How To Lower Your Electric, Gas and Water Bill
Opening an electric bill during the peak heating and cooling seasons can be budget-testing experience for American families.
You cut back on dining out, reduced your monthly cellphone data usage and even began clipping coupons, but the eye-popping electric bill undermines your effort to balance the household budget.
Don’t give up. You don’t need to ditch the AC during a July heatwave, but you could turn up the thermostat a little and save a lot. Similarly, hot showers are great, but taking shorter ones and lowering the temperature in your water heater can put money in your pocket.
Energy is expensive, and saving it has real financial benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, America’s 115 million residences collectively use an estimated 22.5 percent of the country’s energy output and the typical family spends $2,200 a year on utility bills.
How To Cut Your Energy Bills
The good news is that there are many things consumers can do to trim power, fuel and water usage, and some require little cost or effort.
Raise the Thermostat in Summer, Lower It In Winter
A good place to start with energy saving is the household thermostat. What is acceptably warm or cold varies from person to person, but most of us can make adjustments. If you set the thermostat at 78 degrees in the winter, try moving it to 68 degrees and wearing a sweater. In the summer, 73 might feel great, but 78 will save you money. Turn on a ceiling fan if you have one. The closer you can comfortably keep thermostat to the outside temperature, the more energy you’ll save.
Some energy conservation tactics require more thought. Energy experts, including those working for local utilities, can help devise a plan that lowers your electricity, water and gas bills.
Sign Up For An Energy Cost Management Plan
Let’s start with electricity consumption, which for most is the giant maw that gobbles money year-round. You might start by contacting the power company to learn if a cost-management plan is available. This won’t do anything to trim your annual costs, but such plans more evenly distribute what you pay monthly, meaning somewhat higher bills in the spring and fall in exchange for lower bills in the high-usage summer and winter months.
Get A Programmable Thermostat
Next, consider how you can trim what you use. Programmable thermostats, which once could cost several hundred dollars, are now reasonably priced. They effortlessly change the temperature settings of your home during the day, enabling you to consume less power or fuel when you’re away or asleep. Set the thermostat fan to auto so that it only runs when the furnace or HVAC unit is operating.
Insulate Better For Energy Savings
Drafty homes are energy wasters. For little money, you can buy weather stripping for doors and windows and caulk to seal leaks both inside and outside your house. Insulating window covers, often drapery or blinds, can deflect solar heat in the summer.
Clean Your HVAC Filters For Cost-Effective Efficiency
Also, make sure your HVAC and furnace filters aren’t clogged. Change them at least every three months if they’re disposable or clean them thoroughly if they aren’t. Also check the dryer vent to make sure it isn’t filled with lint, and always remove lint from the dryer lint filter after each use. This will keep the drying operating efficiently and might prevent a fire.
Don’t forget the little things. Use a toaster oven or a microwave instead of the large kitchen oven when preparing smaller meals. Keep the kitchen faucet in the cold position when using a small amount of water. Putting it on hot will draw from the water heater, even though the heated water might never reach the sink.
10 Steps for Saving On Your Power Bills
There are more ambitious steps for saving, but the costs can be considerable. A household energy audit will help you decide which are worth taking based, in part, on how long you plan to keep your home. Here are some examples of improvements that will save energy and might add to the value of your home:
- Add insulation. If the insulation in your attic has sunk over the years, it might be a good time to add more. Consult an energy expert if you can see the joists in your attic. The amount of insulation needed varies and differs in the way it’s installed, so a home evaluation is a good idea. Also, before adding insulation, check for leaks in attic ductwork. These can add greatly to your power or fuel bills and are best repaired before installing insulation.
- Plant trees. A few oaks or even hedges on the sunny side of the house will create shade and lower inside temperatures.
- Energy-efficient lightbulbs. Lighting accounts for about 5% of home energy use. Switching from old-fashioned incandescent bulbs to more efficient CFLs or LEDs can reduce that. Not only do LEDS reduce the amount of power needed to make light, they throw off far less heat than incandescent, which is significant during the warmer months when you’re cooling your home.
- New roofing. If you’re building a new house or replacing a roof on your current home, consider installing a cool roof. Cool roofs use materials that reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than standard roofs. Climate is a factor is deciding whether a cool roof makes financial sense.
- Buy an energy-efficient water heater. On average, 18 percent of household utility spending goes toward heating water, but newer heaters can reduce the cost. Look for a model with Energy Star seal, and compare the estimated annual energy consumption on the labels attached to the tanks. Also consider a solar water heater if you live in an area with abundant sunlight or a tank-less heater, which only warms water as it’s used. Energy experts estimated that tank-less gas heaters yield a 30 percent energy savings over conventional tank heaters. Another helpful trick: don’t heat the water past 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Solar power. Though using solar panels to generate household electricity is still expensive and can take years to pay off, the cost of rooftop systems is coming down. Some states offer incentives for these systems. The cost of the technology continues to drop as demand increases.
- Replace windows. If you have single-pane windows, they can be a major drain on your energy bills. Go for double-pane replacements. Look for windows with low solar-gain coefficients and low U factors, which offer better insulation. Also look for windows with reflective coatings that will reduce heat and ultraviolet rays that can damage furnishings. Windows are costly, so it might take many years to fully recoup your investment, but new windows can improve a home’s aesthetics and add to its market value.
- Check efficiency ratings of new appliances. Look for the Energy Star seal on refrigerators, dishwashers and laundry equipment. Appliances eat up about 13 percent of a household’s energy costs, so getting ones that sip rather than gulp energy is important. Remember, major appliances can last many years, so a higher upfront cost can mean savings in the long run.
- Same goes for office equipment. Computers, copiers, printers and monitors can eat up energy, so look for ones with Energy Star labels. These devices typically go into sleep mode when they’re not in use and can use 75 percent less energy than older models. If you are away from the desk for a while, consider turning them off, since even sleeping electronics use energy.
- Update all equipment. Use timers, power strips, motion-detector switches and WiFi-equipped products. Electronic devices and switches that turn off lights and appliances when not in use can save electricity. So can the new generation of Smart Home appliances that allow you to remotely control everything from thermostats to refrigerator settings when you’re away.
One more suggestion: If you simply can’t afford your energy bills, look into government assistance programs. One program, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) offers resources and help. Your state government, local utility providers or a local church also may have financial assistance programs.
And if you have other debt problems, consider the positive budget impact of lowering your monthly debt payments through a debt management plan arranged through a credit counseling agency. Energy savings are a balancing act, and every budget is different.
NA, ND. Energy Saver: Tips on Saving Money & Energy at Home. Retrieved from: http://energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver-guide-tips-saving-money-and-energy-home
NA, ND. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Retrieved from: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/ocs/programs/liheap
ND. 100 Ways to Save Energy at Home. Retrieved from: https://www.progress-energy.com/carolinas/home/save-energy-money/energy-saving-tips-calculators/100-tips.page