LED bulbs contain no mercury. They're also the cheapest over the long haul because they can easily last a decade and use even less energy than CFLs. But the hefty upfront costs -- the equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent can cost $50 or more -- is a deal breaker for many consumers.
To learn more about energy-efficient lighting, check the federal government's Energy Star website: www.energystar.gov.
Corral energy hogs
Sweating the small stuff such as bulbs is smart. But don't forget the gluttons.
In Southern California, the biggest offenders include your air conditioner, water heater, refrigerator, big-screen TV and pool pump. A simple rule for all of them: Turn it down, or off, when you can.
First the AC. Unless you're hanging beef in your living room, there's no reason to crank it like you're running a meat locker. Don't buy a bigger window unit than you need. Have your central air serviced annually to keep it in tip-top shape. Change the filter frequently. The same goes for your furnace. And while you're at it, plug all the air leaks with caulk and weatherstripping. Try to get by with ceiling fans on all but the most brutally hot days. Shade the sunny part of your house with awnings or trees.
Want to save up to $200? If you allow SCE to install a turn-off device on your central air unit so that they can shut it down during energy emergencies, they'll credit your bill. Learn more at www.sce.com/summerdiscount/.
As for your water heater, dial it back at least to the normal setting. Wrap an insulating blanket around the tank. Better yet, consider a super-efficient tankless heater, which doesn't sit around all day boiling the same vat of water. Use less hot water around the house. Install low-flow faucet aerators and shower heads.
Now for your refrigerator. If you can't afford to buy an energy-efficient model, do more with what you have. Gradually increase the temperature to find the warmest setting that does the job. Lighting expert Tauber keeps his fridge on a timer, running it at 30-minute intervals eight times a day. He claims his milk is plenty cold.
Keeping the fridge full helps it run more efficiently. Items inside form a critical mass of cool so that the compressor doesn't have to work as hard.
That's why hanging onto that old, second refrigerator is such a waste. Chances are you have only a few things in it. And since you probably keep it in the garage, which gets hot in summer, it's working even harder to chill a few sodas or beer for your barbecues.
A typical U.S. refrigerator uses about $90 a year in electricity, according to the Department of Energy. Older models can slurp twice that amount.
"That's a pretty expensive six-pack," said Gene Rodrigues, director of energy efficiency for SCE, who recommends at least unplugging that beater when you're not using it.
That big-screen TV may offer a fabulous picture. It's also sucking juice faster than Jack LaLanne in his latest infomercial. Liquid crystal display sets use 43% more electricity on average than conventional TVs. Plasma sets burn three times as much.
Swimming pool filtration pumps are also energy hogs. One way to conserve is simply to use yours less and put up with a dirty pool. A better option is buying a new variable-speed pump, said Ben Honadel, owner of Santa Clarita-based Pools by Ben Inc.
Honadel said old-style pool pumps cost his customers an average of $95 a month in electricity to operate. The newest ones can cut that monthly electricity cost to around $25, he said, for an eye-popping 74% reduction. At $1,800, the variable-speed pumps are about twice the price of conventional ones. That's a hard sell in a tough economy, even though the payback period is relatively short and utilities offer generous consumer rebates -- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, for example, refunds customers $300. SCE offers $200.
So Honadel has started leasing the units for $19.95 a month, a cost that is more than paid by the energy savings. Customers "walk away with money in their pockets," he said. "It's kind of a no-brainer."
Grab those rebates
California utilities offer incentives to encourage you to make energy-saving home improvements and to buy efficient appliances. Besides pool pumps, rebate categories include insulation, roofing, furnaces, refrigerators, air conditioners, dishwashers, water heaters and clothes washers.
Utilities also offer coupons and help with financing. Some will even pay you to take antiques off your hands. DWP, for example, will pick up your old refrigerator for free, give you $35 for it and throw in some compact fluorescent bulbs to boot. Log on to your utility's website for more information.