Energy bills don’t have to cause headaches

By Danielle Gaines

It happens millions of times every day. Precious energy is wasted on appliances that are plugged in and not being used. The result? Precious dollars lost from your bank account.

“A tremendous amount of electricity is wasted each year when people leave appliances on when they are not using them,” said Leigh Morris, a spokesperson for Ameren Illinois. “We get really lazy about it and then we complain when our bills get high … they are unnecessarily high.”

Morris said the number one rule for reducing electricity bills is having enough initiative to unplug appliances. Denise Durrett, a communications specialist with ENERGY STAR, suggested students plug electronics into a central power strip so all items can be turned off with the flip of one switch, saving money.

ENERGY STAR is a voluntary labeling program created in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy to promote energy-efficient product use.

Morris said spending extra money in the beginning buying items such as energy-efficient appliances will lead to increased savings during the year.

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“You will pay more by not doing it,” Morris said. “In the long run, you are taking more money out of your pocket.”

Durrett said the benefits of efficient appliances go beyond the dollars and cents.

“Energy-efficient products in your home will only be a benefit to you,” Durrett said. “It is a win-win situation because it helps your pocket book and our environment.”

The efficiency of old appliances cannot be altered, so it is important to look at purchasing newer, more efficient products, Durrett said.

“Encourage your landlord to help you make a change for the better,” she said. “Look for other ways to maximize energy efficiency.”

ENERGY STAR also offers the top 10 tips for renters on its Web site. Renters are encouraged to scrape – not rinse – dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, wash laundry in cold water and arrange furniture so it does not block incoming air or heat.

In the cold winter months, paying for weatherization tools up front will help to reduce costs in the monthly bill, Morris said.

Morris also encouraged creativity in winter heating. Simple steps, like allowing the heat and humidity from a shower to drift throughout an apartment double the utility of everyday actions.

Maintenance of energy-efficient temperatures is also key to saving money.

Morris said that changing your heat or air conditioning levels by just one degree can have a 2 to 3 percent impact on your heating bill.

“If you go home for breaks, make sure that you are not running your system constantly at an inefficient rate,” Durrett said.

Both Durrett and Morris stressed the impact installation of compact fluorescent light bulbs can make.

Replacing your most frequently used incandescent bulbs can save up to $60 per year, Durrett said. She added that the bulbs last significantly longer – generally about seven to 10 years – so students can take the bulbs and their savings with them for some time.

Demand for electricity is on the rise. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration predicts an annual 1.3 percent increase in residential electricity consumption until 2030.

“If you get started in these (energy conservation) habits now, they will carry on after graduation.” Morris said. “We need to accept responsibility for our habits and actions.”

Easy ways to save:

  • On hot, sunny days, close the drapes or blinds. On cold days, open them for solar power.
  • Consider covering single-pane windows with plastic during cold weather.
  • Use compact fluorescent bulbs. They are four times more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer.
  • Enable power management features on your computer and television.
  • Purchase only energy-efficient appliances.
  • Unplug appliances when they are not in use.
  • Defrost frozen food in the refrigerator, not the microwave.
  • Vacuum the coils on your refrigerator at least every three months.
  • Clean the dryer lint trap every time you start a load of laundry.