5 Tips for Dodging Higher Energy Bills This Summer

many plugs plugged into...
ShutterstockAll of the gadgets you leave plugged in during the day, called the "phantom load," are increasing your utility bills.
By Kate Rogers

After a brutal winter, most Americans are embracing the warm weather. But summer heat brings higher electricity bills thanks to increased regulation on the coal industry. According to reports, tighter regulation on coal, which powers about 40 percent of the nation's energy, will cause electricity prices to increase by about 4 percent this year. This is the highest increase since 2008.

And over the next several years, energy prices are expected to increase by about 13 percent come 2020. Last year, the average summer electricity bill was about $395, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Here are a few simple tips to help shave down costs ahead of the summer season:

1. Manage your Consumption: Making small changes to your living habits can bring significant savings to your cooling costs. Programming your thermostat to a higher temperature when not at home can help reduce your bills along with keeping shades down to let in less sun heat. Another option is turning to gadgets like the Nest thermostat to manage temperatures in the home. Nest is a%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"Sealing your home will help you see a drastic reduction on your electric bill."% smart thermostat that allows users to zone their homes and control temperatures via their phone. Nest also learns what temperatures owners prefer.

"If you already have a programmable thermostat, you don't necessarily need to update to a Nest," says Julia Scott, founder of BargainBabe.com. "But turning down your thermostat in small increments can help you to save on your electricity bill."

Nest retails for about $250, and the company's website claims it can cut down electricity bills by about 20 percent.

2. Use Energy-Smart Appliances: If you are in the market for a new air conditioner or refrigerator, consider buying an energy-smart model. They use less power and may be tax credit eligible. Check out Energystar.gov for more information on energy-efficient appliance and possible tax breaks.

"It's a no-brainer," Scott says. "Also, consider dusting the bottom of your refrigerator coils to help them run more efficiently. If it's covered in dust, it has to work harder to release that heat."

3. Clean Out Air Conditioner Filters: Experts recommend cleaning out air conditioner filters once a month, either on your own or hire a professional. "If they are covered in fuzz and dust, they can't cool the air as much," Scott says.

4: Look for Leaks and Cracks in Home: Make sure your house is properly sealed in order to keep the cool air that you are paying for in. You can do this yourself by walking through your home and finding cracks and leaks in windows and baseboards, or you can pay a professional to come in and indentify any leaks. Fill any holes with rubber or caulk, available at your hardware store, Scott recommends.

"Do anything you can to fill these leaks and cracks. There's a huge debate out there [on the topic of green homes] of whether you should install solar panels, or just make your home an airtight box. Sealing your home will help you see a drastic reduction on your electric bill."

5. Use Power Strips: All of the gadgets you leave plugged in during the day, called the "phantom load," are increasing your utility bills, Scott says. She suggests using a power strip with about five to six different plugs and connecting gadgets in one strip. This way, you can either turn the entire strip off when you leave the house for the day, or find a "smart" model that only turns on when you want it to.

"It's great because we all forget to turn off our appliances," she says.
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