When it comes to saving money on your utility bills, I’m sure you’ve heard enough about LED lights and turning your thermostat down for one lifetime.
If you’re looking for some practical strategies that you can use in your home today, then you’ll love this infographic.
It’s a simple checklist that will save you money on your home without having to replace your light bulbs:
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Here’s my take on the utility bill money saving tips from the infographic:
Child proof your walls
Contractors typically don’t put insulation between an electrical outlet and the exterior siding when a home is built. Unless you have a green home or home built in the last ten years where the builder made efficiency a priority, you’re outlets probably leak air, costing you money.
Leaky outlets are especially problematic in older homes.
Plastic outlet covers cost about $2 for a pack of 20. You can plug all the outlets in your house for $4-$6. BOOM – hole sealed.
Scott’s take: The first winter in my first home I went to plug in my vacuum. The outlet closest to my living room area was located in an exterior wall. When I put my hand down to plug in the cord – whoosh! I could feel the cold air pouring in through the holes in the outlet.
It didn’t take long to realize all the energy being wasted. And this was a brand new home that was just built!
Install a separate water meter for irrigation
The largest expense of a water bill is for sewer treatment. For every 1,000 gallons of water going into your home, the water district will charge you to clean up the 1,000 gallons when it exits your home.
For most people their biggest water usage comes from watering their lawn. But you shouldn’t pay to have the water treated if it never leaves your property! A separate irrigation meter solves that problem.
A phone call to your water utility provider will let you know how much a separate meter will cost to install. Costs vary wildly by location.
Scott’s take: In my first home in Atlanta, Georgia a secondary irrigation meter cost $300. It paid for itself the first summer.In my current home in Dallas, Texas a secondary meter is $2,500. The payback on it would probably be 5–10 years. Instead, I opted to Xeriscape my yard and rip out 80% of the grass. No watering required!
Switching the direction on the fan
Most people don’t realize there is a reverse switch on their ceiling fan.
In the summer, we turn on our ceiling fans to save on air conditioning costs. The cooling wind chill effect on your skin makes a room feel up to 8 degrees cooler.
Doesn’t it make sense to do the same thing in the winter time? Reversing the fan circulates the air around the room making the room feel warmer and keeping you and your family more comfortable. Since your heater runs less, you reduce the cost of heating fuel.
Using ceiling fans in the winter reduces clutter and electric hazards. You won’t need those space heaters and heating blankets lying around.
Scott’s take: This is another tip that is so simple you can do it in ten minutes by using a chair to stand on.
Check windows for broken seals
Windows can have a big impact on a homeowner’s gas and electricity costs. Newer energy efficient windows have a gas (Argon) between the panes to increase energy efficiency.
This tip is huge because windows are one of the biggest sources of heat gain in the summer time. A broken window seal means your window has an air leak.
If you see condensation or fog on your window, it means your window seal is broken, and the special Argon gas between the panes has escaped.
Most manufacturers have warranties, and you may be able to get free replacement windows.
Scott’s take: When I go running through the neighborhood, I subconsciously look at people’s windows to see if they have broken air leaks. Guess what? They do. I can spot them from the street.My house is six years old, and I’ve already had a total of ten windows replaced on three different occasions. Every time the windows are free – I pay only for the labor.While I would not buy replacement gas-filled windows just for energy efficiency, if I can get a free window replacement I’m going to.
Check sprinklers/change the schedule
Lawnmowers, bad drivers, aging sprinkler systems – they can all result in sprinkler heads breaking.
When Spring arrives, and you turn your sprinkler system back on, run a test of the system and check each sprinkler head to make sure it’s working right.
The second big water-wasting culprit is overwatering. You would be shocked, but landscapers, installers, and home builders are lousy at knowing how often you should water your lawn, and for how long. Watering times can depend on:
- type of grass
- age of the lawn (new installs require more water)
- shaded vs. sunny areas
- types of plants and shrubs
- time of the year
Doing 30 minutes of online research at your local county extension office’s website can help you figure out how long each watering zone should run and how many days per week.
As a general rule, a lawn should get 1″ of water per week. One good soaking (1-day) is better than spreading it over 2–3 days. A long soak encourages deep root growth of the grass. The deeper the roots, the more sub-surface water the grass has to survive periods of hot weather.
Scott’s take: Countless times I’ve seen a neighbor’s sprinkler’s running and a geyser of water shooting 6’ straight into the air because of a broken sprinkler head.It happened to me too when the trash truck drove over our lawn and broke one of the sprinkler heads (they paid to replace it).I’m also shocked when I see lawns being watered in the wintertime in my neighborhood. The grass is dormant! Water is cheap, but it’s still money wasted.
Stuff your fridge
This is an easy fix to save money.
Refrigerators and freezers are designed to work best when they have food and drinks in them, and are at least 75% full.
How do you keep them full if you don’t have any food that needs to be kept cold? Take some empty glass, Tupperware containers, pots, or milk jugs, fill them with water, and put them in the fridge or freezer.
The containers with water will retain the cold, reducing the need for the refrigerator to kick on.
Scott’s take: We had a $75 service call to figure this one out. Our fridge was not maintaining a cold temperature. The service tech showed up and said it was because we didn’t have enough food in the refrigerator (maybe we were eating out too much!)Now we fill plastic jars with water to fill up the extra space. Or a case of diet coke.
Replace your door sweeps
Door seals wear down over time, but rarely if ever do we look under our doors to see if there is a gap between the bottom of the door and the floor.
If you don’t want to replace the door sweep, considering putting a rolled up towel next to the door to stop the drafts.
