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Don’t let summer heat up your utility bills

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Small steps can add up to big savings when it comes to reducing energy consumption and ultimately your utility bill. This year, OUC partnered with the city of Orlando to complete the Green Neighborhood Program, which provided 1,138 homeowners in some of Orlando’s least energy-efficient neighborhoods with free utility upgrades and repairs.

The program, which targeted one neighborhood in each of the city’s six commission districts, was funded by the city of Orlando, which received a federal Energy Efficiency Block Grant (EECBG) of $500,000 in stimulus funds, as well as $257,000 from OUC. In total, more than 2 million annual kilowatts per hour were saved. On average, this equals about $230 in annual energy savings for each customer who participated.

But you didn’t need to be a part of the program to start saving. OUC provides rebates and resources to homeowners so they can make home improvements and upgrades that result in reduced energy consumption. The following are some simple tips to remember this summer to help lower your utility bill:

• Set your thermostat at 78 degrees. Air conditioning accounts for more than 50 percent of your electric bill. When you leave your house, turn it up a few notches to around 82. Installing ceiling fans throughout your home also will help you stay cool and comfortable. Just make sure you turn off fans in unoccupied areas.

• Watch the hot water. Another energy hog is hot water, so try to use the cold or warm setting on your washing machine. Lowering your water heater to around 125 degrees is adequate (most water heaters come pre-set at 140 degrees). If you’re leaving for a couple of days, turn off your water heater. Otherwise, it will continue to use energy keeping the water heated even when you’re not there.

• Dirty filters put an unnecessary strain on appliances and can increase operating costs. So change or clean air conditioning filters monthly. In addition, your refrigerator accounts for about five to eight percent of your power costs, so clean the coils a couple times a year and keep the temperature at 37 degrees and zero for the freezer. Also, don’t forget to dust light bulbs to improve brightness and switch to compact fluorescents, which consume about 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer.

• Tweak those leaks. Check the air handler and ductwork for leaks, and weatherstrip or caulk around windows, doors, plumbing and other gaps so that energy won’t escape. These quick fixes are easy to do and inexpensive but make a substantial difference.

• Toilets account for the most water usage in your home, so low-flow toilets are worth the investment. Low-flow showerheads are also a good idea, and you don’t have to sacrifice water pressure. You’ll save about 2.5 gallons per minute.

• Water your lawn before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. to minimize evaporation, and follow your water management district’s guidelines for what days you’re allowed to irrigate. You can save water and keep a healthy lawn.

In addition, Energy Star-certified appliances can help lower monthly power bills. If you’re deciding what appliance is worth investing in first, I recommend a refrigerator, because most new refrigerators are 30-50 percent more efficient than five to 10-year-old models. Remember, small conservation efforts can add up to big savings. For more conservation tips or to learn about OUC’s efficiency rebates, visit www.ouc.com

Cameron Saulsby is conservation administrator for OUC.