January is the traditional time for belt-tightening and waist watching. To offset your holiday expenses, you may also want to take a look at ways to trim your bloated utility bill. Adjusting your home heating to your schedule is one way as is switching to more energy-efficient lightbulbs and appliances. Here are some tips from the experts at Consumer Reports and the Department of Energy.
Programmable thermostats can trim about $180 a year from your energy bill by automatically reducing your heating or cooling when you need it least. There are two types to consider, weekday/weekend models and seven day models. If your schedule changes every day, you may want to consider the latter type. But for most people who work or go to school, the weekday/weekend model will suffice and may be easier to use.
In our tests of programmable thermostats, we recommend 10 of the 30 in our labs, which range in price from $70 to $300. The top-rated Venstar ColorTouch Series T5800, $170, has a colorful, interactive touch-screen display with programming prompts that are clear, simple and its screen is easy to see. The ecobee EB-STAT-02, $300, and Honeywell Prestige HD YTHX9321R, $250, did almost as well and we named the $70 Lux TX9600TS a CR Best Buy. The round nest Learning Thermostat, $250, is Wi-Fi enabled, can program itself based on changes you make and keeps on tweaking.
Most screw-in lightbulbs have to use at least 27 percent less energy by 2014, according to an energy act passed in 2007. The phase-out of inefficient bulbs began in January 2012 with 100-watt bulbs that use too much energy and this year the 75-watt bulb is being phased out. CFLs, LEDs, and some halogen bulbs, a type of incandescent, meet the requirement. Standard incandescents do not although retailers are permitted to sell out their current inventory of these traditional bulbs.
In Consumer Reports tests of scores of LEDs and CFLs, we found 22 to recommend in varieties that fit most fixtures. At least four of the bulbs scored a brilliant 98 or 99 out of 100 on our tests including replacements for 60-watt and 75-watt incandescents and a floodlight for outdoor use. When shopping for lightbulbs, remember to match the bulb to the fixture—here's our lightbulb FAQ on how—and to check retail and manufacturer websites for rebates.
Energy Star appliances
Replacing your old refrigerator, washing machine and other appliances with models that meets Energy Star standards can save you $900 over the lifetime of the products, says the DOE. Appliances and electronics account for 20 percent of your energy bill so it's wise to look for Energy Star models when replacing old ones, especially if they are a decade old or more old. Products that earn the Energy Star use 10 to 15 percent less energy and water than standard models, says the DOE.
When Consumer Reports tests refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers and air conditioners, it measures energy and water efficiency along with other performance factors. For example, some of the top-scoring refrigerators in our tests use about half as much energy as those near the bottom of the Ratings so it's a number well worth considering.
—Mary H.J. Farrell