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Utilities are expensive, but a necessary part of life. Having hot water, electric, and a means to heat or cool your home makes your life more comfortable.
There are lots of ways that everyone can both save money on their utilities and conserve resources to be better stewards of our resources.
Saving money on utilities doesn’t have to be complicated. There are tons of ways you can save money pretty easily. Even just changing a few little habits can add up to big savings over time. Enjoy lower bills and more money to set aside for savings with these top tips.
Around the House
1. Change Your Light Bulbs
LED and CFL bulbs are the two choices that are more efficient. LED bulbs used to be really pricey, but are now readily available for $3-4 a bulb. That can be expensive to outfit your whole home in one trip to the home improvement store, though.
Instead, opt to buy a few at a time. If you really want to stick with the super cheap incandescent bulbs, try using more efficient bulbs in the top five lights you use every day. According to Energy.gov, swapping bulbs in those five lights will save you the most money.
While you might be tempted to think that dimmer switches would help you save on your electric bills, think again. If using LED bulbs, the difference is negligible. You might be better off opting for a lower-wattage bulb if using incandescent lights.
Dimmer switches do save some energy, but the hassle of getting switches changed is not really enough to justify the change unless you really enjoy dimmed lighting for ambiance.
2. Smart Thermostats
We use the Nest thermostat in our home and love it. It’s a really handy way to keep track of our heating and cooling usage while away from home, especially.
Smart thermostats work by using sensors to monitor interior temperatures and automatically adjusting to your preferences. They help your HVAC system to be the most efficient. Rather than turning up or down to adjust constantly throughout the day, a smart thermostat does that for you.
Over time, the thermostat learns when to adjust for your schedule and preferences, change to accommodate nighttime temperatures, and optimizes your climate control. This helps to save energy and be the most efficient with your heating and cooling.
3. Thermal Curtains
Thermal curtains work really well to block light and heat from entering your home. They are also really helpful in winter for keeping drafts out. Both help you save energy all year long by keeping your HVAC from needing to work as hard to maintain temperature.
When you run your HVAC system, you can lose 10-25% of your heating or cooling out the windows. That’s a lot of money down the drain. Curtains can help reduce this by almost 25% to help you save money.
We enjoy using thermal curtains to help our home remain more comfortable. If you have large glass sliding doors or windows where lots of sunlight comes in, they are especially helpful for those areas. If you live in an older home prone to drafts, you can put them up in the winter to help keep everyone cozy.
Thermal curtains are readily available at most major home good retailers and are not very expensive. If you want to save money, consider purchasing just a few sets and swap them to the neediest areas of your home depending on the season.
4. Unplug Appliances
It’s no secret that appliances are huge energy users. TVs, electric kettles, computers, toasters, and coffee pots all draw current when not in use. In fact, it’s estimated that 10% of the energy usage in most homes comes from appliances that are plugged in but not being used. If your electric bill is $150 a month, that’s $15 that is literally being wasted. That is almost $200 a year.
To save, consider unplugging everything after every use. That might seem tedious, but saving money long-term is worth a little more effort.
If unplugging everything is not feasible for you, look into using a smart power strip. These cut off power when appliances are not being used. Using smart power strips for items that are hard to reach, such as your TV or stereo, is another great way to reduce phantom power usage.
5. Check Vents
With an HVAC system, it’s important to be sure it’s being run efficiently. Every season, check vents to ensure they are clear and not being blocked by furniture or other items.
While doing this, check to make sure no vents are closed. If you have rooms you don’t need to heat or cool, don’t close the vents in those rooms. It might seem like closing vents means you will use less heat since those rooms will be cool, but if you have a cold air return system, closed vents will create pressure which will actually cause your HVAC system to operate less efficiently.
6. Use Fans
In warmer weather, use ceiling and box fans to help air circulate. You will be able to keep your air conditioner at a higher temperature, saving you money. Fans use a lot less electricity than an HVAC system. Especially if you do not have central air and rely on window units, fans will help you save even more money.
Box fans can be found at most major retailers and are pretty inexpensive. Buy them in the fall as stores are clearing their shelves for deeper discounts.
Ceiling fans can go two directions and have switches usually right above the blades. In the spring and summer, the blades should rotate counterclockwise to push air down. In the fall and winter, switch the blade so fans rotate clockwise. This will pull colder air upwards and help warmer air by the ceiling get distributed.
