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Warmth in winter can be cheaper with energy-saving tips for lower electric bills

| Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The leaves are starting to curl, there's a chill in the air, and pumpkin-flavored treats are everywhere. It's fall.

Of course, when fall arrives, winter can't be too far behind. And when temperatures start to drop, you can bet your monthly electric bill will climb.

No need to panic, though. You can save money without giving up the comforts of a toasty home. I have some tips to keep your bills under control this winter — or any other season.

Beware of vampires

You probably know about easy winter fixes like sealing gaps around doors and windows to prevent precious heat from escaping. But did you know your home has dozens of energy-draining culprits? I call these foes vampire electronics.

TVs, computers and other gadgets are guilty of sucking lots of energy day and night, even when you're not using them. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that these idle gadgets burn through more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity nationwide each year. That's about $10 billion worth of energy.

The easiest way to stop vampire electronics from driving up your electric bill is to unplug them when they're not in use. Of course, sometimes it's hard to give up the convenience of having your gadgets plugged in and ready to go at a moment's notice.

If that's the case, many companies sell affordable power switches that you can plug into wall outlets. The power switches let you control the power to any outlet with a simple flick of a switch. Use these on countertop appliances like your coffee maker and watch savings add up.

Another great option: adapters with built-in timers. If you plan to use space heaters or put up holiday lights, using a built-in timer can shave dollars and cents off your winter electric bill. Timers offer peace of mind on those hectic days when you can't remember if you turned off your gadgets before leaving the house.

Big-ticket items like your TV and computer are the biggest energy-suckers. Use a smart power strip or surge suppressor for these gadgets. Smart power strips will shut down a power outlet when it senses your gadgets have gone into standby mode.

And did you know that putting your desktop computer in sleep mode can save almost as much energy as unplugging it?

Not sure what gadgets are draining the most energy? You can buy electricity usage monitors that will pinpoint exactly which appliances and electronics are the biggest winter energy culprits.

Limit ‘peak hour' use

You can save money on your electric bill simply by changing the time of day you run the oven, do laundry or run the heater. That's because power companies change electric costs based on the time of day. It can cost 30 to 60 percent more to operate electronics during peak hours of energy usage, usually between 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 9 p.m. Every company defines peak hours differently, so check with your provider.

Save with gadgets

Energy-saving gadgets like Energy Star appliances might score you savings with your power company.

You might qualify for rebates for purchasing energy-efficient appliances. Even switching to compact fluorescent bulbs or LED bulbs can count.

Email Kim Komando at techcomments@usatoday.com.

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