Keeping Your Utility Bills Low

We all learn every year how utility bills keep going up and up and up. But while there is little you can do about price increases, there is a lot you can do about using less electricity, gas, and water — which saves you money, and as an added benefit, helps conserve the environment's resources.

Electricity Savings

Electricity usage is one of the areas where you can potentially cut your consumption and bills with just a few steps. Many of the fixes and actions below are inexpensive or free, and may significantly reduce your monthly cost. The biggest savings come in climates that are extremely cold during the winter or hot during the summer, or both.

Keeping Your Home Cool in the Summer – at a Lower Price!

Air conditioning requires a significant amount of electricity to operate, so cutting your A/C use should be a top priority.

  • Air leaks – Closing air leaks at windows, doors, electric outlets, and the fireplace are some of the simplest and least expensive ways to reduce A/C costs. This will keep your house cooler in the summer, saving you money because you won't have to run your air conditioner as much. The California Energy Commission has good information about how to tighten up your home with caulk, weather stripping, and other items.
  • Inside temperature -You should keep the inside temperature of your home at the highest level you can comfortably tolerate the warm seasons. This could save a lot of electricity in the long run.
  • Fans – Either ceiling fans or regular stationary fans, as an alternative to the A/C, will cut your power usage. Fans generally only use about 10% of the electricity that an air conditioner uses. Interestingly, this article explains how to optimize your comfort level and energy savings with the proper ceiling fan rotational settings.
  • Turn A/C off – Remember to turn off the A/C unit or raise the thermostat when you leave the house.
  • Programmable thermostat -You may also want to consider having a controllable thermostat installed to automatically regulate A/C use all day long.
  • Close the drapes – Closing the drapes or shutters where the sun shines in on hot summer days can do a lot to keep the house cooler.

Keeping Your Home Warm in the Winter

Heating your home is also a potential source of excessive electricity usage that can be curbed by knowing the facts about how much electricity certain devices use. Houses or apartments can use either electric heaters, gas furnaces, or both, so figure out what your property uses and then take steps to reduce that usage. Electric costs a lot more money, so we will address that here.

  • Many items above for keeping your house cool also apply to reducing utility usage in the winter – stopping air leaks, keeping the inside air temperature at a minimum you can tolerate, turning off the heaters when you are not home, programmable thermostats, leaving the drapes open to capture the warm sunshine during the day and closing them in the evening to keep in that warmth.
  • Portable electric heaters – Portable electric heaters are the biggest energy hogs, especially if they are set at 1500 watts. That is one and one-half kilowatt hours per hour, which can cost $.13 to $.20 per hour, depending on your local electric provider. That could be $1.60 per night or up to $48.00 per month for just one heater!
  • Other electric heaters – There are also in-wall electric heaters, baseboard electric heaters, and ceiling radiant heaters, among others. How many watts of power they draw, how high you turn them up, and how long you have them on determines your total electricity usage and cost, but overall, these types of devices can draw a lot of power and leave you with high electricity bills. Older heaters are also a potential fire hazard, especially when they're connected to extension cords under carpets or around flammable items.
  • Electric blankets – These are a much better option over energy-guzzling heaters. They cost about $.10 per night and keep your body warm. Adding some wool ski socks may help too!

Overall, reducing air leaks and being smart about your usage of energy-draining electric heaters and air conditioners is your best bet to reduce your monthly electricity costs.

Other Energy Tips

Something else to keep in mind is that other items like cable TV set-top boxes, computers, monitors, and TVs can draw power all the time, even when they are turned off. In fact, many cable boxes, even when powered off, draw 30 watts per hour, 24 hours a day. That is up to $.15/day, or $55.00 a year. If you have several CATV boxes and/or DVRs, this cost can be even more. Game consoles can also continuously draw power even when powered off.

To reduce this constant electricity usage, use electric power outlet strips that can turn off multiple power devices when not in use, and turn off or unplug any electric items that are not often in use.

Keep in mind that a device that continuously draws 1,000 watts, like a little space heater, uses one kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity when left on for an hour. Look at your electric bill or the local power company’s website to see what something like this is costing you — typically, one kWh usually costs between $.08 to $.20. When you add up these little costs, the final total could be hundreds of dollars per year just thrown away.

Other potential energy-saving options:

  • Electric water heater – If you get really hot water, you might consider having an electrician or plumber reduce the heat settings. Otherwise, you are spending money to keep 30-40 gallons of water overheated 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. In cold weather locations, add a water heater blanket — they are inexpensive and can save electricity.
  • Circuit breakers – Circuit breakers for electric wall heaters should be turned off at the electric service panel when not in use, as this may stop some extraneous electricity flow.
  • CFL bulbs – Replace old electric bulbs with the new Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs because CFLs use about one quarter of the energy that regular bulbs use.
  • Full loads for laundry – Run full loads in the laundry and dishwasher, and run them during the evening or night. Costs can be $.40 to $.80 per load. In additi
  • on, new electric utility Smart Meters make it less expensive to use electricity in off-peak hours, like at night.

  • And always turn off lights, appliances, or other items drawing electricity when you leave home or they are not being used!

There are other great tips and information for people who really want to dig into the specifics on Michael Bluejay’s site:

Gas Appliance Savings

Gas appliances, like gas furnaces, gas water heaters, and gas stoves already cost significantly less to operate than identical electric appliances noted above. However, there are still ways to reduce your usage and bills a little. Many of the advice for electric items above, like programmable thermostats, caulking air leaks, and turning down the water heater temperature, apply to gas appliances too.

Cleaning or changing the filter on a gas furnace every month or few months, depending on usage, can help airflow, allow the furnace to run more efficiently, and reduce gas usage to save money. Older furnaces have pilot lights and you can shut off the gas to extinguish the pilot light during the non-winter months. Most utility companies will come re-light the pilot light for you when the cold weather arrives.

Also, natural gas is relatively inexpensive so while you can save a little, it is really the electric appliances that will run up your bills. However, those air leaks, regardless of whether you have gas or electric appliances, can really increase your monthly bills, so close those leaks!

Water Usage Savings

Water is a resource that is in short supply, and rates have been increasing and will most likely continue to increase over time. Many renters do not pay for water, but that is no reason to allow it to be wasted when it is easy to fix the problem.

  • Toilets – Toilet run on is a major area of water loss. A toilet running on can easily use several thousand extra gallons of water per month. In California, water can run up to $.01 per gallon, so that could be $20-$50 per month added to your bill. Plus, it is wasting water for absolutely no reason. If your toilet is running on, continuously flushing, or otherwise wasting water, fix the problem or at least alert the landlord or maintenance personnel so they can come fix it.
  • Exterior landscape watering – This is usually the biggest source of water use in single family homes. In fact, it can be over 50-70% of the total water usage. If landscaping sprinklers are broken, over-watering of the grass, or if the sprinklers are on when it rains or during rainy season, you should look into getting the issue repaired.
  • Low flows – You can also replace shower heads, sink faucets, and toilets with low flow devices. While they do not save that much money, over time, they will save a lot of water and some money. In addition, it's good for the environment.

In Conclusion

Finally, although it isn’t a utility bill, we recommend you work hard to recycle glass, aluminum, plastic, cardboard, etc. through the local city or county recycling program. It helps the environment's resources, keeps valuable reusable resources out of landfills, and it is usually easy to do. You will be on this planet for a long time, so get with the program!

Get yourself into the habit of practicing electricity, gas, and water conservation. This will be a win- win-win that benefits you, the environment, and your bank account!