your battery, like GPS and Bluetooth. Close unnecessary apps and dim your screen. 

4. Be smart about your thermostat. 

An Energy Star study found that people who micromanage their thermostats use more energy than those who leave them alone. Constantly changing the set temperature on your thermostat causes your heating unit to run inefficiently. (That’s why smart thermostats are so handy!) When half of the energy used in your home already goes to heating and cooling, you’ll want to avoid adding to that cost as much as possible. Instead of bumping your thermostat up a few notches, throw on a few extra layers or grab a blanket. Also, if you take our advice and open the curtains, sunlight can help naturally heat your home without messing with the thermostat.

5. Take a trip to your basement.

Lower the temperature on your water heater to the warm setting (120 degrees). For every 10 degree reduction in temperature, you can save up to 5% on your water heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. When water heating accounts for around 12% of a family’s utility bill, that can make a big difference.

6. Cook efficiently. 

With restaurants closed for dine-in, you’re probably cooking at home more. Practice energy efficiency in the kitchen, too. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends using the proper-sized cookware for burners and the most energy-efficient appliances you have (such as a microwave or toaster oven rather than a conventional oven, if possible). The ACEEE also suggests giving your kitchen a good clean. Microwaves work more efficiently when the inside is clean, and your pots and pans can save energy if their bottoms are clean.

7. Switch to cold cycles and skip the dryer.

When doing laundry, use eco settings and only run full loads of laundry. Use cold water, as 90 percent of the energy used by the washing machine goes towards heating the water. Skip the dryer entirely and air-dry if possible. It will save energy and prevent additional wear and tear on your clothing.

8. Consider cold water and soap.

You should be washing your hands now more than ever, but you could probably save money on your hand washing techniques. Multiple studies show that hot water is not necessary to rid your hands of germs. Washing your hands with soap and cold water is just as effective as washing them with hot water. Regardless of water temperature, proper hand washing technique is a must regardless of water temperature.

9. Speaking of water….don’t forget the faucet. 

Not only is this a time to be energy efficient, but it’s also important to be water efficient. Remember, if you’re washing your hands a lot these days, you’ll waste less water if you’re not waiting for the water to get hot. Also, don’t let the water run when you’re brushing your teeth, wash larger loads of laundry or dishes and fix leaks. Get a few tips at the bottom of this CUB fact sheet, and more tips here.

10. Get to know your utilities’ websites. They have a lot of information on efficiency programs and special pricing plans, like Peak Time Savings, that can help lower your bills. Plus,  both Ameren and ComEd allow you to get alerts if your usage is trending high in a given month.

Also, consider setting up an account with your utilities’ online services. Registering for online access has its benefits—many utilities allow you to easily make payments, update your contact information, access account information, view your current and previous bills, and review your usage history. Some allow you to sign up for digital or E-bills, which can streamline the billing process.

To sign up with your utility, you’ll most likely need:

  • Your utility account number;
  • An email address you check regularly;
  • Your primary phone number (the number you provided when starting your service); and
  • The last 4 digits of the primary account holder’s social security number.

To sign up with:

For more information about energy efficiency, please visit CUB’s Clean Energy page.