Let’s be upfront. Everybody wants to have lower power bills. But how to make that happen without a lot of upfront cash or a radical change in lifestyle is a mystery for most homeowners. There are salesmen peddling gadgets that reduce the consumption of certain pieces of equipment, or alternative technologies that replace the need for grid power. And there are design “tricks” that reduce the amount of power needed to produce comfort conditions. So how does the homeowner decide which initiative will give the best “bang for the buck” immediately and which should be thought of as long-term projects? Here are three simple tips that will help get that process started.


In the sub-tropical zone, where this article is being written, direct penetration of the sun into the building’s interior is the second most important reason for needing air conditioning ( the most important is bad building layout), and therefore for the use of a lot of electric power. The installation of exterior shade devices, appropriate landscaping with shade trees, ground cover that stop the reflection of the sun into openings, and consideration for the orientation of the building generally will reduce the demand for power substantially. Many homeowners make the mistake of thinking that interior window dressings are effective for this purpose. Unfortunately, by the time those window dressings block any of the sun’s light, the heat has already entered the house. Keep the direct sun out and save money!


According to Jean Chatzky, a financial correspondent for CNBC TV, Oxford University did a study that showed that people who got immediate feedback on their energy use tended to reduce their consumption by as much as 15%. By purchasing an inexpensive digital energy monitor, the homeowner arms himself or herself with an awesome tool for both reduced usage and a more informed approach to energy conservation. These devices (there are several on the market) are designed to read the information from the utility meter and transmit it to wireless monitors on your desk, in some cases converting the electrical units to dollars and cents. You can then watch what you use in real time, checking which appliance uses how much power.


Certain appliances or pieces of equipment are energy hogs. The normal electric water heater, for example, eats up to 33% of energy you pay for. The air conditioning system, electric oven and electric clothes dryer are also quite greedy. After confirming how much of your energy they are responsible for, the next step is to decide which of them to retire first. The water heater is, of course, the easiest and most effective for immediate benefit. Solar water heaters, for example, are available for almost any type of installation, and deliver excellent hot water using only the sun. Of course, alternative sources of power, like natural or LP gas, photovoltaic (electricity from the sun) generators etc. are also available. Whatever the homeowner chooses as the first step, the eventual retirement of the energy hogs is a good strategy for their eventual retirement from large utility bills.

Getting off the utility grid is, of course, a great objective. But for most of us (aside from the possible legal issues) it requires a substantial initial outlay of cash, amounts not easily fitted into today’s tight credit budgets. In the meantime, then, these three tips are a great way to begin the “battle of the bulging power bills”: keep the sun out (except when you need it), watch what power you use and get rid of the “energy hogs”.