7. Seal Doors
Replacing cracked and weathered door weatherstripping is a simple process, but there are several different kinds available. Keeping your doors weathertight prevents losing energy to drafts or air leaks. It also keeps your home watertight.
Purchase new weatherstripping from any home improvement store. Take off the old seal, then install the new. Weatherstripping usually fits in a small groove on the outside of the door. Keeping these in good condition makes sure that your doors are operating efficiently.
You can also easily find bottom seals for doors that help prevent drafts. Usually a slide-on product, you can find them at home improvement stores called “slide-on door bottoms” or “slide-on door sweeps”. These help doors to be more efficient.
They are great for doors that lead out to unheated areas, such as garages or mudrooms. If you exclusively use window air conditioners, consider installing these on bedroom doors to keep cool air inside the room.
8. Replace Filters
Replacing filters on your HVAC system is a great way to keep it operating efficiently. Clean filters help reduce the load the system is under to produce heat or cooling. They also help extend the life of your system and prevent costly repairs.
Worried that you will forget to change the filter? Write the date the filter was changed right on the filter frame, then write on your calendar when it will need to be changed next. You will have a backup record of when it was last changed in case you forget.
9. Try Outdoor Cooking
In hot summer months, we often use our grill instead of turning on the oven to avoid heating up the house. Choosing meals that do not require much cooking time is also a great idea.
If you want a fun twist on this idea, make a cheap solar oven and experiment with cooking on it outdoors on a sunny day. It’s a fun family activity, doesn’t cost much to make, and can help you save on energy costs.
10. Dryer Balls
These handy little wool or rubber balls help to separate items while in the dryer. This helps to reduce static and therefore eliminate the need to purchase fabric softener.
While not a huge expense, eliminating the need to buy consumable items in favor of reusable items like dryer balls is a frugal move.
Plus, some people see a reduction in drying time using these dryer balls. I use them and personally do notice that my laundry takes less time to dry when I use them. However, the research is a bit conflicted on this.
Whether they help reduce drying time or not, they can definitely help cut down on the laundry products you need to purchase. And, they might even save you a bit of money as you dry clothes.
Don’t forget to keep your lint filter clean and check the dryer vent for clogs to keep your dryer working as efficiently as possible.
11. Line Dry
If you have access to a clothesline, try using it. For bigger items, such as sheets and blankets, they are pretty easy to quickly put on a clothesline and line dry.
If a full clothesline isn’t practical for you, consider purchasing a small drying rack to keep in your laundry room. Perfect for items that you do not want in the dryer, this can help reduce the amount of clothing you need to run through your dryer.
Running full loads as often as possible will reduce electric usage. Separate out the items you plan to line dry, wash them together, then line dry to avoid smaller loads getting put in the dryer.
12. Hot Water Heater
Many hot water heaters are set to 140 degrees. By lowering it to 120, you could potentially save 6-10% on the costs to heat your water. Water heaters are one of the most expensive appliances in your home, so saving here is huge.
Along with lowering the temperature, wash clothing in cold water, run your dishwasher rather than hand washing, and avoid using the sanitize cycle on appliances unless absolutely necessary. All of these practices reduce the amount of hot water you need.
Bathroom & Water Savings
13. Low-Flow Faucets
New shower heads and faucets have been developed that reduce the amount of hot water coming out, but still allowing you to take a shower or use your sink in comfort.
You can save around 40% on your hot water usage by just switching to a low-flow shower head, which adds up to substantial savings on your electric bill. Plus, you will save on your water bill as well.
If you switch to all low-flow, expect even more savings. If you want a more granular breakdown of how much you can save, check out this amazing cost-benefit analysis.
By providing you savings on both electric and water costs, switching to low-flow will really help you cut down on utility bills.
14. Fix Leaks
Leaky faucets are quite literally money going down the drain. Make sure all your faucets are in good repair and fix faucets when you notice leaks.
Many causes of leaks are simple fixes and can easily be done at home. Online tutorials can help even the least handy person easily fix their own leaks and avoid a pricey repair bill.
While there are certainly times to call in professional help, try to fix it yourself first. It’s satisfying to be able to do your own work, plus it definitely saves time and money.
15. Make Your Toilet Low-Flush
People used to put bricks in their toilet tank to save money. The idea was that the bricks would displace some water, allowing for less water to be flushed and saving on your water bill. Toilets get flushed a lot, so saving water is a great idea.
