Electric bills. They are always going up, aren't they? The electric companies keep increasing our rates, and we still have outages. So many people are moving to solar, and while that's certainly good – and I expect that eventually almost everyone will be using solar at some point – solar panels and systems come with a hefty price tag still.
And it doesn't make sense for everyone yet. Like us. We are doing the waiting game. At some point, it's going to be either equal to or less expensive to sign up for solar than to continue paying our conventional electric bills, and that's what we're waiting for. But right now, the monthly payment for solar makes us cringe. Because it's way higher than our highest monthly electric bill. Ouch.
Why? Because our electric bill savings game is pretty good. We have found so many different ways to save money.
A little disclaimer: We live in Southern California. “Super cold” is in the 30's and 40's. Yeah, for reals. So Cal peeps are literally wimps when it comes to cold weather. But then again, 3 digit temps in the summer are the norm. So, while there might be lots of cold weather tips to saving money on heating bills out there, this is not where you're going to find them. That just isn't my area of expertise. Hot summers, though, yes. Sometimes I feel like we actually have summer 8 or 9 months out of the year here. That's a lot of hot!
We have been doing a pretty great job of saving money on our electric bills for several years now, so I want to share our money saving tips with you if you are like us and are not quite ready to dish the big bucks out for solar.
1. Discount rates
If your electric company offers an income-based rate and you qualify for it, sign up! Not everyone seems to know that many utility companies offer lower rates for low to moderate-income families. If you have a large family, you just might qualify, even if you're not “low income.” Even if you don't think you qualify, it's worth at least looking into to make sure. You might be missing an opportunity to save a lot of money.
2. Summer Discount Programs
If your electric company offers summer discount programs, sign up! We have been on a Summer Discount program for years that allows the electric company to cut power to our air conditioner unit when they want to. Yes, sometimes it's hot. Yes, sometimes it's inconvenient. Yes, sometimes we curse them under our breaths just a little bit. But it saves us $50 off of our summer electric bills. I'll sweat a little for $50!
We also have a smart thermostat that is eligible for a program where the electric company takes over the thermostat on Save Power Days (or, as they call them, events) between 2 pm and 6 pm on certain days during the summer, usually during a heat wave. The thermostat is bumped up about 4 degrees from where it usually is. They give us 24 hours notice, and we can opt out if we need to. It usually saves us about $10 to $12 each time we opt into the Save Power Day, but it all depends on how much less electricity we are using compared to our average over the last 5 to 7 days.
If you are a Southern California Edison customer, these programs might be available to you, but I don't know which areas have what kind of programs. You might have other similar or completely different programs offered by your electric company. Doesn't hurt to ask lots of questions and look into it!
3. Change all your lightbulbs
Allllll of them. No, no, not to CFL's. Those are so 7 years ago. LED light bulbs are the way to go. They use so much less electricity than even the fluorescents do, and they last longer, too. As in years longer. Plus, you can get them in different tones, so you can have warm lighting in your house, still. So, while it's an initial investment, it's one you will most likely get a return on in your first year. Keep your costs down by shopping around in stores and online to find the best deals for the brightness, tone, and types of LED bulbs you want. They often go on sale or promotion, especially the ones that are meant to replace incandescent or CFL bulbs.
4. Turn off the lights when you're not using them
I know, I sound like your parents. I sound like my parents, too. This is a hard one with kids. If I had a nickel for every time I checked the garage and the light was on but no one was in there, I'd be able to take myself out for a nice dinner! But you just have to keep reminding them. And remind yourself. Now, we do have nightlights that we plug into the walls for the kids, and we leave 1 dim bathroom light on all night to make sure they make it for those midnight trips. Young kids - what can you do? But otherwise, turn it off if you're not using it!
5. Turn off the computers, too
And any other appliance that sucks in the electricity but isn't being used. I have to admit, this is one of the areas I often forget to follow through on. I have been trying lately to be diligent to turn off my computer every night. It's a small savings, but still a savings! And a lot of small savings add up to big savings!
6. Get a smart thermostat
So, earlier, I talked a little about our smart thermostat in relation to Summer Discount programs. But smart thermostats are money savers all year long. Why? Because you can program them to have different temperatures throughout the day based on when you are home and when you need it warmer/cooler. Our thermostat isn't terribly fancy, but we can connect to it through Wi-Fi. We can even set the temperature with our phones when we are far away from home. And my app has a little button I can tap called "Set Away" that sets my thermostat up (or down, depending on if it's cooling or heating) several degrees. Then as I'm coming home, and I'm a few minutes from home, I can tap "End Away" and it resets it to the temperature it is usually at. Technology is amazing. If you still have a manual thermostat, time to upgrade!!
