When I started monitoring my home energy usage, I was shocked to see that I was spending a lot of money to keep my stereo, game systems, and other technology running -- even when I wasn't using them. My monthly electric bills ranged from $200-$300, which was alarming given that my home is only 1,000 square feet.
Fortunately, I found ways to lower my electric bill over the last year. With a few minor changes, I've cut my bills to $100-$170 per month depending on the time of year -- a savings of 50 percent. Here's how you can save serious money by controlling how your gadgets use electricity.
Invest in an energy monitor
If you want to use less energy, you first need to know exactly how much energy you're currently using. Ironically, this requires some extra gadgets, but they're well worth the investment.
Look for energy monitors (I like the options from Energy, Inc. and Current Cost). These tools hook into your home electrical supply and allow you to see how your money's being spent. You can even log onto specialized websites to view energy statistics -- and when you start watching your usage, you'll quickly find ways to cut your costs.
I discovered that my computer used about 250-300 watts per hour during periods of heavy use, for instance, and my game system used 100-170 watts per hour. Over the course of a month, that's a lot of juice.
Purchase an eco-friendly surge protector
Energy-saving surge protectors allow you to select wattage, which saves you energy, and they cut power to unused outputs. They can save you about $40-$50 per year while protecting your gadgets from power spikes and surges. Opt for a high-quality, eco-safe surge protector, preferably with a built-in battery supply that will protect your computers and other devices for a few minutes during a power outage. Don't buy the cheapest model available. And if the cost seems high, remember that you can expect to save as much -- if not more -- in the first year of ownership.
Change settings on existing gadgets
Whether you're sick of charging your smartphone every few hours or you want your TV to automatically switch off after you fall asleep, there's probably a setting built right into your gadget that will help you cut energy usage.
Start by lowering screen brightness for anything with an LED screen. Most TVs and computer monitors have high-brightness default settings, since this looks better in a store, but you really only need a little bit of backlighting to see your screen comfortably. Look into sleep and snooze options. Make sure that your home computers are set to sleep 20 minutes or so after you stop using them.
Finally, don't charge your gadgets all the time. The batteries in phones, tablets, and other devices are designed to last longer if you go a while between charges, so let them completely run out of juice once every two weeks.