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11 Ways to Reduce and Save Money on Utility Bills

By Heather Levin

utility bills moneyIt is common for many families to stare dejectedly at $200, $300, $400, and sometimes even $500 in utility bills every month. That can be an especially hard pill to swallow when times are tight – especially with gas prices rising.

This issue hits close to home for me as well. My dad lives in Lousiana, and his monthly bill is an astonishing $430 per month. And, that’s living in the Sunny South!

So what can you do to reduce your utility bill without being forced to move? Well, according to Energy Star, half of all the energy we use in our homes goes toward heating and cooling. A significant amount goes towards water as well.

This information gives us three important areas to focus on, and I’ve come up with 11 ways you can immediately reduce your utility bill affordably and effectively:

Ways to Save on Utilities in Your Home

1. Add Attic Insulation
According to the U.S. Department of Energy (USDE), the attic is where most of your home’s heat escapes to. Why? Well, heat rises, and most homes don’t have enough insulation up there to keep it from getting out. So, out it floats.

Fiberglass insulation is relatively cheap, and it’s easy to install it yourself. I have zero home improvement skills and I added a ton of insulation to my own attic last year. Did it make a difference? You bet it did. Energy Star estimates you can save up to 20% on your heating and cooling costs by effectively insulating your home. I don’t know if I saved that much, but I definitely saved at least 10% on my utility bills this year. And adding the insulation was very easy to do.

If you’re worried about installing attic insulation yourself, do a quick search online. There are tons of DIY tutorials that will coach you through the process.

2. Apply Weather Stripping
Weather stripping is very easy to install, and it will make a big difference in keeping out drafts. Before I applied my own weatherstripping, I could literally feel a cold wind coming in through both my kitchen doors. Now, however, the outdoor air stays out. In addition, weatherstripping will help you keep out rain and prevent the inside air from escaping.

Weather stripping is another inexpensive, super-easy project that will make a big difference in your home’s energy bills. Again, I have zero home improvement skills and I didn’t mess it up.

3. Insulate Outlets and Light Switches
This smaller project is one that’s often forgotten about because people don’t realize that outlets and switches can be sources of air leaks. But outlets and light switches need to have insulation added to them, especially when they’re on an outside wall. Just make sure you get specialized outlet and switch plate seals, which can found inexpensively at any hardware store. The insulation is made specifically for outlets and switch plates, so you don’t have to worry about fire.

4. Install a Programmable Thermostat
The USDE estimates that you’ll save 10% off your utility bill just by installing a programmable thermostat.

Now, this project is a little more involved than insulating the switch plates, but it’s not necessarily too difficult. Every thermostat comes with detailed instructions so that you won’t get lost.

Don’t forget – the more you can turn your thermostat down in the winter, and up in the summer, the more you’re going to save. I keep my house at 55 degrees at night, and 64 degrees during the day during the winter months. I live in Michigan, and I stay comfortable in this range. It did take some getting used to, but if you go slow you’ll be able to keep making small adjustments to save even more. For more tips, here are some cheap ways to keep warm in the winter.

Is your house empty during the day? Allow the temperature to drop much further in the winter months and higher in the summer months while you’re away at work during the day, and program it to return to more comfortable temperatures just before you get home.

For a $70+ investment, installing a programmable thermostat is one of the smartest things you can do to reduce your energy bills.

5. Install a Low-Flow Shower Head
Did you know that many older shower heads put out 4-5 gallons of water per minute?

The low-flow shower head I use puts out a mere 1.5 gallons. And I still get awesome, forceful showers.

Low-flow shower heads really run the gamut on price: $10 on up to $200 or more (e.g. Niagara 1.50 GPM Low Flow Massage Showerhead). But they’re easy to install, and they’ll help conserve water while saving you money every day.

6. Insulate your Water Heater
If you have an older water heater, you can save 4-9% on your water heating costs simply by insulating it.

