WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Back to basics week 8: 50 Ways to cut utility expenses

Posted March 4, 2010

Anybody out there wishing Spring would hurry up and arrive so we can turn off the heat and open up our houses to some fresh air? My hand is definitely raised. The funny thing is, before we know it, we’ll have the air conditioning running while we fuss about the heat of summer. It’s a never-ending cycle of heat and air, heat and air. As we all know from our recent power bills, it’s also an expensive cycle. Add in the cost of lights, running appliances, water usage, cable TV and telephone service and our monthly bills go up even higher. Thankfully, there are everyday actions we can take to lower our utility bills. I’m not talking about living completely off the grid or moving into a yurt. These are 50 basic frugal ways to cut costs and put more money back in your wallet. Hopefully you are already doing many of these common sense things, but it never hurts to read a reminder. Maybe you’ll find an idea or two you can use starting today. Please feel free to share your cost cutting ideas as well!

Heating and Cooling

1. Set the thermostat at a frugal setting: By setting your thermostat at 66-68 degrees in the colder months and 78-80 degrees in the hotter months, you can easily cut heating and cooling costs. According to the Department of Energy’s “Automatic and Programmable Thermostats Fact Sheet,” setting your thermostat back 10 degrees for eight hours (while you are sleeping, for instance) can save up to 10% off your annual heating bill. If you own a heat pump, though, setting the thermostat at a moderate temperature and keeping it there is usually most cost-efficient. If you are too warm or too cold, adjust your own attire.

2. Install ceiling fans for use in the hotter months to cool things down. Of course, the most frugal option of all is to turn off the air conditioner and heater and open your windows when the weather is temperate. Allow the fresh breezes to circulate through your home, saving you a bundle on heating and cooling bills.

3. Make your windows more energy-efficient: An inexpensive way to seal windows against the cold and heat is to install clear sheets of plastic specially designed for sealing. You can also add inexpensive window tint to cut down on the amount of heat coming through windows. A more expensive option is to add permanent storm windows with sliding glass and screens. Finally, you can replace your older windows with double-paned windows that have argon gas between the panes. The argon gas acts as an insulator because it is a poor conductor of heat. Visit your local home improvement center for more information on these energy-efficient ideas.

4. Improve insulation: Improve the insulation of the walls and floors that separate the inside of your house from attics, basements, crawl spaces and outside walls. There are many types of insulation, with varied R-Value (resistance to heat loss) ratings. Check with your local home improvement center for recommendations on how to better insulate your home.

5. Add weatherstripping: Weatherstripping is an easy and fairly simple way to reduce energy bills. Add weatherstripping to all your doors and windows. By preventing outside air from coming in through cracks and leaks you may be able to cut your heating and cooling bill by 20% or more.

6. Use a draft stopper at the bottom of doors.

7. Seal any leaks around pipes under sinks.

8. Replace or clean your furnace filters every month: Keeping the furnace and air conditioner filters unclogged allows your heating and cooling system to operate more efficiently and last longer.

9. Have your HVAC unit serviced annually to make sure the evaporator and condenser coils are clean and that the coolant levels are within the specs for your unit.

10. Use passive solar energy: In the winter, allow sun to heat your house by opening blinds and curtains and trimming trees that shade your windows. At night, close the blinds and curtains to keep the heat in. In the summer, keep shades and blinds closed to keep the warm sunlight out. Use awnings over windows to produce more shade. You should also plant trees to shade the air conditioning unit. A shaded air conditioner will use 10% less energy than one in direct sun.

11. Install an exhaust fan: Installing an attic exhaust fan in an attic window can significantly reduce the heat that builds up under your roof. A ridge vent also cuts energy costs by allowing heat to escape from the attic more easily.

12. Speaking of exhaust fans, make sure you turn your bathroom exhaust fan on when you take a shower in the summer to reduce the humidity.

13. Cook efficiently: In the hot summer months, avoid using the stove and oven as much as possible. They release heat into the house and that drives up your cooling costs. Grill outside, cook in the crock-pot, toast in the toaster, or use the microwave to reduce the amount of heat being generated in your home.

