The other day I was poking around in Quicken when I decided to tally up the amount of money we’ve spent in various categories taking reference from our credit report.We now have ten full years worth of data in Quicken, so it really gives a sense for the extent to which small things can add up. One thing (of many) that stood out to me is that we’ve spent an average of $141/month on utilities (gas, water, electric) during that period (it was much lower early on, and considerably higher more recently). That doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but consider this… Over a ten year period that works out to roughly $17k — that’s a pretty nice chunk of change.
Anyway, all of this got me to 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.
(1) Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Admittedly, some of these bulbs really suck (weird colored light, dim until they warm up, etc.) but there are some good ones out there. In fact, we’ve had great success with the el cheapo multi-packs from Lowes and Home Depot. The added bonus is that CF bulbs put out less heat, so they also reduce your AC load in the summer.
(2) Get a programmable thremostat. This is especially useful if you live alone, or if you and your significant other both work a common schedule. In that case, you can dial back your heating/cooling while you’re at work, but have it back at a comfortable level when you arrive home at the end of the day. Similarly, you can automagically control the temperature at… For me, this is most useful in the winter, as I don’t mind bundling up and sleeping in the cold. But in the summer, forget about it! I can’t stand sleeping hot.
(3) Put a
brick sealed jar or jug of water 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 volumne once.
(4) Install low-flow shower heads. Actually, I only put this in for the sake of completeness, because I hate weak showers. I’d much rather cut my shower short than deal with wimpy water flow.
(5) 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.
(6) Get a separate water meter for your exterior hose bibbs and/or irrigation 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). Of course, you could also xeriscape, which obviates the need for irrigation and is far more environmentally friendly.
(7) Insulate your attic access. When we moved into our new house, we were having trouble balancing the upstairs and downstairs temperature. As it turns out, one of the problems was attic heat leaking into our upstairs through two attic access doors. The doors were about 3/8 of an inch thick (wood) and had no insulation on their backside. Insulating them greatly diminished the problem, and allowed us to bump up the thermostat considerably during the summer while still maintaining a comfortable temperature throughout the house.
(8) Balance your vents to achieve an even, comfortable temperature throughout your house. The other problem that we had in regulating the temperature between our upstairs and downstairs was that all of the vents were wide open when we moved into our house. After a bit of experimentation (mainly involving closing some of the downstairs vents) we were able to balance the upstairs/downstairs temps. Again, this allowed us to bump the thermostat up a good bit. And in the winter we reversed the procedure. Works like a charm.
(9) 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?
(10) Insulate your garage door. I did this at our old house, but haven’t gotten around to doing it at our new house. But it works wonders for controlling the temperature in a room above the garage.
(11) Plant trees in strategic locations around your house. This is a longer term solution, but deciduous 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.
(12) This is where you guys come in. Instead of capping this list at twelve, I’d love to hear your ’set-and-forget’ utility saving tips. Please leave a comment below.