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Save Money on Utilities

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When I visited my family in Boston last week, Sunday surprised us with nearly of snow. It completely ruined our plans for the day. However, I couldn't help but think about much money I spent on heat when I lived there. It wouldn't be uncommon to have a $250 heating bill for 900 sq. ft. townhouse. I recall my mom saying that her 2200 sq. ft. place was around $700 or $900 last year during the coldest months. I know that's a big difference, but at those numbers I became a little numb and my ear stopped working. I know the cost of oil is down, but with February lurking just a few days away, heating bills are on a lot of people's mind.

How can you save money on Utilities? Let's look at it two ways (note this isn't going be a comprehensive list of tips - it would simply be too long):

Short-Term Ways to Save on Utilities

  • Get a Programmable Thermostat - This is one of the no-brainers that everyone will tell you. It's such an easy way to wake up or come home to a nice warm home - yet you don't have to spend an arm and a leg heating it while you sleep or at work. That's around 16 hours a day of saving heat for some people.
  • Switch to CFLs - This is another you've heard 1000 times. I just include for completeness and the two people out there who haven't switched.
  • Know How Much Electricity You are Using - Sometimes I wonder how much power I'm using. I don't need surround sound to watch Thomas the Tank Engine do I (not that I watch Thomas the Tank Engine because there are no kids in my home.) How much power does that surround sound use? Plug in a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor
    and find out. If you don't want to buy that, you can usually find some version of estimated power rating in the manual or on the manufactures site. I've read that they aren't always accurate, so you might find that your mileage varies.
  • Kill that DVR - I love my DVR, but one thing that didn't know is how much power they use. CNET.com has an article about DVR electricity use.
  • Put a Bottle of Water in your Toilet - Instead of going out and buying a whole new toilet, this is a way to use less water. Simply take a bottle, fill it up with something that will weight it down and put in the water tank. This will lower the amount of water that it takes move the bulby-thing (yes that's my handyman technical speak) to the place where it shuts off the water. You'll have to experiment with this, because obviously toilets are set to use the amount of water they do for a reason.
  • Save money on your landline phone
  • Cut the cable television

Long-Term Ways to Save on Utilities

There are some changes you can make to you home that will have a large up-front cost, but will start to pay for themselves over time. Some of them may never get there, so you may have to do some research. For instance, if you live in an area of no wind, setting up a windmill isn't going to do a whole lot for you - other than waste your money.

  • Downsize Your Home - It's not easy to heat a McMansion. Sure you can shut off some rooms, but you'll need to heat them at least minimally so the pipes don't freeze. And if you aren't going to heat the whole McMansion, why buy it? Not that saves on utilities, but my wife is quick to point out, "Who is going to McClean the McMansion?" Having a McMansion is certainly not the Lazy way.
  • Insulate Your Home/Attic - Heat rises so why not trap it in by insulating your home. If you are staying in your home for a good length of time (and you live in a cold climate), it should pay off for itself in a few years.
  • Get Some New Windows and Shades - They are doing some amazing things with windows these days. You get triple pane glass with gas, and probably some other technical advances I don't know about yet (since I rent). I looked into this a few years ago for my condo and it seemed like it might be worthwhile. If you are lazier like me, you could look into weather-stripping your windows. Another cheaper fix for the windows may be to get some insulating shades. They make some hexagon shaped shades that you can get at Home Depot. They are much easier to install yourself and can really make a difference.
  • Solar and Wind - A few people are starting to install windmills, but I'm not sure the technology is there yet. Plus your neighbors may not appreciate the view of a windmill (but maybe if it's done right...?). Solar panels are starting to make sense in some areas. If I knew I was going to live in Silicon Valley for a number of years and it made sense to buy a home, I'd definitely look into solar power. I've even seen them pop up in places not known for their sunshine - like Boston.
  • Get a Dual Flush Toilet - When I was in Australia you couldn't find a toilet without this feature. For some reason, I've seen it in the United States only once. If you don't know what a dual flush toilet is, I'll just say that you can choose to use less water if your "activity" required it and more for other "activities".
  • Move to a Better Climate - It may cost you more to move to a place with less drastic changes, but it could be worth it. We moved from Boston to Silicon Valley and instead of paying around $150/mo. or heating and air conditioning, we pay closer to $50/mo. Those are estimates... during extreme months like February and August, the difference seems a lot more pronounced.

Last updated on June 23, 2011.

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14 Responses to “Save Money on Utilities”

  1. CFLs make for such a great way to save energy. The price has come down considerably over the past few years, so they are much less expensive than I think many people realize!

    A programmable thermostat is a great thing to have too, but if you don’t have one or can’t afford one at the moment, it certainly pays to always be conscious of what it is set on, and to always remember to adjust it before you leave the house, before bed, or to whatever other setting will be the most energy efficient.

    Thanks for bringing such an important subject to light!

  2. These are all great tips, and simple ones that some people just don’t think of. You forgot turning off the lights when you leave a room (surprisingly there are a good number of people who don’t do this regularly), turning off your computer when you’re done for the day…leaving it on consumes a lot of power, and then I also use the automatic power strips that shut off when the electronics plugged into them are not in use for a period of time.

    BTW – I think I’d have a stroke if I opened my electric bill and it said $700…I’d just die right there on the spot for $900. I can’t believe how expensive it is in Boston. And I can only imagine what your mother is paying in rent/mortgage! My condolences to her for that!

