ScoreCard Research Cade Simmons - The Penny Hoarder

Can't figure out what to register for? Don’t make the mistake of filling your registry with gadgets you’ll never use.

Whether you're buying your first home, moving, getting married or even having a baby, consider using your registry as an investment in saving energy and money.

Most of what we pay for in utility bills is wasted, so it’s smart to invest in energy-saving items -- and it’s even better if you get them as gifts. Below are 20 money-saving products to consider adding to your registry.

1. LED Light Bulbs

CFL light bulbs are cheap, but for your registry, ask for the best technology that will last the longest.

Register for $3 60 watt replacement bulbs or $9 100 watt replacement bulbs.

New studies suggest the average home has more than 40 light bulbs. Using the study’s formula, a conservative estimate of 30 bulbs at 100 watts, the national average cost of 12 cents a kWh and an average daily usage of only five hours, you’ll save $47 a month versus using incandescent bulbs -- or $564 a year.

Cost: $180 (for 15 bulbs of each wattage)

Life: 12-20 years

2. Smart Power Strip

Start your new entertainment center, computer desk or video-game corner off with the right power strip to save you money. The average American household has 30-plus devices plugged in using “vampire” load, which costs them about $930 a year in unused energy.

Take a peek at this infographic from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to decide which works best for you.

I prefer the programmable timer units because I’m a creature of schedule. This one provides different times for different days of the week.

Cost: $75 (assuming 5 for 30 outlets)

Life: Five years    

3. Outlet Timers

For smaller installations, use small timers.

Make sure you get the correct number of prongs and outlets. The one I’ve linked to above has two three-prong grounded outlets with a 24-hour clock, which will handle just about everything.

Attaching two of these to your DVRs and eliminating their “standby” usage saves you $87, according to the DOE.

Cost: $18 (assuming you buy two)

Life: Five years

4. Water Heater Blanket

They cost about $25 at hardware stores and pay for themselves quickly. Some utility companies provide them for free during home audits.

New water heaters may not benefit at all from a blanket so read the manual or Google your model before you add this item to your registry.

Properly installed water heater blankets can save you between $20 and $45 annually.

Cost: $25

Life: 15-20 years

5. Water Pipe Insulation

Insulating the first few feet of hot water pipes from your water heater decreases the time hot water takes to come out of the tap.

This makes the water heater work less, decreases waste waiting for hot water and makes it more confortable to reduce the temperature of your water heater from 140 to 120 degrees, resulting in a combined savings between $32 and $72 a year.

Cost: $5

Life: Eight to 10 years

6. Pipe Putty

A small drip in your pipes can cost you $1 per month on your water bill.

If your pipes look discolored, wrapping a paper towel over joints returns a damp towel or you can see water damage in vanity cabinets, wrap pipe joints in pipe putty to put a stop to the problem.

In addition to the damage leaks can cause to your home, three small leaks would cost you $36 a year.

Don’t wait until you have a problem to buy the putty; you’ll often leaks when you try to turn off water valves. You're going to want it to have it on hand when that happens.

Cost: $4.

Life: Three to five years

7. Faucet aerators

Reduce the usage of your faucet below 1.5 gallons per minute (GPM) with an efficient faucet aerator.

Some attachments can get you down to 0.5 GPM, but for a better look, you can also buy replacements made by Kohler and Delta.

Each aerator reduces the fixture’s average water use by 30% or more. The older the faucet, the higher the savings.

Using the average water bills of 30 major U.S. cities, and assuming 40% of those bills are fixed charges, that's a $25 monthly savings, or $300 a year.

Cost: $11 (assuming you get six)

Life: Five to 10 years

8. Efficient Toilet Fill Valves (or Quick Fixes)

Depending on your toilet, you can adjust the screw at the top of the fill tube, adjust the float ball or change the clip lock setting. Set it as low as possible and work backwards until you can flush all waste with the smallest amount of water. This could cost only a few minutes of your time.