The USDE estimates that insulating hot water heater jackets prevent standby heat loss by 25-45%. Thus, you’ll be heating your water more efficiently simply by wrapping up your hot water tank.

This is another really simple project that can pay off big over the long run.

7. Wash Clothes in Cold Water
Did you know that 90% of the energy your washer uses goes to heat the water? Yeah, it’s pretty surprising and since most American families do around 400 loads of laundry per year, switching to cold can really add up.

To put it in perspective, check out these cool stats from Treehugger.

Washing every load on the hot/warm cycle (in a top loading machine and an electric water heater) for a year is equivalent to burning about 182 gallons of gasoline in a car; in an average (19.8 miles per gallon) car, that’ll get you around 3,595 miles.

But what happens when we wash on cold? Again, Treehugger:

When you use cold water to wash, you just use energy to run the machine – about .24 kWh – without using any energy to heat the water. That .24 kWh translates to about .41 pounds of CO2 per load, or about 162 pounds of CO2 per year. That’s about 8 gallons of gas, or 164 miles of driving.

That’s a huge difference. We went from burning the equivalent of 182 gallons of gas using hot water, to burning just 8 gallons on cold.

8. Pack the Dishwasher
When you use the dishwasher, never ever run a half load. Pack that baby to the brim! Want to save even more? Turn off the manual “heat dry” and let your dishes air dry.

9. Hand Wash Large Pots, Pans, and Dishes
These take up a lot of room in the dishwasher, and you’ll use the dishwasher considerably less if you wash and dry these items yourself.

10. Buy Energy Star Appliances
Energy Star rated refrigerators, washers, furnaces, and water heaters use a fraction of the energy their non-rated counterparts use. Most of the time, they’re priced competitively as well. Occasionally, you might have to pay more for an Energy Star rated product, but you’re always going to earn your money back in the long run. If you want to save on your utility bills, always look for the Energy Star logo first when buying large appliances.

11. Cook Strategically
It takes  a lot of energy to heat up your oven. If you’re cooking something small, use your toaster oven instead. I rarely use my oven anymore because my toaster oven is just so much more handy. I’ve even successfully baked cookies and pies in my toaster oven! It also leads to much quicker cooking time since toaster ovens have less area that they need to heat.

Microwaves also use a fraction of the energy as compared to your oven or stove top. Whenever you can, heat things up in the microwave to save energy.

Final Word

When it comes to saving money on your utility bills, identify the items in your house that use both water and energy. Dishwashers, washing machines, and water heaters are three major appliances that you may want to consider replacing with more energy- and water-efficient models.

Also, remember that your air conditioning and heater usage is the biggest game changer when it comes to your utility bill. If you turn the temperature up a little bit in the hot months and turn it down a little bit in the cold months, you’ll save hundreds of dollars per year.

There are many more ways to save money on your utility bills. Do you have any additional tips or strategies for saving on utility bills? Please share in the comments below.

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • Casey

    I have heard that unplugging appliances can save a lot of money on utility bills because power will still surge through even if the appliance/device is not turned on. This makes sense, but how much does it actually save? $5 a month? $20 a month? $100 a month? Any idea? Of course it would depend on how many things were plugged in, but I guess I am just wondering if it is a significant amount or not.

    • April

      Casey, about 2 years ago I began unplugging all of my lamps, kitchen appliances that sat on the counter, hair dryers and straighteners that would sit out and stay plugged in through the school and work day. When I heard that by unplugging them we could save some money, I began unplugging everything except what I couldn’t get too (oven, washer, dryer). I first saved about $30 a month until I realized how I could stay on top of it more. Now that we are in a good habit, I save between $80 and $120 a month depending on the season. It made a huge difference for us!

  • http://www.robertsportal.blogspot.com Ryan

    I read something about this…can’t remember where. But they sell these devices that you can plug your applicances into to see how much electricity they are using, even if they aren’t “on”. One guy did it with all his electronics and found out that some things definitely suck on electricity even when they are “off”. He suggested putting everything on power strips and then just turning off the entire power strip when they are not in use. For example, plug all your computer stuff (monitor, tower, printer, speakers, etc.) into one power strip and turn off the power strip when you have the computer “off”. Not sure how much it will save, but the guy who wrote the article made it seem like if you did this for everything that you could save a considerable amount of money.

