How to Save $500 Worth of Energy This Summer

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Every year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics looks at data from millions of households to create a profile of the average U.S. consumer. The annual Consumer Expenditure Survey contains lots of fun facts. For instance, in 2009 the average U.S. family — or “husband and wife consumer unit,” in government speak — earned $7,065.42 per month and had the following monthly expenses:

  • $1,721.17 on housing, including $366.92 on utilities
  • $835.08 on transportation
  • $688.67 on food
  • $348.50 on healthcare
  • $300.50 on entertainment

Averages are fun to study, but what really matters are your own household expenses. Lately, the high cost of driving has been bugging me, so I’ve been walking and biking as much as possible. I’ve also been watching my energy bill, which seems to be creeping higher every month. As a result, I’ve been searching for ways to save on electricity. Naturally, this quest has led me to Michael Bluejay, Mr. Electricity.

Bluejay runs a website devoted solely to smart tips for saving electricity. His site describes how much electricity costs and gives real-world examples of how you can use less energy. Bluejay estimates that the typical family can save:

  • $1,023 a year by using space heaters instead of central heating
  • $438 a year by using fans instead of air conditioning
  • $152 a year by washing clothes in cold water instead of hot
  • $196 a year by drying clothes on a line instead of in a dryer
  • $178 a year by putting your computer to sleep when you’re not using it

The best tactic, says Bluejay, is “dealing with the biggest electricity-guzzlers rather than worrying about items that don’t use much electricity.” In other words, don’t fret about the curling iron or the clock radio; focus your attention on anything that uses energy to heat or cool your home.

(MORE: How much you can save by doing with an A/C this summer)

If you want to save even more, Bluejay recommends using a Kill-a-Watt electricity meter to identify your home’s power hogs. The Kill-a-Watt installs between the power outlet and your appliances and directly measures how much energy each device consumes, allowing you to see where your energy vampires are lurking.

If you’re in the market for a new dishwasher, dryer, or other major appliance, be sure to visit the Energy Star website. Energy Star is a joint program between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy; its goal is to help people save money through energy-efficient products and practices. The website is filled with useful resources, including a list of Energy Star-qualified products, home-improvement tips, and info about home energy audits.

(MORE: Can the Amish Teach You to Be Rich?)

Programmable thermostats provide another way to reduce utility bills. Used correctly, a programmable thermostat allows you to automatically adjust your home’s temperature based on your needs.

Finally, many areas have nonprofit organizations that provide in-home energy audits, which can help improve your home’s energy efficiency and turn you on to available tax credits. When I requested an audit from my power company, they even gave me free compact fluorescent lightbulbs! To find out more about energy audits, contact your local power company. (Or, for a rough look at your energy use, check out ENERGYguide.com.)

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