Strategies to lower your energy bill when working from home

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One of the obvious perks of working from home is the opportunity to cut some expenses.

If you’re no longer commuting every day, cooking more instead of grabbing meals out, or spending less on your wardrobe and dry cleaning, you’re bound to notice some savings pretty quickly.

Unfortunately, there are other costs that might be going up simply because you’re at home more—including your energy costs. The extra time you may be spending on your computer, watching Netflix, or even baking cookies could be pushing up your monthly power usage—and your monthly electric bill.

Related: Getting your home office setup off the ground

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In the Home Office

If you have those bills on autopay, you might not have even noticed the increase. Or maybe you saw a spike and wondered what you could do about it.

The good news is with a little planning you may be able to keep the money you’ve been saving on gas, clothes, and food for yourself, instead of sending it off to your local utility company.

You may have put some thought into setting up your office in a way that works ergonomically and looks presentable on Zoom. But have you thought about making your workspace energy efficient?

Here are some strategies that might help lower energy bills while you’re working from home.

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1. Choosing Power-Saving Equipment

If there’s a choice, consider using a laptop instead of a desktop computer to do your work. According to Energy Saver, the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) consumer resource, it takes much more power to run a desktop and its monitor than it does to run a laptop.

And with the laptop, there’s a battery for backup if the power fluctuates or there’s a brownout due to high electricity demand in your area.

Those who are new to working at home and purchasing their own office equipment may want to check out Energy Star-certified computers, monitors, and printers, which run more efficiently than standard equipment and use about half as much electricity.

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2. Unplugging at the End of the Day

Remote workers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a break at the end of their day. The computers, phone chargers, and other pieces of office equipment they rely on may continue to draw power even when not in use.

For convenience, workers may want to consider attaching these “energy vampires” to a smart power strip, with just one easy-to-reach switch to flip when it’s time to call it quits.

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3. Letting Computers Take a Nap

Another way to save energy is to set a computer to sleep or hibernate if it’s going to sit idle for a while. This differs from using a screen saver, which actually may take extra energy to keep an animated display active on the screen.

When a computer enters sleep mode, the power is cut to any unneeded systems, and the memory receives just enough power to maintain data.

In hibernation mode, the computer saves open documents and running applications to the hard disk instead of to RAM, which means it uses zero power. It takes a little longer to start back up from hibernation, though, so sleep mode may be better for shorter breaks.

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4. Choosing the Right Light

Making the most of natural light in the layout of a home office can cut down on eye strain and energy use, so it can help to create a workspace by a window.

But if a desk lamp will be on for much of the day, using energy-efficient bulbs instead of traditional incandescent bulbs could decrease the amount of energy the light will use by as much as 80%.

Because LED light bulbs produce less heat, they also may help cut costs associated with home cooling. And LEDs, halogens, and compact fluorescent lamps typically last longer than traditional bulbs.

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Elsewhere Around the House

Working from home typically means more time spent using appliances; opening and closing doors; and running the air conditioner, fans, or the heater.

Many power companies offer free home energy assessments with a custom report that shows a home’s past and current power use and offers tips on how to save energy in the future.

For those who prefer to DIY their audit, the Environmental Protection Agency provides the Home Energy Yardstick, which compares a household’s actual energy use (based on a year’s worth of utility bills) to that of similar households.

There are also companies that, for a fee, will come and inspect a home and report on areas where the home and its residents could be more energy efficient (though it may require changing some old behaviors).

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1. Making Chores More Efficient

If the local utility company offers “time of use” pricing plans—charging less for power consumed during off-peak hours—it might be another opportunity to save.

Taking advantage of lower pricing may require breaking some old habits—running the dishwasher in the morning, for example, or doing laundry in the late evening—but the reward might be a lower utility bill as well as a healthier planet.

Running full loads in the clothes washer, dryer, and dishwasher can be another way to save. According to Consumer Reports , Americans used 10 billion kilowatt-hours doing laundry at home in 2019, and 60 billion kilowatt-hours to dry all those loads.

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2. Adjusting the Thermostat

One of the easiest ways to be more energy efficient is to set the thermostat up or down a degree or two to keep a home’s heating or air conditioning from running constantly.

The DOE advises consumers to set the thermostat to 78 degrees—or as high as is comfortable, when home in the summer.

In the winter, the DOE recommends setting the temperature at 68 degrees when everyone is awake and turning it down when they’re asleep or not at home. (Using a programmable thermostat, or a smart thermostat that can be operated from a smartphone, can make it easier to manage adjustments.)

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3. Getting Creative When Cooking

If eating at home more often is giving the oven a workout — and heating up the house in the summer — using the microwave, slow cooker, or toaster oven can save on electricity and keep things cooler.

So can using the charcoal or gas grill out on the deck, and that might lend a party atmosphere to your regular dinner.

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4. Keeping the Fridge Filled

A well-stocked freezer operates more efficiently than one that’s sitting half-empty, so feel free to load it up with burgers for that barbecue. And while we’re on the subject of the fridge, Mom was right: Try to avoid standing with the door wide open looking for something to eat.

Sure, the cool air feels great in the summer, but every time that refrigerator kicks on, it’s sucking up energy. The average refrigerator’s cooling cycle is around 30 minutes (more or less, depending on its age or if it’s an Energy Star appliance). If the door is opened frequently throughout the day, it can increase the running time.

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5. Showering Responsibly

According to the DOE, about 18% of the energy consumed in the average home is from heating water. That means long, hot showers, or even standing at the sink shaving with the water running, can drive up energy bills. So can using the hot water setting on the washing machine, or rinsing dishes in hot running water.

One option is to turn down the temperature on the water heater. But shortening those showers and changing other habits also can help conserve energy and save money. Extra points awarded to those who air-dry their hair or use the same bath towel more than once.

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