    • Justaguy

      its called “killawatt” i have and use everyday. its a device that tells u what it costs to run each device by the hour / day / month / year quite nice to know what u are throwing out the window in energy costs. Its costs around 20 dollars depending where u buy it.

  • DEANNASHEA

    You can also save money by budgeting your phone bills. An example is using a company that won’t charge you for directory assistance. You can try 1-800-411-SAVE. It’s absolutely free. They have live and friendly agents that give out very accurate phone listings. You won’t regret trying it! You can save more than a dollar per call.. Imagine how much you can keep. Remember the number 1-800-411-7283!

  • DG

    I think that solar paneling is a good investment if you have the money or even insulating attics/basements. Helps save a lot on utilities in the long run. What we do though is unplug appliances. you don’t save a ton but it adds up and we also limit our shower to between 5-10 min (depending if it involves washing hair) – hard to get used to it but it really ends up saving us a tidy bundle per year

  • http://madsaver.com Mac

    Our utility bills have always been way to high for the size of the house. Several years back I paid for a home energy audit from our local gas company and they zeroed in on a lot of spots in the house where heat was escaping and recommended ways to fix each one. I spent a lot of time after that sealing up all the leaks I could, and probably saved a few bucks. The biggest offender was our old windows though, but I’ll let the next owners deal with that! ;)

  • http://www.homepowersaver.net Home Power Saver

    I’ve found that some of my most unexpected savings come from the little things. True, replacing energy hog appliances is easy and makes a large impact, but I’ve saved $150+ a year by using better power management on my computer and “smart” power strips to stop ‘vampire’ power. I’ve saved $10-$20 installing occupancy sensors and timers on various lighting. There are a number of useful products like ratcheting door strike plates that can help you seal your house for a couple of dollars and minimal time. I devote my site to these sorts of ideas and just want to make sure everyone realizes you can chip away at your high bills in many ways.

    • Dubbaka Sunil

      Your idea is good, but the you haven’t mentiomed the cost of the sensors and timers.If the cost of the timers and sensors is quite high, then no need of placing them to save power bill. please provide some more ideas other than these.

  • http://www.smartenergytoday.com Charles

    We have been able to reduce our electricity usage by almost 50% over the last couple of years using some of the tactics you listed. The biggest contributors have been switching to CFL (compact fluorescent lights) and switching to front load washer and dryer combo. Other things that have help: setting all our computers to hibernate after 30 minutes of inactivity, using fans as much as possible in the summer, washing with warm or cold water instead of hot water.

    Sometimes it is the simple things that can save a lot of money. Lately I have noticed our electricity usage creeping back up, and I realized that we were having trouble finishing the laundry. We would start a load and then forget about it, causing us to have to re-wash or re-fluff the load wasting electricity.

  • Lois

    One thing I do to save money is not to use my dryer all the time. In the summer months I hang my laundry outside and in the winter months inside. I bought myself a couple clothes rack and use them all the time. It may seem hard but you will see it in your electric bill.

  • http://www.debtassist.com.au/ Debt Assist

    Simple, but effective list you got here. I would just like to add that the girls can minimise using their hair blowers, hair curlers, and other electrical gadgets used for primping. Lessening use of these gadgets not only reduces electric bills. It also helps avoid damaging their hair. That’s like hitting two birds with one stone, right?