If necessary, add a replacement valve to your registry.

The EPA estimates bad toilets and settings cost consumers $110 a year from unnecessary water use, so it’s worth taking a few minutes for these tweaks.

Cost: $0-$48.60 (assuming you have three toilets)

Life: Five to 10 years

9. Tin or Aluminum Wrap

Here’s a crazy statistic: 20% or more of the air you heat or cool in your home never reaches its intended destination or is unconditioned upon delivery.

To trap that air back into the system, seal every ductwork joint with aluminum tape. Couple your efforts with number 10, pipe insulation tape.

10. Pipe Insulation Tape

Wrap as much duct as you can in DIY pipe insulation. Not every pipe can be taped or insulated in a finished home, but getting just 5% of that air where it’s intended to go at the correct temperature can save you $55 a year.

Cost: $19.55 (assuming you get both wrap and insulation tape)

Life: 10 years

11. Programmable Thermostat

Programming a thermostat correctly can save you 1% of your heating and cooling costs per sustained degree you set it back. Buying a programmable thermostat and learning how to use it can save you an estimated $180, according to Energy Star.

If it's part of your registry and you’re not paying for it, consider a smart thermostat like Nest or EcoBee that will program itself.

Cost: $20-$250

Life: 15 years

For best results and savings, ask for items 12 through 15 as an air-sealing package.

12. Foam Spray Insulation and Caulk

Use outdoor sealants for intentional holes like around plumbing and electrical holes.

Window and door frames are frequently shimmed into place, leaving gaps for air to escape. Use spray foam to seal these gaps. Follow that with indoor caulking on both sides of the trim.

13. Outlet Insulation Patches

Outlet foam sealers are cheap and easy to install. Put them inside all outlets and switches on exterior walls. These are the weakest points of an insulated wall.

You can use the aluminum tape mentioned earlier to join them for multiple switch plates.

14. Window Film Covers

I get asked this a lot. “Will a thin sheet of plastic actually reduce my bill?”

Yes!

When properly installed over the trim, the plastic creates an air gap between it and the window -- which reduces drafts and the transfer of heat through the window.

15. Draft Guards or Door Sealers

You can always DIY draft guards, but your best option is to register for proper door weather stripping.

Energy Star estimates 15% of your heating and cooling costs are going right out openings in your walls. At the Energy Information Administration average gas heating cost of $679 a season, air sealing can help you save $101.85 a year, or $20.37 a month for the five months most people use the heat.

During hotter months, the EIA estimates an average cooling bill of $406, so a 15% savings is about $61 over three months, or $20.33 a month. These savings repeat, season after season, from the upfront work.

Cost: $41.17

Life: Five to six years

16. High Efficiency Curtains

Efficient, insulated draperies can reduce summer sun heat gain by 30% and winter heat loss by 10%.

At the EIA averages, that's about $190 a year.

Cost: $150 (assuming five large windows or glass doors)

Life: 10 years

The following items arguably help you save money in the long run, but there’s some disagreement over these claims. Many people believe these items help you maintain thermostat changes instead of providing anything additional -- which is still a win in our book.

17. Air Deflectors

Deflectors force conditioned air away from walls and windows to the parts of the room you actually use, making it feel more comfortable.

Cost: $3 each (assume you’ll need six, so $18)

18. Circulation Fans

I just love a good fan. If you have kids, ceiling fans are safer for fingers. Most come with a reverse (clockwise) setting to make heated rooms more comfortable.

But a good pedestal fan makes a room more comfortable and if it feels cooler, maybe you'll leave your thermostat alone.

Cost: $40 to $60

19. Infrared Space Heater with Thermostat

Same idea as a fan, but for a different season. Heating a room with an infrared heater is better than cranking up the thermostat for the whole house.

Cost: $164 for two

20. Maintenance Gift Certificates

Unmaintained water heaters, furnaces and air conditioners lose 5% or more of their efficiency every year, costing you an extra $120 per year, based on EcoBee metered usage costs at 10% loss.

