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Take control of your energy usage

Spring and summer months bring long days filled with endless sunshine and warm temperatures. They can also bring a spike in energy use since air conditioning is one of the biggest energy users in your home. We know how important it is to stay cool and comfortable, while also managing utility bills and creating positive impacts for the environment.

Be sure to visit our spring and summer energy-saving tips page to see how to keep your energy costs down as the temperatures rise.

When it comes to energy usage, you might be surprised to learn that you have more control than you think. As the weather gets warmer, maintaining control over and even reducing your energy use can help you create a more energy-efficient home. By changing a few habits and monitoring your usage more closely, you might just find you’re able to lower your energy bill.

Let’s get started. If you don’t have a Black Hills Energy online account, that’s your first step. You can set up an account by clicking here. If you already have an account, you’re ready to start saving.

Where is it all going?

You can monitor your energy usage right in your online account portal. Once logged into your account, click on Usage. Here you will find a great snapshot of energy usage in your home.

You’ll notice that certain times of the day - or certain days - may have higher energy usage. The same goes for certain seasons. The good news is that by examining these energy trends, you can develop ideas for lowering your energy use. Let’s take a look at a few things to consider:

  • Notice higher usage days or times and ask yourself questions. What’s happening? What appliances are operating at that time. What’s the temperature outside during high-usage periods?  Did you have extra people in your home? 
  • Mornings and evenings will likely show spikes as people are generally home at that time, and probably running appliances like dishwashers, ovens and clothes washers. Do you see a spike on laundry night?
  • When people are in their homes, they’re more likely to increase heating and cooling, depending on the season. Can you see a trend there.
     

Appliance savings

During the summer months, remember that the kitchen is one place where you can control how much energy you use and how much heat you generate. A microwave oven uses 90 percent less energy to cook a meal than a conventional gas oven and it won’t heat up your home. When you don’t power up your oven, you’re saving energy and lowering your energy costs. In fact, cooking in your home during the hot summer months puts two of the biggest energy-consuming appliances—your oven and air conditioner—to work. So if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen altogether and fire up the grill.

 

How much energy are your appliances using?

  • Approximate kWh per month: 10 kWh
  • Only do dishes once a day. It may be more efficient to do one dishwasher load a day than to wash your dishes by hand three times a day.
  • Lowering your water heater temperature a few degrees can save on energy usage. With a dishwasher, you need a setting of about 140 degrees.
  • Don't crowd your dishes. Don't block the spray arms when you load.
  • Clean food off dishes first. Before loading, scrape off dishes and rinse them quickly in cold water.
  • Don’t run your dishwasher when there are only a few items in it.
  • Don't use the rinse-hold cycle. It uses three to seven gallons of hot water.
  • Air dry your dishes. You can save 10 percent of the cost of operation with this tip. If your model doesn't have an automatic air dry switch, turn off the heated dry option.
  • Adjust the thermostat. Turn it to 65-68 degrees in the winter, and 76-78 degrees in the summer.
  • Turn on ceiling fans to assist with circulating air. During the winter use the clockwise rotation. During the summer use the counterclockwise rotation.
  • Make sure to have regular service maintenances for your HVAC systems.
  • Regularly clean or replace filters on your HVAC systems.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Improper insulation can directly affect your house's heating and cooling loads and in turn, your energy costs. Use these practices to help lower your utility bill.
  • Consider installing a smart thermostat. A smart thermostat is Wi-Fi enabled and it adjusts heating and cooling automatically for optimal efficiency and performance.

How to save energy with your lights


Being conscious of each area’s different lighting needs will help to reduce use as well. As an example, reading rooms, workshops and outdoor areas all have different needs. There are several options that will fulfill your needs for the space while reducing the energy cost.

  • Approximate kWh per month: 300 kWh
  • Install motion detectors or timer switches. In low-trafficked areas like outdoor areas, basements or garages, it is easy for a light to be left on for days. By installing motion detectors or timer switches, you can make sure you're not lighting an area when it’s unnecessary. 
  • Use a dimmer or three-way switch. Oftentimes our lighting needs depend on whatever activity we’re doing at the time. Installing dimmer switches or using three-way bulbs will let you select the right amount of light for each activity.
  • Be an "enlightened" decorator. Decorate your home or business with illumination in mind. Light colors reflect light, so use them in areas you want to be bright.
  • Keep lighting fixtures clean. A cleaner bulb is a brighter bulb. But let incandescent bulbs cool before cleaning or they may break.
  • Use natural light when possible.