Electricity and Gas

14. Turn off the lights when you leave a room: It’s an obvious one, but turning off incandescent light bulbs when they are not needed can make a difference. A 100-watt light bulb costs an average of 20 cents per day. Over the course of a year, keeping a light on all the time can cost you $70.00. How many 60-to100-watt light bulbs do you have in your house?

15. Consider fluorescent light bulbs: Fluorescent light bulbs use about one fourth the energy of incandescent bulbs, and are supposed to last significantly longer. They fit in the same sockets and produce the same amount of light. According to the Department of Energy (“When To Turn Lights and Computers Off To Save Energy and Money” Fact Sheet), it is probably most energy efficient to turn off a fluorescent light bulb if you are going to be out of a room for at least 15 minutes.

16. Use sunlight for indoor lighting: Open the shades to let natural light into your home and turn the lights off.

17. Find out if your local energy company has off-peak rates: Call your local energy provider and ask if they have off-peak rates. If they do, wash clothes and run the dishwasher during those hours.

18. Fill the fridge: Refrigerators and freezers are more efficient when they are full, so fill up extra space with one-gallon plastic drink containers filled with water. In a power outage they will help keep things cool. Open and close the fridge quickly to reduce the amount of cool air that escapes. It takes a lot of energy to make up for the warm air introduced into the appliance each time you open the door.

19. Wash in cold and fill it up: Use warm, not hot, water for white clothes and only wash clothes (and dishes) in full loads.

20. Hang your clothes out to dry: Using the clothes dryer can cost more than 50 cents per hour. With 10 loads per week, that’s $5 a week, or $260 per year. Maybe we can use all that free floss we get with coupons as clothes lines!

21. Use your small appliances: Use the grill, microwave, crockpot or toaster oven whenever possible. They use less energy than the stove or oven and your house will stay cooler in the summer.

22. Control the water heater: Changing the water temperature on your water heater from 140 degrees to 120 degrees can reduce your water heating cost by up to 10%, according to the Department of Energy (“Energy Efficient Water-Heating” Fact Sheet). Using an insulated water heater cover for electric water heaters can also reduce your water heater costs. Some newer water heaters are already quite energy-efficient and do not require a heater cover. Installing insulated covers is more difficult on gas and oil heaters. If your water heater is gas or oil powered, you should consult a local furnace installer for information and/or assistance.

23. Put a timer on your electric water heater to control when it comes on and turns off. Usually the timer is set to turn off at night and resume heating in the morning. It is not as cost-efficient to use a timer on gas and oil water heaters.

24. Turn Off Your Computer: Save energy by turning off your computer if you are not going to be using it for two hours or more.

Water Use

25. Switch from baths to showers and make the showers short. You can cut your water use for bathing by 2/3 by taking a shower vs. a bath! My youngest daughter still likes to take baths, but we limit them to a few a week instead of one every night. Instead, she showers on the non-bath days.

26. Install a low-flow showerhead to reduce the amount of water used by 50%!

27. Don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth. Turn it on to wet your toothbrush, turn it off, and then on again when it’s time to rinse. This is a good one to teach your kids early on.

28. Wash only full loads in the dishwasher and washing machine. When you must wash a small load of clothes, change the water level to the appropriate setting.

29. Scrape your dishes prior to loading them in the dishwasher. Rinsing is usually not necessary for every dish.

30. Fix all leaky pipes or faucets as soon as you notice leaks.

31. Don’t flush paper goods that could go into the garbage. Put them in the wastebasket to prevent using the water required to flush.

32. When washing the car, don’t let the hose run continuously. Use a bucket of water to keep the car wet while soaping and turn the hose on for the final rinse.

33. Sweep your sidewalks clean instead of spraying them with water from a hose.

34. Use mulch in the garden and around plants to retain moisture and lessen watering needs.

35. Plant shrubs that are resistant to drought.

36. Water lawns and gardens in the evenings or early morning to prevent the water from evaporating before it reaches your thirsty plants.

37. Do not water your lawn more than is absolutely necessary.

TV, Cable and Satellite

38. Cancel cable/satellite altogether and spend more time reading, taking walks and filing your coupons!

39. Buy your own digital analog converter for around $40 and up (if you didn’t get one last year when the coupons for these were available) to see the basic network stations. The great thing is that you don’t have a monthly cable bill if you use your own box.