However, using bricks to do this is actually a bad idea. Over time, bricks will break down causing clogs or damage to the internal mechanisms of toilets.
You can replicate this, though, by filling a half-gallon plastic jug with water. Place that in your tank instead and save on each flush. This adds up over time to quite a bit of money.
General Energy Saving Tips
16. Perform An Energy Audit
Most energy companies will come out and perform a free energy audit of your particular home. They will go through your home and make suggestions for how to quickly and affordably make your home more efficient.
Doing an audit is also helpful to uncover ways you have been wasting energy without knowing it. Having a professional, such as someone your utility company might send, is really helpful. They’re trained to look in places most people would not consider, such as checking levels of insulation.
You can also perform your own energy audit. If your utility company does not offer this service, or you would rather just take care of it yourself, check out the guide that the Department of Energy put together. They give you a comprehensive overview of what to look for to improve efficiency in your home.
17. OHM Connect
This innovative service is available to customers of select utility companies. They offer cash incentives for using energy during cleaner times.
If you had considered going solar to be able to sell excess energy back, this is a great service to consider before making that jump. They will pay you for saving energy, which is very similar to the idea behind being paid for excess energy, so this might be worth trying before investing in solar.
18. Check Peak Hours
Energy providers usually have “peak” and “non-peak” hours when rates for electric usage vary. Peak hours are more expensive, while non-peak are usually less expensive.
Contact your provider to find out what hours are peak and non-peak. They may vary by season and will likely vary by region. Once you know when your electric is cheapest, try to do laundry, run the dishwasher, and charge your computer during those times if possible to save the most money.
19. Shop Around
Many states offer consumers the ability to shop around for electric and natural gas service providers. Check this website to see if you are able to shop around.
If you live in a state that offers this, click on your state to see what your options are. Go to each service provider’s website to make sure you are getting the lowest rates for your utilities.
Alternative Fuel Sources
20. Oil and Propane
If you live in a home that uses oil or propane for either heating or cooking, a great way to save is by filling up your tanks right at the end of the winter season.
Typically, April-September is the cheapest time to buy heating oil. While it might be the last thing on your mind, have your furnace and oil burner serviced and your tanks filled then.
It’s easier to get appointments for service at the end of the year, rather than when the weather turns colder in the fall. Plus, then you’ll be prepared when the weather does turn colder and not have to worry about it.
21. Wood Heat
Wood burning stoves are very efficient and cost effective. While installation is an initial expense, the cost savings are enormous over the life of the stove. In fact, you can save 10-40% over traditional heating methods using wood burning heat sources.
If you heat with wood, you have to work all year to gather enough to get through the winter. While this helps spread the cost out over the year, it is still expensive to pay for wood.
A cord of wood delivered can be $100-350, which is a big chunk of money during a time of year you aren’t really thinking about heating for winter.
One way to save on this cost is to scour local ads for cheap rounds of wood. Often, arborists or tree removal services have an excess of wood they need to get rid of.
Local contacts are a great source because they can often deliver or know someone who can. Once you have a large stash of round pieces, rent a wood splitter for the day, split the larger pieces into smaller ones, and get your whole woodpile ready at once.
Splitters are typically around $60 to rent for the day, which is a small expense considering how much you can save by using a wood stove or wood boiler as a heat source. It also saves a lot of time and labor over splitting everything by hand.
22. Go Solar
Solar power has become increasingly popular. Renewable and essentially free once you have the equipment, it’s a great choice if you want to go to a more renewable energy source.
When solar was first developed, it was quite expensive and out of reach for most people. Better technology has allowed it to progress so much that by 2020, it will be cheaper to switch to renewable sources than to rely on fossil fuels.
There are several types of solar heating and cooling available including solar panels, passive solar systems, and concentrated systems.
Regardless of the type of utilities you have, there are plenty of ways to save and conserve money and resources. While saving money is, of course, a really great idea, saving resources is really important.
Being careful with the electric, water, and other resources we have access to helps ensure that future generations have plenty of resources as well.
When you are living on a budget, saving on utilities is one of the easiest ways to reduce your expenses. The money you save by being careful with utility usage can go towards paying off debt, savings, or building a buffer in your budget. There are so many benefits to saving on utilities, so try some of these ideas today.