Plus, regular maintenance helps extends the lives of these appliances and stretch the savings you'll get from every other item on this list.

If you're buying a house, use these gift certificates while it’s in escrow and talk to the seller about any problems before closing.

Accompany your home inspector and count the light bulbs, outlets, fans, faucets, toilets, windows and doors. Have them show you the ductwork and see if it needs sealing. Check the water heater with them for a blanket and pipe insulation. That way, you’ll know what to buy (or register for) before you move in.

Have the inspector check the water meter size as well, to see if you can save money there too.

Making a Registry?

It takes a special kind of saver to use a registry as an investment, but it’s very possible. The items on this list could help you save $2,800 a year on utilities.

(If you don’t have a reason to create a registry, you can buy them all yourself for $1,000 -- still a pretty great deal.)

For easy reference, I created this public Wish List for all listed Amazon items, including several types of aerators and both types of thermostat.

Whether your friends and family members want to spend $3 or $250, they can help you save money on your utility bills -- definitely a gift you’ll appreciate more than that fondue set.

Your Turn: Would you add any of these items to your registry?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true "penny hoarder" would be a fool not to take the company's money. :)

Cade Simmons works in energy efficiency oversight and has a Master's degree in Economics specializing in public utility regulation from New Mexico State University. While I too love Taco Bell, I am not compensated for links or recommending products.

“Are we heating the whole neighborhood?!” is something you probably heard as a kid -- or have asked your own kids.

Yes, you are, even if your door is closed. Unless your home is hermetically sealed, heated (or cooled) air inside your home will escape.

But the crucial factors are how easily that air escapes, and its temperature.

The First Step

Before you do anything on your own, call your utility company. These companies often offer energy-saving programs to reduce air leaks from your home. Some even include “infiltration” audits specifically to find air leakage.

You might be able to get a free home audit, and even receive a few free products to help keep more of your heated or cooled air inside your house.

If your company doesn’t offer one of these programs, or they come up short on sealing everything, here’s how to DIY.

DIY Home Sealing to Save Money on Heating and Cooling

Energy Star provides a good comprehensive list of areas where you could be leaking conditioned (either hot or cold) air, as well as a great interactive guide and pamphlet on sealing them.

Depending on your love of DIY and general handy skills, choose from three levels of home-sealing work. If you’re ready to go all-out and slash your utility bills, see the last section for advanced home-sealing techniques.

Easy Fixes

If you can see light through the edges of your exterior doors, you’re losing air -- and money.

To block that airflow, try a draft guard. It’s basically two pool noodles in a pillow case. Adding a bit of rice or dried corn makes the guard a bit heavier and a better sealer. If you have windows that don’t close perfectly, try a smaller version there.

To reduce the amount of heat you lose through your windows, use window wraps. Will a thin sheet of plastic actually reduce your bill? Yes! When properly installed over the trim, the plastic creates an air gap between it and the window, which helps reduce drafts and heat transfer through the window.

I use 3 mm clear plastic trash bags and masking tape. Yes, my wife let me put trash bags on the windows. All in the name of savings!

It’s important to use clear plastic. In the winter, sunlight coming through the windows helps heat both the air gap and the interior of your home. In the summer, dark colors can absorb heat and transfer it into your home, but clear plastic helps keep the heat outside so your home stays cooler.

Harder Repairs

Look around your attic and basement for blackened insulation, which is a sign of air traveling through it.

(I assume you have insulation -- if you don’t, call someone immediately! No door and gap sealing will help you, since you’re losing heat right through the walls.)

Make sure your attic insulation isn’t compressed. The air gaps within the insulation are what keep the hot air where it belongs. Blown-in insulation should be light and fluffy, and batt insulation should lay flat without being cramped or pressed.

Check the door to the attic. Seal the edge with cushion weatherstrips and, ideally, two layers of batt insulation.

