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(MCT)—Looking for ways to lower your utility bills? Lowering the amount of energy you use to light your home is one place to start. About 20 percent of your monthly energy usage goes toward illuminating your home, and slashing that bill takes a little more effort than simply turning off the lights. Here are my top five ways to cut your lighting costs so you can Do Your Part and turn on instant savings.

1. Pick the Best Bulb
There are more energy-efficient light bulbs to choose from than ever. Start by migrating to more efficient bulbs as your old ones burn out. Newer bulbs can outlast traditional ones by up to 10 times and can save you up to 75 percent in lighting costs. However, you really need to know which kind of bulb is best for the various fixtures throughout your home. For example, Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) shouldn’t be used in a dimmable or 3-way fixture unless it is specifically designed for that use. Choosing the wrong bulb will drastically shorten its lifespan and ultimately waste your money.

2. Turn It Off
You always heard it growing up—“Turn off the lights when you leave the room.” This is clearly an easy way to lower your energy costs but it’s not always true. If you are using fluorescent bulbs and only plan to leave the room for a few minutes, it’s best to leave the lights on. Frequent on/off cycling can reduce the lifespan of fluorescent bulbs.

3. Use a Timer
Sometimes there’s a need to leave the light on, but not continuously. In that case, opt for a timer and then you won’t have to remember to flick the switch— ever! Choose a mechanical timer over electronic or digital timers, which can shorten the lifespan of some CFL bulbs.

4. Turn the Lights Down Low
Putting dimmers on your lights not only lets you control the mood in any room, it can also save money and extend the life of the bulb. Just be sure the label states that the bulb is intended to be used with a dimmer.

5. Let Motion Sensors Do the Work
Finally, consider motion sensors. This way, lights come on when motion is detected and turn off when no activity is detected over a selected period of time. This is ideal for security lights outside but you can also install motion sensors indoors.

There are more ways than one to light your home for less. Whether you decide on different bulbs or other ways to conserve electricity, you will Do Your Part to use less energy and keep money in your wallet—without being left in the dark.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist, and host of

© 2011, Terri Bennett Enterprises, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.