Thursday, March 31, 2011

How I Slashed High Utility Costs With Very Little Discomfort

by Teresa Ambord

"Look at this," said Anne. "My utility bill doubled since last month!"

My friend's words scared me. If my power bill doubled, I'd be in double trouble. When California's electricity market went out of control a few years ago, the utility company warned us prices would soar. They weren't kidding. My friend's bill doubled, and before long it tripled. As a single mom, there was no way I could pay those prices. So I made some changes. And to my great relief, our bills not only didn't increase, but over time they decreased. The most surprising thing was that we barely noticed the difference in how we live and use power.

Here's what I did:

• I replaced the light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs which use less energy. But because the bulbs are expensive, I didn't replace them all at once. I started with the most-used lights in our house. Gradually, I replaced some of the others. And for lights we seldom use, I decided it was more cost effective to leave the old, cheaper bulbs.

• Like most people, we make many quick trips into the kitchen or bathroom every evening. Each time, a light was flipped on for a moment or two. A teacher of mine once told me that more electricity is required to turn a light than to leave it on for half an hour or so. I've never been able to prove this theory, but it makes sense. So to avoid flipping lights off and on all the time, I bought some night-lights and installed them in keys rooms, such as the kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms. They cost a dollar each, use almost no electricity and last forever. And they provide enough light for most of the quick trips. Unless I'm shaving my legs, I even take my shower by night-light which is more pleasant than the glare of overhead lights.

• In two dark closets that have no light source of their own I installed touch lights that use batteries.

• As for laundry, I wash full loads in cold water. If the clothes need a little extra help, I let them soak in the full washer for a while or pre-treat them. I have a clothesline in my backyard and another over the washer. And in the winter, I use a wooden clothes rack inside. The rack cost nine dollars at Wal-Mart and saves a bundle. To prevent stiffness, I let the clothes hang till they are almost dry, and then toss them in the dryer with a dryer sheet for ten minutes.

• For baking, my big oven has practically been retired. There is very little I can't bake in my toaster oven which uses a fraction of the energy. Of course, my family is small so this is easy for me. On the rare occasions I do use my big oven during cold weather, after I've finished and turned off the oven, I leave the oven door open to take advantage of the escaping heat.

• As for savings on hot water, each of us cut back our shower times by a couple of minutes. The hot water feels good but comes at a high price.

Our utility company put the icing on the cake for me. To help beleaguered power customers, they began a program whereby, if we cut back our usage 20%, we got a 20% discount. Meeting this goal was no problem; in fact, we easily cut back 40%. We have met it every single month and barely noticed the difference in comfort. If anything, the laundry takes a little more effort to accomplish, but other than that it's been so easy that it’s hard to believe how much we've saved.

Eventually power returned to more affordable prices and we could splurge a little. But I don't really see a need. We haven't sacrificed much. If anything has changed, it’s that we think first before flipping on a power switch. I've gotten addicted to those lower bills and I'm not anxious to let them creep higher. I've got better things to do with my money than to support the power company. Now that money is tight all over, I am grateful for good habits.

Teresa Ambord is a full-time writer for a business publication known as BizActions. She has the privilege of working from home, in the company of her small dogs. She is also a volunteer foster mother of abused and abandoned animals for Another Chance Animal Welfare League. She has been published in Chicken Soup for the Adopted Soul, Cup of Comfort for Christmas, Cup of Comfort for Sisters, Cup of Comfort for Dog Lovers II, Dad's Bow Tie, and more.