 

Choosing the right bulb

Incorporating more energy-efficient lighting in high-use lighting areas can help to reduce your energy use and save you money. Replacing just two 75-watt incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs can save an estimated $14.40 on your bill per year.

The vast number of lighting options for your home can be a little overwhelming. So, we’ve put together some tips and ideas that can make choosing the right lighting for you a little simpler.

Buy bulbs by the lumens and the watts

Lumens measure the amount of light a bulb produces, and watts measure the electricity the bulb uses. Consider both factors when you buy. Bulbs with larger wattage give you more lumens per watt than small-wattage bulbs.

For example, six 25-watt bulbs give off the same amount of light as one 100-watt bulb. And a "long-life" bulb gives off less light than a standard bulb of the same wattage. A bulb with a clear finish will give you more light than a frosted bulb. Energy-efficient bulbs may cost more initially, but they can save you money in the long run with lower bills and fewer bulb replacements.

 

Features Benefits
Energy-efficient incandescent
  • 25 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last up to three times longer.
  • Best for lamps that are on less than 15 minutes per day or where halogen or compact fluorescent bulbs won’t fit.
  • Gives light similar to a standard incandescent.
Compact fluorescent
  • Use one quarter of the energy of a traditional incandescent bulb and last about 10 times longer.
  • Best where usage exceeds four hours a day.
  • Floor lamps, hanging fixtures and some ceiling sockets are easiest to fit.
  • Gives light similar to an incandescent bulb.
LED
  • Uses only about 20-25 percent of the energy and lasts up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • Come in a variety of bulbs including standard screw-in bulbs, desk lamps, recessed lighting and even holiday light strings.
  • Similar light quality to traditional incandescent.
High intensity discharge
  • Up to 400 percent more efficient than a standard incandescent bulb.
  • Life-span is about 10,000-24,000 hours.
  • Best for the outdoors, especially security lighting and where usage occurs over extended periods.
  • Gives a different color light than an incandescent bulb.
Halogen
  • Up to 200 percent more efficient than a standard incandescent bulb.
  • Fits recessed or “canned” fixtures, track lights and outdoor lights.
  • Produces whiter light than standard incandescent bulb.

 

Reduce your energy use with every meal

  • Approximate kWh per month: 120 kWh
  • Check foods through the oven window. You may lose 25 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit each time you open the door.
  • Turn off the oven a few minutes before cooking time ends. For many dishes, especially those that require a long cooking time, you can turn off the oven a few minutes before finishing. The oven will remain hot enough to complete the job.
  • The self-cleaning feature is expensive. Learn to wipe up promptly after baking or roasting to avoid using the self-cleaning feature. A "continuous cleaning" oven doesn't use extra energy.
  • Put a shine on your reflector pans. Dirty, dull pans absorb heat instead of reflecting it.
  • Match the pan to the surface burner. A pan that fits the burner cooks better.
  • Thaw food before cooking it. It’s wasteful to thaw food by cooking it, and it won’t cook as well.
  • Use smaller cooking appliances when possible.
  • During warmer months, the heat from the oven can increase the demand on your AC. Try to limit use to cooler hours of the day.
  • Approximate kWh per month: 162 kWh
  • Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperature is 37 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for the fresh-food compartment of the refrigerator and 5 degrees Fahrenheit for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, keep it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Try not to pack too full. An overly full fridge reduces the efficiency.
  • Defrost refrigerators and freezers regularly. Frost buildup decreases the energy efficiency of the unit. If you have a manual-defrost refrigerator or freezer, don't allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
  • Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
  • Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
  • Clean the condenser coils. Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no-clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils. Also clean behind and underneath to maintain air flow.
  • Replace old or inefficient units with energy-efficient units.
  • Power down electronics. The best thing you can do to reduce your electronics energy use is it to turn off equipment when you're not using them.
  • Use power-saving mode. Activate power-saving features on your computers and office equipment so they'll shut down when you're not using them.
  • Turn off standby mode, or use products that have low standby power use.
  • Use power strips. For multiple devices, use power strips, and turn off power strip when not in use.
  • Use Energy Star electronics.
  • Turn down brightness on monitors and TV's.

For more information about appliance and equipment efficiency and commercial equipment standards, go to the U.S. Department of Energy website.

