When the light bulb went off in Florencia Contesse’s head about how she could save energy at home, she made sure it was a compact fluorescent.
In her South Miami apartment, Contesse has switched to the more energy efficient bulbs, which will save about $50 in energy costs over time. She is careful to turn off ceiling fans when she exits a room, and raises the thermostat to 82 degrees when she leaves the apartment.
As spokesperson for Florida Power and Light’s Energy Efficiency program, Contesse is used to doling out advice about saving energy. But she also is a firm believer in practicing what she preaches. “I’d like to save money on my electric bill, just like everybody else,” she said.
Electric bills are typically highest in South Florida during the tropical, humid summer months. “If you have more control over your energy consumption, you will directly have an impact on your bill,” Contesse said.
Here are some tips to conserve energy in the home, and put dollars back into your pocket:
Set your thermostat higher
Air-conditioning can account for up to half of your electric bill in the summer, Contesse said. Set your thermostat at 78 degrees or warmer when you’re home, and at 82 degrees when you will be away for at least two hours. Savings: 5 percent savings for each degree you go up.
Shut out the sun
Keep your curtains or blinds closed, especially if you have east- or west-facing windows, Contesse said. You’ll keep heat from entering your home and making your air-conditioning unit work harder. Use weather stripping along windows and doors to keep cool air from escaping, and from letting warm, humid air into your home
Nelsigleny Lopez, a Miami dental assistant, uses plants on her apartment balcony to provide natural shade that cools the area. “It’s not as hot as before, and it is a very cute thing to see my little garden through the window,” she said.
Use ceiling fans
Ceiling fans will make your skin feel three degrees cooler. But they only work by cooling the skin. Leaving a ceiling fan on in an empty room does nothing but add to your bill, Contesse said. Savings: Turn off the fan when you exit a room and save up to $7 a month.
Change your filter monthly
Change your air conditioner’s filter once a month to keep the unit from working too hard and wasting energy, Contesse said. “I put an alarm on my smart phone to remind me,” she said. Savings: $1.50 per month.
Use the dishwasher
Dishwashers consume about a third of the water used in hand washing dishes, Contesse said. Stop pre-rinsing dishes before they go into the dishwasher and save $70 a year.
Replace old showerheads
A water-saving showerhead also saves energy. Here’s a test: Time how long it takes your showerhead to fill a one-gallon bucket. If it’s less than 24 seconds, you model is not energy efficient. Newer models have a slower flow, which uses less water, Contesse said. Savings: about $80 a year per showerhead.
Limit pool pump use
Set your pool pump for six hours in the summer and four hours in the winter. Savings: up to $100 a year.
Lower your hot water heater temperature
Reduce the temperature on your hot water heater from 140 to 120 degrees. Savings: about $10 per year. If you aren’t going to be home for a month or more, turn off your water heater at the circuit breaker. Savings: $2 per month.
Wash only full loads of clothes, Lopez said, because it takes the same amount of energy to wash a large or small batch.
Valerie Amor of Fort Lauderdale bought an LG all-in-one washer and dryer combination appliance from Home Depot that uses about half the electricity of separate appliances. “The heat from the motor is recycled to heat the clothes,” said Amor, who writes about green building and sustainability and owns architecture firm Drawing Conclusions.
Clean the lint screen in your dryer before every load. Use the auto-sensor on your dryer so you won’t over-dry clothing. Wash and rinse clothing in cold water and adjust the water level to the load size. Savings: $40 a year.
If it’s not in use, unplug. “Before I go to work I disconnect almost everything in my bedroom, bathroom and the kitchen,” Lopez said.
Amor said she cuts down on “vampire usage” every night. “All of those blinking LED lights you see on when you go to bed — turn them off,” she said. “There’s no reason for them to stay on when they’re not being used.”
Be in the know
Laptops are more energy efficient than desktops. Non Energy Star-rated LED televisions consume less energy than LCD or Plasma models. A video game console that’s left on continuously can cost up to $130 a year. A DVD player that’s left on costs $7 a year. A desktop printer that stays on costs $65 a year. One with sleep mode will cost $18 a year.
Keep your oven off and your kitchen cooler by cooking on an outdoor grill, or with small appliances such as the microwave, toaster oven or crock pot, which use less energy. Look for Energy Star appliances, and compare projected energy usage before buying.
“If they can make little changes in their routine, they can save a lot of money,” Lopez said. “I always explain to my relatives how easy it is to make a difference in the bill by just changing some habits.”