  • Ky8ztz

    Here is a simple way to keep your home warm where you spend 90% of your time. It might cost you $20.00 to save $100.00. This method just depend on how much you implement it. Heat rises!! I remember this from my great grandmothers home. We have a four level home. I put curtains up and compartmentalize the different levels. For example: the recreation room and the kitchen are one area. The living room where the digital thermostat is located is another. I keep the digital thermostat set at 67 during the day and 63 at night. Keep an extra blanket on the bed at night. The kitchen and rec room/TV area stay 74 degrees throughout the day. If you have one of the infrared heaters advertised, you can keep an area of yoyr house warmed at 78 degrees easy for 9 cents an hour. The wife was not crazy about all the curtains, but when she seen how much it saved in gas heating, she was happy. The heater never goes on during the day and we are warm and saving money

  • http://elmer-hasard.webstarts.com/ Steven Lupton

    Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Get your hands/brush wet and then do your scrubbing with the water off. That will save a minute or two of the water going straight down the drain. Small habit to change with a huge lifetime result. Several Gallons of clean water every day.

    • Heatherllevin

      Steve, those are some great tips, thanks!

  • http://www.moneysavingblog.org/ Money Saving Blog

    Great tips Heather! I’ve only followed and applied 3 tips out of the 11. It surprising to see the large amount of money that I can save from here.

  • Don

    A couple years ago, I noticed the furnace in my mom’s modular home would kick on about every ten or fifteen minutes while would sit there and play cards. But after I caulked the outside and inside window frames on the entire house the furnace virtually stopped running all the time. It only cost me 7 tubes times $2.50 = $17.50. It was well worth it because also the bugs stopped coming in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002413953234 Jason Bayer

    I installed an Energy Management Computer on my house and it cut my electric bill by over 30%. Saved tons of money on my high A/C bills this summer in AZ. Check out Advanced Home Systems at www.cheaperutilitybill.com to learn about it. Not a new concept, just that usually energy management computers are used by businesses and not residential customers. ROI is short, around 3 to 4 years compared to 20+ years on a solar panel system.

    I found several of these tips to be amusing. Here’s why, this is how we are trained to save money on our electric bill – by not using the A/C or Heat and accepting that we must be uncomfortable or less comfortable. I used to keep my house at around 81 to 82 degrees in the summer in AZ. Miserable. Since installing my energy management computer, I now keep my A/C at 72 degrees all summer and my bills were at least $150 less every month from the same time a year ago ($450 vs $300 per month in the summer). Pay less and be smarter with your electricity, that is what an energy management computer does for you. The regular APS customer in AZ pays about 12 cents per kilowatt hour, Advanced Home Systems clients pay around 7.5 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. Not so much about using less but paying less too.

    I wish I would have installed something like this about 7 years ago when I built my first home. Worth looking at if you want to save money.

  • Will

    Great Stuff!

  • Amanda

    This is great advice, espically for someone who is single like me since it sounds like I can do all of these things by myself. One other thing I did was I found this company called BillCutterz and they lowered my electric bill recently from 14 cents a kWH to 9 cents a kWH. I know if a state is regulated by the government they can’t help but I was so glad they helped me and it took no time at all.

  • darlenersmith55

    I saved on my electric bill by throwing out my iron, due to a malfunction. After buying three irons in less than two years because of the same problem, (one being a top brand) I refused to purchase another one. Instead, I found a way to get the wrinkles out of my family’s clothes, which saves me time, and energy too! I put one of those fabric softener bars that easily attaches to the inside of the dryer, (lasts 2-4 months) and much better than dryer sheets. Immediately after drying the clothes I shake them out, and hang them on hangers. Hardly a wrinkle left!

  • http://www.marlockelectric.com/?p=453 jayden42

    I am very much pleased with the contents you have mentioned..

  • Karrenc

    My mom has her energy bill down to less than 20 a month. She only uses air conditioning when it gets over 100, but her biggest thing is unplugging the tv and any appliances such as coffee pot, microwave and toaster, and she only has one light on after dark. The first month I tried this, my bill was reduced almost 50!!

  • someone

    chocolate milk is similar to water

  • Carrie

    I unplug my tv, modem and router, I also recommend windowjacket products, my bill went from $110 per month to $67 per month. I save year around. I also sealed the cracks around my doors.

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