Sometimes we chalk utility bills up as one of those monthly costs that we don’t have control over. We don’t see the cost with every use. When we’re shopping, we can put something back if the total is too high or we can choose to return items later. Once energy is used, on the other hand, there’s no going back. We’ll be billed for the use.
Do you know how much your utility bills are each month? Do you pay attention? Because utility bills feel like they’re out of our hands, many people pay them blindly without a second thought as to how they can lower those bills.
The truth is, there are many changes you can make to your habits and your home that will save you money. There are even great programs that savvy energy users can take advantage of to decrease their costs even more.
Are you ready to take matters into your own hands and save money on utilities?
Turn it Off!
I am constantly surprised how often I see people leaving all the lights on in their house, or leaving the TV on when they aren’t even in the room, or leaving the water in the kitchen sink running while they rummage through the fridge. If you didn’t grow up in a home with energy conscious parents, then you probably have some long-held habits that are increasing your bills.
The first step to tackling utility bills is being more conscious of our usage. Much of it is a change in mindset and learning to be more aware. Here are a few ideas to keep yourself (and your family) in check and to help build new habits:
- Turn out the lights when you leave the room.
- Turn off the water while you brush your teeth.
- Turn off the TV if you aren’t watching it.
- Turn off fans, lights, TV, music, and computers when you leave the house.
- Before going to bed each night, make sure all lights and fans are off.
For an average home in the United States, if half the lights and screens in your house are running when there’s no one in the room to enjoy them, you can cut your electric bill by almost ten percent % just by turning things off!
Other Smart Ideas for Saving Energy
The list of ways to save energy could go on and on. It’s safe to say that there is room for improvement in every household. Here are some ideas to get your wheels spinning. What ways can you reduce your energy usage and save money on utilities?
- Regularly change your HVAC air filters. Spending $2 each month on an inexpensive filter is a much better deal than running your heat or A/C twice as long to get the same result, and wearing your system out early.
- Dry your clothes on a clothesline. Appliances with a heating element are energy suckers. Harness the power of the sun to dry your clothes instead. Here are 9 great reasons to use a clothesline.
- Get a programmable thermostat. Put your heating and cooling on autopilot so you’re not heating or cooling the house when you’re not there. For as little as about $20, you can save up to 33% off your energy bill (if used as directed). We actually got this smart thermostat free through the OhmConnect program (more on the program below).
- Prevent air leaks. According to energy.gov, if you put all the air leaks in a house together it would be the equivalent of leaving a 2 ft by 2 ft window open all year. Install some foam caulking or weatherstripping around doorways. Insulate around where pipes enter the house. If new windows aren’t in the budget, window insulator kits do an excellent job!
- Open and close your windows and shades. In the winter, take advantage of the warm sun shining through your windows. On cool summer nights, open windows to cool down your house. Get in the habit of using natural heating and cooling methods before turning on the air and heat.
- Dress appropriately. I’ve told you that our secret to keeping heating bills low is to dress for the weather and wait as long as possible to turn on the heat. When we do turn on the heat we keep the thermostat low. In the summer we do the reverse.
- Prepare your home for vacations. Before going out of town, turn your water heater down. Adjust your thermostat so that your heating and cooling won’t need to work while you’re gone. Unplug appliances since they suck power even when they aren’t on.
- Replace incandescent bulbs with LEDs. I honestly like the warm light of incandescent bulbs best, but incandescent technology uses a lot more energy than LED bulbs. That’s why the packages for LEDs say crazy things like “7 watts, 60 watt equivalent.” LEDs can cost more upfront but use much less energy because they don’t emit heat. They also last many times longer than incandescent bulbs! Just know that some, but not all, LEDs work well in fixtures made for incandescent bulbs, and some have problems with dimmers. The surest way to get good LED light is to purchase an LED-specific fixture. We’ve replaced all of our bulbs and many of our fixtures and fans. It’s really not that expensive.
