Unless you’re living off the grid, if you want to keep the lights on and water running you need to pay for utilities. However, especially in the middle of winter or summer, the bill can climb so quickly that you’ll consider hiding under a pile of blankets rather than turn on the heat. Luckily there are simple things you can do to lower your utility bill.
- Check Your Heating System
If you’re trying to cut down on utility expenses during the winter, you can start with the basics. Have a professional inspect and tune your heating system. Tell him or her that you want the most efficient settings and ask for recommendations on how to improve your home.
- Use an Energy-Efficient AC Unit
Summer can be especially expensive when outside temperatures top 100 degrees, and it’s hard to fall asleep without a fan or air conditioning running. Keep the temperatures and costs down by investing in an energy efficient AC unit.
Look for one with a high energy efficiency ratio (EER) and an Energy Star® rating. Also, don’t go overboard and buy a bigger unit than you need as sometimes a smaller unit can be a better fit for your room. No matter which AC unit you have, regularly clean the filter to increase efficiency.
- Insulate Your Water Heater and Pipes
According to Energy.gov, water heating is the second largest energy expense in an average home. Heating and cooling water can account for about 18 percent of your energy bill, and there are many ways to save.
Insulate the tank and pipes, set the thermostat to 120 degrees, and drain a quart of water every three months to decrease sediment build up. You can also look for, and repair, leaky faucets or pipes and install low-flow faucets or showers.
- Switch To LED Light Bulbs
Upgrading your light bulbs can make a large impact on your energy bill. Compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED light bulbs can offer similar “warm” light but use a fraction of the energy of incandescent bulbs. LEDs, the most efficient option of the three, use up to 80 percent less energy than incandescent and can last up to 25 times longer.
Although these newer types of bulbs cost more, there are frequently sales and discounts at home supply stores like Lowes or Home Depot. Outfit the most often used outlets in your home and you can save several dollars a year on each bulb. The initial investment can pay for itself in just a year or two, and the bulbs may live on for decades.
- Set Your Programmable Thermostat Correctly
Your thermostat can either help you save money on energy bills or wind up costing you a fortune. With a programmable thermostat, you can automatically set the timer to turn off the heat or AC when people aren’t usually home.
However, be sure you read the instructions and understand how to program the thermostat. Get the settings wrong and you may be accidentally heating the home when no one is there.
- Properly Insulate Your Home
Proper insulation can help keep the air warm, or cool, inside your house. Thus, helping you cut down the costs of heating or cooling. Check your insulation in the ceiling, walls, attic, and floor before the winter and summer. If you are buying new insulation, aim for a higher R-value, a measurement thermal resistance.
- Fix Cracks and Leaks
Insulation can only help so much if you have other drafty areas. Check for cracks or openings around windows, doors, and other areas where air can escape. Sealing these can help keep your home warm or cool. You can get professional help or take a DIY approach to caulking and weather stripping your home.
- Keep an Extra Eye on Windows
Use drapes, vinyl shades, or quilted curtains on your windows to help keep cold air out during the winter months. You can also install plastic shrink film over the windows to eliminate drafts.
During the summer, the heavy blinds can also keep the sun from warming the house too much. Take an extra step by installing shade screens or cloth that can block up to 90 percent of the UV rays.
- Use The Right Cookware
You don’t need to compromise your love for cooking just because you want to lower your utility bill. There are a lot of ways you can save and use less energy.
If you have an electric stove, make sure to match the pan size to the heating element – e.g. use a six-inch pan on a six-inch element. Also, use flat-bottomed pots and pans to maximize the surface area that touches the element.
- Decrease Dishwasher Expenses
There’s an ongoing debate between which is more efficient, hand washing dishes or using a dishwasher. If you use the latter, there are a few ways to avoid letting your money go down the drain.
Wait until the dishwasher is full before running it, scrape off food instead of rinsing dirty dishes, and let the dishes air dry rather than using a heat-dry setting. You can also lower the hot water temperature the dishwasher uses and wash your dishes at non-peak hours, when energy cost less, by using a delay-start function.
- Do Your Laundry Without the Heat
Keep your load of dirty dishes at a manageable volume and turn the water setting down to cold, or warm, to decrease costs. During the warm months, hang your clothes outside instead of using a dryer. During the winter, you may be able to hang dry some clothes near a heater or vent.
- Clean Out The Fridge
Your refrigerator is an essential appliance, but it’s also an energy drain. Check the fridge’s rubber seal to make sure the cold air isn’t leaking out. Don’t overcrowd the fridge as this can infringe on air circulation, be especially mindful that you don’t block the air vents. A potential lifestyle change, know what you want before you go digging into the fridge or freezer. Decreasing the time that the door is open increases your savings.
- Stop Vampire Drain
Even when they’re not in use, appliances and electronics may still be using energy. The small trickle sometimes called a vampire energy drain, can be costly over time. Try to unplug appliances when they’re not in use and turn gaming systems and computers off rather than putting them on standby. You can use a power strip with an on/off switch and power down multiple devices at once.
- Inspect EnergyGuide Labels
If you are shopping for new appliances, always check on EnergyGuide labels that provide estimated annual operating cost and the efficiency ratings for appliances. The Energy Star® program can help you identify efficient appliances, but you can compare Energy Star® products to find the most efficient.
- Apply for Energy Assistance Programs
Low-income families may be able to get government or charitable assistance to pay for utilities. Check with your state’s utility department to find more information. If you need help during the winter, look into the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), a federally funded but state-run program that offers a once-per-year payout to help pay for the cost of heating. There may also be resources available to help you upgrade or repair heating appliances. Charitable organizations, such as the Salvation Army, also have utility assistance programs.