It doesn’t have to cost a lot of time, money, or effort to lower utility bills. While things like swapping out single pane windows for double pane windows or installing a smart thermometer will definitely go a long way toward reduced energy costs, there are lots of quick and practical things that you can do right now to put a dent in your monthly utility spending—no major investment required.
Of course, there are lots of reasons beyond just trying to lower utility bills to cut down on your home’s energy usage. Using less energy in our day to day lives is better for the environment, and particularly important as temperatures fluctuate a bit from what we’re used to during the seasons. Being mindful of how you use energy—and taking small steps to use just a little bit less—is always good practice. And hey, saving money is a pretty great benefit too.
So how do you lower utility bills without completely disrupting your budget or your way of life? Here are ten realistic things you can do right now to use less energy in your home.
Cover Your Outlets
There are lots of sneaky places where air from outside of your home can leak inside of your home—and your outlets are one of them. Even a small stream of air from outside can put strain on your heating and cooling system by causing it to gain or lose heat when you don’t want it to, which results in higher energy costs.
To remedy, go around to all of your outlets on a cold day and put your hand in front of them. If you feel air coming through, that means your outlet isn’t doing a great job at blocking out the temperatures outside. Fortunately, you can fix this super quickly with some plastic outlet covers, available at any big box home improvement store.
Take Shorter Showers
Everyone loves a good shower, but if you want to lower utility bills then cutting down the time you spend lathering, rinsing, and repeating (or maybe just skipping the repeating altogether) is one of the easiest ways that you can do it.
The average American takes an 8.2 minute shower and uses 17.2 gallons of water in the process. At around two gallons of water a minute, that means that cutting back to a five minute shower could make a huge dent in how much water you use while still giving you plenty of time to savor the steam.
Wash All Clothes in Cold Water
Unless a fabric specifically requires warm or hot water to be cleaned, wash all of your clothes and linens on cold to reduce water heating costs and, ultimately, lower utility bills. Cold water washing is perfectly suitable for most items that you’re tossing in the washing machine, and is effective at removing stains. In some cases, it’s actually preferable, since certain stains can set into fabrics when exposed to hot water. And considering that 75% to 90% of the energy your washer uses goes to warming the water, switching to cold is a small change that can make a big impact.
Replace Your Air Filter
Being a homeowner means keeping track of a lot of little to dos, many of which slip through the cracks if you’re not paying close attention. But when it comes to the air filter on your HVAC, forgetting to replace it at the appropriate time means inefficient heating and cooling—and higher utility bills.
On average, you should be replacing your HVAC’s air filter every thirty days. If you’re worried about remembering to make the switch every month, purchase a high-end pleated filter since many of these remain efficient for as long as six months (check the packaging to be sure). Regardless of how often your air filter needs to be changed, put a reminder on your phone so that you don’t end up slipping up and inadvertently running up a higher heating or cooling bill than you need to.
Switch to Smart Power Strips
Phantom power (also called vampire power or leaking electricity) refers to the amount of electricity that your devices use when they’re plugged in but not in use. Altogether, these unassuming power suckers can account for as much as 5% to 10% of the cost of your electricity bill month in and month out—yikes.
One thing you could do to limit this waste and lower utility bills is to unplug everything when you’re not using it, but that’s not always ideal, especially for things like TVs and appliances. A better solution? Ditch standard power strips and switch to smart power strips instead, which automatically cut off the electric current to devices when they’re not being used. At a cost of around $15 to $30 per strip, it’s a small price to pay for such impressive long term savings.
Weatherstrip Your Doors and Windows
This tip usually comes up when you’re reading up on how to winterize your home, but making sure that your doors and windows are efficiently weatherstripped is a smart idea no matter the season. Just like with air drafts coming in through your outlets, leaks—even small ones—around your doors and windows causes your home’s heating or cooling system to overwork itself trying to catch up. And sealing these leaks can save you as much as 30% per year on your utility bills.
To do it, head to your local home improvement store and take your pick among the varieties of door and window weatherstripping products. These come in a lot of different materials, including plastic, foam, felt, and vinyl, and can be layered up to provide an optimal seal.
Turn Down the Thermostat When You Go to Sleep
There’s no reason to keep the heat blasting when you’re going to be curled up under blankets. Before you go to bed, head to your thermostat and turn it down five to ten degrees (or more). You won’t notice the difference when you’re sleeping, but you will on your heating bill.
If your home is empty during the day—such as when everyone is at work or school—that’s another opportunity to lower the thermostat as well. This change can mean big savings, and requires pretty much no work on your part. If you really want to take the guesswork out of it, you could install a programmable thermostat, which will automatically take care of the adjustments for you. But it’s not necessary so long as you make it part of your nightly (and daily) routine.
Use Optimal Fridge and Freezer Temperatures
Keeping the temperature in your refrigerator and freezer too low isn’t just detrimental to your food—it’s also detrimental to your wallet. Instead of trying to guess where the sweet spot is, go with what the experts say and set your fridge to 38 degrees and your freezer to five degrees. They won’t have to work quite so hard to maintain their temperatures, and your food will still stay just as fresh.
Run Your Dishwasher At Night
Many utility providers spike their rates during peak use hours when everyone is awake and using their appliances and devices. To figure out if your provider does, look at the breakdown of your bill, or just call them directly. And if it’s the case that rates are higher during busier hours, it goes to reason that running a big energy and water sucker like your dishwasher at night will save you a lot of money over time.
So why the dishwasher? Most appliances don’t lend themselves very well to being run when you’re not awake. For example—your washer, which requires that you get up to switch the load once the timer goes off. You’re definitely not going to want to run your stove or oven while you’re sleeping either. Changing your schedule with your dishwasher though is an easy adjustment to make, and as a bonus, you’ll wake up to a bunch of clean dishes. While you’re at it, turn off heat dry since you won’t need the dishes right away.
Put Your Monitor to Sleep
Having your desktop computer running for long periods of time when you’re not using it is a big waste of electricity, using a lot more than if you were to turn it off and turn it back on when you need it again. If you’re stepping away for twenty or thirty minutes, put your monitor on sleep mode. And if you’re going to be away for an hour or more, turn off your central processing unit as well. You’ll lower utility bills by not having these devices running at all times in the background, and you’ll probably get a longer life out of your computer as well.
Waste, whether it’s energy or money (or both), can often be eliminated in our lives to some degree with just a few small changes. Follow the advice above and you’ll reduce your environmental impact and lower utility bills, all with very little effort required.