  • Approximate kWh per month: 91kWh
  • Don't use an entire wash cycle for only a couple of garments. On the other hand, jamming too much into a wash load causes extra wrinkles and lint.
  • Always clean the lint trap after each use, or before you start a new load. Also, double-check the pockets of your garments.
  • Maintain dryer vents and clean underneath and behind the dryer regularly.
  • Plan your drying cycle. First dry larger, bulkier clothes, and then use a shorter cycle for small, light garments.
  • Don't go overboard on suds. Too much detergent may hurt your clothes and your washing machine. Use cold or lukewarm water when you can. You'll save with every load when you use cooler water. And cold water helps reduce lint.
  • Hand irons aren't cheap. A hand iron uses as much energy as 10 100-watt light bulbs. Keep that in mind when you consider buying permanent press garments.
  • Address maintenance issues promptly. If dryers are taking longer than usual, it can contribute significantly to your electric usage.
  • Approximate kWh per month: 405 kWh
  • Take a shower instead of a bath: Typically, a shower uses 10-20 gallons of water, while a bath uses 30. But don't shower for more than five minutes.
  • Fix that leaky faucet: One drop of water per second equals 60 gallons of water a week. A leak that would fill a coffee cup in 10 minutes would waste 3,280 gallons of water in a year.
  • Use cold water when you can: Modern detergents allow you to use cold water more than ever before. Eighty to 85 percent of the energy used in washing clothes is from heating the water.
  • Install flow restrictors and aerators: By installing water flow restrictors in shower heads and faucets, you could save up to 50 percent on hot water use. There are different types of flow restrictors for shower heads and aerators for other faucets. They all reduce water usage without being noticeable.
  • Lower your water heater setting: Lowering your temperature setting a few degrees can save energy. Lowering your temperature to under 120 degrees can save you up to 10 percent on your water heater costs.
  • Water heater maintenance: To remove sediment, it may be a good idea to drain a bucketful of water from your water heater every month. However, you should do this only if your water heater is less than a year old or if it has been drained regularly. If it hasn't been drained regularly, the drain valve could become clogged, and you might not be able to shut it again. Also, just replace old or inefficient water heaters
  • Insulate your water heater: Don't install a water heater in an unheated storage room or garage. If your unit is in a location that's exposed to cold temperatures, insulating the unit and the pipes will help to reduce costs associated with it. Use a water heater blanket to wrap around the pipes coming out of your water heater and the heater itself. But be careful not to insulate the top or bottom of a gas-operated or oil-operated water heater because it may interfere with venting. 
  • On-demand water heaters: For on-demand water heaters, ensure there isn't hardwater build up on the heating elements
  • While you're away: Remember to turn down the water heater when you leave on vacation

 

Energy use troubleshooting

 Heat Tape & Driveway Heaters Heat tape is often overlooked as a cause of increased energy use. Driveway heaters can create a demand of 40kW.
Electric water heaters (bottom element or pop-off valve issues) There can be hard water buildup that affects electric water heaters. Electric Water heaters use approximately 300-500 kWh per month.
Radiant heaters or baseboard heaters *ensure they are OFF Sometimes baseboard heaters are inadvertently left on LOW instead of turned off. 6 ft. baseboard heater uses approximately 1.5 kWh per hour. 
In-floor heat Sometimes this can be unintentionally left on, especially if there have been guests in the house.
Water softeners Water softeners can develop build up issues that cause them to run excessively.
Additional Guests Extra people in the home or guests that plug in campers can increase normal usage significantly.
Space heaters Space heaters create an increase in usage, they are only meant to heat small spaces.
Electric fireplaces Electric fireplaces create an increase in usage, they are only meant to heat small spaces.
Pumps (wells, sump)

Wells and sump pumps are checked infrequently; if there are issues with components, it can cause them to run excessively creating a spike in usage.

Compressors These are often found in garages/shops, and can run excessively if there is a leak or they are inadvertently left on.
Bathroom exhaust fans Running bathroom exhaust fans for extended periods can cause the HVAC system to kick on more often, creating an increase in usage.
Hot tubs/pools During extreme weather, hot tubs/pools create additional usage in order to maintain set temperatures.
Block or tank heaters Diesel trucks that need to be plugged in can be a significant source of usage.
Window air conditioning units These units are meant to cool small spaces and are not as efficient as HVAC systems. Window AC units can use approximately 0.73-1.8 kWh per hour.
Portable air conditioners These units are meant to cool small spaces and are not as efficient as HVAC systems. Portable AC units can consume 4.1 kWh.