Scott’s take: Door sweeps were another case of a manufacturer giving me a free replacement. The door sweep on our back door was falling apart. I called our home builder who put me in touch with the contractor responsible for installing the doors. The contractor dropped off three replacement door sweeps the next day free of charge.I have two extras in the garage waiting for the next replacement. Now that’s service!
Tax benefits and rebates
If you have already purchased LED lights, low-flow toilets, added insulation, etc., you may be eligible for rebates or tax credits.
Your state, city, or local utility provider may offer rebates or freebies on all kinds of energy efficient products and solutions:
Additionally many state and local utility companies offer home energy audits for free. Those that charge a fee may count the fee as a credit towards any work you have done in your home by the contractor. Inspectors can check your home for proper insulation, air leaks, and the energy efficiency of your heating and cooling systems.
It’s worth the call to see if you can get a free inspection. Some issues they find you may be able to do yourself to save money.
Scott’s take: Installing LEDs is a no-brainer for any light in your house that is used more than 30-minutes a day. Plus you can sometimes get rebates for them. Check out the article Are LED Light Bulbs Worth the Money.In many areas experiencing droughts, local governments provide incentives for switching out your existing toilets with low-flow models. If you’re planning on being in your house for a long time, it’s worth checking out to see how quick the payback will be for replacing your toilets. It’s a DIY project anyone can do.
Remove shrubs around HVAC
Many homes put bushes around HVAC units so the unit can’t be seen from the street. While it makes the home look nicer, the bushes keep the unit from operating at peak performance.
Trimming the bushes around your HVAC unit should take about ten minutes.
Scott’s take: Not giving your HVAC unit good airflow is like running with a sock stuffed in your mouth.
Changing out your air filters is something every homeowner can do themselves. It’s cheap, easy, reduces energy use, and will prolong the life of your system.
One thing most homeowners don’t do – and should do – is get their system serviced by a professional at least once a year.
HVAC units will break, and they will need to be replaced at some point. The longer you can keep them running, the more money you will save.
Scott’s take: My wife’s grandfather owned an HVAC company, and her uncle worked for Lennox (one of the top two HVAC companies) for 20 years. I learned from them to have a service contract.I don’t represent an HVAC company, so I have no skin in the game if you get a maintenance contract or not. What I do know is in the three homes I’ve owned all three systems had failures, ranging from a few hundred dollars to $3,000. I’ll gladly pay the $225/year it costs me to have my system optimized, cleaned, and checked twice a year. My contract gives me 10% off on all parts and priority on any service calls. With the amount of money I’ve had to pay for repairs and the efficiency, my system runs at, I know I’m getting my money back and more.
Pull your fridge out an inch
Most refrigerators are crammed back against the wall. In larger homes, the sides may be encased in cabinets reducing air flow as well.
Refrigerators – like your outside HVAC unit – need proper airflow to function efficiently. When the refrigerator is up tight against a wall, it has to work harder to keep things cool – which costs you more money.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re in an apartment, condo, or home – this tip applies to everyone.
Scott’s take: You won’t notice the missing room pulling the fridge out an inch. In 30 seconds, you’ll be saving money.
Here are a few more important home utility saving tips that I didn’t have room to include in the infographic.
Hang up your clothes to dry
Nope, not the same old tip on putting up a clothesline or a drying rack. I’ve gone one better.
I used to use a clothes rack because I didn’t like my clothes shrinking in the dryer.
Now I’ve come up with an even better idea – I hang my wet clothes on hangers and put them right in the closet. Some of your clothes are going to be hung in the closet anyway right? I save myself time and money by skipping the drying rack and clothes line – I hang them up to dry in the closet, and I’m done.
Adjust your thermostat
Even if you don’t have a programmable thermostat, just make a written note to remind you to turn up or down the temperature as you leave your house. It’s the cheap alternative to replacing your thermostat with a programmable one.
If you do, have an older thermostat contact your utility company to see if they offer free programmable thermostats.
LED light bulbs
Good grief I don’t want to mention LEDs because it’s in every homeowner’s handbook, money saving guide, list of things to do when you move into your new home, etc.
I will say from a cost perspective, you should replace only those lights in your home that you use 30 minutes or more per day and if you plan on living in your home for at least two years.
Otherwise, you don’t get the payback from the added cost of buying LED light bulbs. Check out Are LED Light Bulbs Worth the Money and you’ll find an online calculator to see if it makes economic sense to switch your lights.
Clean your refrigerator coils
Dust, lint, and cat toys accumulate in the back of the refrigerator as the unit runs and suck in air. As the dust builds up over time, the efficiency of the refrigerator decreases.
It’s an easy fix. Once or twice a year pull your refrigerator out, unplug it, and vacuum out the coils in the back and bottom. Newer models are sealed up better so you might have to unscrew the back panel to get at the insides.
Cleaning the dust will allow the condenser to run more efficiently and less frequently which saves you money. Plus since the condenser doesn’t work as hard or as much the life of the refrigerator will be extended, saving on replacement and repair costs.
When I look under my refrigerator, I’m always amazed to see how many cat toys have gone missing.
The bonanza of toy mice I found when I checked under my fridge.
How energy efficiency has saved me thousands
I’ve learned a lot about homes and saving money over the years. I’ve:
- created green building education courses viewed by over 50,000 architects around the world
- had two homes built for me from the ground up
- attended the week-long Southface Energy Institute home building school
- worked on two Habitat for Humanity homes
- had a solar array installed on my home
I love the home building process and love to share no cost and low-cost things you can do around the house to save money.