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11 Ways to Lower Your Utility Bills

These energy-saving tips can reduce your electric, trash and heating expenses

En español  |  1. Stay disconnected. Unplug your cellphone and other electronic gadgets as soon as they're fully charged, or you're just wasting energy while they soak up juice all night.

2. Lighten up. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) if they stay on at least 15 minutes per use. Placing them in shorter-use spots like closets reduces CFL lifespan and slows the payback in energy savings.

3. Beyond fluorescents. When your traditional incandescent or new compact fluorescent light bulbs burn out, consider the new generation of LED bulbs arriving on the market. They cost more but use even less energy than CFLs, last far longer, have a "warmer" color and are mercury-free.

4. Window shopping? Windows are rated by a thermal transmission "U-factor." Lower numbers — from 0.20 to 0.35 — mean more energy savings. For energy-efficient wall and ceiling insulation, look for high "R-values."

5. Go greener. Local governments often offer financial incentives if you install insulation, new windows and other energy savers. Check your city's website or DSIRE, a database of incentives by state.

6. Trash bargain. A number of localities offer discounted trash pickup for older residents. Call your city's waste management department or the company that picks up your refuse.

7. Save at the mill. You can buy scrap wood from the local sawmill cheap — and use it as firewood. So instead of cutting it yourself or buying it for $150 a cord, head for the mill.

8. Retune your TV. You could save a bundle on your electric bill by reducing the brightness on your HDTV. Many are shipped set at "retail mode" for optimum picture clarity in a showroom. Go to your TV's setup menu and look for "home mode" or some other way to tune down the brightness.

9. Winter savings. Inflatable fireplace dampers keep your home's warm air from escaping up a chimney with a leaky metal damper. Pay $50 to $200 once and save $50 to $200 every year.

10. Don't fill the kettle. When you boil water for a cup of tea, put in just the amount you need. You're wasting energy for anything extra.

11. Fan fare. In the summer, ceiling fans cool you off. When winter comes, flip the fan's switch to reverse its direction. It will push the warm air that's gathered near the ceiling down into the living space, cutting heating costs by as much as 10 percent. Use bathroom and kitchen vent fans sparingly in summer and winter — these fans blow your cooled or heated air outside.

Contributors to 99 Great Ways to Save 2012: Arthur Dalglish, Cathie Gandel, Joan Rattner Heilman, Sid Kirchheimer, Jason L. Lawrence, Marsha Mercer, Geoff Williams, Jeff Yeager and AARP members like you.