May contain affiliate links. See my disclosure page for more information.
With a heat wave gripping the northeast United States, and the official start of summer for the northern hemisphere just around the corner, I’m sure many of us are dreading opening our electricity bill for the next couple of months. Hopefully, I can help with that. I’ve scoured the internet to find the best tips to save money on electricity. I’ll also share a few habits I’ve developed over the years to reduce my energy use. While the bulk of this post will focus on saving on electricity, I’ve thrown in some tips for saving on water too. Consider it an extra bonus!
I’m a firm believer in “every bit counts.” Small savings—a few pennies here, a couple of bucks there—will add up over time. Is this your way to riches? Doubtful. But can you start adding a bit more wiggle room to your budget by following the tips below? Likely.
The easiest and most effective way of cutting back on electricity is being mindful of how much you use. Do you leave lights on in a room when you leave? Are you running the dryer or dishwasher half full? Do you have the tv on as “background noise?” As you move through your home make a conscious effort to note how you use electricity and what can be turned off or used more efficiently. For example, you can:
- Air dry your dishes rather than use the drying cycle on your dishwasher.
- Air dry your clothes, at least part of the way. Get them mostly dry on a line or drying rack, and then if you prefer, finish them off in the dryer so they’re soft. Obviously, you’ll use significantly less electricity by running the dryer for fifteen minutes rather than an hour!
- Take shorter showers so you don’t use as much hot water.
- Check the temperature of your hot water tank. Make sure it is set to no more than 120 degrees (this is a good safety practice too if you have little ones in your home). If you’re going to be away for a few days, turn it down even lower, or use the “vacation” mode if you have one. No sense in using all of that electricity keeping water hot when you’re not around to use it!
- Install a programmable thermostat so the temperature can rise/lower while you’re at work or asleep, but then return to a comfortable temperature by the time you return or wake up.
- Dress appropriately for the season. Figures vary, but the research I did shows that for every degree you increase your thermostat, your bill will go up approximately 3 percent, so keep your hands off your thermostat and throw on a sweater instead!
- Switch to energy-efficient lighting. I’ll admit it, when the compact fluorescent light bulbs first came out, I hated them. Actually, wait, I still hate them. They’re ugly and can be dangerous if broken. Fortunately, LED light bulbs are now widespread and the price has been coming down. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still more expensive than a traditional incandescent bulb, but the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that replacing your five most-used light bulbs with LEDs can save $75 per year, plus they last much longer than traditional light bulbs so you won’t need to replace them nearly as often. As my incandescent bulbs burn out, I replace them with LEDs, which spreads out the expense a bit.
- Insulate your hot water tank. I had never heard of such a thing until recently, but the thought is that if you keep your tank insulated, it will use less energy keeping the water hot. Full disclosure, I haven’t tried this out yet, but it’s on my to do list!
- Use cold water to wash your clothes.
It might take some time to break old habits, but wouldn’t you rather your money stay in your pocket than go to your electricity bill?
Once you’ve done away with the obvious power wasters, it’s time to hone in a bit more. Do you leave appliances like your coffee maker plugged in, or a cellphone charger when your device is done charging? Even when appliances aren’t actively being used, they still gobble up electricity, a phenomenon known as “phantom loads,” or standby power. All of these things add up and raise your bill. Every LED display, clock, and standby light is pennies going down the drain. How big of a problem is it? It’s hard to tell. But studies from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have suggested that phantom loads may equate to upwards of 10 percent of our electricity usage. 10 percent. That’s an awful lot of electricity going to nothing, don’t you think? Fortunately, it’s a really easy problem to fix.
- Unplug. This is the most straightforward fix, and it works great in some situations. When your cellphone is done charging, unplug your charger from the wall. When you’re done with your coffee, unplug your coffeemaker. But when you’re done using your computer, I doubt you want to unplug each component individually. Same goes for your tv setup. When you want to watch tv, you probably just want to flip a switch and go. You don’t want to hassle with plugging in your television, your cable box, and whatever else is part of your home theatre set-up. In these situations, what you want is…
- Powerstrips. Plug all of your related devices into a powerstrip (be mindful of load capacities) and simply flip one switch off when you’re done. When you’re ready to use again, flip the switch and you’re back in business. As an added bonus, you can get energy-saving power strips that turn themselves off when they’re not being used. That way, if you forget to turn it off, it does it for you and you still bring in the savings.
During the winter months
Cold winters make saving on your electricity bill even more challenging. Before it gets cold, evaluate the efficiency of your home. Where are the drafts? Can you add insulation, weather-stripping, or caulking to plug cold spots? Allstate has helpful guidance on how to insulate electrical outlets, but I’ve also noticed simple safety outlet covers can make a big difference in keeping cold air out.
