Energy costs sneak up on you. You think you are doing the right thing – turning off lights when you leave a room, keeping the air conditioner set to run only when needed, turning off the television when the program you are watching is over. Then the energy bill comes in the mail, and you wonder if elves and brownies have been tinkering with your appliances and lights while you are away.

Energy usage has a way of creeping up on you. You can do things that will lower these costs and keep them lower over time.

1. Make maintenance routine

You can’t simply call the landlord when the fridge stops working when you own a home.

Keeping up with the maintenance of the refrigerator and several other appliances is your job.

Maintenance doesn’t mean just keeping things from breaking. Older appliances that are not in good condition run up energy bills.

Energy-suckers that are often overlooked include the HVAC system that should be checked twice a year, air filters that should be changed 3 to 4 times each year, refrigerator coils, freezer coils, and dryer vents that should be cleaned, so they are lint-free frequently.

2. Installing a smart thermostat

Adjusting your home temperature several times a day can be boring at best. A programable thermostat can solve that problem for you. Any programable thermostat will keep your energy bills in check.

A programmable thermostat like Google’s Nest learns what temperatures you prefer and when is an even more innovative option.

3. Look for drafty spots

The most significant amount of heating and cooling loss in your home likely comes from drafts. Old windows and doors are the leading sources of drafts. Beyond that, these four items all should be checked:

  • Folding attic stairs: Add an insulated stair cover.
  • Whole-house fan: Install a fan shutter seal.
  • Fireplace: Use a fireplace plug to seal the damper.
  • Clothes dryer: A dryer vent seal will reduce drafts.

4. Don’t “Let the Sun Shine In.”

The musical group Aquarius may have popularized the song “Let the Sun Shine In,” but that doesn’t mean it is always the best advice. Closing the blinds will cool down your home without using extra energy, and in warmer months and climates, letting the sunshine in may mean that your air conditioner is working overtime.

5. Regulate that Water Heater

Hot showers do feel fantastic, but high energy bills do not.

Lowering the temperature of your water heater by 10 degrees can save between 3% and 5% on your energy bill.

6. Use LEDs

LED’s save up to 15% on your energy bill compared to incandescent lights.

Considering that lighting is the number two category for most homeowners’ energy usage, HVAC is number one. It makes sense to use LEDs.

7. Review your appliances

Energy Star–certified will save you money, but even they need maintenance.

  • The dishwasher: Running your dishwasher on an empty cycle with a citric acid-base cleaner will eliminate or at least reduce calcium and soap buildup. Those items make your dishwasher work harder and less efficiently.
  • The washing machine: Fill it up. Stuff it full when possible. Running a smaller load uses almost the same energy as a full load.
  • The dryer: Air circulation is critical to drying time in a dryer. Keeping the vent clean, including the outside exhaust, will decrease drying time and save energy.
  • The refrigerator:  Condenser coils should not be overlooked. Over time things like dirt, dust, and food particles attach to the coils and reduce your refrigerator’s energy efficiency. Also, make sure that the internal temperature of your appliance is set between 36- and 38-degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Keep an eye on power strips

Electronics draw a lot of power, even if they are idle. Consider utilizing power strips and shutting them off when not in use.

Grouping similar items such as your tablet and laptop on one power strip and your TV and DVD on another makes it easy to shut off things that you don’t need all the time.