Ever forget to turn off the lights when you go to the grocery store, or take a 15-minute shower when you could have been done in five? Turns out, everyday things like this can cost you. The typical US family spends an average of $2,200 a year on home utility bills, according to the US Department of Energy. Half of that goes to heating and cooling. The good news? It’s pretty easy to cut down on your monthly bills with a few small tweaks — even with a full house.
“Cutting your utility bill is low-hanging fruit for savings,” says Jen Smith, personal finance expert at The Penny Hoarder. “They’re bills everyone has to pay, so why not be a little more conscious about how much you’re spending on them?”
1. Pay attention to temperature.
It’s tempting to crank up the heat when old man winter arrives and to blast the air-conditioning in the summer. Every tick of that dial, however, results in major cash coming out of your pocket.
The flip side? Changing the temperature can result in substantial savings — as much as 10 percent a year if you move your thermostat seven to ten degrees from its usual setting for eight hours a day, according to the Department of Energy..
That also goes for your water heater, which can account for 14 to 25 percent of a home’s energy use. Save money by turning down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting, or about 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
Think you’ll be shivering under layers of blankets? Not the case. In the wintertime, you can do the following to increase the heat in your home:
- If you have south-facing windows, open the curtains during the day so the sunlight naturally heats those rooms.
- Seal the air leaks around pipes and plumbing, recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished areas that may lurk behind cupboards and closets.
- If you have a fireplace, keep the damper closed when it’s not in use; leaving it open draws warm air in the room up the chimney. And if you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the chimney flue.
Come summertime, keep things cool by:
- using your ceiling fans, which, when coupled with air-conditioning will allow you to up your thermostat about four degrees. Just don’t forget to turn them off when you leave a room since they cool you down, not the room.
- washing only full loads of dishes and clothes, and air-dry both where you can.
- keeping furniture away from vents to avoid blocking the flow of air.
What’s more, Smith points out that “many older homes are poorly insulated around doors and windows. It can make your heating and cooling bill astronomical. Some caulking or weather stripping can go a long way in reducing your bill.”
2. Change your bulbs.
While replacing lightbulbs is likely one of the more mindless tasks you undertake throughout the year, you may want to pay more attention to the kind you pick up at the store.
That’s because compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), halogen incandescents, and light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are typically labeled “ENERGYSTAR,” last longer and use less energy than the regular incandescent bulbs. The Department of Energy says these bulbs can last three to 25 times longer and use up to 85 percent less energy than regular bulbs. While the cost of these bulbs is higher than the ones you may be used to buying, in the end you’ll come out ahead. The Department of Energy also estimates that you can save $45 each year by replacing the five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs in your home with those labeled ENERGY STAR.
3. Get the kids involved.
Help youngsters understand the importance of reducing waste in the home by assigning them specific tasks throughout their day — and rewarding them for their efforts.
“Incentivizing turning off lights and electronics, taking shorter showers, and turning off the water while brushing teeth are ways to get your kids involved and make them aware of their environmental impact,” says Smith.
Just turning the water off while they brush their teeth can save eight gallons a day, for example, which equals nearly 2,400 gallons a year.
If you’re having a hard time getting your message across, think about installing water-efficient faucets and showerheads, which will allow you to save water without nagging.
4. Consider smart appliances when it's time to replace what you have.
No one likes to have their dishwasher die, but the silver lining is that when it and other appliances peter out, it’s an opportunity to replace them with more energy-efficient models.
These include those with the ENERGY STAR label, a designation given to products that exceed the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality. ENERGY STAR-certified dishwashers, for example, have soil sensors to detect how dirty dishes are (thus minimizing water use), plus water filtration systems that remove food and use detergent and water more efficiently than other models. They’ve also got more efficient water jets and boast dish rack designs to maximize cleaning.
Other ENERGYSTAR appliances include washers and dryers, refrigerators, humidifiers, freezers, and air purifiers.
5. Get in the habit of unplugging.
If you’re like most households, it’s hard to find a spare plug. That’s likely because your family’s laptops, phones, and other personal devices (plus TVs, cable boxes, and chargers) are taking up residence at every outlet throughout the house.
They’re called energy sucks, and they’re costly. In fact, leaving a computer on all day can run you about 21 cents a day, which quickly adds up to about $75 per year. Avoid these unnecessary outlays by unplugging electronics and appliances when you’re not using them. You can make this easier by installing multiple-outlet strips, which allow you to turn everything on and off in one flip of a switch. “There’s always a change, big or small,” says Smith, “that you can make that will save you money over time.”