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Avoid an Eye-Popping Electric Bill for Holiday Lights with These Tips

You can reduce your electric bill by monitoring your meter, swapping out light bulbs, cleaning appliances and more.

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Use Energy Star Products

According to energystar.gov, folks saved upwards of $30 million on their utility bills and helped to reduce greenhouse gases by using Energy Star-rated products. These super-efficient products include CFL and LED light bulbs, household appliances, building materials such as windows and doors and HVAC equipment among many others. Not only is switching to Energy Star products one of the best frugal living tips, but it also allows you take advantage of their energy savings and may qualify you for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.

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Switch to CFL Bulbs

CFL bulbs will provide 10,000 hours of light and use $10.40 of electricity (at 8 cents per kilowatt hour). To get the same output with incandescents, you would have to use seven bulbs, which would cost less up front, but the electricity would cost $48. Check out our guide to CFLs so you know what you’re getting into.

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Add Smarter Switches to Lights

Install smarter switches and save up to $100 a year. Motion sensors are the perfect solution for left-on lights. They turn off automatically so you don’t waste electricity. Motion sensors are great for home security but do you know the secrets a home security installer won’t tell you?

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Plug in Electronics into a Power Strip

Electronics guzzle lots of power even when they’re turned off. Stop wasting electricity: Plug them into a power strip, then turn off the strip.

Seventy-five percent of the electrical use by home electronics occurs when they’re turned off, according to the Department of Energy. These “energy vampires” suck electricity all day long—costing you an extra $100 each year. So if you’d like to keep that Ben Franklin in your wallet, unplug your electronics or plug them into a power strip, then turn off the strip.

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Try Smart Metering

Smart metering programs vary among utility companies, but the basic idea is the same: The utility installs a special “smart” meter that tracks how much electricity you’re using. The utility uses that data to make sure its power grid doesn’t get overloaded and cause blackouts. If the grid nears capacity, the utility can shut off major appliances in homes for short periods of time (such as 15 minutes per hour). Not all companies offer smart metering, but some do and many others are considering it.

What’s in it for you? Money! Some programs pay for signing up. Others let you view your home’s usage online in real time so you can better manage your electrical consumption. Others let you choose “real-time” or “time-of-use” pricing that allows you to pay less for electricity that’s used during off-peak hours (for example, on weekdays from early afternoon until 8 p.m.). These plans reward you for using electricity when it’s cheapest. Smart metering makes the most sense if you’re away from home all day—you won’t notice or care if things get turned off (although it’s a good idea for everyone else too!). According to SRP, a power utility company, the plans cut 7 percent off your bill, which is $140 for the average $2,000 yearly energy bill. Check with your local company to find out what smart metering programs are available in your area. Make sure you’re protecting your electronics properly with these tips.

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clean-refrigerator coils

Clean Refrigerator Coils

Refrigerator condenser coils are located on the back of the fridge or across the bottom. When coils are clogged with dust, pet hair and cobwebs, they can’t efficiently release heat. The result is your compressor works harder and longer than it was designed to, using more energy and shortening the life of your fridge. Clean the coils with a coil-cleaning brush and vacuum. A coil-cleaning brush, which is bendable to fit in tight areas, does a thorough job. Look for one online or at appliance stores. For tips on repairing your refrigerator (without a service call), check out our guide and how to clean each home in the house faster.

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Use LED Lights for Holiday Decorating

Use LED Lights for Holiday Decorating

Elya Vatel/Shutterstock

LED lights last longer, are available in more colors, and use far less energy than traditional light. For example, a traditional outdoor Christmas light decoration may use around $11 worth of electricity per month. The LED version would use around $1.60, that's energy efficient!

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Plug-in Meters

Plug-in meters monitor single-item consumption when the appliance is on and off. Use it to sniff out the items that make up the biggest part of your bill. Get planning for holiday decorating with these 29 ideas for every room.

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Meter Reader

A meter reader displays real-time usage and records consumption info so that you can watch your watts over a longer time frame. If you really want to save money on your energy use, check out these expert energy saving tips from the pros.

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Easy outside light control

Easy outside light control

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We all love the cheerful glow of outside holiday lights, but going out in the cold to plug them in and unplug them is a pain. Use an outdoor remote control switch so you can control them from inside your home or car. And you can buy these inexpensive devices at home centers or online. All you do is plug the switch into any door outlet and use the small transmitter to control it.

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The Cost Factor

The Cost Factor

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While LED Christmas lights will cost you more money upfront, you'll save money in the long run. You can pay $13.65 per month to decorate your rooftop with those old incandescent lights, or you can pay 22 cents with LED lights (prices estimated by Xcel Energy Colorado). And LEDs cost more to produce because components are often assembled by hand, they need conducting material to dissipate heat and to get a natural white glow they are often coated with yellow phosphor.

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Testing Holiday Lights

Testing Holiday Lights

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There’s a way to test (and fix) the entire string of holiday lights without testing each bulb individually. Try the LightKeeper Pro (www.lightkeeperpro.com). It’ll identify and oftentimes fix most problems in miniature and icicle light sets (but not the sets of larger lights or LED lights) with a few squeezes of the trigger.

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Fiber Optic Displays

Fiber optic displays can typically only use one bulb and it’s an LED bulb, which means a reduction on energy.

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Use a Timer

You likely don’t want to have to go out to plug and unplug your holiday lights every day so pick up a timer that will do the work for you. Plus, you can limit the hours your lights remain on.

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shutterstock_489094684 cozy kitchen christmas holiday decorations2M media/Shutterstock

Turn the Lights Off

It probably should already be a habit but keep the lights off in a room you’re not in. Plus, if you’ve got holiday lights up in a room, go ahead and keep the lights in that room off or dimmed since the holiday lights will give off some illumination. Try this clever tip to keep your holiday lights in order when it comes time to pack them up.

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Battery Candles

A simple way to save on electricity is to unplug and try using tea light candles around the home. They’re fairly inexpensive and provide ample opportunity for creative decorating.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Family Handyman editors, who aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We welcome your feedback. Have something you think we should know about? Contact us, here.