Next, find the intentional openings in your home for water pipes, electric, gas, cable and phone service or vents. Ironically, the gas service in my home had the largest completely unimpeded hole in my wall.

Use foam or caulk (or both) to seal these holes both inside and outside. To find these holes, I use the “follow the screams” method. Spiders like to build webs in these openings because of the air drafts. Where you find spiders, you’ll usually find openings.

Advanced Home-Sealing Strategies

Seal everything: doors, windows, crawlspaces and attics.

Pull off the trim from every exterior door and window to see if it’s foam sealed. Builders frequently shim windows and door frames into place, leaving gaps for air to escape. Fill these gaps with foam, then caulk on both sides of the trim.

Buy cheap outlet foam sealers and put them inside all outlets and switches on exterior walls. These are the weakest points of an insulated wall.

If you feel a draft, find it and stuff it closed. Fireplace, range hood, microwave and bathroom vents are all intentional openings for air to escape. If you can, cover these when you’re not using them.

Check your ducts. Many homes have ductwork over and under their interior structures in crawlspaces and attics.

20% or more of the conditioned air in your home never reaches its intended destination or is unconditioned upon delivery. To DIY, use metal tape to seal the joints of the ductwork you can see. Wrap all joints and especially the corners, even if you don’t think they’re leaking air yet.

Don’t use standard tape, duct tape or fiber/paper/plastic tape. These can melt and will wear out quickly in extreme temperatures.

How Much Can You Save?

Energy Star estimates you spend 15% of your heating and cooling costs on air that leaks right out of your house.

At the Energy Information Administration average gas heating cost in the US of $679 a season, that's $101.85 a year, or $20.37 a month for the five months most people use their heat. If you're one of the half of Americans who heat with something other than gas, your savings will be even higher.

These repairs will also help you save on air conditioning costs in the summer. If you save 15% of the estimated EIA average cooling bill of $412, that’s about $61 over three months, or $20.33 a month.

After you seal your ducts, if you can keep even just 5% of the air at its conditioned level, you can save $55 on heating and cooling bills.

Combined, a weekend of hunting air leaks with a few dollars in sealing equipment can help you save approximately $200 a year on heating and cooling costs. The best part: These savings repeat, season after season, from the upfront work.

How Much Should You Spend on Home-Sealing Repairs?

These figures are based on averages, though; there’s no easy way to calculate exactly what you and your house will save, which makes it difficult to figure out how much to spend on home-sealing materials.

My rule of thumb is to take the difference between your highest three bills and your lowest three bills and multiply by the promised 15%.

For example, let’s say your lowest bills (most likely March/April and September/October) are each $100, and your highest are each $300. Here’s the math:

$300 x 3 = $900

$100 x 3 = $300

$900 - $300 = $600

$600 x 0.15 = $90

So I’ll likely save about $90 in a year. If I know I’ll live in my house for three to five years, I might be willing to spend double that, since my savings will last at least that long.

If your bills are fairly steady throughout the year, you’ll benefit less from temperature-controlling measures, but it’s likely you’ll still save a few bucks by taking the easiest steps.

Happy leak-hunting and home-sealing!

Your Turn: Have you worked to seal gaps in your home and make the most of your heated and cooled air? Did you notice a difference in your utility bills?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Cade Simmons works in energy efficiency oversight and has a Master's degree in Economics specializing in public utility regulation from New Mexico State University.

Saving water is a powerful way to reduce your utility costs. Why? You actually pay for it multiple times.

Think about it. Cold water costs you twice: when you bring it into your house, and when you send it down the drain. Hot water costs you at least one more time: when you heat it (and reheat it, with a standard water heater) with fuel.

While Google will give you about 300 million results for “how to save water,” most of them require you to change your behavior. If you can stay focused on a few of these strategies, like not running the faucet while brushing your teeth, you can save a significant amount of money -- but it can be tough to stick to them.

Instead, or in addition, here’s how to lower your water bill without changing your behavior or routines. Yes, you’ll need to do a bit of work up front, but then you’ll never need to think about it again -- and you’ll save money on every gallon of water you use.

