How I Saved a Bundle on My Utility Bills Thanks to You


When my most recent electric bill arrived, I did a little “happy dance.”

When was the last time you heard someone say that?  But it’s true.  My bill this month was MUCH lower than last month, and it wasn’t just because of the balmy weather.

It was all because of Elizabeth.

She is the brilliant energy advisor who spent more than three hours in my home, evaluating every nook and cranny for energy efficiency.  She swapped out my old-school light bulbs for CFCs.  She wrapped my hot-water pipes with insulation.  She removed my showerheads and replaced them with eco-friendly ones.  And she gave me a detailed analysis of my home’s energy usage and ways to reduce it.

Want to hear the best part?  All of these items were FREE!  Yep, you heard me.  Free!

And I have all my fellow ComEd customers to thank for it because they were the ones who paid for it.

Believe it or not, we all pay for these services whether we use them or not.  Check your ComEd or NICOR bill and you’ll see a line item called “Environmental Cost Recovery”.  If you’re like me, you never noticed it before.

The money from that fee goes into an Energy Efficiency Trust Fund administered by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.  And part of it is used for the Smart Ideas program run by ComEd and NICOR to keep them in compliance with a 2007 law that requires Illinois energy companies to contribute toward energy efficiency programs.  They have to participate, so they charge us for it.

You’re already contributing, so you may as well take advantage of what turns out to be a fantastic opportunity to get personal advice on how to take your home a few steps greener.

The energy audit itself costs only $99, which seemed like a steal to me because I had tried to schedule a similar energy audit with several private firms, and they all wanted $500 or more.  I had been putting it off because of the cost when I got a flyer with my electric bill promoting the Smart Ideas energy audit for only $99.

Since it was coming from an energy company, I was a bit skeptical about how useful it would be but was willing to give it a try.

I was ridiculously pleased with how well it went.  Elizabeth works for a company called Conservation Services Group, which is an independent third party hired by ComEd and NICOR to do the energy audits.  She was totally neutral and just interested in helping me be more energy efficient and save money.

First, she assessed everything from the building materials to the foliage around my home.  She went up in the attic and checked the insulation, ran tests on the HVAC and hot-water systems, and checked every single window for leaks with a really cool Mission-Impossible-looking hand-held device.

Next, she did a combustion safety test to make sure there were no issues with carbon monoxide.

Then, she installed everything she could within the boundaries of the program to lower our energy usage.  That includes up to 10 CFC light bulbs, two shower heads, hot water pipe insulation, faucet aerators, and programmable thermostats.  If you need them, all of these items are free as part of the program.  If we had needed more insulation or other higher-cost work done, we could have had her company do it at a significant discount (ComEd and NICOR will match up to $1,250 in costs for insulation and air sealing).

The best part of the audit was the detailed computer program Elizabeth used to calculate our energy usage and any other ways that we could save.  According to the program, simply using the ten CFCs she installed rather than traditional light bulbs would save us $118 per year. The $99 energy audit had already paid for itself, not even counting the value of the bulbs themselves plus all the other freebies I got that day.

Whether your goal is to be greener with less energy usage or to save money–or both–this program is a great way to go.  After doing all she could under the guidelines of the program, Elizabeth left me with a to-do list of using power strips for electronics, buying more CFC and LED light bulbs, making sure lights are turned off, and dialing down the thermostat.  I’ve done almost everything she suggested and it’s reflected in my utility bills.

(Sorry, Elizabeth, but I did turn the water heater up a bit.  Those five minutes in the shower are too precious for us moms to spend them shivering.)

I got as much as I could from Smart Ideas.  Now it’s your turn.  Take advantage of it.  After all, now it’s my turn to pay for you.


If you’re a residential customer of both ComEd and NICOR, you can schedule your energy audit by calling 877-821-9988.  For more information visit or


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