How Your Lights Affect Your Electric Bill

by Jun 8, 20200 comments

If you’ve been looking at your electric bill lately and been thinking that it’s not what you’d like it to be then you’re not alone. Just about everyone you meet is going to feel the same way. You probably don’t think you’re doing anything to warrant that kind of cost. But, it’s all about your lights. What you may not have realized is that simply turning the lights off could have a great impact on your electric bill.

“Turn off the lights when you leave a room.”
“What, were you raised in a barn?”

These are probably some pretty common things that you heard growing up, right? At least, if you grew up in a family that was anything like mine, you did. I can’t be the only kid that turned on every light in the house when I walked through a room, and then didn’t turn them back off when I left. And you can bet that’s going to increase your electric bill. 

Your Lights and Your Electric Bill

You’ve probably heard all the news about changing out your lightbulbs to save on energy costs, right? And that’s great! Maybe you even saw a decrease in your energy usage. But you probably didn’t see as much of a change as you thought you would. The reason for that? People around your house are probably turning lights on and not turning them back off when they’re done with them. Light bulbs and fixtures can form about 25-30% of your monthly bill. 

You’re being charged every single time that someone turns on a light in your house; and you’re charged for every single minute (or less) that the light stays on. Of course, there are other items on your electric bill too, but when we talk about lights, we’re talking about that time you walked into the kitchen and turned on the light to get a snack. The time your little one decided to flip the light switch back and forth really fast for half an hour to see what would happen. 

Every one of those times is going to cost you money and depending on where you live (and what type of bulbs you have in your house) it could either cost you a lot of money or it could cost only a little. The only way you know for sure is to look at your electric bill and by then it’s too late. After all, your electric bill only tells you what you did last month, not what you’re going to end up with in the future. Before you think about the cost of your light bulbs, check how much you’re paying for electricity per kilowatt hour (kWh). It will show you on your bill or call your electricity company. Keep in mind that the average cost varies depending on location. 

Now you can make sure that you swap out your light bulbs to energy efficient ones. Incandescent lights are the least efficient, because only 10% of the energy they give off is light the other 90% is heat. CFL bulbs use gas, mercury particles and phosphor to create light. They have a charge-up time, and also need more watts to light up. This makes them less efficient for areas where lights are frequently switched on and off. LED lights use diodes instead of gas or heated filaments to produce light. This makes them the most energy efficient bulb. Although incandescent bulbs are the cheapest, they do not last as long as LED bulbs. The approximate life span for an incandescent bulb is 1,200 hours and LEDs are 50,000 hours. When you replace your bulbs, it often consumes more electricity and gives off more heat, which could have a heavy impact on your bill.

From there, make sure that you’re not overwhelming your house with too many lights. Do you really need all those lamps? How about all those lights around the holidays? The more lights you have in your home the more lights someone could potentially turn on and that’s going to cost you a whole lot more money. If you have fewer lights you’re going to have a better chance of keeping your costs down.

Turning off Lights on Your Own

Okay, so, we’re all told to start getting our kids to turn off the lights, but maybe you want to start with something that’s all about you and not about them at all. This is where timers come into play. Yes, you can get light switches that actually work on a timer (and we’re not talking about the motion sensor kind you see at the mall, though those could work too). These switches turn on similar to a standard light, but they only stay on for a set amount of time (generally 30 or 60 minutes) and then they turn themselves off.

The great thing about these is no one actually has to remember to turn them off. So, if you walk into a room and turn the light on and then forget to turn it off, in 30 minutes it turns itself off. The downside is if you install these in a room where everyone is spending time the lights may shut off in the middle of whatever you’re doing, so you would have to turn them back on again – but that’s easier to get people to do than turning lights off, right?

Another method people use to turn off lights is actually through an app on their phones. There are plenty of different smart home devices out there that you can set up for your lights and these connect directly to your smartphone. From there, you can decide when to turn off lights and which ones to turn off. That means, if you can see that lights are being left on around the house, you can turn them off from wherever you happen to be. You don’t even need to be in the house to do it!