Get a Smaller Water Meter

You probably aren’t an expert in the size of pipe your house needs, the diameter of your water main or the ideal meter for your use. That’s OK. Your water company should be.

The combination of these factors is generally referred to as your “service.” The size of your service, controlled by your meter, governs your water’s pressure and speed.

And these days, it also governs how much you pay. American Water, which operates in 47 states, charges different prices for different meter sizes in many of their jurisdictions, like California and New Jersey. Many other water utilities do the same, such as Las Vegas Valley Water District.

To decide what size meter to give you, a water engineer carefully measured your house, logged every apparatus, extrapolated your consumption and custom-designed a meter just big enough to supply your water. If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

No, you got whatever was on the truck that day, whatever the company had in the store room and whatever the employees thought would cause the least customer complaints -- which tends to be a larger meter.

When I first moved into my home, I had a 1-inch meter. I didn’t care. Then the utility convinced the governing agency they should be allowed to charge “water criminals,” like myself, more money because we used larger meters than other customers.

It worked! I got a quarterly bill $60 higher than I ever had before. Being university trained in utility pricing, I read their price tariffs and regulatory filing to find out why. Answer: The meter charge.

I called to complain and asked to have the meter replaced with a smaller one. To my surprise, the representative tried everything you can imagine to convince me to keep my existing meter. These were my favorite reasons:

  • “But sir, you could have a pool someday and if you want it to fill faster, you need a larger service.”
  • “If you run a sprinkler system and have other things running, your pressure could be low.”
  • “Your shower pressure won’t be as hard.”  
  • “Filing a water bottle will take longer.”

Why would they want someone they just complained about to keep an oversized service?

  • Bigger meter = higher flow = more water = more money for the company
  • Replace meter = cost of person replacing meter and less money for the company

Think overdraft fees. Banks complain about overdrafts, but thrive on the fees. Cops hate criminals, but don't have jobs without them. Get the idea?

Why You Should Reduce Your Service ASAP

Even if your rates aren’t structured this way today, they could change. And when they do, you’ll be stuck paying the higher bill until you reduce the size of your service -- it will only affect future bills.

Having a smaller service means you’ll pay less in meter charges (as high as $20 per month in Iowa and $15 in New Jersey), you’ll use less water per minute on every faucet and you’ll pay less in sewer bills.

If your company charges for the swap, complain. In addition to sharing your frustrations with the company, let your state’s governing utility boards know by searching Google for “[state] utility board.”

Could your water pressure decrease with a lower flow rate? Maybe, though sometimes the pressure increases even with less flow, like putting your finger at the end of a hose. But after a week, you’ll be totally used to it -- and glad you’ve got an extra $200 a year in your pocket.

Test Your Toilet

“If it’s brown, flush it down; if it's yellow, let it mellow” is a popular strategy, though opinions vary on its effectiveness as a money-saving tactic. I have young kids who put things in the toilet, dogs that drink toilet water and a nose that smells urine, so I’m not on board with this one.

If you're flush (pun intended) with cash, you could choose to buy a dual flush toilet. Or you can simply adjust your toilet to help you save money.

Put your toilet to the test: Food coloring in the top of the basin should not leak to the bowl without a flush. If it does, you probably need a new fill valve. They’re cheap and easy to change.

While you’re there, adjust the float to use less water. The lower the float ball is in a full tank, the less water it uses.

Depending on your toilet, you can adjust the screw at the top of the fill tube, screw in the float ball or change the clip lock setting. Set it as low as possible and work backwards until you can flush all waste with the smallest amount of water.

Since the EPA estimates bad toilets and settings cost consumers $110 a year from unnecessary water use, it’s worth taking a few minutes on these tweaks.

Ask for Freebies and Rebates

Need to replace a fixture, buy a new utility-related product or reduce your water use even further? See if you can get a deal at the same time.

