Cutting the Cost of Utilities
- Wednesday, April 20, 2011
You can find out which appliances in your house are energy hogs by buying a single-device electricity monitor ($25-$125) that provides real-time data on how much power a particular appliance (or other device) is pulling — and what that translates to in dollars and cents.
You may also want to use the monitor to learn how much "standby" power you're using—i.e., electricity consumed by devices such as printers, modems, and phone chargers even when not in use. Although these devices draw relatively little power individually, the amounts add up. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, devices that are constantly drawing power typically account for almost 10% of residential electricity usage. (Learn more about standby power usage at www.standby.lbl.gov.)
To reduce use of standby power, invest in power strips that allow you to turn off outlets completely. Certain power strips designed for computer setups will turn off power to all peripheral devices when you shut down your computer.
Unless you have a well, the only way to save on water is to use less of it. Low-flow shower heads (cost: $10-$50) commonly reduce per-person water usage by hundreds of gallons a month. Low-flow heads take some getting used to, but remember you'll also be saving on electricity (or gas) costs, since you'll be using less hot water.
You may also want to investigate replacing your toilets. Many newer models use water more efficiently than older ones. Some even come equipped with dual flush modes, so you can choose between a less-water-intensive flush or a heavier flush.
Another way to conserve water is to fix leaks. That sounds obvious, but many people effectively wash money down the drain by putting off such simple chores as replacing a faucet washer or toilet flapper. A 50-cent washer and a $10-$15 toilet repair kit will pay for themselves almost right way, and will generate an annual "investment return" likely to outdistance any return you'll earn in the stock market.
Fierce competition in telecommunications makes this one of the easiest areas in which to cut costs. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to a customer service rep. If you're thinking about dropping your cable or satellite TV service or changing to another company, let you current provider know. Don't be surprised if you're offered an immediate reduction in price if you'll stay on board.
As for the telephone, unless you absolutely need a "landline," you can drop it and go with a cell phone only. But what if you also get DSL Internet service through your landline phone company? In most areas of the country, you can keep the DSL service even if you drop your landline (this is known in phone company lingo as "naked DSL"). Just be aware that you may be charged a slightly higher price for stand-alone — rather than "bundled" — service.
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