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How to save on your winter electricity bill

Gerri Willis explains time-of-use metering and how you can save money with it.

By Gerri Willis, CNN

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Winter weather is freezing the country and if you heat your home with electricity you could be in for a shock when the bill arrives. Here are some secrets that could save you big bucks on your energy bill.

1: Get Time-of-Use Meters

Imagine having an energy bill that you can control - like the peak and off peak times on your cell phone bill. It's within your reach. It's called time-of-use metering. Instead of being billed for the amount of energy you use per month, with a time-of-use meter, energy used during certain peak periods would cost more, while energy used outside of those periods would cost less.

For example, if your utility sets peak hours from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., any electricity you use during that time will be charged at the higher rate. But, if you can wait until after 9 p.m. to run that load of laundry, you'll get charged at the lower off-peak rate.

2: Call your utility company

The good news is that time-of-use metering is widely available. Most utilities offer some kind of time-of-use pricing program. But...you'll have to opt-into the program in most cases. To do this, call your utility company and find out if you can take advantage.

3: Think smart meters

There's also some new technology that's being tried out in a few places across the country called smart meters. Smart meters read how much electricity you're using by the hour. Your electric company can tell you how much the electricity will cost that hour, and you can decide when it's best to use your major appliances that use the most electricity.

You can tell how much that electricity will cost you to use at 6 a.m. versus noon, versus 7 p.m. If you decide to wash that load of clothes at 6 a.m. instead of noon, you can take advantage of the lower electricity rate.

4: Gauge your needs

These energy-saving initiatives could save you hundreds of dollars a year...IF you can use most of your electricity during cheaper periods. BUT you have to be careful. If you use a lot of electricity during peak times, you may end up spending more, since you'll be paying a higher rate for those hours. Before you invest in one of these programs, evaluate your electricity needs.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.