Make sure you’re doing everything you can to model good behavior as well. If you want other people to turn off the lights, then you need to make sure that you are also turning off lights. After all, if you’re telling them day in and day out about how important turning off the lights is, and they come home to find you with a houseful of lights then they’re not going to listen. So, make sure that you only turn on lights when it’s necessary and that you turn them off as soon as you no longer need them. You might find that you actually don’t need the lights half as much as you’ve been using them.

Getting Your Kids to Turn off the Lights

Young Girl Turning Off Light Switch

Getting real with them is one of the best things you can do, though this is going to work better with older kids. You can actually explain to them just why it’s so important to turn off the lights. Now, not every teen is going to care about how much your electric bill is and some of them just might blow you off, but you can definitely try it. Sit down with them and talk over the electric bill as a family. Talk about how high it is, why that is and what portion of the bill is related to lights. Just having a grown-up conversation with them and treating them as an adult can make them more likely to take things seriously.

Younger children do well with positive reinforcement. That means, when they turn off a light you praise them. Now, you don’t have to go overboard and give them a prize or a reward every time that they succeed in turning off lights when they leave the room. But you should tell them that they’ve done a good job and that you’re proud of them for remembering. Even just verbal rewards and praise can make a small child more likely to continue a specific behavior.

Rewards for bigger savings can be a great motivator for children as well. Show them the bill that you just had and offer a reward (pizza, a toy they want, money, a special dessert, etc.) if they can make next month’s bill even lower than that one, or lower than the same one from last year. If you turn it into a game you can encourage your children to want to participate and you’re definitely going to give them a vested interest in turning the lights off.

You should also get out of the habit of turning off lights for your child. Instead, make them come back to the room where the light is on and turn it off. When you turn off the light for them, they get the idea that the thing will just get done and there’s no need to worry about it. If you call them to the room and make them do it, you’re turning it into a hassle for them. This works no matter how old or young your child is and makes them start paying more attention when they leave a room so they don’t get interrupted later.

It’s important to make sure that everyone can reach the light switch before you start imposing too many consequences for not turning them off. If you have a child who isn’t tall enough to reach the switch you may want to make sure there’s a footstool nearby or tell them that they need to get someone to turn the light off for them when they leave the room. Since they’ll likely need one of these things to turn the light on in the first place, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Encouraging Your Guests to Turn off the Lights

Now, it can be difficult enough getting the people in your household turning off lights properly. And if you’ve just gone through the long, drawn out battle with your children you probably don’t even want to think about what it’s going to be like with your guests, right? But this is something else that you’re going to want to pay attention to. How do you get your guests to turn off lights? Whether they’re in the home you’re living in, renting a place from you or staying in a vacation property, you want to make sure you get them focused on energy efficiency as well.

Use motion sensor or timer lights wherever you can. These are going to work great for guests the same way that they work out great for your kids. The guest doesn’t need to think about turning off the light, the light itself is going to take care of that for them and that’s definitely an important step. You can make sure that you don’t pay extra for their electricity and you don’t have to nag them about anything (like their parents probably did too).

For those who are renting out a space, either long-term or short-term, electric costs could be built right into the fees. If you are renting out a property that someone is living in for the foreseeable future, it’s best to put them in charge of paying the full cost of the bill. That means they can leave the lights on all they want, the more electricity they use the more they are going to pay. For short-term rentals or leases (such as vacation rentals) you can add the cost into the price of the stay. This is a good way to protect yourself in case of higher electric bills later on.

Overall, there are a number of things that you could change that would help lower your monthly electric bill. Obviously don’t keep lights on when they don’t need to be. Always think about the type of bulb you’re using, and don’t buy any bulb because it’s the cheapest. By being mindful of these things you could end up saving hundreds of dollars over the course of a year.


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