Now that summer is upon us, and the days are getting warmer and warmer, the air conditioning is already starting to crank up. That’s why it’s that time again to look at ways to save money off your monthly utility bills.
I know saving on energy costs isn’t the sexiest money saving technique, but it can never be a bad idea to remind us all that we spend an ever-increasing amount on our utilities and appliances that “burn” our dollars almost constantly. In addition, saving energy will help in saving our planet by using less, polluting less, and keeping our own personal carbon footprint on the smaller side. That’s important to me and my personal philosophy to do so for the benefit of future generations.
There are things you can do to reduce your energy costs and whether you own or rent your home, it is a way to cut your living expenses and use your money for more essential goals. Whether it’s paying off debt, saving up an emergency fund, investing, or some other goal, it will be more productive than making your utility company more profitable than they already are.
Here’s what I suggest you try to get on the right track:
1. Have your local utility company do a free in-home audit
They will come up with the obvious as well as hidden reasons you may be wasting your money. They will check your insulation, efficiency of your appliances, and usages compared to your neighbors in similar-sized living spaces, and determine what you can do to “fix” any problems you may have. Your local water, electric, and gas companies perform these audits year-round and never charge for it because it benefits them as well to have control over their supply costs. Even if you are a renter, you should ask your landlord to check any utilities that you pay for to be audited annually.
2. Do routine maintenance on heating and air conditioning units
Changing air filters on schedule and doing an annual tune-up through your local heating and air conditioning servicer can help avoid bigger problems in the long run. There are now reusable (washable) air filters available that will save you $20-$40 a year because they do not need to be replaced as often. For servicing, annual tune-ups may be free or more cost-effective with a service contract. Otherwise check for coupons and deals from local providers.
3. Do a “nightly” energy check
Determine that all of your non-essential appliances are off-line and not using power when you’re sleeping. This means not burning lights or running your appliances overnight and making sure your power strips for TV, stereo, and computer are in an energy-saving mode or even turned off when you’re asleep. You would be shocked to know the true costs of running such things when you are not even available to use them. A ceiling fan left running at medium speed overnight in a room you are not using can cost you an extra $35 each year. And speaking of those fans, make sure you adjust the switch (or the blades) to cause the air to be pushed down (clockwise) in winter and pulled up (counter-clockwise) in summer.
4. Set your water heater back to 120 degrees
Factory settings are at 140 degrees (Fahrenheit) and are totally unnecessary to provide hot water for washing, bathing, cleaning dishes, etc. In fact, 140 degrees may actually allow your hot water to reach scalding levels and be a danger. You won’t notice any real loss of that temperature by switching and it will save you money every day of the year. You can do it yourself with the instructions that came with your water heater or have it done by the home auditor from your utility company. It’s very simple to adjust.
5. Use energy efficient light bulbs
The newer energy efficient bulbs—compact fluorescent and LED—last longer (much longer) than traditional incandescents and save you money. They may cost more upfront but you’ll save by replacing them far less often as well as by using less electricity. Sometimes you can find promotions or rebates on them, and occasionally there are utility programs that give them out for free. Also consider downsizing your bulbs in their wattage for places where they aren’t used very often or don’t need as much light.
6. Replace low-efficiency appliances with Energy Star units
As your washer, dryer, air conditioning unit, water heater, heating system, refrigerator, and dishwasher age and need replacing, make sure you purchase energy-efficient models . Energy star appliances will save you money over the long term. Additionally, there are rebate programs and other offers provided by federal and state government as well as utilities which give added incentive to buy such appliances. If you’re replacing more than one appliance at a time, bundling your purchases from the same retailer can also save you money (remember, you can negotiate!).
7. Seal up the air leaks in your home
Doors, windows, uninsulated walls, small openings around pipes…the spots where the warm or cool air in your home escapes are costing you. There are inexpensive ways to keep drafts out and energy inside your home both in winter and summer. Go to your local home center store and ask about the options and costs. Some retailers even conduct free seminars to show you why and how to do the job right.
8. Check your utility bills and readings to see if they are correct
Locate your water, electric, and gas meters and see if they were read properly. People and companies can make mistakes, so don’t think this can’t happen to you. The minute you think a reading may be wrong is the time to check. It has happened to me!
9. Make sure you have a programmable thermostat
By setting the temperature you desire for the specific times of day you are at home or away at work/school, you can save on heating and cooling costs. By adjusting your thermostat up a degree or two in the summer and down a degree or two in the winter, you can save about 2% on your energy bill which adds up over time.
In colder months, for example, I set my heat around 67 degrees for the times when I am home and awake. But at midnight, the thermostat program drops down to 65 degrees for overnight. Then it brings it back up to 67 degrees in the morning around the time I wake up. If you head out to work or school, you can drop it back down to 65 during those hours and set it to return to 67 just before you return home. Leaving it on 24 hours a day at a full 70 degrees (or higher) is wasting your money. Spend the $25-$50 for a programmable thermostat.
10. Wattless Wednesdays
Yes, you read that correctly! Greatly reduce or eliminate your electrical usage one day a week in the name of conservation. I have done this activity several times over the years, and not only did it serve me well by saving money (about 17% on utility bills), but it formed a neat protest with others who object to the ever increasing energy costs to our wallet and our planet. Making it a family escapade made it fun. We slept in front of the fireplace in winter, bundled on air mattresses with heavy blankets, and in the summer, we kept the windows open and slept au naturel (in our own rooms, of course). It was a small sacrifice and it taught us all a good lesson of what it was like back in the days of old, and what it could be like in a dim future if we continue wasting energy.
We made sure we had candles, and a flashlight and batteries plus charged cell phones for an emergency. We also entertained ourselves with a radio and board games so we didn’t go out of our minds, and even the kids loved it for the few months we did it each year.
By the way, if you do have a fireplace, make sure you understand how it draws air, set your flue properly, and get the chimney cleaned every so often to insure it works to maximum efficiency.
Ok, so there are just a few ways to start. Are any of them difficult? Something on this list is something you can and should do as soon as possible. Not only will your wallet thank you, but so will the planet.
What do you do to save energy at home?