PhotoFor the past couple of days, most of the continental United States has been shivering as masses of cold Arctic air “surge” as far south as Florida, resulting in temperature and wind chills far lower than usual for this time of year.

In North Carolina, usually accustomed to much milder winter temperatures, the cold snap is so severe – and inspired such an unusually high spike in electricity use to power space heaters, heat pumps and other heat sources – that electrical provider Duke Energy asked its residential customers to reduce their electricity use for at least 24 hours over Wednesday and Thursday, to reduce the strain on the electrical grid.

On Thursday morning, Duke Energy posted a plea on its Facebook page:

Carolinas: every little bit helps! Energy use in our region is at near record demand this morning. Please continue to conserve power until 10 a.m.

(Of course, Duke Energy customers who'd already lost electricity in the region's recent storms were understandably unimpressed by this. “I don't have any power to conserve. Haven't for 12 hours. How about you focus on the thousands of customers with no power instead,” ran one typical post-10 a.m. comment on Duke Energy's Facebook announcement.

Even so, the electricity-saving tips which Duke posted on its website are worth following all winter long, not just in extreme conditions. Lower electricity use means lower electric bills for you — and it's better for the environment, too.

What to do

If you have one or more ceiling fans in your house, turn them on and watch the blades. Are they turning clockwise, or counter-clockwise? Duke advises that you “Operate ceiling fans in a clockwise direction, which pushes warm air back down into the room.”

Most models of ceiling fan have the default setting to turn counter-clockwise, keeping rooms cooler in hot summer temperatures. The switch to change the blades' direction is usually located in the “base” of the fan, close to your ceiling.

If you actually need to flick that switch and change the direction of the blades, you will of course need to turn the fan off and wait for its blades to stop moving, before you reach between them to move the switch. You should also clean the thick, dirty dust off the forward edge of the fan blades before you turn the fan back on to rotate in this new direction; otherwise, some of that dust will fall off on its own, after the blades start moving again. (No need for fancy cleaning materials; a paper towel or cloth rag made damp with tap water or white vinegar will work fine.)

Other electricity (and money)-saving wintertime tips include: During the daytime, leave your window curtains or blinds open so sunlight can help warm the house, and turn your thermostat down to the lowest temperature you and your family members can stand. If you leave home for the day, turn it down a little lower still. Should you feel chilly, try putting on a sweater or other, warmer clothes before turning the temperature up.

Of course, during hot-weather seasons of the year, you must do the exact opposite of these things: turn your ceiling fan blades counter-clockwise to draw warm air up closer to the ceiling; close the curtains and blinds to keep out the sun; keep the temperature in your house as high as you can stand it, while wearing thin clothes.

But other energy-saving tips apply all throughout the year, whether excessive heat or excessive cold is your main home-climate problem: turn off unnecessary lighting, and unplug your phone and tablet chargers, which draw energy even when they're not in use.

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