5 Ways to Slice Summer Power Bills

If you want to cut your power bills this summer, remember three things: vampires, ice cream and poker parties.

That got your attention?

Cutting your electric bills doesn’t have to mean buying a bunch of gadgets — or sitting alone in the dark.

Here are five low-cost, no-stress ways to slice your summer power bills. And some of them are almost as much fun as eating ice cream.

Slay the Vampires

What’s the one place people waste power and don’t even realize it? Vampire power: It’s the energy some appliances and electronics drain from your home when they are turned off.

“I think the biggest one is one we all should know but probably don’t: that ‘off’ means unplugged,” says Bob Hart, broker with Century 21 A Hart Realty in Santa Barbara, Calif., and green designation instructor with the National Association of Realtors. “People have no idea how many things in their house (use) electricity 24 hours a day.”

Signs of a vampire: Anything with a clock or light that’s on when the item is turned off. Also, any kind of plugged-in charger can be a vampire appliance — whether or not it’s charging anything.

Staking vampires doesn’t mean going around constantly plugging and unplugging your electrical items. (Unlike real vampires, that would get old fast.) Instead, hook things up to surge protectors. Or use outlets that connect to wall switches for vampire items. When the wall switch is off, there’s no power to drain.

Actually Program Your Thermostat

You might be planning to get one. You might already have one. But until you actually learn how to use it, that programmable thermostat isn’t doing you any favors.

It’s kind of like buying a Ferrari keychain to go with a broken-down old car. Sure it looks cool, but it’s not going to make things run any better.

So get out the booklet that came with the thermostat and read it. Or have the customer service department talk you through the basics. Some power companies have special help lines for just that purpose, too.

When you use it, a programmable thermostat can save up to 10 percent per year from your heating and cooling bills, says Ronnie Kweller, spokeswoman with the Alliance to Save Energy.

And who couldn’t use a little extra money?

Washing Machines: Full and Cold Is Better

Jackson Browne was right: You don’t want to be “running on empty.”

Especially if you’re talking about a dishwasher or washing machine. You use the same amount of water and energy whether the machine is full or not.

But with full loads, you get a lot more for your money. And you run the machine less often. Win-win.

Some other ways to save:

• Do laundry in cold water. Running the water heater — for things such as showers, dishwashers and laundry — accounts for about 14 percent of your total power bill, Kweller says.

• Skip the “dry” cycle on your dishwasher. Either hand-dry dishes as you put them away, or let evaporation do the work for you.

• If your neighborhood allows it, check out one of those “solar clothes dryers,” says Hart. (It’s a line stretched between two poles that allows you to hang laundry outside.)

• If clotheslines are prohibited in your area, try a discreet drying rack on your back patio or deck. Or, if you’re not jonesing for that fresh-air-and-sunshine laundry smell, you can even set it up in a tub or shower stall.

Skip the Arctic AC

Who doesn’t come in from the sweltering heat and vow to crank the air conditioning down to a temperature usually reserved for penguin nesting grounds?

But icing down the whole house just to cool you off for a few minutes is expensive. So keep the air conditioning at a reasonable setting and look for other ways to chill when you first come inside. Have an icy drink, put a cold compress on the back of your neck or change into some cool, absorbent clothes.

Another effective strategy: a quick, cool shower, says Gia LaRussa, marketing director for the G2 Gallery, a green art space in Los Angeles.

“You don’t need to blast the AC,” she says. “It really does help a lot.”

Go Wireless

Sometimes it pays to get away from the two-dimensional electronics for a little while. Literally.

Click off “FarmVille” long enough to dig in the real dirt in your yard. Or, have some fun with a container garden on your patio. (Real tomatoes don’t require wattage. And if you eat what you grow, you can save on your food bill, too.)

Ditch the Facebook friends to spend a little time with people you know from the real world. (Not to be confused with “The Real World.”)

Recently, LaRussa held a craft party with a group of friends where they used recycled materials to make terrariums. “It was fun and creative,” she says.

But your idea of fun might also be game night or a poker party.

The goal: Get unplugged, unwind and connect in a way that has nothing to do with power cords and networks. You’ll save some electricity and recharge your own batteries at the same time.

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