Environmental Talk: Managing Utility Bills Now Requires Ingenuity
It is not always about badges. With today's rising cost of living, blindly following your heart without exhaustively consulting your brain could lead you to financial ruin!

Environmental Talk: Managing Utility Bills Now Requires Ingenuity


Not only is your TV set emptying your wallet when turned on, it may be emptying your piggy bank even when it is turned off!

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: August 28, 2008


Is your electric bill getting larger than you can manage? If so, you are not without company. The increase in energy-thirsty electronics just as energy bills soar means we are all in for some nasty shocks when our utility bills arrive. However, it is not all as grim as it looks and sounds. When the bills start getting larger, smart people get digging for ways to meaningfully slash their energy use. It is not only about arithmetic. It is also about smart choices.


Simply comparing price tags and making purchasing decisions is so yesterday. Household equipment that may seem kind to your wallet at the retail store may well turn out to be unfriendly once you start operating it. A discounted top of the range hi-fi may seem like an unbelievable bargain until the bills from your power supplier start arriving. If you cannot believe how cheaply most European car models are selling in Uganda, visit the makeshift garages in Uganda and find out for yourself how many are stuck there because their owners cannot afford the required spares. Meanwhile, 30-year old Japanese models, especially Toyotas, happily skip over the potholes.

In this day and age, you must make informed and/or educated choices. You must compare the initial cost of your equipment against its running costs. The first cost is what you pay initially to buy a product, be it a car, a refrigerator or a pair of shoes. Lifecycle costs are your total costs related to owning and operating that object. Take, for instance, a car purchase. According to recent media reports, sports utility vehicle (SUV) prices are plummeting while those of smaller cars are either rising or at least holding steady. The reason is simple, with the rising cost of fueling cars, most conscious buyers are staying well clear of gas guzzling SUVs. Ford Motors has recently had to close SUV factories in the US, Canada and Mexico.

The 'first-cost' sensitive person decides on what size and type of car they want and what features are important -- and then chooses the least expensive make and model that meets those needs. The 'lifecycle-cost' sensitive person, on the other hand, considers those same factors, but also investigates the cost of operating the different cars that fit the bill. They look at gas per mile returns, repair history and the cost of insuring the vehicle, for example. As a result, they may choose a car a higher sale price, calculating that in the long run, the car will actually be the less expensive one to own and operate. So, the stampede to trade in SUVs for smaller, energy efficient cars is on. And that can only mean one thing the price of such gas-saving cars in not going to go down soon.

In electrical goods stores, the queues to buy compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use up to 75% less energy than incandescent light bulbs of similar brightness are growing longer too. While the price of the florescent lights is about 3-6 times higher than that for incandescent bulbs, the prices of the former are falling steadily as more of them are purchased. Their popularity is not just because they consume far less electricity than the filament bulbs - they last 8-10 times longer too! If you are put off by the slightly greater up-front cost, start by replacing the bulbs in the rooms you use most. The savings will soon start adding up.

There could be little gremlins in your jumbo plasma TV. Not only is it emptying your wallet when turned on, it may be emptying your piggy bank even when it is turned off. That is because, like in many modern gizmos, 'off' does not really mean 'off' but 'standby.' While you sleep or are out of the house, the stand-by power gremlins are busy 'chilling' in your TV set. It is called a 'phantom load' but its impact on your electric bill is all too real. The only way to save the coins in your wallet is to cut the power to your TV instead of merely turning it off. Turn off that wall socket that feeds your TV set when you are not watching it. If your plasma TV keeps the company of related equipment such as DVD players, video game consoles and digital TV set-top boxes, you can save even more money by disconnecting them from the mains too. If you record TV shows while the system is not in use, ensure that you plug your receiver and recording device separately.

These are a few of the examples where the average homeowner needs to investigate the pros and cons of owning any domestic appliances. While such actions do not offer 100% security against ballooning utility bills, they may make the difference between having or shelving that annual barbeque. The trick is in conducting good investigations - which requires that you are well-informed on what costs what, when and why. That will give you answers on how... to save!

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: August 28, 2008
The author is a pollution control equipment engineer/consultant and a proud active member of UGPulse.