It’s no secret how expensive living in the U.S. can be, and how important it is to find any way possible to save money. Utility bills are a necessity, but there are ways that you can lower your water and energy consumption without having to give up things that really matter to you. This will also ensure that you are able to get your essential bills paid on time. As long as you’re willing and able, you can lower your electric bill by changing your habits in simple ways that benefit both you and the planet. You can start by adjusting the temperature on your hot water heater, fixing leaky faucets, and minimizing your artificial light usage.
Heating and Cooling
Insulate and seal
If you want to lower your electric bill, it’s important to keep hot what you want hot and cool what you want cool. Check the seals around your doors and windows to make sure that you’re not losing hot air on a cool day or cool air on a warm day. Air leaks, whether hot or cool air, will run up your utility bills.
To ensure that you are not losing hot air on a cool day, you can hold a damp hand near a closed window or door seals on a day when it’s particularly breezy. You could also hold a lit candle in front of the seals to see if the flame flickers.
Every once in a while, you should inspect your air ducts for gaps, tears, or disconnections. You should also check your appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers. If cold air is leaking out, you won’t only run up your monthly energy bill but could potentially lose a bunch of food in the process.
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Adjust your fridge and freezer temperature
Speaking of your fridge and freezer, it’s possible that the default temperatures are a tinge too high for your needs and could be running up your electric bill. Although it may seem inconsequential, lowering the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer could save energy and a little bit of money each month. Try to maintain a refrigerator temperature from 37–40 degrees Fahrenheit and a freezer temperature from 4–5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Regulate heating and cooling
Even if it’s only for a few hours, regulating your HVAC system — or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system— can work wonders for your electric bill. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7–10 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.”
For people who work in the office, this can be an ideal time to knock down the temperature on your HVAC system in the cooler months. But for a host of people who work from home, it may be more difficult to bear the chill. Consider lowering the temperature a few degrees at night (cooler temperatures help you get a more restful sleep anyway), or when you head off for a trip.
During the warmer months when you’re not in constant need of a cool draft, lay off the air conditioner. Allow your home to self regulate, then flick on the air conditioner when it’s absolutely necessary to minimize cooling costs.
If you’d rather not remember to move your thermostat up and down constantly, a programmable thermostat can be a worthwhile investment. A programmable thermostat allows you to program your heat and air conditioning unit to turn on at different times of the day. The programmable thermostat then automatically heats and cools based on the settings that you’ve chosen.
Fix leaky faucets
If the annoying dripping sound isn’t enough to make you want to fix the faucet, the high electric bill should do the trick. And the Earth will thank you too — a tap that drips once every second wastes about five gallons of water per day.
170 billion gallons of water — that’s how much water could be saved in one year if every person in the U.S. shaved a minute off of their shower time, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That is more than 257,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
A water-saving showerhead, like one with the WaterSense label, would help save water and lower your electric bill. You could also cut down on the amount of time that you are in the shower itself, or how long you let the shower run before actually getting in. In other words, next time you’re drawing pictures on the foggy bathroom mirror before getting into shower, ask yourself if the water really needs to heat up that long.
When it comes to both your water usage and personality, it pays to be cool. Use the cool or cold water setting when throwing in your next load of laundry. According to ColdWaterSaves.org, washing on hot and rinsing on warm costs about $265 per year while washing and rinsing with cold water only costs $16.
You can also turn your hot water heater temperature down a few notches to use less energy and reduce your electric bill. The default temperature for a standard hot water heater is 140 degrees, but lowering it 10 (or even 20) degrees can save you more than $60 each year in standby costs alone.
When you account for the cost of heating water for showers, laundry, dishwashers, and other appliances, lowering your hot water heater temperature could put more than $400 back in your pocket annually. Consider lowering the temperature on your hot water heater at all times, but especially when you’re out of town or away from home for an extended period of time.
While the EPA says that a hot water heater set at 120 degrees is safe for the majority of the population, you should consider keeping your hot water heater at a higher temperature if you’re immunocompromised or have chronic respiratory disease.
Invest in energy-efficient appliances
A water-saving showerhead will surely make a dent in cutting down your electric bill, but you can see more change by swapping out other appliances for energy-efficient ones. These days, you can find more environmentally friendly clothing washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, water faucets and purifiers that are optimized for energy efficiency. While the appliances themselves may cost a little more money upfront, you will end up using less energy and saving on your electric bill in the long run.
Power and Lights
Minimize artificial light
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American household spends about 5% of its energy budget on lighting alone, meaning if you’re looking to limit your energy consumption and lower your energy bill, start with the lights.
Turn off lamps and ceiling lights when they’re not in use, or install dimmer switches on your lights to minimize (but not completely eliminate) your artificial light usage.
The Department of Energy also suggests that by swapping the light bulbs on your five most used fixtures, you can save up to $45 each year on your electric bill — a decent start by any money-saver’s standards.
When swapping for energy-efficient lights, be on the lookout for LED, compact fluorescent, or halogen incandescent light bulbs marked with the Energy Star label. Energy Star models are clearly marked, and they are endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy due to their rigorous energy efficiency standards. These bulbs tend to do slightly better for your electricity bills.
Use smart power strips
Power strips are those hubs that you plug into one outlet and give you access to a number of outlets. The emphasis here is on “smart.” There are regular old power strips that serve just as a regular socket on your wall does — when an appliance or electronic is plugged in, it continues to suck energy, regardless of whether the appliance is on or not.
When appliances continue to use energy even when in an off or locked position, it is called a “vampire load.” Vampire loads are an energy drain and run up your electric bill unnecessarily, but can easily be remedied with a smart power strip.
Smart power strips detect when an appliance or electronic is in standby mode, like when your laptop screen goes dark after not being used for a period of time. The hub will automatically switch into power-saver mode when energy is not needed, effectively saving energy and reducing your electricity bill.
Ask for Help
Ask about lower rates
Perhaps you’ve properly insulated, fixed all leaks, turned down the temperature on your water heater, and invested in smart power strips, but you’re still on the hunt for money-saving methods. Have you considered contacting your utility company to ask about lower rates? Worst case scenario: They say no. Best case scenario: You save money on your electricity bill.
Monitor and negotiate your bills
Assume that everything in life is negotiable, including your electricity bill. When heading into a call with your utilities provider, keep a couple of things in mind.
- Know what you’re looking for. The customer service representative is not a mindreader. If you’re looking for a discount because costs have increased since you initially opened an account, let them know.
- Know what’s out there. Shop around for other offerings in your area. Some towns, especially smaller ones, won’t have a ton of competitors, but it helps to know what kind of prices other companies are offering so you can use them as points of leverage in your negotiation.
- Know when to say “no.” You don’t have to accept the first offer that the representative gives you, nor do you have to accept any of the offers. Sometimes, retention offers depend on who you get on the line. If you don’t reach a good solution, try calling back a couple of days later to speak with a new representative.
Do an energy audit
At the end of the day, it’s important that you regularly assess your home’s energy usage and find ways to cut down on water and energy consumption — if not for the planet, for your wallet!
In fact, there are professional energy assessors who conduct home energy audits to ensure that you are saving as much money as possible, and keeping your home safe and comfortable. While these inspections do not tend to be free, they can help you use less energy and save you hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars long term.