Old. Bad. Replace ASAP.
7. Get rid of your second fridge
I know, you like to have your soda cold. You like to be able to grab your lemonade at a moment's notice. You like to offer cold drinks to friends that come over and hang out. Well, if you can afford the extra money that it takes to keep it running, well, go for it.
But if you're trying to save money on your electric bill, maybe rethink that fridge. Is it old? It costs even more to run because it's not as efficient. And it's in the garage, isn't it? During the summer, that is probably one of the hottest spots in your house. So, out there, it's trying to keep everything under 40 degrees while the ambient temperature is over 100 degrees? Yeah, it's going to cost you more!
Keep one soda in your main fridge and replace it each time you grab it. We have a little trick of putting a not cold can or bottle of our preferred beverage in the freezer for 30 minutes. Just don't forget about it!! After 30 minutes, it's fantastically cold and ready to enjoy.
8. But I actually need my second fridge!
Now, don't think I'm heartless because I am telling you to get rid of your second fridge. Maybe you actually need a second fridge. That's our case, too. We have a second fridge. We can't store all the fresh food we need for 7 people for the week in one fridge. And mid-week grocery trips are hard on the grocery budget.
So, we do have a second fridge. But we keep it indoors, in the insulated, often air-conditioned comfort. So, it doesn't have to work so hard. It's actually in my office/second pantry/school supplies room. A lot going on in this little room. But it fits, and anything that doesn't fit in the main kitchen fridge goes into the second fridge. Which ends up being quite a bit.
Oh, and I always put my eggs in the second fridge. A year or two ago, my youngest got out a couple dozen eggs and smashed them all over the kitchen floor. I cried a little, took a picture for Facebook, then learned my lesson: Eggs go in the fridge behind the baby gate. And there they remain, perhaps until the end of time...
9. Invest in an evaporative cooler
If you live in an area that has a lot of dry days in the summer, invest in an evaporative cooler (swamp cooler) – or look into programs that might install an evaporative cooler for free in your house for low to moderate-income families.
Evaporative coolers don't work on muggy days. So, if you live in an area where it's always humid, just skip over this point and move on. But I live at the edge of the desert, practically. And while we still have our humid days where the evaporative cooler is completely useless, there are plenty of days where it might be the best thing EVER. Especially on those days where the electric company turns off our air conditioner unit.
Running an evaporative cooler is also much cheaper than running an air conditioner. It's basically just a big fan pushing air through a wet screen. So, you get cold air for the same effort as any other large fan. Just be aware that to run an evaporative cooler, you have to open windows sufficiently for the fan to bring air in through the cooler and push air out through the windows, but don't open them so much that the hot air is blowing back through the windows.
10. Install a whole house fan, if you can.
We had a whole house fan in our last house. And I miss it so much. We have plans to eventually install a whole house fan in this house, but for now, it will have to wait. I will dance with joy when we finally get one installed.
If your evenings and nights cool down, and you can afford it, install one. It will save you money by cooling down your house in the evening and at night. It can also help bring in fresh, comfortable air on pleasant 70ish degree days.
Whole house fans are wonderful when the air outside has cooled down, but your house is still warm from the hot day. I mean, if you have a great breeze already that can cool down your house quickly after the sun goes down, you don't need a whole house fan. We don't usually have a nice breeze like that. The heat stagnates, especially in our bedrooms.
The whole house fan (sometimes called an attic fan) is a really big fan in your attic that works be pulling the air from the outside through your open windows and into the attic. It pulls the hot air out and replaces it with the cool air from the outside. Obviously, it only works if the temperature outside is nice, but it works quickly.
11. Weatherize your home
Ever feel a draft of hot air in the summer or cold air in the winter? Your house might need to be “weatherized.” Maybe you need to replace the insulating strips on the doors. Maybe you need to repair cracks around your windows. Maybe something else needs to be patched up. Maybe your attic needs better insulation. Little things add up. And the tighter you can seal up your house, the less you have to run your heat or air.
At one point, when we lived in a house that had terrible windows, we bought these kits that had plastic sheets to seal up the windows. Those kits helped so much just by keep drafts out. Just thin plastic, but no more window drafts.
Whatever you can do to keep the unwanted air out and the heated or cooled air in will help!
So, that's my list of all the things we do or have done to save money on our electric bill. I hope these tips help YOU save money!
But if you are doing everything you can and you still can't get those electric bills down... well... there are a million solar companies that would love to sit down and talk to you about your energy needs. I know, because I get phone calls from them every week!