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12 Simple Ways to Save Money on Utilities (and the Planet)

Written by Nickel - 70 Comments

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.

Published on January 31st, 2007
Modified on December 13th, 2011 - 70 Comments
Filed under: Energy,Frugality,House & Home

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth or washing your hands. Get your hands/brush wet and then do your scrubbing with the water off. That will save a minute or two of the water going straight down the drain. Small habit to change with a huge lifetime result. Several Gallons of clean water every day

    Comment by Anonymous — Mar 12th 2008 @ 4:59 pm
  2. We also have a power strip on the computer so we shut all of it down when its not being used. We’re not the kind of people who get up at night so we just turn the heat down and use a lot of blankets.

    Comment by Anonymous — Apr 20th 2008 @ 8:22 pm
  3. WHOLE_HOUSE FAN!!!!
    These things are GREAT! You open the doors and windows in the morning and turn on the fan, and it sucks in cool air and blows the warm air out through the attic.
    In the evening, as soon as the temperature drops, do the same thing. It cools the house and the attic. It saves a fortune in air conditioning. I LOVE mine!
    Even if there’s no breeze, it guarantees an airflow through the house.
    The electric companies offer a rebate on the purchase of one, too.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 27th 2008 @ 3:35 pm
  4. Two of the best ideas are planting trees to give you shade in the summer and also putting on an outside water meter for your lawn sprinkling

    Comment by Anonymous — Aug 8th 2008 @ 8:52 am
  5. Place your computer and TVs, DVDs, VCRs, cable Modems, etc… on a surge protector and then plug the surge protector into a timer that is programmed to only be on when you are at home. Also program the timmer so that it is off at night as well. This fullfils your set it and forget it requirement.

    For me this translates into only being on for 6 hours each day when I might use them.

    Comment by Anonymous — Aug 20th 2008 @ 4:29 pm
  6. Purchase “Smart Strip” energy saving autoswitching power strips/surge protectors. You can purchase them through SmartHomeUSA.com (although I found them cheaper through Amazon). They can save up to 73% of the energy used by emilinating idle currents…. much more efficient than normal power strips/surge protectors. I have 4 in our home & have been amazed at the savings!!!! Google “smart strip power strips” and research them…it’s well worth the time, energy, and money once you see the savings. 🙂

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 19th 2008 @ 4:52 pm
  7. We have a basement that stays cold in the winter. Instead of using the A/C we just go downstairs. Also we chose carpet for the floor above our basement. Carpet provides some insulation to keep our basement cold.

    Comment by Anonymous — Dec 28th 2008 @ 6:47 pm
  8. Search radiant insulation on the web. Get the 29 lb roll 1000sq ft. ROI is under a year. The $0.14 per sq ft is Tax deductable save 30% on average utility bill. After the 1st year enjoy the savings.

    Comment by Anonymous — Apr 3rd 2009 @ 9:25 pm
  9. USE COOL/COLD WATER TO WASH YOUR CLOTHES. Tide also has a new detergent that is used to wash your clothes in the cold water as well, however this is not needed.
    It will save you around $10.00 a month on your electric bill.
    Hang your clothes to dry, as well. I like the salt idea that someone added. You can also just spray some fabric softener on the clothes while they hang to dry,as well. (Clothes smell great then, too!)

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 7th 2009 @ 11:57 am
  10. OK, so here we go…pee and poop only when you really need to, during odd hours when all neighbors are nite nite, outside under a nice hidden tree…this way you will both save water, fertilize a tree, get some fresh air, and bathroom scent free? walla! (and reduce your “carbon foot-print, which is getting popular now, I guess) and
    use some un-used leafs to clean your behind..

    Take showers before your scent becomes offensive. This will take some figuring out, depending how active you are, how your body works, etc. Besides, wasn’t it
    in fashion not too long back in france? the shower thing?

    Don’t drive, bike. Simple!

    turn off everything and live as though your homeless, with a home, for a while just to get a taste of how it
    might feel to crash in an abandoned building…

    Don’t check your mail more then once per month. That
    way you get all the bad news all at once, instead of little tortures, little kills. Just do it right!

    If anything gets way past over-due, don’t worry it, your credit it jacked-up anyway…

    Try and climb up your chimney and see if you can hook up
    to your neighbors cable somehow to yours…you know, just attach some wires to their…shouldn’t be to difficult.

    Go over your relatives for dinner and lunch….sleep breakfast off…

    Suck gas out your neighbors at exactly 3 am…this you can accomplish with a pipe device, sucking gas out to container and gas up..

    Apply for all gov., state, county aid…now!

