The other day I decided to tally up the amount of money I’ve spent in various household categories so I could really get a sense of the extent to which small things can add up. One thing that stood out to me is that I’ve spent an average of $150/month on utilities (gas, water, electric). Of course, during that period there were months that were lower and months that were considerably higher. At first glance, that doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but consider this… over a ten year period that works out to roughly $18k — now that will certainly make anyone stop and think!
All of this got me thinking about simple things that people can do to cut their utility expenditures without impacting their comfort level. I’m talking here about ’set-and-forget’ modifications that you put in place once, and then reap the benefits forevermore. What follows is a list of simple suggestions. Some of these are common sense, others are perhaps less obvious. And looking beyond the financial savings, a number of these tricks will improve the comfort of your home, and nearly all of them are also good for the environment.
- Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs. Admittedly, some of these bulbs really take getting used to (weird colored light, dim until they warm up, etc.) but there are some good ones out there. In fact, I’ve had great success with the cheaper multi-packs from Lowes and Home Depot.
- Get a programmable thermostat. (Amazon is a good place to get an affordable programmable thermostat) This is especially useful if you work outside of the home. If that is the case, you can dial back your heating/cooling while you’re at work, but have it automatically back at a comfortable level when you arrive home at the end of the day. Similarly, you can automatically control the temperature while on vacation, weekends or even sleeping. This savings become huge when you don’t have a system that is constantly running and expending energy.
- Put a sealed jar/jug of water, or brick in your toilet tank. Doing so displaces water in the tank and causes you to use less. Of course, too little water when you flush can cause problems, so you’ll have to experiment with this one. But be careful…displacing so much water that you have to flush twice is generally more wasteful than flushing a larger volume once. Or upgrade your toilet to the new dual flush models now available.
- Install aerator screens on all of your faucets. Any reasonably modern house will have aerators on their kitchen and bathroom sinks, but many don’t have them when it comes to laundry or utility sinks. The magic of aerator screens is that they increase the apparent ‘power’ of the stream of water as it comes out of the faucet. Thus, you don’t need to turn the faucet up as high to get the same effect.
- Get a separate water meter for your exterior hose/ sprinkler system. In most locales, your sewer bill is tied to your water usage. Why pay more for sewer service in the summer when much of the water isn’t going down the drain? Many water utilities allow you to have dual meters, only one of which gets billed for sewer service (the one that feeds your house).
- Insulate your attic access. Many people who live in single dwelling homes have trouble balancing the upstairs and downstairs temperature. As it turns out, one of the most frequent problems is the attic. In the winter, cold drafts escape into the main part of the house and in the summer, sweltering heat escaping from the attic prevents you from cooling your house efficiently. Insulating access areas to attic spaces diminishes the problem greatly.
- Balance your vents to achieve an even, comfortable temperature throughout your house. Another problem that many have had in regulating the temperature between our upstairs and downstairs is the vents. After a bit of experimentation, many are able to balance the upstairs/downstairs temps. Again, allowing you to run heat/air more efficiently.
- Weather strip your doors and windows. Just think, a 1/4 inch gap along the bottom of a 3 foot wide door is 9 square inches of open space. If you had a 3 inch x 3 inch hole in one of your exterior walls you’d fix it, wouldn’t you?
- Insulate your garage door. It works wonders for controlling the temperature in a room above the garage.
- Plant trees in strategic locations around your house. This is a longer term solution, but shade trees can keep your house much cooler in the summer without blocking the sun in the winter. Planting trees also helps offset our high-carbon lifestyles. If you don’t have a landscaper, go to your local nursery and talk to them about what types of trees would be best for this purpose as well as what kinds of trees will thrive in your local ground soil and climate.
- Maintain your appliances. Keep your dryer lint free. Not just the lint trap, but the area around the lint trap, the vent hose, and inside the dryer itself. You’d be amazed what can build up in there. Run appliances at night, during “off peak” or “night” rates. Use the delay settings on your clothes washer, dryer, and dish washer. Unplug any appliances you can when you are not using it. Seems silly, but many electrical devices draw power even when they are not turned on.
- This is where you all come in. Instead of ending this list at twelve, I’d love to hear your ’set-and-forget’ tips. I’m sure there’s plenty of money saving tips that I haven’t even thought of. Leave a comment so we can share it.