10 Easy Ways to Keep Energy Costs Down

Beat the heat with these energy-savings tips.

Beat the heat with these energy-savings tips
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The mercury's really climbing, and it's been hot enough to fry an egg.

While the clichés always come out when the weather turns hot and ugly, the utility bills always go up as well. So if you're becoming obsessed about keeping your electric and water bills lower, without turning off your air conditioning or completely giving up your sprinkler (though, yes, doing both of those would help), here are some energy-saving strategies that you may have not yet considered.

1. Check your hot water heater's thermostat. You might want to set it to 120 degrees, suggests Andy Farmer, education resources manager for Virginia Energy Sense, a statewide initiative developed to encourage electric energy efficiency and conservation in Virginia. "The default manufacturer setting for many water heaters is 140 degrees Fahrenheit," Farmer says. "However, 120 degrees is typically sufficient for your water heating needs all year round, according to the Department of Energy."

[See: 8 Energy-Efficient Home Improvements That Save Money.]

But then again, you may not want to set it there. Many dishwashers – especially the newer models – need 140 degree water, so before you do anything, check the manual. If it indicates that the appliance needs 140 degrees, the next time you buy a dishwasher, you could get one with a booster heater – and then lower your hot water heater's thermostat to the 120 degree setting.

It might be worth the hassle. Farmer says the lower temperature should save homeowners an estimated 6 to 10 percent on their utility bill, which could be significant. "On average, water heating is the second-largest energy expense in homes, accounting for about 18 percent of your utility bill," he says.

2. Look for – and fix – leaks. Repair leaking faucets, toilets and pipe; a leaking roof is a good idea to check out, too. An easy way to check for leaks – aside from eyeballing your sink – is to check your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used, says Mark LeChevallier, director of Innovation and Environmental Stewardship at American Water, a public utility company that serves 30 states and parts of Canada. If the meter changes at all, you probably have a leak somewhere.

3. Cook with something smaller than the oven. You bought your stove for a reason. Still, it's probably not a bad thing to be aware that any time you use a toaster oven, electric skillet, slow cooker or microwave, you use less energy.

4. Run your appliances in the evening. Especially if it's a brutally hot day. Why? "Because these appliances produce heat, it will cause your air conditioning to work harder," says Farmer, adding that holding off in the evening helps your neighbors, too. "It can also reduce any potential strains on the grid." Of course, if you really want to save money on your electric bill, Farmer points out that you could wash your dishes by hand.

5. Replace your filters. You hopefully are doing this anyway, since clogged air filters often lead to air-conditioning units and other items breaking down. Even if that weren't the case, an unchanged air filter means the air-conditioning unit, dryer or what have you will work harder or run longer, and – you guessed it – use more energy.

[See: 10 Ways to Live Green On a Budget.]

6. Turn off the ceiling fan. That is, when you aren't home. "Ceiling fans don't actually cool your home; they only circulate air to make you feel cooler," says Kathy Lyford, vice president of New England Operations at the National Grid, an international electric and gas company servicing the northeastern United States and England. So when you're at home, by all means, let your fans whirl away. But to let the blades spin for hours on end when you're gone – that just adds to your electric bill.

7. Use electric fans. Instead of constantly running the air conditioner, try an electric fan. Even if they're on continuously, they use little electricity compared to an air conditioner, Lyford says.