  3. Lazy Man says:

    She owns the home outright

  4. Great post. I actually have one scheduled to be published on the 28th about the same subject – some additional tips I have about keeping warm in my post include:
    – wearing warm clothes at home so that you can keep the heater low
    – using a space heater like the presto heat dish instead of your room heater
    – using a hot water bag to keep warm
    – drinking warm tea and soup during the winter
    There are a few more tips in the entire article, and you can find it at http://www.richerandslimmer.com/ on January 28th.

  5. Ken says:

    My wife and I are building a house right now. I’mgoing to talk to HVAC about programmable thermostat. I’m all about savings.

  6. kosmo says:

    We replaced our programmable thermostat a few years ago (shortly after moving into the house). Somehow, the previous owners had allowed the batteries (AAs used for backup) to become COMPLETELY corroded – to the point that the battery area basically came apart in my hands when I went to change to batteries.

    I think the thermostat cost somewhere in the $60 range. Ours has weekday/saturday/sunday programs (as opposed to the slightly more expensive ones that allow you to customize every day of the week). I was able to install it myself … which basically means that 90% of the population should be able to handle the task.

    If this country is serious about energy independence, we need to harness the power of hamsters. Get a few dozen hamsters, turn them loose on some wheels, and capture the power that is generated. If you put the little guys through strength and conditioning excercises to build up their endurance (and maybe a wee bit of flaxseed oil), you could probably power your entire house. Then capture the hamster output (er, the poop) and burn it to generate even more energy!

  7. jim says:

    Glad to see the programmable thermostat is the #1 option, it’s cheap relative to how much you save and it’s easy to install (most of the time).

  8. Saver in the City says:

    In my city, the energy company provides a programmable thermostat for free in exchange for signing up for a program that gives them permission to cycle your energy use during peak periods (which, to my knowledge has not happened once in the three years I’ve lived here). I’d recommend checking with your energy company/city to see if they offer something similar.

    That said, I unfortunately have one of those roommates who is too dense (or lazy) to understand the concept of a programmable thermostat. Regardless of the temperature, she turns the heat/air on as soon as she walks into the house. It drives me up the fricking wall!

  9. kosmo says:

    Jumping off from Saver’s comment – often, the energy company will also charge different rates if you agree to one of their programs. A couple of programs that I’m aware of (obviously, these will vary by market):

    1) They give you better rates for off-peak, but worse rate for peak, in an effort to get you to shift heavy usage (washing clothes) to off-peak. For example, they’ll charge you 90% of normal rate during off-peak, but 110% of normal rate during peak. If most of your usage is already off-peak, this makes a lot of sense.

    2) You get a better rate in exchange for allowing the electric company to cut your power in times of extreme demand. This seems to apply mostly on those August days with a heat index of 115 and air conditioners running full blast. Some of the local schools take advantage of this (although there has been some grumbling in recent years, as some have had to cancel a few days of school)

  10. Devin Elder says:

    Ha, I just put a bottle in the toilet the other day…

  11. Toilets account for approx. 30% of water used indoors. By installing a Dual Flush toilet you can save between 40% and 70% of drinking water being flushed down the toilet, depending how old the toilet is you are going to replace.
    If you are serious about saving water, want a toilet that really works and is affordable, I would highly recommend a Caroma Dual Flush toilet. Caroma toilets offer a patented dual flush technology consisting of a 0.8 Gal flush for liquid waste and a 1.6 Gal flush for solids. On an average of 5 uses a day (4 liquid/ 1 solid) a Caroma Dual Flush toilet uses an average of 0.96 gallons per flush. The new Sydney Smart uses only 1.28 and 0.8 gpf, that is an average of 0.89 gallons per flush. This is the lowest water consumption of any toilet available in the US. Caroma, an Australian company set the standard by giving the world its first successful two button dual flush system in the nineteen eighties and has since perfected the technology. Also, with a full 3.5″³ trapway, these toilets virtually never clog. All of Caroma’s toilets are on the list of WaterSense labeled HET’s http://www.epa.gov/watersense/pp/find_het.htm and also qualify for several toilet rebate programs available in the US. Please visit my blog http://pottygirl.wordpress.com/2008/08/01/what-you-should-know-about-toilets/ to learn more or go to http://www.caromausa.com to learn where you can find Caroma toilets locally. Visit http://www.ecotransitions.com/howto.asp to see how we flush potatoes with 0.8 gallons of water, meant for liquids only. Best regards, Andrea Paulinelli

  12. I downsized my place of living – from a 3 bed 2 bath to a 750 sq ft one bed one bath..my heating bill actually went up 3 times as much. It’s what I get for living in this old apartments >_< Also TVA keeps upping our bills from $10-$20 every month. It’s ridiculous!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Simple tip to save on heating bills: Close/seal air vents and shut the door to rooms you aren’t using during the day. Why heat them? Same advice works in summer for air conditioning too.

  14. ryan says:

    There is some great information in this post. Also consider the following to save money:
    – Increase the temperature of your fridge – it accounts for about 15% of your electricity bill
    – Turn down your water heater to 130C and insulate the first 2m (6′) of pipes
    – Stop using the extra rinse – it can use up to 40 gallons of water.
    – Open blinds in the day to increase solar heat during the winter

    Check out the following site for several more money saving tips:

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