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Surviving the Economy: Lowering your power bill

Posted By: Grayson Kamm

Tampa Bay’s two biggest power providers are so eager to help you save money on your bill, they’ll come to your house to look for energy waste and give you freebies while they’re there.

St. Petersburg, FL — Tampa Bay’s two biggest power providers are so eager to help you save money on your bill, they’ll come to your house to look for energy waste and give you freebies while they’re there.

Bringing your bill down

These companies have set up programs that can help you bring your bill down, and the power company typically picks up most of the cost. One of the best is an energy audit.

The power company will send an expert over to your house. That electric detective will ask you questions, check your appliances, test your air conditioner — and basically look for places where money is just disappearing.

It’s a top-to-bottom look at how your home uses electricity, and for customers of Progress Energy and the Tampa Electric division of TECO, it’s free.

"It’s hitting us in the pocketbook in every area, from food, to gas, to electricity — even insurance is going up at a high rate. And to help a customer maybe not pay a higher electric bill and put that money toward something else, is definitely rewarding," said J.C. Alvarez, one of Tampa Electric’s energy auditors.

Going along on an energy audit

Jerrie Smith has stretched her fixed income right to its limit.

"I’ve had to make the choice and the sacrifice to whether I buy my heart medication [or] pay the electric bill, pay the water bill. And it hurts," she said, sitting on the doorstep in front of the home she rents in Tampa.

Faced with a bigger bill than she can handle, she asked Tampa Electric for help, advice, or anything they can do to get the bill down.

Their answer was J.C. Alvarez. He’s an electric detective, running a free energy audit. Inside every crack and around every corner in Smith’s house, he found ways to save.

They’re tips you can use, too.

Tips on how to use less juice

"If you’re going to be away from your home for two days or more, it’s always a good idea to turn off your water heater from the breaker," Alvarez said.

Crank your thermostat up a few degrees, and then turn on your ceiling fans. They can make you feel four to six degrees cooler. Progress Energy recommends setting your thermostat at 68 or 70 when the heat’s on, and 78 or 80 when the A/C is on.

"I’m looking for the caulking around the windows to see if it’s sealing tightly — if it’s closing tightly," Alvarez said, while he checked to make sure all of her windows close completely.

Turn off your air conditioner and get some pruning shears "to clear the debris away from the unit so it can breathe," he said, pointing out that an A/C unit without a one-foot clear space around it can waste energy working much harder than it should.

Shut any doors to the outside and check around the edges of your doors, Alvarez said. "If you can see any light, generally that’s areas where heat is infiltrating or coming into the house."

And swap out your regular bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Each one will last years longer, and save you $40 in energy costs over the life of the bulb.

Tampa Electric paid for Jerrie Smith’s first set of compact fluorescents; auditors like Alvarez bring a pack of bulbs with them to each audit. In her eyes, each energy-saving step is a dollar she can keep, and another necessity she can still afford.

"That’s the main key: pay less!" she said with a smile.

Energy-saving links

Follow these links to find out more about energy audits from the Tampa Electric division of TECO and from Progress Energy.

Progress Energy’s "Save the Watts" site has room-by-room tips for cutting your energy costs.

These links lead to "good neighbor" programs from Tampa Electric and Progress Energy that use donations from power company customers to help other customers pay their bills.

You can also call Tampa Electric at (813) 223-0800 or (863) 299-0800 or Progress Energy at (727) 443-2641 or (800) 700-8744 to ask for help saving energy or to ask about payment options if you’re getting bills that are too high to handle.

Follow 10 Connects multi-media journalist Grayson Kamm on Twitter as @graysonkamm.

Grayson Kamm, 10 Connects