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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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