You may not realize it, but utility bills can make up a significant portion of your budget. According to the EPA’s Energy Star program, the average household spends $2,200 a year on energy costs, with about half that amount from cooling and heating bills.
There are ways to save on your utility bills, with just a 10-20% savings adding up to hundreds of dollars each year. Many energy improvements are inexpensive with savings that will pay for your investment within months or a few years.
Here’s a list of some popular ways to save on your utility bills with energy upgrades.
1. Adjust the thermostat
Heating and cooling are among the highest utility costs. While it’s comfortable to set the thermostat to a comfortable temperature throughout the year, you’ll pay the most to do it.
Adjusting your thermostat properly can save 5 to 15% annually or about 1% savings for each degree you adjust the thermostat depending on the time of year.
Energy Star recommends keeping the thermostat below 70 degrees in the cold months and above 78 when cooling the house with air conditioning. Temperatures should also be adjusted during the day when you’re at work and at night when you’re sleeping. Extra clothing layers, blankets, and fans can make up for the temperature differences and keep energy costs down.
2. Change bulbs and turn off lights
This one is obvious, but some homeowners don’t realize how much light bulbs actually cost to keep on. Each standard 60-watt bulb uses about 1.5 cents of electricity per hour. Leaving a light on continuously for an entire month at this rate costs about $11.
Compact fluorescent light bulbs can bring big savings over incandescents. Changing on incandescent light bulb to a CFL can save $6 a year and $40 over the life of the light bulb. With dozens of lights in your house, savings quickly multiply. You may even be able to buy these CFL bulbs at a discount as some states have programs to subsidize their cost.
3. Look for Energy Star appliances
When you’re shopping for appliances, it’s best to check and see what the energy use is. Some appliances are much more efficient when it comes to energy than others, and the older they get, the less efficient they become. This is especially important with big energy uses like hot water heaters and heating furnaces. These appliances cost hundreds to operate each year and you’ll likely own each for 10 years or more.
The Energy Star system with easy-to-read labels means you’ll be able to make quick comparisons while shopping. For example, an Energy Star-rated refrigerator can save 15% each year compared to a standard model. High-efficiency clothes washers can save 50%. For water heaters, energy costs are anywhere from 10 to 50% less than standard models.
4. Make home improvements
Besides changing your behaviors, you can make several different home improvements to save on energy costs. These require a bit more handyman-type work to complete, but some of these can easily be done just by following some simple instructions. Some examples include:
- Caulking and weather stripping. Air can enter your house through cracks and gaps around windows and doors. While these spaces might not be visible, holding a hand up to feel or even an infrared camera can detect them. The fix for this is easy: Pick up a tube of caulking and some adhesive weather stripping to fill the gaps, and you’ll save up to 20% on energy costs.
- Insulate water heater. Your water heater keeps water hot at a certain temperature at all times. To keep the heat in and use less energy to keep water warm, a blanket works well for insulation, saving 5-10% a year on the energy your water heater uses.
- Add insulation to your house. The insulation in your walls makes a huge difference for preventing outside air from penetrating the inside of your house whether you intend to keep it warm and cold. Inadequate insulation means you’ll use more energy. The fix for this is to add more. Energy Star recommends 12-15 inches in the attic. Savings depend on various factors in your house but can add up since heating and cooling is about half of your energy costs.
5. Unplug electronics when not in use
Many devices still draw power even when they’re in the “off” position. Anything with a power light or clock that shines bright even when the device isn’t on is still using electricity and costing you money. This “phantom power” use can account for up to 10% of your electricity costs.
Unplug these devices when they aren’t in use to save the unnecessary power. An easy solution is to use power strips with an on/off switch that you can simply flick back and forth.
6. Don’t pre-rinse dishes
You might be tempted to rinse your dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, but this is a waste of both your time and hot water, which costs money.
Dishwashers are designed to clean dishes without rinsing and running them under water before washing won’t get them any cleaner. Just scrape off the food scraps into the trash (or compost bin) and load the dishes in.
You’ll save about 50 cents on hot water each time you skip the rinse in the sink, which adds up to about $100 a year if you run the dishwasher four times a week.
7. Wash clothes with cold water
Washing laundry with warm water has marginal benefits, and it costs more than using cold water to do the same job. Switch over to using only cold water and you can save around 4o cents on each load or $40 a year if you wash two loads a week.
8. Measure the cost of your appliances
To get a real feel for how much your electricity use is costing you, you can make measurements in real-time with a couple devices, like a Kill-A-Watt or Belkin Insight. Using these devices you can figure out which appliances might draw more power than you imagined. For example, a coffee maker draws about 14 cents of electricity for every hour it’s left on, which may use twice the energy of a modern TV.
Using a Kill-a-Watt device, you can then estimate the cost of each appliance using a calculator like this one. The Belkin Insight does this step automatically by displaying your annual energy costs right on the device.
Use facts you gather from these devices to make decisions on how you’ll save money.
9. Use a Home Energy Saver
If you’re really into investigating energy savings in your home, you can use the Home Energy Saver website to investigate further. Imput information about your location and your home, and the site will provide a detailed report with how much you can save on energy each year with specific improvements.
For more than 100 ways to save on your energy bills, check out this giant list from Consumers Energy.