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Keep electric bills from spiking while working at home with these low-cost, energy-saving tips

Some tips on how to keep your energy bills low while working from home.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Middle aged woman sitting at a table reading using a tablet computer, holding a cup, front view

PORTLAND, Ore — The hours you used to be at work or school are now spent at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. That extra time on your computer, streaming shows and staring into the fridge will cost you.

Just look at your electric bill. Chances are, you’ll see a spike in usage.

PGE and other electric companies can provide up-to-date usage reports with a comparison to your previous monthly usage. PGE’s free online Energy Tracker tool can also send email or text alerts estimating your next bill or if it look as if you’ll exceed an amount you’ve set.

Then you can make some decisions on where to cut back. 

Here are tips to lower your electric bill from local providers, the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the largest U.S. environmental activist organizations, and the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s Smarter House project: 

Computers and devices


  • Use energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers
  • Dishwashers use as little as 3 to 5 gallons of water per load while hand washing the same load could consume up to 27 gallons. Running the dishwasher only when it’s full can save you around $40 per year
  • Most laundry can be done with cold water, which cuts down on the water heater’s energy load
  • Don’t linger in front of an open fridge. The longer you keep the door open, the more energy it wastes. If your fridge is aging or inefficient, you may want to replace it with a more energy-efficient model
  • A hot shower requires a lot of energy. Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees and find other ways to cut hot water use like not letting the hot water faucet run when shaving or hand washing dishes
  • Turn off vent fans after 10 minutes since they pull warmed or cooled air out of your house
  • Read more appliance and electronics tips

Video game consoles

  • Streaming movies or TV shows through an Xbox or PlayStation eats up to 20 times more energy than using a smart TV or small add-on devices like Apple TV, Google Chromecast or a Roku box
  • Enable the automatic “power down” feature on a console, otherwise it will continue to use high levels of power when left on


  • Enable your TV’s automatic brightness control sensor to adjust the picture brightness to the level of light in the room. Less-bright display is needed at night. Avoid settings like “vivid,” which use a lot more energy to produce an overly bright picture
  • Turn off screens -- TVs, game consoles, cable boxes and computers -- when no one’s paying attention to them


  • Turning your thermostat higher or lower than needed doesn’t heat or cool a room faster, but it does make your heater work harder. Read about other energy wasting myths
  • When you’re home, set your thermostat to 68 degrees. When you’re away or sleeping, set your thermostat 5 to 10 degrees lower. Each degree you lower your thermostat in winter saves an estimated 2 percent on your heating bill
  • Check your thermostat’s accuracy. Use an instant-read cooking thermometer to see if the air temperature matches your setting. If you can, upgrade to a smart thermostat. PGE offers free or low-cost smart thermostats to homes with qualifying heating and/or cooling systems
  • Don’t heat unoccupied rooms. Turn the heat down low if you have baseboard, wall units or other in-room systems and check for mold or mildew when it’s cold. Don’t close off individual registers if you have a ducted, forced-air system since it can make it run less efficiently


  • Replace incandescent bulbs with energy saving lights. LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs while lasting up to 25 times longer
  • Turn off lights you don’t need

Other small but valuable fixes

  • Close fireplace dampers and doors when not in use
  • Close insulated drapes or honeycomb-style blinds in cold weather to prevent as much as 25 percent of the room’s heat loss. In warm weather, open a window to let in fresh air, which is less expensive than using an air conditioner. In hot weather, close drapes and blinds to block sunlight and reduce the need for cooling
  • A ceiling fan can help a room feel up to 10 degrees cooler and uses just 10 percent of the energy consumed by an air conditioner

Heating and cooling

  • Make sure furnace, heat-pump and air conditioner filters are clean, so your equipment isn’t working harder than it needs to. Some filters can be cleaned and reused; others must be replaced entirely
  • The efficiency of your heating and cooling system is directly affected by how well your home is weatherized

Weatherization options of air sealing, insulation, moisture control and ventilation save energy and improve your home’s durability, increase your comfort and create a healthier indoor environment. You may even qualify for weatherization assistance.

Insulate and seal air leaks

Look for potential cracks or gaps around mail slots, wall or window-mounted air conditioners, or drafty places that whistle on windy days.

Caulk cracks and openings around door and window frames and between stationary house components, and install weatherstripping to seal components that move such as doors and operable windows.

Air sealing alone doesn’t eliminate the need for proper insulation to reduce heat loss.

An energy auditor can find invisible cracks and holes around recessed lights in insulated ceilings and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets.

Other potential leaky spots:

  • Caulk and seal air leaks where plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring comes through walls, floors, ceilings and soffits over cabinets
  • Install foam gaskets behind wall outlets and switch plates
  • Inspect dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold. Seal leaks with low-expansion spray foam and install house flashing if needed
  • Look for dirty spots on your ceiling paint and carpet, which may indicate air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists, and caulk them
  • Cover single-pane windows with storm windows or replace them with more efficient double-pane low-emissivity windows. Read more
  • Use foam sealant on larger gaps around windows, baseboards and other places where air may leak out
  • Cover your kitchen exhaust fan to stop air leaks when not in use
  • Check your dryer vent to be sure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire
  • Replace door bottoms and thresholds with ones that have pliable sealing gaskets
  • Seal air leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheetrock and furnace cement caulk

Learn about Energy Trust of Oregon cash incentives for energy-efficiency improvements.

--Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

This article was originally published by The Oregonian/OregonLive, one of more than a dozen news organizations throughout the state sharing their coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak to help inform Oregonians about this evolving health issue.

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