- Clean out the dryer lint after each load. The lint filter is just like the air return filter in your HVAC system. Your clothes will dry faster and you’ll save on energy use when your lint trap is clean and your dryer can run efficiently.
- Conduct a home energy audit. There are professionals that offer this service using specialized equipment, but you can conduct a DIY home energy audit and definitely find some areas where you can improve.
- Install water-saving fixtures. From shower heads to kitchen faucets, the choices are plentiful in the water-saving category these days. Old toilets, faucets, and shower heads use 20-60% more water than newer water-efficient models.
Rate variance by time of day
When we were in law school, our electric company had a money-saving program where we could choose to have our electric bill calculated at a varying hourly rate (expensive in peak hours, low in non-peak hours) instead of a daily flat rate. By changing our energy usage habits, we saved a lot of money on our electric bill. Each night the rates were published for the next day. We would avoid running the air conditioner and doing laundry or other high-energy activities during peak hours when the rates were the highest.
Making changes to our energy habits was definitely worth the savings. We had to opt into the program for a year since they did invest some start-up costs to install a new hourly meter at your house. Each month our bill would show what we would have paid at the regular flat hourly rate versus the variable hourly rate that we got by being in the program. The only regret we had is that we didn’t learn about the program sooner! See if your electric company has a program for keeping your usage down at peak hours or a program where the rates vary by time of the day.
Explore your utility company’s website
Have you checked out your utility company’s website for anything more than just paying your bill? Most companies have resources available for you to monitor your usage. On ours we can see a graph of our usage in kilowatt hours and in dollars. It can be broken down by the day or by the hour.
We like to check in a few times a month. We’re able to see an estimate of what the upcoming bill will be. It’s nice to have some warning before we get a high bill because it gives us time to adjust our usage before it’s too late.
We also check in if we want to see the effect a certain type of usage had on our consumption. Rather than wait for the bill to come at the end of the month, we can see our hourly usage from the day before and learn how much of a difference our attempted adjustments actually make.
If you’re not already using your company’s online resources, go check them out. Pay attention to the amount due on your bills so you can see how your energy-saving efforts are paying off!
Energy-efficient appliance incentives
If your house or major appliances are not energy-efficient, many utility companies and government offices offer incentives to upgrade your appliances or make energy-efficient home improvements. In fact, sometimes the expense of upgrading is covered entirely! The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a list of the various incentive programs available in each state. You can also check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Click on your state and see what programs are available.
OhmConnect is a free program that rewards you for reducing your electricity usage during certain hours called “OhmHours”. It’s available in California, Texas, and a few other places. About once or twice a week, we get a text and email to let us know that the following day there will be an OhmHour at a specific time, usually just one hour, but occasionally two consecutive hours. For each OhmHour you will be given a “forecast” of the amount of energy the power company expects you to use.
You “win” the OhmHour when you use less than your forecast. The amount of your reward will depend on how much less than your forecast your actual usage was. We earn $30-$50/month participating in Ohm hours about 2 ohm hours per week, less in the winter. We’ve also received free smart plugs and a free smart thermostat through the program.
Your own family incentive
If you aren’t in an area where OhmConnect is available, try having your own family challenge! Take a look at your bill and what your family’s average usage is, then set a goal for how much you want to reduce your electricity usage. Set up a reward that gets your family excited. For example, you could tell your kids that if they can help reduce the bill by a certain amount of money, you’ll take half that amount and put it toward a fun family activity (bowling ice cream party, pizza, etc). Each month you can raise the challenge.
Not only will you save electricity and money, but you’ll create good habits and have fun too!
What can you do to reduce the utility usage at your house? Resolve to make a few changes and see how they impact your bill. Be sure to enlist your family’s help in reducing your usage.
- Do you pay attention to the cost of your utility bills?
- What conscious efforts have you made to save money on utilities?
- Have you taken advantage of any incentive programs?