Once it gets cold, consider putting plastic over your windows to keep the cold air out. You can get special kits to do this, but they’re expensive and I can think of better things to do than stand at my window with a hairdryer. I’ve always just used plastic drop cloths and tape. Be sure to get a thicker plastic (at least 4 mil) and don’t use duct tape. I might have sort of accidentally taken off the finish of my windowsill one year. Oops.
A blanket along the windowsill also helps to keep the drafts out. You can also buy draft blockers specifically made to go in your windows, but I’m cheap and lazy and always found a blanket worked just fine, though admittedly, the ones made to go in your window are much more attractive than a blanket!
That time when I tried to freeze my husband
Now a personal story. My husband used to drive me crazy during the winter because he always whined about being cold at night and tried to set the thermostat to seventy degrees. I was having none of that and would turn it down to closer to sixty. It became an ongoing battle where we would sneak around to adjust the thermostat. Bedtime became a brawl and we got more and more annoyed with each other (I know, it’s a stupid thing to have a fight over, but there you go).
One night I was putting away some laundry in the dresser next to his side of the bed. I could not believe how cold it was. You see, he slept closest to the window. Our very drafty windows, in our very drafty condo. No wonder he was always trying to turn the heat up. It was significantly colder just because he was a few feet closer to the window.
I felt bad that my stubbornness was turning my husband into a popsicle, but at the same time, I loathed turning the heat up as high as he would need it to go for him to stay warm. So, we came up with a better plan. We got heavier, insulating drapes to block out the cold, and a heated mattress pad. The mattress pad has dual settings so he can turn it on to charbroil, while I use it on the lowest setting a few minutes before bed to take the chill out. Now we’re both happy and comfortable, and our electric bill makes us much happier too! We’ve more than made up for the one-time expense of drapes and the heated mattress pad by the savings we’ve managed to gain through keeping the thermostat down.
Let the sun shine in…
When we lived in the condo, we didn’t get any direct sunlight. There was no window in the bathroom or the kitchen. In fact, in the entire unit, there were just five windows, a double unit in both the living room and master bedroom, and a single unit in the second bedroom. To keep from feeling like we were living in a cave, we usually had lights running.
We recently moved to a single family home and one of the things I love most about it is how many windows there are. Every room except the basement powder room has at least one window, so I take full advantage of the daylight. I pretty much only flip on the lights at night or if it’s an incredibly overcast day. The difference is amazing. On chilly sunny mornings, I also am sure to open the blinds and drapes to get as much of that warm sunshine in as possible to help warm up the house.
But also, don’t let the sun shine in…
The caveat to the above though is during the hot summer months when you’re going to want to try to keep the sun out. We’ve been in the depths of a heat wave in the northeast United States for the past several days and I’ve buttoned down the hatches to keep as much sunlight out as possible. It’s still warm and we’re running the air conditioning, but keeping the direct sunlight out has helped tremendously. Blackout shades are great for this.
Water is another area where a few small steps to reduce your consumption can yield decent savings over time. Here are nine simple steps for reducing your water usage:
- Take shorter showers (sound familiar?).
- Only full loads in the clothes washer or dishwasher!
- Use the dishwasher rather than hand wash (assuming you have a dishwasher or course). Research shows that hand washing can use over twenty gallons of water per load, whereas an efficient dishwasher can get by on as little of three gallons. That’s a huge difference. And ease up on the pre-rinse. Apparently, that can waste upwards of six thousand gallons per year. Six thousand! Whoa!
- Install low flow faucets and shower heads or aerator. These reduce the amount of water flow so you use less every time you turn them on. HGTV has a great explainer here.
- Turn the water off when brushing your teeth, shaving, etc. It may not seem like much, but it really adds up!
- Use a basin to collect rainwater that you can then use to water outdoor plants. Especially during the summer months, you may want to keep it covered when rain isn’t in the forecast to keep mosquitoes at bay.
- Keep a pitcher near all of your sinks to catch water as you’re waiting for it to warm up. Use it to water house plants, clean, or put it in your fridge for cold drinking water. Or if you’re planning on boiling something for dinner, fill up a pot directly and cover it until you’re ready to cook.
- Water your lawn in the evening so less evaporates.
- Make your toilet low-flow by adding a half-gallon jug to your tank. Instructions here.
Pretty easy right? None of these steps are overly burdensome, but they can really add up over time and I’m sure if you start picking a few to do each week, you’ll really start to notice the savings! If you’re looking for even more ideas, check out my “Save Money: Utilities” board on Pinterest, and why don’t you give me a follow while you’re there?! 😉
Have I missed anything? What tips do you have for saving on your water or electricity bill? Add them to the comments below so we can all learn some new tricks!
Until next time…