Home Energy Conservation

Dear Home Ec 101,
Help! I just read your article on removing a broken lightbulb from the socket and thought perhaps you could answer this question. Our home was built in 2006, from a reputable builder and we are the 2nd owners. We have noticed that our electric bill is considerably higher than it should be and lightbulbs are often blowing in their sockets. We are on the time of use plan through our electric company and abide, very well, by the 3-6pm rule (power is 30% higher during these 3 hours). No a/c (up or downstairs), no fans upstairs, one downstairs, no lights on upstairs, our oven, heater and water heater are all gas, and yet our bill is still huge! We think it must have something to do with the wiring (a short perhaps), but we don’t know how to go about checking or having it checked. This is something we feel needs to be corrected before we have a pool installed, or before we go broke!

Do you have suggestions on what it could be, or how we ask for service?

By the way, we live in the Phoenix area and are not looking forward to another year sweating without saving!

Short Circuit

Heather says:

First of all, there’s a simple way to figure out if you are actually conserving as much as you think during those peak energy hours. CHECK your meter. Compare the rate of consumption at several periods throughout the day, including those peak hours.

As far as finding a reputable electrician, I’m a big fan of asking on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Obviously you’ll need to ask people in your actual geographic location and generally I would discount any recommendations from accounts representing electricians. I know whenever I see a local asking about various service technicians that I happily recommend those I’ve had good experiences with. (I try to stay away from publicly bashing companies for poor customer service, but I’m sorely tempted to call out a specific franchise for a recent experience -it happens). On Twitter, many people use the airport code to search locally. For example: Charleston, SC is #CHS

Now as few tips to reduce your electric bill.

  • Unplug chargers when they are not in use. (If you’re like me and have three or four cell chargers scattered throughout your home, this can help.)
  • Don’t underestimate the power draw of small appliances like vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, avoid their use during peak times.
  • Turn off your printer. How often do you print? Does it really need to be sitting there in standby at all times?
  • Turn off your television when no one is watching. This is especially true if you have a large, flat screen, they use significantly more energy than older types.
  • Clean the gasket on your refrigerator, your appliance isn’t designed to cool your kitchen.
  • Vacuum your refrigerator coils
  • Use solar shades on southern and western windows to reduce passive solar heating.

There are many more ways to conserve energy and I know the Home-Ec 101 community is full of ideas. Home-Eccers, feel free to share your favorite energy saving tips in the comments.

Submit your household questions to helpme@home-ec101.com


  1. Bobbie Laughman on May 15, 2012 at 7:44 am

    My husband wanted me to figure out why the electric bill were so astronomical this past year (while I was living elsewhere) and to see what we can do about it. This house is heated w/ two stoves: one coal, one wood, and I was always the one to keep them going — and without me around, they often…weren’t. And so, we have found out that space heaters are a pretty huge energy hogs (at least the ones we have) and there was at least one of them going most of the time. (I’m back now, so I’ll keep the house warm without space heaters)

  2. TammyLooney on May 11, 2012 at 8:16 am

    i keep my bathroom door closed along with the vent partially closed. One reason i do this is that it has a very leaky window which the landlord won’t fix, 2nd is, that room isn’t needed all day while I’m gone, so why keep it heated or cooled.  I also keep my closet door closed, why heat or cool it? additionally, i got curtains at JCPenney that help keep the heat/cold out, Eclipse brand.  I even put a curtain over my patio door to help block air movement in or out since that door doesn’t seal well. I have almost 800 sq ft apt with washer and dryer connections that I do use and live in TX, so you know how hot that can get (who stole our winter this year?).  Additionally, we are deregulated so each time the contract is up on my electric I shop around and make sure I’ve still got the company with the lowest rates. I’ve not had a bill over $100 in over a year, while all my neighbors are double and triple paying. My most recent bill was under $80. Depending on the weather, I keep the a/c 68-74F and the heat 64-68F, don’t have one of those programmable thermostats.  Oh, and I turned my water heater down to 120-125 degrees, especially since getting cold water in my shower is next to impossible (I’ll spare you that plumbing nightmare).

  3. MicheleN on May 9, 2012 at 10:39 am

    In addition to what Heather said, I would recommend a home energy audit.  Some utility companies provide them for free, but you can also pay private companies to do them for you or you can look online and learn to do it yourself. 🙂  Here’s some information from the USDOE regarding home energy audits: http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/energy_audits/index.cfm/mytopic=11160

    • MicheleN on May 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Oops, didn’t notice that JoyceK and deneicer1 responded with similar info!  That’s what I get for writing a response, taking a shower, THEN posting without checking for new comments.  Sorry!

      • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2012 at 7:35 am

         @MicheleN I still appreciate the time you took to comment. Home energy audits are a great idea.

  4. deneicer1 on May 9, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I agree with Joyce!  Many electric companies will come help you for free.  I would call them TODAY!  In fact, I just might do that myself….it always makes sense to save money wherever I can!
    I also would suggest purchasing LED light bulbs.  I KNOW they are expensive.  The up-front cost is worth the investment as they cost next to nothing to use.  We have used LED bulbs in our kitchen and the package says it cost less than $4 to use the bulb FOR A YEAR.  We have installed LED bulbs as well as compact florescent bulbs throughout our home.  At least our lighting will be as inexpensive as possible!
    I read somewhere the up to 10% of our energy cost is used for not-currently-in-use appliances and chargers for phones, gaming devices, phones, etc.  (Basically anything that has a little light “on” when you are not using it or toasters, coffee pots, etc. in the kitchen.)  If your average bill is $300 then that would be about $360 per year.   An easy way to turn everything off at once is to plug in all appliances from one area into a strip.  It is easy to turn the strip off and stop the energy drain going down those not-in-use cords.  Here is a website that explains more about standby power: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/vampire.html 
    Blinds, curtains, and even window tinting can be used on windows that magnify the sunshine.  I love the sun filtering in the house but I don’t love that my living room and kitchen heat up considerably in the afternoon.  The blinds just weren’t enough.  I hung curtains and ouila! the heat is reduced immensely….and I only have to close the curtains for a few hours in the late afternoon.
    The appliances that use the most electricity are:  dryer, refrigerator and freezer.  Make sure they are in good working order.  Keep the dust-bunnies under control by vacuuming their cooling systems (for their own motors) regularly AND keeping your freezer free of ice accumulation inside makes a big difference, too. 
    I would call the power company first…they are the experts.  (I really don’t understand why they would want to help us to conserve energy because that is the product they sell and the less we use of it the less profits their company will earn…?????…I don’t understand but I will still use it!)

    • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2012 at 7:37 am

       @deneicer1 thank you for your extremely thoughtful comment. The ice build up is a great point. 

  5. JoyceK on May 9, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Call your power company and ask for a home energy audit to see where the “leaks” are and how you could be saving whether by adding insulation, using different light bulbs, etc. It’s free (at least it is here). Don’t pay an electrician till you have an idea where the problems are.

    • HeatherSolos on May 11, 2012 at 7:36 am

       @JoyceK Great advice.

      • AlisonK on June 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm

         @HeatherSolos Quick additional note: targeted air sealing and duct sealing (with the right materials and techniques) BEFORE insulation will have a huge impact on your comfort, indoor air quality, and energy savings… and it’ll make your house last longer! Many insulation companies aren’t educated in building science (aka home performance), and follow the “blow and go” philosophy… but skipping the air sealing piece is a bad idea, and can lead to rot or mold. Here’s a great guide from the DOE: http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/building_america/ba_airsealing_report.pdf 

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