Start by checking this list of rebates from the Environmental Protection Agency to see what products they recommend and what programs might be available in your area.

Next, gather phone numbers for your water, fuel and sewer companies. Call them and ask about any conservation or rebate programs on the list, or if they have any that aren’t listed.

Ask whether the fuel company provides free audits that include water-heating products. These packages usually include low-flow faucet aerators, shower heads, water-heater blankets and pipe insulation.

If you're already in great shape and can't get additional savings from this post, bookmark it for the next time you move so you can start off on the right foot.

Your Turn: What other non-behavior-dependent ways do you save money on water costs?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Cade Simmons works in energy efficiency oversight and has a Master's degree in Economics specializing in public utility regulation from New Mexico State University.

When you’re looking for ways to lower your electric bill, you’ll see a lot of products promising huge savings.

But there’s a catch: Many of those numbers reflect other savings, like public health benefits, societal improvements and environmental impacts. Those huge savings you see aren’t actually the ones reflected on your bill.

I work in energy efficiency with responsibilities in oversight, auditing, savings calculations and cost benefit analysis on a daily basis. While this advice is independent of my work, I’ve seen that most experts don't agree on what savings you can actually achieve in your home.

For example, in study after study, residential programmable thermostats haven’t actually lived up to their promised savings. This is partly because people were already using their manual thermostats in energy-saving ways -- and partly because many people don’t know how to properly use them!

So what can you do for little or no cost to actually reduce your electric bill? Here’s a beginner’s list of convenient options that will help you make a big dent in your bills.

1. Call Your Utility Company

Ask, and thou shalt (probably) receive.

This might seem like an odd way to reduce your bill, but in many states it’s the cheapest and most effective place to start.

Most American utility companies are required by law to operate “Energy  Efficiency” or “Energy Smart” programs, which your bills help fund. Ask about your utility company’s programs, how to take advantage of them and what you need to do to cash in.

For example, some states run direct load control programs, where you let the utility company turn off your air conditioner, water heater or other appliance for 15 minutes or so during peak usage times. Most experts agree the majority of customers don’t notice a difference in their service; I don’t.

In return, you get a credit on your bill, which can range from $147 per year at Duke in Florida and Florida Power and Light, to $5 a month at Idaho Power. Plus, you’re not paying for the power you would have used during that time.

2. Pull the Plug on Vampires

This is one of the simplest ways to save money, literally overnight.

Just by being plugged in when you’re not using it, your DVR costs you $43.46 a year, or $3.62 a month, according to the Department of Energy. Chargers run 0.26 watts when not in use, and 2.24 watts when plugged into a fully charged cell phone. Your Xbox and TV run 0.15 kWh an hour each, estimates Duke Energy.

So what do you do about it?

Unplug chargers from the wall when you’re not using them and from fully charged phones. Leaving a charger in the wall while you’re at work for nine hours costs you 10 cents a day. In the average household with 25 devices, including Kindles, iPads, rechargeable flashlights, cell phones, laptops and MP3 players, that’s $2.50 a day or $935 a year (plus tax, in most states) for energy you don’t need.

If you have a DVR, which most of us do, you probably have a predictable pattern of when you use it. You don’t need a fancy app and custom-built wireless controlled outlets. Just hunt down your Christmas light timer and set it to power on your DVR an hour before you anticipate you’ll be there to use it, which gives it enough time to warm up.

Even stay-at-home family members can’t watch TV in their sleep, so you’re bound to have times you can turn off your DVR. If you have two, you’ve just saved yourself $87 a year.

3. Change Your Light Bulbs, Eventually

Conventional wisdom says always change your light bulb to the most efficient product available. But you’re not conventional, you’re a Penny Hoarder.

The fact is, many LED bulbs on the market over the last few years didn’t work as well as conventional bulbs, overstated savings, were expensive and came with heavy instructions and warnings. With statements like “lasts 20 years” on the package, it’s easy not to trust them. That number is based on three hours of use per day, which is unrealistic for many people.