40. Opt for broadcast cable ($17 per month at Time Warner). It provides the basic network stations. Paying only for basic channels, without the premium channels, can save over $500 each year.

41. Watch TV over the Internet at sites like Hulu, Joost and Veoh to watch your favorite TV show for free.Click on the link above for an article from CNN about watching TV over the Internet and one with  information on how to watch TV over the Internet.

42. Sign up for Blockbuster Online or Netflix and get rid of the premium movie channels with your satellite or cable provider. For as little as $4.99 a month, you can start getting movies delivered to your home.

43. Bundle services from the same cable company (purchasing cable TV, phone service and high-speed cable internet service, for instance), to receive a better rate on the three services than if purchased separately.

Telephone & Internet Expenses

44. Cancel your landline phone service and use your cell phone for all calls. Make sure that you have enough minutes in your plan so you are not charged extra fees for using more minutes than you are allowed. It is generally less expensive to add minutes to your cell phone by changing plans than keeping your traditional landline with all the extra monthly fees and taxes. We made this transition years ago and enjoy not having an extra phone bill every month!

45. Even if you don’t want to cancel your landline, consider canceling your traditional long-distance telephone service. Many cell phone plans offer unlimited long-distance calling in the evenings and weekends. Use your cell phone for all your long-distance calls.

46. Say goodbye to extra telephone services: Make sure you aren’t paying for services you did not request or do not use. Examples include call waiting, voice mail, and text messaging. Call the phone company as soon as possible if you see any charges on your bill for services you don’t need or understand. Avoid using directory assistance unless it is an emergency. Save by using the phone book or the Internet to locate a number.

47. Use pre-paid calling cards instead of traditional long-distance from your landline. The 10 cents per minute rate you see with many long distance companies can’t touch the low per minute rate you can get with a calling card. If you’re paying more than 5 cents a minute to make long-distance calls, you’re paying too much and need to consider other options. Even if you are paying 5 cents per minute with your long-distance phone carrier, consider the additional fees and taxes you are paying. With most calling cards, you avoid those extra charges. It is also handy to have a calling card available when staying at a hotel. Check with your local warehouse clubs to find calling cards as low as 3 cents per minute.

48. Consider VoIP – Voice over Internet Protocol – which is a long way of saying that you are making calls over the Internet. For about $20 per month you can get unlimited calling plans from a site like Vonage.

49. If making a lot of international calls, use Skype to communicate. They have really low rates if calling someone who does not have Skype and it’s free if you both have Skype!

50. Compare local Internet services and ask specifically about promotions for new customers. Make sure you get a speed fast enough for your needs. If you watch a lot of videos online, you don’t want the cheaper dial-up service.

Find anything new to try? If you have any other suggestions to share, post them here. When cutting utility expenses, every little bit helps. If each of these ideas saves a little money, it adds up very quickly. As I always say, it’s your money – spend it wisely!



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  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Mar 8, 2010

    More great tips! Thanks to all of you for sharing them!

  • RealityAddict Mar 8, 2010

    Cell service - contact your company about employee discounts. Our family plan (2000 anytime w/ unlimited data)with three phones would normally be 129.99. With company discount our cell bill is 90.00

  • jwetherington Mar 8, 2010

    I watch WRALTV weather and hang my clothes outside on the clothesline. I have 4 children and have been doing this for years. I wash in the evenings and my husband and I hang the clothes before we leave for work. I will also go home during my lunch, hang more out and/or fold the dry clothes. When my kids get home from school, I also ask them to take down and fold the clothes as well.

  • jjlbrown Mar 8, 2010

    Thanks for all the tips! Found quite a few new ones to try-off to Home Depot to check out heater covers and a timer!

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Mar 5, 2010

    Great tips sh! Thank you for sharing them!

  • sh19 Mar 5, 2010

    We have signed up for "Time of Use" with Progress Energy and use our large energy appliances during off peak times. During Jan. with those high bills we saved $58 on ours. I also started turning my dishwasher off before it starts the drying cycle and we use compact florescent or florescent bulbs in all our light fixtures.