It 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, like this one from Nest.
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.
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.