For better options, talk to your utility company. Ask if they have home audit programs, energy-saving kits or subsidized light buying programs.

In some states, home auditors will give you all kinds of goodies to save energy, especially light bulbs to replace incandescent and halogen ones. You’ve already paid for new bulbs through your bill, so you might as well get them. If you have to buy additional bulbs, ask if the utility company subsidizes efficient light bulbs at any local retailers.

Outdoor and yard lights should be your first targets. Many homes have lamp posts in the front yard and garage lights that turn on when it gets dark and stay on all night, making them the most-used lights in most homes -- and they’ll cost you.

A 100-watt incandescent bulb on for 10 hours equals 1 kWh. At the average rate in the United States, that’s 12 cents per night, per bulb, or $44 a year. An equivalent “brightness” CFL uses 16 watts and would cost you two cents a night or $7 a year.

Each of these outdoor incandescent bulbs you replace with a CFL will save you $37 a year, or just over $3 per month. CFL bulbs last much longer than incandescents, so you’ll also save the time you would have spent changing bulbs.

Indoor lights are on less, can be more annoying with CFL warm-up time and will save you less per bulb in a given year. They’re still worth changing out, but you may want to consider using LED light bulbs instead.

LEDs or CFLs?

Most LEDs on the market are expensive, at least today. The price is falling fast, down by half in the last 12 months by some estimates, and soon these bulbs will be the most cost-effective replacements for incandescent bulbs, even in the short term. Walmart’s store-brand LEDs retail for as little as $3 each. They aren’t Energy Star-rated yet, but they get the job done, and 8.5 watts is a lot less than 60 watts.

Note that the base of many LED bulbs gets very hot. Many LED bulbs say, buried in the manual or in small packaging print, not to use them in enclosed fixtures. The heat damages the bulb and can actually cause the light to stay on after you turn it off. The only thing worse than paying $3-$15 per light bulb is breaking it.

For now, CFLs are still cheaper and save almost as much energy as LEDs. A 60-watt equivalent CFL uses 13 watts; the “same” LED uses 10 watts. If you can deal with the warm-up time and various other complaints about CFLs, they’re still your better option based on cost. Wait until they burn out before changing to LEDs. More than likely, this will also buy time for the LED price to come down further.

Not interested in CFLs and their warm-up time or the apparent “brightness” and cost of these newfangled LEDs, but still want to save money? Replace your old bulbs with one of the new incandescent bulbs. All new bulbs must be about 30% better than their predecessors, according to federal standards. Most 100-watt bulbs sold today actually use around 72 watts.

They’re a great option for lights you don’t use often, or that go on and off fairly quickly, like those in closets and half bathrooms. CFLs don't like quick on/off situations, and you’re not going to save much with an LED if the light is only on for 60 seconds at a time.

Want to calculate your own savings? Look for national prices here and rough lumen or brightness watt equivalents here. Here’s your formula for how much a bulb will cost to operate:

((Watts x hours per day) /1000) x price x 365 days

From the above CFL example using average national prices, ((16 watts x 10 hours) /1000) x $0.12 x 365 = $7.01. Compare that to the incandescent average of $44 per year for an outdoor bulb, and you’ve saved about $37.

Here’s What These Changes Mean for Your Electric Bill

So you’ve changed 30 light bulbs around your house to CFLs or LEDs, unplugged your chargers, set two DVRs with timers, and enrolled in a $75-a-year load management program from your utility company.

On average, you just saved yourself $1,500 a year in utility bills and taxes. That’s $118 a month at average U.S. utility rates in the winter, and $143 with load management credits in the summer. Not to mention any other swag or savings from your utility company’s programs. The best part is most of these savings happened without you changing your daily life drastically or installing solar panels.

Your Turn: Have you tried any of these tactics? What difference did they make to your electric bill?

Cade Simmons works in energy efficiency oversight and has a master's degree in economics specializing in public utility regulation from New Mexico State University.