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.