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GreenSpace: How to turn electric bill hike into cut

Ready to play the electricity game? On Saturday, Peco Energy Co.'s rate caps expire, and the Public Utility Commission has approved a 5 percent rate increase. Companies are swarming in, offering customers alternative plans.
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Ready to play the electricity game?

On Saturday, Peco Energy Co.'s rate caps expire, and the Public Utility Commission has approved a 5 percent rate increase. Companies are swarming in, offering customers alternative plans.

But no matter where you live or who your provider is, there are plenty of reasons to save electricity, from the well-being of the planet to the size of your pocketbook. You can see savings of 20 percent or more on the monthly bill, depending on how electricity-intense you were to begin with.

Another reason this is the time for an electricity reality check: Electronic gadgets, tools, TVs, and the like are popular holiday presents. But they also bring the potential to spike your usage. Best to plan for it.

We asked readers to share some of their more creative tips for saving electricity. With thanks to Janice, Debby, Margaret, James, Jack, and more, we'll mix them here with some traditional energy-savers you may have overlooked.

Although you can save a bundle by, say, ponying up for better insulation or more efficient appliances, these are quick fixes that require little more than paying attention.

Heat: Put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat. How low can you go? Every degree saves about 2 percent of a typical heating bill. Close blinds or curtains at night to keep in the heat. Check ducts for leaks. Close vents in rooms that are unused or that get too warm. Close the fireplace flue.

Hot water: Turn the temperature down. Wrap the appliance in an insulating blanket. Install insulation on the hot-water pipes running through your cold basement. Wash clothes in cold water. Get a low-flow showerhead, which will make it feel as if you're rinsing with the same amount of water, but you're not. Take shorter showers.

The fridge(s): Unplug the second one in the basement. Get rid of it. Now. It's probably old and inefficient. Use an ice chest for parties. On the fridge that's left, vacuum the coils so they operate more efficiently. Keep the fridge and freezer full, which lessens the air exchange when you open the door. Fill large spaces with closed, empty milk jugs - again, to lessen the air exchange. Thaw frozen foods in the fridge; they'll help with the chill factor.

Dishwasher: Run it only when it's full. If you have an "air dry" setting, use it.

Cooking: Put a lid on it when you're boiling water or cooking in a pot. Double-cook, making two batches of whatever is for dinner and freezing the twin. Later, heat it in a microwave, which uses two-thirds less energy than the stove. If you use the oven to cook a roast, say, plan the menu to include veggies that can be oven-cooked at the same time. Avoid preheating the oven. For the more radical: Eat more raw food. If you have an electric garbage disposal, compost instead.

Lights: Yes, simply turning them off would help. But consider wattage, too. If you have a 60-watt bulb in a hallway, will 40 do just as well? Compact fluorescent bulbs may be unpopular - think mercury and a sickly yellow light - but closets and basements are good places to begin to make friends with the technology. Even more efficient LED bulbs are getting better and becoming more available. Although they're still alarmingly expensive - I confess, I recently paid $48 for a bulb to go in a fixture over the kitchen sink - they'll last longer than your roof and use as little as one-tenth the electricity of an incandescent. So pick a high-use fixture and try one. Ultimately, your pocketbook will thank you.

Laundry: Dry clothes on a line or rack. If you must use a dryer, clean the lint trap every load. It's all about air circulation. Set the timer for less time than you think you need and let the clothes finish drying in the leftover heat. Hang briefly if still damp.

Unplug: Most homes are full of "vampires" - electronic devices that aren't really off even though you've hit the off switch. They're still using energy because they're searching for a remote, operating a clock, remembering your choices. Look for anything with a digital display or a little red light; unplug when not in use. Or get a power strip that will, say, turn off the printer and monitor when you turn off the computer. Go in with a few neighbors to buy a Kill-A-Watt meter or check your local library; a few are getting them. Plug an appliance into it, and the device tells you how much it uses. Crawling around to plug and unplug will not only save you electricity; your house will also wind up cleaner after you discover all those hidden balls of pet hair.

Ceiling fan: These aren't just for summer use, especially if you have high ceilings. Remember that warm air rises. Flip the switch so the fan blows up, which will make the warm air circulate across the ceiling to the edge of the room and down the walls, mixing with the cooler air below.

Involve the kids: Don't harangue them. Offer to pay them. If they're old enough to understand, show them how much your home's typical electric bill is, given the season. Offer to share any savings with them at the end of the month. Then stand back and get ready for some serious eco-kid policing.