    Get your second and third edd extensions, before they do the fourth..

    put car on neutral downhills…its just like a high-bread!

    donate blood, sperm, kidney and an eye.

    start fighting in the undergound scene…lots of money I hear…

    Find a rich girlfiend! even if your a girl, find a rich girlfriend…

    meet people at your place, not half way. but don’t invite them over, say you’ve moved and this is your meeting place.

    get metro phone service. This way, you can have txt, web, cell, worldwide calling, family plan meaning four phones at only ninety one dollars!

    rend movies from the library! its free (but if your late, damn people charge you 1 dollar a day, and if you’ve rented seven movies and your late, then it defeats the purpose!)

    anyway, hope I’ve been of some assistance

    I know some of what I’ve share from my wealth of experience isn’t directly related to energy consumption but it all boils down to saving money…correct?

    peace

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 11th 2009 @ 5:59 am
  11. Great advice. I’m going to use this list and check it off as I go. Our builder told us that regular maintenance of your furnace can also keep your heating bills lower. Does this sound right or are we just being pitched??

    Comment by Anonymous — Dec 2nd 2009 @ 12:50 pm
  12. Check into incentives with electric companies. We save 15% on our bill from June-September by particpating in the Saver Switch program, we’ve never noticed when they’ve cycled our air on and off.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 6th 2010 @ 8:02 pm
  13. Great tips! Yeah Nat you are absolutely right, their saver switch/consumer choice program will absolutely lead you to changes. My sister told me about the deregulation and what it meant a couple years ago, andI live in Columbus, Ohio, (company operates in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Kentucky also). SoI switched my energy rate provider and I have noticed at least a 22% reduction in my bill since! It’s cool, everything is basically the same except the price of my bill, no matter how much air or heat I use!

    Here is the number to call if you live in any of those states:
    614-874-SAVE (7283)

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 3rd 2010 @ 1:24 pm
  14. Sean, he is correct, but you can do it yourself. You can get the gas company to come out for free to check for leaks. then all you need to do is change out your filters once every 3-mos to a year, depending on how much you use the system. Check them every 3 months and if they’re dirty, change them out (or wash them out, depending on what sort of filters you use. clean filters will definitely save energy because the system doesn’t have to work so hard, and it will also prolong the life of your system.

    You can also save a lot of money on AC if you use white roofing materials. They make some that are energy-star rated with tiny reflective beads that can actually get you government rebates. Check it out with your local utility or roofing provider. We lowered our summer electric bills by about 15% and ended up paying the same for the more expensive energy-star material as we would have with the ordinary stuff due to rebates. If your roof is in good shape, there are now special paints you can apply to reduce heat absorption.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jul 19th 2011 @ 12:49 pm
  15. Unplug every thing when you leave your house, or whenever your not using the item. Even if its not on it is still using electricity, it is called Phantom Power and it pretty much is just sucking money out of nothing…UNPLUG!!

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 16th 2011 @ 2:37 pm
  16. Pee in the shower and save money.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 22nd 2011 @ 11:38 pm
  17. I hope you’re freaking kidding AJ

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 13th 2011 @ 10:47 pm
  18. If you live in the southern states you can turn you water heater off and let the heat warm your water. .Trick is timing ur main usage and doing most of the house hold chores in the evening when the water is warm but the outside temp is cooled off. So you don’t use more elect cooling down the house. . And when you need hot water turn the cold side on and leave the hot side off. . The water sitting in the water tank will be cooler than the water that’s running through the pipes. I turned our gas off this summer cus we only needed it for the dryer and water heater… Hung the clothes on the line (they actually dry quicker down here anyway). . wich also saved in electricity. . .We saved over $120 this summer. . compared to last summer just on our gas. . Electric was just a little less but it was worth it. . .Good luck. . Kacey

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 23rd 2011 @ 2:55 am
  19. Dont be in a rush to throw your clothes in the dryer right after you wash them…Allow them to drain and dry in the washer for a couple hours before you put them in the dryer…This will result in a shorter drying time which helps with electric bills! P.S…Dont leave them in the washer to long to dry/drain or they will start to smell musty!

    Comment by Anonymous — Nov 25th 2011 @ 6:34 am
  20. Call every place and see if they offer an EPP (equal payment plan) this way you know EVERY month what amount you will be paying. Cell phones for kids – get real. Keep one cell phone for when one is going out they can call home. Change all lightbulbs (hint:call your power company most will give you bulbs, but only once)And keep socks on your feet in winter your body will feel warmer. Set temp and leave it. I keep mine at 72 winter and 68 summer. Cover windows with higher priced curtains (it does pay off) Use led night lights in the bathrooms at night afterall your just using the bath room I could go on but, I have to cook dinner.

    Comment by Anonymous — Dec 23rd 2011 @ 5:13 pm

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