If money’s tight, and you’re seeking ways to free up cash, look to your washing machine, hot water heater, ceiling fan and thermostat for cost-saving inspiration.
Utility bills aren’t cheap. The typical U.S. household spends roughly $2,000 on energy bills, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program. So, finding ways to reduce your monthly utility bill can bolster your family budget.
While basics like shutting off the lights when you leave a room and not turning down your air conditioner temperature so low that it turns your home into a meat freezer will help, you’ll have to do more around the house to preserve energy and shrink your utility bill.
“A lot of little things add up to big savings,” says Lauren Greutman, a consumer savings expert at LaurenGreutman.com.
OK, so what exactly can you do to lessen the financial blow resulting from everyday activities?
USA TODAY caught up with some budget experts to get some utility-saving tips. Here are 10 ways to save:
1. Shop around
You comparison shop for cars, clothes and loans; you should also shop around for a cheaper utility provider, Greutman says.
“Call your power company and ask for a list of energy providers that they use; once you get this list compare prices and pick the lowest price provider,” she says. “You can save hundreds just by making this one simple phone call.”
2. Control your thermostat
Keeping your home too cool or too warm when nobody’s home is simply a way to transfer wealth from you to your utility provider.
So, if you son likes the house super cool to sleep in warm weather months, that doesn’t mean setting the temperature to a chilly temperature when he wakes up at 7 a.m. and heads off to work for the day. Or setting it to 66 degrees at 11 p.m. and keeping it at that low setting all night.
“Set the thermostat (higher) during the day when you aren’t home and at night when you are sleeping,” says Greutman. “By using a program, you won’t forget to lower it before you leave and wind up heating an empty home. I hate when this happens!”
To best execute that plan, a smart thermostat or a programmable one is the way to go. “I have one and schedule it to go down 6 degrees at night and turn back on when I wake up in the morning,” Greutman says. “You can also program it to go down during peak hours.” You may see annual savings of up to 1% per 8-hour period for each degree you turn down your thermostat, according to the U.S. Energy Department, or energy.gov.
Here’s a tip from this reporter: when freezing temperatures are past and spring is near, turn the heating system off completely and don’t start running the A/C until it starts getting uncomfortably warm in late May. You can basically get two months of heating and cooling for free.
3. Cool down your hot water heater
Sure, a hot shower feels good to get the day going. But heating the tank is a big energy hog. The average household spends $400 to $600 a year just to heat water, which accounts for 14% to 18% of the total utility bill, according to energy.gov. The default setting on hot water heaters is 140 degrees, but it’s OK to drop it down and still enjoy a warm water shower.
“Turn your water heater down to 120 degrees to save money,” Greutman says.
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4. Run appliances late at night
Save money when you’re sleeping. Run appliances like the dishwasher and clothes dryer late in the evening or before bedtime, when energy goes on sale.
“Utility companies will charge more for energy that’s being used during peak times,” Greutman says. “Plan to run these appliances when costs are cheaper.”
5. Don’t forget about filters
Keep your heating and air conditioning unit running efficiently by changing the filters regularly, before they get filthy and start bogging your system down. Maintenance is good. Change your filter as recommended by the manufacturer, which can be monthly or quarterly depending on the quality of the filter you use.
“Make sure that you maintain regular service of your furnace (and A/C) by keeping it clean and changing the filter,” says Kumiko Love, founder of The Budget Mom blog.
When they get clogged up with dust, dirt and pet hair, the airflow becomes blocked, making your air-conditioning unit work harder until it decides to call it quits, says the PennyHoarder.com.
6. Lower lighting costs
You don’t have to sit in the dark to save money on your electric bill. Some lights use less energy than others. And you can also save by using timers that turn lights off automatically when they’re not being used, Love says.
“Switching out your incandescent light bulbs for LEDs can save money during the lifetime of the bulb,” says Love. “These types of bulbs use less energy, which in turn keeps money in your pockets.” LED lights last 42 times longer than incandescent bulbs and use 80% less power, according to superbrightleds.com.
Another good option for cost savings is using compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. “These work great in outdoor lighting that is left on for longer periods of time,” Love says. An ENERGY STAR-qualified CFL uses about one-fourth the energy and lasts ten times longer than a comparable traditional incandescent bulb, according to energy.gov.
7. Do use ceiling fans
“If you have ceiling fans, take advantage of them,” says Love. The reason: she says your A/C uses about 25% of your household’s energy, or roughly 36 cents an hour, the most of any appliance. “On the flip side, a ceiling fan costs only about a penny an hour,” she adds. And while a fan won’t bring down a room’s temperature, they can make a room “feel cooler.”
By using a fan and bumping up the temperature on your thermostat by 4 degrees, you can save $104 on summer cooling costs, she says.
8. Unplug when offline
“I unplug everything that I’m not using,” Love says. Coffee makers and microwaves are perfect examples. Even in standby mode, there are a lot of things in your home that uses power. Computers and TVs consumer a lot more power, so unplugging these appliances can save you a lot of money.”
9. Wash clothes in cold water
Use the cold water setting on your clothes washer to use less energy on heating water. Water heating makes up about 90% of the energy it takes to operate a clothes washer, according to energystar.gov.
10. Remember, every penny counts
The more proactive steps you take to reduce your home’s energy consumption, the more you will save each month.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot of changes to see a difference in savings,” Love says.
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